Towing with "Passenger Car" vs "Truck" chassis

Discussion in 'Tow Vehicles, Hitch & Towing' started by mckeapc67, Aug 8, 2011.

  1. mckeapc67

    mckeapc67 New Member

    Feb 22, 2011
    I've seen a lot of discussion with folks towing their PUPs with almost every type of vehicle. I've also seen "recommendations" on how to best tow with your specific vehicles.

    I would like to see some general discussion on the merits of towing with the different types of vehicles. I break family vehicles into two basic categories.

    First, are the vehicles built on a "passenger car" chassis. This includes sedans, coups, and wagons. I believe it would also include many mini-vans and some cross-overs. For example, a Toyota Highlander crossover is built on an Avalon chassis. I would consider any front wheel drive mini-van or cross-over a passenger car chassis.

    The second group of vehicles are the ones built on "truck" chassis. This includes most mid and large sized SUVs as well as pick-ups and large vans. I would even venture to put a Jeep type vehicle into this category since it is designed for off-road utility.

    Aside from the calculations that can be done for max tow weight, which can be calculated for any vehicle, I would like to see everyone's opinion on towing with these two distinct types of vehicles.

    I know the history of PUPs is such that they were designed to be light and towable with the family car when they first came out. My relatives used to tow theirs with their family station wagon. This was, however, when the family car was generally a sedan with a full box frame and typically a large V6 or V8 engine, 15 inch wheels, and fairly stout brake systems.

    Personally, I don't think that today's "passenger car" chassis are adequate as tow vehicles in most cases. I don't believe that their transmissions and brakes are designed to pull and stop much more than the vehicle itself. I also question the use of a unibody design (no full vehicle frame) as a good tow vehicle as it can put significant stress on the body to be towing with it (especially with front wheel drive). Plus, front wheel drive vehicles are typically very light in the rear end which would make me sceptical of the safety of towing with them.

    Obviously, I lean toward using "truck" based chassis as TVs. I believe they are sturdier and heavier and provide a much more robust drive trane and braking system.

    What is everyone else's thoughts on this general topic?
  2. Raycfe

    Raycfe Waterford Ct.

    Oct 3, 2007
    Waterford, Ct
    A Cherokee or Grand Cherokee have been uni-body for years. I would have to say a rear wheel drive vehicle has a stronger rear suspension. I would not tow with a front wheel drive vehicle. Just my 2 cents.
  3. JamesRL

    JamesRL New Member

    Nov 1, 2007
    Brampton, Ontario
    I believe you've already made up your mind, so this isn't a discussion but an opinion.

    I've towed with a full size pickup. I've towed with a minivan.

    Obviously there are constraints to towing with a minivan. You have to be much more careful about the weight and how it is distributed. You have to modify the vehicle in most cases to add a transmission cooler and often improve the suspension. And even if you do all that you probably want to avoid mountains.

    But even given all those constraints I have safely towed a light weight PUP with a minvan thousands of miles safely, and I might add, stopped safely in panic situations, merged safely, and never ever had a hint of sway.

    My current van has auto adjusting air suspension. Its got more horesepower and torque than many of those old V6 and V8 full frames you go on about. It has stability control and traction control that those old cars never had. Personally I think its probably a much better tow vehicle than a 2 door jeep, based on the wheelbase alone.

    If have a problem with Unibody tow vehicles, than should everyone stop towing with them?

    How about owners of:
    Jeep Grand Cherokee
    Ford Explorer
    GMC Acadia/Chevy Traverse
    Ford Flex
    Mercedes ML
    Honda Pilot

    And many others that are unibody but can tow well over 3500 lbs and in many cases 5000 lbs.

    I do think that people who chose to tow with a "lesser" rated vehicle have to be more careful, more weight conscious, and maintain their vehicle well.

    And if i had to have a PUP that weighed 3000 lbs and I lived in the Rockies, there isn't a doubt I would have to think about a very robust vehicle.

    My thought is that I see too many people who sit in judgement of others and look down their noses at those of us who don't use trucks.

