Choosing a Tow Vehicle | Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know

Choosing the right tow vehicle can be quite tricky. There are a lot of options and it can really be overwhelming. There are vehicles with manual and automatic transmission, but which vehicle would surely make it to your camping site? Is diesel a better fuel for towing than gas? How would you know that you’re getting your money’s worth? It is very important to choose the best tow vehicle for your caravan or RV. 

The first factor that you should consider is the vehicle’s towing capacity. You should choose one that can handle all the stuff that you need when travelling. If you make a mistake and bought a vehicle that has a low towing capacity, you will have a hard time driving through inclines.

Towing capacity is very important but it’s not the only thing that you should know. So, we have gathered everything that you need to know in this blog. Read more to find out!

What Do These Words Mean?

You already know what tow capacity means. It is the maximum weight that a vehicle can be towed by a vehicle. But there are still many words that may be unfamiliar to many of you. Here are some of the important terms that you need to know:

  • Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM): is the weight of the trailer when it is empty and its maximum capacity when not coupled with a tow vehicle.
  • Gross Trailer Mass (GTM): is the weight of a trailer with full load on its own axle
  • Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM): the total weight of the tow vehicle including its own weight, load, passengers, accessories, etc.
  • Gross Combination Mass (GCM): is the sum of the GVM and ATM; the maximum weight that the vehicle and trailer can handle
  • Braked towing capacity: the ATM of a trailer (which come with brakes built-in)
  • Unbraked towing capacity: used when the trailer has no brakes. This figure is usually lower than the former because the vehicle does the braking. 
  • Torque: the force that can cause an object to rotate on an axis (causes a directed acceleration)
  • Horsepower: a measure used to describe the power of an engine

What Is My Vehicle’s Tow Capacity?

Will the vehicle that you own be able to handle a caravan, fifth wheeler or camper trailer? That is the question of most people that are clueless about automobiles. In order to answer that question, you must read the Owner’s Manual that came with your vehicle. 

The manual includes the towing recommendations and it is important not to exceed that limit. If your RV of choice does, you may need to buy another vehicle

You wouldn’t want to be in a situation owning a lovely new RV and be unable to tow it safely. The easiest way to be sure is to research if your vehicle and prospective RV is compatible. Several websites as well as car and 4WD magazines conduct reviews on the latest vehicles, their towing capacity and fuel economy.

What Are the Other Things That You Need to Know Before Towing A Caravan Or RV?

Vehicle manufacturers recommend that you do not tow a trailer with a new vehicle or those with new power train components (transmission, differential, engine, wheel bearings etc.) for about the first 800 km (500 miles).

 Your vehicle will also surely require more frequent maintenance if you tow regularly. Most large modern cars make for excellent tow vehicles, but you may want to take your RV off the beaten track. So, you will need to consider a 4WD or a mid-size recreational (SUV) tow vehicle. 

For safety reasons the tow vehicle should be one that is heavier than the (loaded) caravan, fifth wheeler or camper trailer that it tows. Larger 4WD vehicles are often better suited for heavy caravans. If you are buying a secondhand vehicle with a tow bar attached, you will need to ensure that the tow bar and tow ball are adequately rated for what you intend to tow.

 The vehicle’s tow bar and the tow ball may only be rated to tow a small box trailer. For fifth wheelers, a utility/pick-up truck is necessary to accommodate the hitch.

Which Vehicles Are Great for Towing?

We have compiled some of the most common vehicles that are used for camping or towing RVs. The following is only a guide and you should make enquiries with the manufacturer of your tow vehicle and/or check the Owner’s Manual:

