When you spend fifty thousand dollars or more (of your hard-earned money) for a tow vehicle you don’t intentionally abuse the vehicle. But sometimes we abuse the vehicle and don’t even know it. For example, if you don’t have the proper hitch set-up and too much weight is resting on the hitch ball itself you put more burden on the tow vehicle. Another example is not monitoring, or maybe not even knowing what temperature the engine, transmission or other components are running at. Heat is your tow vehicle’s worst enemy.
So where do we start when it comes to increasing our tow vehicle’s longevity? Good question, let’s start with the basics and go from there.
Vehicle Tow Rating
Before you lay your hard-earned cash out make sure you know how much the vehicle you plan to purchase can really tow. What does that mean? It’s unfortunate, but lots of SUV and truck salespeople don’t really know or understand what a vehicle’s tow rating is. To complicate matters even more, truck manufacturers offer hundreds of configurations across the truck and SUV lines they sell.
You can take two trucks that are identical in model, year, cab configuration, engine and transmission and the tow capacities can be thousands of pounds different. It’s hard to believe but it’s true. There are several factors that contribute to this: the most common, and perhaps the least understood being the rear axle ratio. The ring and pinion gears used in an axle (or final drive assembly) dictate if the vehicle will better for fuel economy or for towing. If you purchase a truck to use as a daily driver you want to maximize fuel economy.
On the other hand, if you purchase a truck to tow a trailer or haul heavy loads on a regular basis you want a good towing axle. There are axle ratios that offer a compromise between fuel economy and towing. It’s easy to see why this is such a confusing topic. When you purchase a tow vehicle you need to make sure it has a rear axle ratio that can get the job done.
Gas vs Diesel
Another consideration is gas vs. diesel. Engine and transmission technology continue to advance, and there are lots of good gasoline engine, transmission and axle combinations available for towing a trailer, but diesel engines are still predominant in the towing marketplace. The main reason is torque, or raw pulling power.
The torque produced at lower RPMs is ideal for moving heavy loads. Torque increases towing capacity, and the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of the tow vehicle. The GCWR is a term you seldom see or hear about, but is extremely important. The GCWR of a tow vehicle is the maximum allowable combined weight of the fully loaded truck and fully loaded trailer. Regardless whether it’s gas or diesel the GCWR is a crucial rating to be considered when you purchase a tow vehicle. Another consideration is cost. The cost of trucks continues to increase, and diesels more-so than gas.
Tow Vehicle & Trailer
After researching, selecting and purchasing the right tow vehicle for the job you need to select a travel trailer or 5th wheel trailer that doesn’t exceed the vehicle’s tow rating, or any other weight ratings on the tow vehicle.
I have written entire books on this topic alone because there are so many variables, but to keep it really simple I suggest you purchase a trailer that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) that is equal to or less than the tow vehicle’s tow capacity. What this means is, even if the trailer is loaded to its max capacity (GVWR) the tow vehicle is still rated to tow the trailer (at least on paper). I do need to add a disclaimer here: you still need to make sure weights do not exceed the vehicle’s payload capacity, gross axle weight rating (GAWR) or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). The tow vehicle and trailer both have these individual weight ratings that cannot be exceeded.
First, it’s important you understand every component in a hitch system has a weight rating. This includes the hitch receiver on the truck, the hitch ball, ball mount, and any weight distributing hitch system that is used.
Having and using the proper hitch components is great, only if it is used correctly. If you put too much tongue weight on the hitch ball you not only add stress to the tow vehicle’s drive train, but it also affects the steering and handling of the vehicle.
It’s important you let a service facility with properly trained technicians set the tow vehicle and trailer up for safe towing. Make sure you thoroughly understand how to hitch and unhitch the trailer prior to leaving the dealership because it will be your responsibility to do it correctly from that time on.
With the onset of the SAE J2807 towing standard, and the increased popularity of RV camping, truck and SUV manufacturers are refining technology that results in better towing design and capabilities.
For starters, when you purchase a vehicle with towing in mind, you want to make sure the vehicle is equipped with a towing package option. A towing package typically includes items like a hitch receiver, 7-way trailer light plug, transmission oil cooler, heavy-duty suspension system, towing mirrors, and heavy-duty cooling systems.
Additionally, manufacturers are including innovative technology like electronic trailer sway control, integrated electronic brake controllers, tow/haul transmission modes, auxiliary braking systems, advanced air ride suspension systems and multi-view camera systems. So, its easy to see why a tow package option is essential equipment.
Monitor Tow Vehicle Gauges
One result of towing heavy weights is the fluids in components like the engine, radiator, transmission and rear axle running hotter than normal. This increased heat can cause a component to overheat, or reduce the lubrication necessary for the component to operate properly.
It is absolutely essential for owners to monitor gauges and be aware of what normal temperatures are, so you know when a component is running hot. Lots of drivers aren’t in the habit of monitoring gauges when driving so a conscious effort must be made to do so.
Another problem is, some vehicles don’t have gauges to monitor components like the transmission and rear axle temperatures. If you plan to tow a trailer often, or under extreme conditions it would be wise to have oil temperature gauges installed in the vehicle. There are also aftermarket products like larger transmission oil pans and differential covers that allow more fluid and oil for increased cooling, and covers with cooling fins for better cooling.
While on the topic of oil and fluids, perhaps the most important thing owners can do is to replace fluids, oil and filters on a regular basis. Fresh clean oil contributes to better lubrication and major components running cooler.
Tow Haul Mode
I mentioned tow/haul modes when I discussed tow packages. It’s important to understand proper gear selection when towing a trailer, to maximize towing efficiency and minimize stress and strain on the tow vehicle.
Review your tow vehicle owner’s manual to properly understand tow/haul modes and gear selection when towing a trailer.
There is more to this topic, but this is a good start. If you would like to learn more about tow vehicles and towing trailers check out our trailer towing basics video course or our tow your 5th wheel like a pro video course at our RV Online Training Center
Mark J. Polk