    If my mechanic, who rebuilds transmissions for a living for 30 years, thinks that my van and its transmission can handle towing my 1250 lbs trailer, I think I will respect his judgement.
  4. Aladin Sane

    Aladin Sane I'd rather be camping

    Jul 3, 2008
    One thing I would disagree with in the OP's initial statement is the relative performance of braking. I would say that in the days of hauling a pup behind a v-8 powered station wagon, the brakes on the car were not nearly as good as the brakes found on any modern vehicle.
  5. silvermickey2002

    silvermickey2002 Morris County, NJ

    Sep 11, 2008
    Morris County, NJ
    We tow with a truck and a Honda Odyssey. The honda we use to tow cross country. The Honda pulls great and no problems wirh braking. We have driven thru the Badlands and Black Hills wirh no issues! The pup empty weighs 1840 lbs. So with gear in the pup, gear in the van plus the 3 of us we are still under 3500 lbs the van can haul!

    - Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  6. joet

    joet Active Member

    Mar 16, 2011
  7. Unstable_Tripod

    Unstable_Tripod Well, there's your problem!

    May 20, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    I had a Ford Explorer with a 4.0L 6-cylinder engine. It did alright on the flats but labored pulling my Fleetwood Yuma (about 1,600 lbs empty and probably 2,000 loaded) up mountain grades. I decided to get a full-size pickup capable of towing a LOT so I would be covered no matter what trailer I purchased in the future. It pulls my TrailManor with ease. I would not have wanted to pull the TM with the Explorer (in spite of what TrailManor says about the kinds of vehicles that can tow it).
  8. pianewman

    pianewman Ft. Worth, TX

    Aug 30, 2006
    Arlington, VA
    Popup: in my signature, 2550 lbs. loaded...very tongue heavy (350-400lbs)
    Towed with: 2001, then 2007 Honda Odysseys. Both needed rear suspension help, installed Airlift with dual controller in both. Also used Reese 400 weight distribution hitch. I always towed right at, or just below, capacity for the Odyssey.

    Now towing with Toyota 2005 Tundra double cab, 4WD,. Added helper springs to level truck, still use reese 400 weight distribution hitch. Now towing at about 2/5 the capacity of the TV. About 12k miles towing.

    My thoughts? The 2001 and 2007 Odysseys performed very well, felt very stable, over 20k miles of highway towing. Never had a panic stop, so I can't say how it would have performed. I predict it would have been adequate.

    Obviously, the Tundra is a completely different ballgame. Much more power, extremely stable, poorer MPG (13 vs. 17), less interior room, much larger capacity for gear.

    My choice? I would never tow at or near capacity again, in any vehicle. It's just plain dumb...unless the trips are extremely short. I'll stick with the truck, but I understand the need for using a van, as it is much more versatile, for every day use.
  9. riverwalker

    riverwalker New Member

    Jul 25, 2010
    I've towed an old TT probably between 3000 and 4000lb's with my 1997 4.3lt Blazer and my pup which is over 3000lb loaded up. It would work a little hard to get to 100km's (60mph) but once there it was good to go , barely could tell TT or pup was behind me, braking is going to be different for each instance but neither had brakes so the blazer was doing all the braking and managed fine. The thing I found strange was it actually got better fuel mileage when there were no larger hills to climb. I now have a 4.8lt Silverado which the faster you go the less you notice your towing any thing and my newer pup has brakes so there as been no issues. Gas mileage isn't as good as the blazer.
  10. gec66

    gec66 New Member

    Sep 24, 2010
    I will contribute this from my thread about towing with my 2006 Honda Odyssey... If money and fuel economy were no object, I would own a 45' class A diesel pusher, not a pop up and a mini van. Nuff said!