  • Toyota Camry Grande 4 CVL – This model has a torque of 218 Nm at 4000 rpm. Its tow capacity is 1,200 kg when braked and 500 kg when unbraked.
  • Holden Commodore Executive Wagon VZ 3.6 L V6 – This model has a higher torque than the Toyota at 320 Nm at 2800 rpm. Its tow capacity is 1,200kg when braked and 1,600 kg when unbraked. You can also expand its tow capacity to 2,100 kg using a towing equipment.
  • Subaru Outback 2.0 Diesel Premium – The Outback has a maximum torque of 350 Nm at 1600-2800 rpm. Meanwhile, its recommended tow capacity is 1,700 kg when braked and 750kg unbraked.
  • Ford Territory Titanium AWD 2.7L V6 Diesel – Having a maximum torque of 440 Nm at 1900 rpm, the Ford Territory is one of the more powerful models in this list. The standard and heavy-duty tow pack has a tow limit of 1,600 kg when braked and 2,700 kg when braked (750 kg when unbraked), respectively.
  • Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 TD Exceed (Automatic) – The Pajero has a maximum torque of 441 Nm at 2,000 rpm. Its tow capacity stands at 3,000kg when braked and 750 kg when unbraked.
  • Toyota Prado GXL TD – This model has a maximum torque of 410 Nm at 1600 rpm. While its tow capacity is 2,500 kg when braked and 750 kg when unbraked.
  • Toyota Prado SX/ZR TD 3 Door – The Toyota Prado has a maximum torque of 410 Nm at 1600rpm. While its tow capacity is very similar to the Mitsubishi Pajero at 3,000 kg braked and 750 kg unbraked.
  • Toyota Landcruiser GXL TD (Automatic) – The Landcruiser has a maximum torque of 430 Nm at 1400 rpm. True to its high-end moniker, its tow capacity is one of the highest among the models among this list. With a tow limit of 3,500 kg when braked and 750g when unbraked, you RV options will significantly increase.
  • Toyota Landcruiser 200 – This model has a maximum torque of 410 Nm at 3400 rpm. Like the model mentioned above, its tow capacity is 3,500 kg when braked and 750 kg when unbraked.
  • Ford F-250 Super Cab Pick-Up XLT – (Max Torque 475 Nm @ 2500 rpm) – conventional towing capacity 3500 kg.
  • Toyota Hilux Rugged X 4×4 (2019) – This vehicle has a braked and unbraked towing capacity of 3500 kg and 750 kg, respectively. The Hilux is also quite powerful because its engine can output 174 hp while torque can reach 450 Nm.

  • Nissan Navara RX (4×4) D23 Series III MY18 Automatic – The competing model from Nissan has similar towing capacity to the Hilux. It has a braked capacity of 3500 kg while its unbraked capacity is 750 kg. Meanwhile, the vehicle’s engine can output 161 hp while its torque can reach up to 403 Nm.

  • Ford Ranger Raptor 2.0 (4×4) PX Mkiii MY19.75 Automatic – The vehicle’s engine can reach 211 hp and 500 Nm of torque. Its braked and unbraked tow capacity is rated at 2500 kg and 750 kg, respectively.

  • RAM 2500 Laramie – This vehicle can handle 750 kg of load when unbraked and 6942 kg when braked. It also has a very powerful engine rated at 370 hp and 1084 Nm of torque.

  • Isuzu MU-X (4×4) LS-M UC – Its braked and unbraked towing capacity is reported to be 750 kg and 3000 kg, respectively. The vehicle can also reach a torque of 430 Nm and 174 hp.

  • Volkswagen Amarok V6 TDI Highline Edition Automatic – This model has an engine that can output 255 hp and 580 Nm of torque. It can also handle 750 kg and 3000 kg when braked and unbraked, respectively.

  • Nissan Patrol TI (4×4) Y62 Series 4 Automatic – This vehicle has a towing capacity of 750 kg when unbraked and 3500 kg when braked. Its engine can also reach 560 Nm of torque and 400 hp.

  • Toyota Landcruiser 79 Series – This is another model from Toyota that is perfect for towing. It can handle 3500 kg and 750 kg when braked and unbraked, respectively. It can also handle rough terrain as its engine can produce 202 hp and 430 Nm of torque.

The LC200 GXL TD, mentioned above, does not come standard with Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). This technology uses linked hydraulic cylinders on both stabilizer bars to counteract body roll when cornering. If you are upgrading the LC200 suspension for towing, it may be wise to not have KDSS. 

We know of two caravan owners who own off-road vans around 3-tonne weight who found the KDSS ‘worked against’ the upgraded suspension making the experience of towing the caravan very unstable. 

So, you need to make sure that you ask the right questions when you decide to upgrade your suspension—compatibility with KDSS must be ensured.  

Should You Use Petrol or Diesel Tow Vehicle?

Diesel or petrol–-this is a matter of choice for you. Diesel is said to be more economical when towing larger heavy caravans or fifth wheelers. It is also often more readily available in remote areas of Australia. If you are driving a dual fuel vehicle and have it on LPG auto gas, it may not give you the best performance for towing. 

However, it does give you the option to switch over from petrol once you’ve arrived at your destination. This can also prove to be more economical for touring around your holiday destination. Petrol driven vehicles generally have more power and response but usually consume more fuel when towing compared to a turbo diesel vehicle.

 Luckily, there is also a very good argument for choosing a petrol vehicle—diesel vehicles can require maintenance, or at least a change of oil, every 5,000 km. This means that you would incur additional service costs if you are towing. You need to consider the impact of this trade-off based on your budget. 

If you are looking at using your vehicle in out-of-the-way places or off-road where there may be tall grasses. Then some consideration should be given to a diesel-powered vehicle because diesel fuel has a lower combustion point. Unless you clear grasses caught under the vehicle, they can catch fire from the heat of the engine. This is a fire hazard and would potentially endanger you, your family, and your vehicle.  

Tow Vehicle – Automatic or Manual Transmission? Which Is Better?

The transmission of your vehicle is also a crucial factor when towing an RV. Going with automatic transmission simply makes life easier by enabling you to concentrate more on driving conditions.

 An automatic transmission can also take the guesswork out of when to change gear whilst towing. Compared to manual transmission, the transition between the gear change is smoother and done more quickly. This enables you to avoid losing speed or traction during gear changes.

With a manual transmission, there can be a lot of ‘riding’ of the clutch whilst reversing particularly with a heavy weight behind. Reversing into those tight caravan park sites is also better with an automatic because seeing someone struggling to park their vehicle properly always seems to create an audience. 

An interesting point here is the Toyota Owner’s Manual for GXL TD 100 (2004) states: “Trailer Towing Tips – In order to maintain engine braking and electrical charging performance, do not use fifth gear (manual transmission) or overdrive (automatic transmission).”

What Aftermarket Products Should I Use For My Tow Vehicle?

A turbo diesel vehicle will provide that extra ‘grunt’ for towing larger RV units. If you are still not satisfied, you should seriously consider the addition of a Safari DTronic. 

The DTronic is an aftermarket electronic diesel performance chip. It fits easily behind the glove box and is conveniently out of the way. The manufacturer claims it can increase torque by 20-30% and increase the power by 15-20%. 

The beauty of this chip is that it can be removed if you want to sell the vehicle or return it to standard power. There are also other brands that offer the same functionality such as the Steinbauer Power Modules, DPCHIP, Tunit and Roo Systems 4WD Chip, to name a few.

To add further performance to the tow vehicle, you should consider installing an aftermarket exhaust system. 

One traveller with a Toyota Landcruiser LC100 TD, with a Safari DTronic diesel performance chip already installed, opted to have the 3-inch stainless steel Taipan XP Exhaust System fitted by Berrima Diesel. After the upgrade, he was astounded by the difference in the vehicle performance especially when towing a 3-tonne caravan. These aftermarket exhaust systems minimize the resistance of the exhaust gases flowing from your engine by the constant diameter of the system. 

The Taipan XP is a mandrel bent exhaust system. The process of mandrel bending is a newer technology whereby the pipe diameter is not reduced on every bend made in the exhaust system. One tip is to opt for a side-exit tailpipe if you have mud flaps on your tow vehicle. You should also keep your camper trailer soot free.

 The Taipan XP are sold at Burleigh Heads, Qld or other diesel specialists such as Berrima Diesel, NSW or Beaudesert Diesel, Qld. These shops can arrange ordering, fitting, installation, and dyno testing.

Another option is to get more power out of diesel fuelled vehicles is to investigate an LPG injection system. This works with a small amount of LPG injected under pressure into the engine by way of the air intake system.

 The LPG gas acts as an accelerant to the unburnt diesel fuel to increase combustion efficiency. Some installers claim a diesel/LPG injection system will improve the efficiency rate from the standard diesel engine efficiency rate of about 75-80% to around 95-98%.

Related Questions

Can Electric Vehicles Tow?

Yes, some electric vehicles can tow. The only electric car on sale today that’s approved for towing is the Tesla Model X SUV. Not only can it tow, but its maximum towing limit is a substantial 2,270kg – easily high enough to haul a large caravan or trailer.

How Much Does It Cost to Install A Tow Hitch on A Car?

Costs of a trailer hitch. Standard hitches can range from $215 to $1,150. Gooseneck hitches’ costs average about $570 to $1,150, and fifth wheel hitches can run from $715 to $3600. If you tow things with your car or truck, there are a few key factors to consider.

What Vehicles Can Tow 7,500 lbs. And Above?

The following are examples of cars that can pull RVs above 3,401.94 kg: 

  • Dodge Durango – 3,357 kg
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel – 3,357 kg
  • Mercedes-Benz GLS – 3,402 kg
  • Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI – 3,493 kg
  • Porsche Cayenne – 3,500 kg
  • Volkswagen Touareg – 3,500 kg
  • Toyota Land Cruiser – 3,674 kg
  • Nissan Armada – 3,856 kg

Is It Legal to Tow A Car with A Tow Strap?

Towing a car with a tow rope, often as a means of recovering a broken-down vehicle, was reasonably common in years past. It’s still legal, subject to complying with the relevant road rules and regulations, but it’s not something we generally recommend. Many vehicles these days will require tilt-tray towing.

Can A Class C Motorhome Tow A Car?

Any vehicle or boat can be towed behind an RV so long as it doesn’t exceed the weight capacity of the towing method you’re using. Pickup trucks, SUVs, Jeeps, and other vehicles on and off the road can be towed behind about any RV bigger than a Class C motorhome.

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