    Anybody that has been around towing for a few years can remember 3,500 lb tow ratings for a Ford Bronco II or Chevy S-10 Blazer. Short wheelbase, light weight, 140-160 hp engines and weak brakes. I had a 1988 Bronco II and pulled 3,500 lbs behind it once. Never again. Squirrelly as heck and way over worked the engine. My van has 244 hp, 118" wheelbase, 66.7" track width, and weighs 4,400 lbs empty. The Bronco II had a 14" shorter wheelbase, 10" narrower track and weighed 3,160 lbs empty, but had the same tow rating?????? No disrespect here, but I endangered nobody. The 3,500 lb tow rating on mini vans in general is there for several reasons. First, the U.S. has become litigious that the manufacturers are covering their backsides. Second, they are not really made to tow even 3,500 lbs on a daily basis, so the manufacturers set the bar pretty low. An occasional tow is fine. You will also note as I mentioned above that Honda does not list a max frontal area to go with the tow rating. A Honda Pilot of the same vintage has a 4,500 lb tow rating with the same drive train, but lists that as applicable to a boat and restricts the tow rating to 3,500 lbs for other towing applications. In that restriction they are alluding to frontal area being an issue. Now the pilot is built on the same platform, has the same track width, but a 12" shorter wheelbase than the Odyssey. So you tell me which vehicle is safer pulling that 4,500 lbs????? I also noted above my experience pulling 2,500 lbs with a 3/4 ton van with 5.7L V-8 engine that really struggles due to a very high front wall on the trailer. I submit to you that 800 lbs over gcvw is less strain on the drive train than at gcvw with a large frontal area. The van has large brakes and with trailer brakes stops nearly as quickly towing as not towing.

    Bottom line is this. If you want to blindly follow ratings and that makes you fell better, fine. I contend that you can be within the ratings and be unsafe. I can tell you I have been there.
  11. bigdad

    bigdad Active Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    Springfield Kentucky
    On today's car and trucks min van you need to watch the weight, i have use a car for a long time a 97 crown vic full frame and the ford windstar uni body i like the car better and i used i SUV which i still have 03 ford Expedition 4x4 and now a 05 Mercury Grand Marquis Ls both suv and car have full frame's. ford is the only co thats still make a full size car and for how long we will have to see, they did stop making the Mercury line this was the last year for Grand Marquis line.
  12. GA Judy

    GA Judy Active Member

    Oct 15, 2010
    We easily pull our TrailManor 2720 with our 2002 Honda Odyssey with a self-installed transmission cooler. No problems but we haven't tried the Rockies yet!
  13. mckeapc67

    mckeapc67 New Member

    Feb 22, 2011
    Good discussion so far. I'm not trying to make up my mind and I doubt that my opinion will change; however, I do enjoy seeing everyone else's opinion. That's exactly what I'm looking for in this discussion.

    I agree with one of the other posters in that there are quite a few of the vehicles that I would put in the "truck" category that are probably not a good choice for pulling heavier trailers (e.g., short wheel base Jeep, Bronco II, etc.). Plus, there are probably still quite a few "passenger car" vehicles (e.g., crown vic) that can make good platforms for towing a pretty significant PUP.

    Another poster had a very good point about older vehicle braking system vs newer systems. There's no doubt that the old drum brakes didn't work as efficiently as newer disc systems especially with the electronic controls available today. My main point there was that the overall systems were more robust such as large diameter drums with a lot of braking surface area vs 13" discs. Of course, trailer brakes make a big difference there too.

    Another thought / question that I have is based on moding the TV to allow for towing. I wonder how changing the original TV's suspension affect the performance and/or safety of the original design? For example, if you make the rear suspension significantly stiffer via extra springs, does that affect the performance and safety built into the original engineering of the vehicle when not towing?

    Obviously, there are a lot of factors that come into play when making the choice on TV. I also believe that you could probably tow with any vehicle safely if you stay within the gross weight ratings and drive sensibly based on your configuration.

    I'm sure that a 800 lb. PUP with trailer brakes behind a mini-van, Jeep, mid-size sedan, etc. with a 1500# tow rating, WDH, and sway control would safe. Heck, it would probably be safer than towing a 3000 lb PUP with no brakes behind a full-size 1/2 ton pickup hitched to the step bumper.

    BTW, I know that most places require brakes for trailers over 3000 lbs; but, do many PUPs of the lighter variety come with trailer brakes or would they have to be installed as an option / add-on? I'm certain that the availabilty and use of trailer brakes would be a big factor in this discussion.

    Another thought / opinion of mine is how close to max towing capacity a person should be willing to go. On a larger heavier vehicle designed with towing in mind and configured for towing, you could probably get closer to the max and be safer than approaching max on a vehicle not designed with towing in mind.
  14. kitphantom

    kitphantom Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2009
    Albuquerque, NM
    Our current pup is tiny, under 800#, with no brakes.

    Towing with the '96 Outback was fine, it made it up and over Boulder Mountain in UT with no problem. I did always feel like someone was sitting way too close to my back bumper, even this pup loomed in the mirrors.

    Tows better with the 4Runner. It has behaved well in a couple of quick-reaction situations. The one on the first trip after renovation, someone pulled directly in front of us on the interstate, which necessitated an avoidance maneuver (read, take to the shoulder ASAP). First trip this year, a wheel came off.

    We plan on keeping the 4Runner for a good long time - we've had the Outback since it was new, though a couple of second vehicles have come and gone in the meantime. (The '02 Outback was a lemon, or close to it.) The tow limit on the 4Runner is much higher than the Outback, but our preference is to be under 2500# for the next pup.
  15. JamesRL

    JamesRL New Member

    Nov 1, 2007
    Brampton, Ontario
    I think its dangerous to make sweeping assumptions and statements.

    My dad's previous pickup to his current one, its transmission went before 200,000 kms (about 125,000) miles, despite the fact he maintained the vehicle, rarely towed and rarely even had loads of anything in the back, beyond the odd bits of furniture and stuff he and mom would get at yard sales. The brakes on it were weak compared to the ones on my old Mazda MPV, the stopping distance was much further.

    As for stiffening the rear suspension, I did swap out the shocks on the rear of my MPV at one point, but it didn't negatively impact the handling, they were Monroe sensatracs and they stiffen under load. My air suspension in my new van also adjusts under load, so the van isn't uncomfortable when driving empty. I don't think safety is in the least bit compromised.

    I'm also of the opinion that its a mistake to suggest all minivans are the same.

    My wife's best friend tows with a Chevy Venture. If it had the tow package (which it doesn't) it would be rated the same as my 07 Pontiac Montana.
    But here are some differences:
    My wheelbase is 9 inches longer.
    I have 55 more horsepower.
    I have 4 wheel discs versus drums in the back
    I have traction and stability control.

    Oh and my trailer is 200 lbs lighter.

    Tow ratings are one thing, but there are major differences between models of vans and even between years of vans.

    As for safety margins, I'm well below my rated weight, and I wouldn't get above say 80% or so. I've seen some dangerous overweight situations on the road, and some of them were vans, and some of them were big SUVs and trucks. If your backend of your TV and the front end of your trailer make a nice V then something is wrong. Of course, thats more serious with a FWD vehicle, as you lose traction and even steering.
  16. Yellowkayak

    Yellowkayak Popups.....when sleeping on the ground gets to you

    Mar 13, 2007
    Todays uni-body construction is ALOT stronger than they were 10 -15 years ago, so mini vans and alot of the SUVs with uni-body construction were deliberately built stronger so they could haul a family and their camper. Trucks are the work horse of the farm, and were built to tow and haul serious farm equipment, but as time went on, the truck has bleneded into society as a regular passenger vehicle. Farm trucks were standard cab, and when people started using them as family vehciles, they started adding extended cabs, and now crewcabs. As far as towing, nothing beats a truck, they were built for it. Todays minivans and SUV are great for towing also. So lets see what is on the market 10 - 15 years from about ALL electric trucks, SUV, and minvans with intigrated solar panel in the roof, and charge fully in a couple hours. Now that would be the way to go.

  17. Rodger D.

    Rodger D. New Member

    Sep 29, 2010

    If you aduit the Parts Books of the Standard Equiped
    Vehicle vs a same Vehicle with the Factory's Tow Package
    you will see the Tow Package Vehicle is mostly of items
    that Keep the vehicle going, not re-enforce this or that.

    The Higher rated Rear Spings, and the Tire/Wheel size is
    what the most vehicles have in the Tow Package that
    is different. A higher rated Alternator, More Cooling Fan
    Paddles, a Automatic Transmission Aux Transmission
    Cooler and some other items are for keeping the vehicle
    going, not making it pull more.

    To the Vehicle Manufacture it is cheaper to use the Disc
    Brakes than Drums. They both stop the first time in the same
    spec's. If you are a driver that keeps your foot on the
    brakes every time you see a down hill or curve or follows
    to close, the Disc are much better.

    Even if the trailer only is large enough to have a lawn mower
    on it, Trailer Brakes on the trailer means a F-350 will stop
    in a less distance than having a No-Brake Lawn Mower Trailer
    still trying to Push it.

    There is an difference from Facts and Opinon's. You may think
    a T-Shirt with Polyester Pants looks good on you.

    Rodger & Gabby
  18. Flyfisherman

    Flyfisherman New Member

    The tranny in my present GMC Sierra 1500 2WD went out suddenly one day, and I should think my maintenance schedule is followed closely, plus the last thing I would be doing is abusing it in someway. As I understand it this era GMC/Chevy 1/2 ton trucks had some "defective" automatic transmissions. Thank goodness there was still a warranty as the replacement cost was $2600.00 and that was back a few years. However, the brakes on this truck are strong, a major thing I like about full sized pick-ups compared to the run of the mill passenger vehicles.
  19. joet

    joet Active Member

    Mar 16, 2011
    One thing I have found with the 4L60E Tran's gm uses is that with the smaller engines they have to work harder (shift more) than with the larger V8'S. This has been documented for several million miles. The tran's will normaly get well over 275k before requireing rebuilds, when behind a larger engine. A point incase was the S10'S with a 2.2 engine. If you got much over 100k you were doing good. Same trans as in a 3/4 ton pickup (4L60E)
    As for braking ALL vehicle must meet FMVSS's for stopping distances. And a F350 will have a longer distance than a Carravan
    when loaded, but within the required distance. As GVW increases, so does most every other thing on a vehicle
  20. mckeapc67

    mckeapc67 New Member

    Feb 22, 2011
    Everyone's points are well taken and appreciated.

    I certainly am not trying to imply that all vehicles (trucks, mini-vans, cars, SUVs, etc.) are equal in quality and configuration across the model line. I also understand some folks' dislike of making general statements about a class of vehicle (especially one they are partial to). And I certainly don't want to get into "quality" issues which can make a vehicle fail before it's time.

    I'm certainly not 100% versed on what each manufacturer and vehicle tow package contains. I know they generally don't "reinforce" anything to make the vehicle stronger. I do know that in the past the tow package on pick-ups (I grew up in the farming community BTW) typically included towing enhancements such as oil coolers, tranny coolers, bigger alternator, etc. as a previous poster stated. One thing, though that wasn't mentioned was that the towing packages included (not sure if it's still true) a more robust brake system (larger rotors, drums, shoes, pads, booster, etc.). This may not hold true in todays vehicles.

    The discussion that I am looking for is really concerned with safely towing a trailer. Many of the enhancements that are made and suggested for towing deals primarilly with "keeping the vehicle going" as a previous poster pointed out. This is a good thing, and should certainly be done; but, safety towing is the bigger priority (or should be). I don't want to injur myself, my family, or others on or near the roadways because I chose to tow a trailer with a vehicle that was inadequate.

    As I pointed out in my previous post, there are a lot of factors involved in safely towing. I just get a bit queazy when I see a passenger car towing a heavy load (PUP, Boat, etc.) down the highway even though it may be within the vehicle's towing capacity. When things go bad, they go bad quickly and I would rather that the TV be able to handle the load that it's being required to.

    Not trying to poop on anyone's parade or start a war, but this is an interesting discussion. I guess what it really boils down to is personal preference and vehicle capability. If the manual says that the vehicle can tow a given capacity (the mfg. says that it can be done), then it's really up to the owner as to whether they want to do so.

    I hope that this discussion is useful to someone considering a TV or using their existing vehicle as a TV.

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