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Old 07-01-2009, 11:33 PM   #1
Nature Recorder
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Lightbulb Things to consider about your tow vehicle when looking into a Trailer Purchase

Things to consider before looking into any trailer purchase. The following is a brief overview about towing and what to look for. This post is to point out potential issues that need to be looked at when choosing to tow any trailer. All individuals must take their own responsibility for their choices made when deciding on a tow vehicle and trailer.

Tow Vehicle

Consider the tow vehicle (or TV) that you will be using to tow the trailer. Read your vehicle's owners manual! Keep in mind that, when towing a trailer, you will have slowed down your acceleration, increased your stopping distance, and reduced your maneuverability with the added weight and length you are now driving. You may need to look into Factory or aftermarket tow packages to be installed. These include, but are not limited to; Transmission cooler, heavy duty alternator, proper wiring, heavy duty brakes, improved suspension, just to name a few. This will be more important if you plan doing the following. It is one thing to get your trailer from the lot to home and can be a total nightmare trying to get from home to your favorite fishing spot on that high mountain stream if you do not properly evaluate your TV.
You need to consider the type of towing you are going to be doing. If you are one for heavy mountainous and back country towing, even with the comparative light weight of a TM, you will need a fairly heavy duty TV. Steep grades and altitude take its toll on a TV. Engine power is reduced the higher you go. Cooling becomes more difficult because of the thinner atmosphere. Braking on the long downhill slope can be very hard on your TV as well. That just covers a few.

Flat, level plains towing can allow for a lighter TV. Mild slopes an low altitude changes are not such a burden and can accommodate smaller TVs. Again, read your vehicle's owners manual!

Two additional pieces of important information are...

GCVW; Gross Combined Vehicular Weight

Most important is the total weight that a TV can manage as specified by the manufacturer. This implies total weight of the TV, including occupants, fuel, options, cargo and total weight of the trailer including cargo, options, water, etc. Weight does add up very quickly so you want to be generous with your guessing or very accurate with your values. This is not the area you want to be conservative and underestimate your weight.

Towing Capacity; Total weight a TV is designed to tow while not exceeding GCVW. Most specifications are marked with an asterisk. This more often means an empty TV, no occupants, cargo, fuel, etc. Read and understand what they are referencing this for when evaluating your TV!

When considering a trailer, do not look just at "Dry Weight". This is a completely empty trailer with no extra options. Rather look at the combined "Dry weight" and "Load Capacity" (by design, how much the trailer can safely carry). More often than not they list these values as approximates.

Example; A trailer with a dry weight of 2,748 lbs (approximate) and load capacity of 1,328 lbs, you need a towing capacity of more than 4,076 lbs but still not exceed your GCVW.

The above will help you determine if you need another vehicle first and help you understand your tow limits in choosing a trailer.

Trailer Hitch

Most use a WDH (weight Distribution Hitch) with a travel trailer. This helps distribute the tongue weight of the trailer across the front and rear axles of the TV. Without one, there is a risk that the front end will be too light to operate properly in a panic situation. This is due to the fact the front end controls your steering and manages 60-85% of the overall braking of the TV. Some of your larger TVs can support the smaller trailers without a WDH. Consider using one if your are anywhere near the upper towing capacity of your TV.

Brake Controller

TM Trailers come equipped with electric brakes so you will want to get a brake controller and have it installed. This allows the trailer to help with stopping when the brakes are applied. You can read elsewhere on the differences of the type of controllers available and make your choices as to which one to use. With this install you need to have a fully functional 7 position plug-in for your TM available. This is NOT a 4, 5, 6 position to 7 position adaptor!

This gives you operation over the brake/turn/running/backup lights as well as the brakes between your TV and TM. The 7 positions are; brake lights, trailer brake, left turn signal, right turn signal, running lights, back up lights, and Trailer battery charge.
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Old 07-02-2009, 05:22 AM   #2
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Excellent compilation, You might add something about the TV having a factory installed Tow package and the key components. Many times people think adding a hitch and elect connector constitutes a tow package.
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Old 07-02-2009, 07:27 AM   #3
Bill
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Nature Recorder -

That is a very good post, and I'm glad you made it. I suspect that this will become a long thread.

Let me start by making a couple observations, or suggested changes.

In my opinion, the very first rule of choosing a tow vehicle should be "WHERE do you plan to tow your trailer?" If you are going to tool around the flatlands of Florida or Indiana, then you can think about a fairly lightweight tow vehicle. But if you plan to get into any mountains, including the Appalachians, then a more stringent set of contraints comes into play. And if you plan to get up around 10,000 feet in the Rockies or Sierras, for example, then the constraints become even more severe. This is true, not only because of the prolonged steep grades you will encounter, and because engine and transmission cooling are poor in the thin air, but also because for every 1000 feet of altitude, the engine loses more than 3% of its sea-level power. All these things are very hard on a car. So my first piece of advice is always "Figure out where you intend to tow before you even think about a tow vehicle". Or, if you are doing it in reverse, "Figure out where you intend to tow before you even think about choosing a trailer." Unfortunately, many people don't want to do this, because they don't like the answer.

I think that GCVW refers to the total weight of the car, the trailer, and all options and all cargo in both - regardless of how you get there. The issue of "This usually implies an empty vehicle, no gas or driver/passenger(s)" usually refers to the vehicle's tow rating, as specified by the manufacturer. In other words, when the manufacturer says "This vehicle is rated to tow 3500 pounds", check the asterisk! There always is one. And it always means "3500 pounds when there are no passengers, no cargo, no factory options, no aftermarket options, and (often) no gas in the vehicle". This is where newcomers often go wrong, concluding that a 3500-pound-rated tow vehicle can actually tow 3500 pounds, even after they add 1000 pounds of passengers, cargo, and options to the vehicle. T'ain't so.

And finally (and believe me, I am not trying to nitpick your excellent post), I think that the statement "you want to have a 7 position plug-in for your TM" should be rephrased as "you MUST have a properly wired 7-position plug-in ...". Over the years we have had a couple forum members trying to get by with a 4-pin-to-7-pin adapter (or a 5-pin-to-7-pin or 6-pin-to-7-pin adapter). This will not work. It must be a properly-wired 7-pin socket.

Again, thanks for starting a good thread.

Bill
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Old 07-02-2009, 10:25 PM   #4
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Thanks all for the great feedback!

I have updated my post based on these inputs. I hope I have properly paraphrased these inputs. It is always helpful to have another set of eyes to review what I feel is a very important process to evaluate towing needs.

If you would be so kind as to review again, I will be looking forward to your feedback.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:09 PM   #5
Wavery
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Although I agree with Bill in theory....the reality of selecting ""WHERE do you plan to tow your trailer?" , may be a bit naive IMO........ How does the old saying go??...."The best laid plan of mice and men" or something like that......

I feel that the TV should be up to all challenges that it could possibly be challenged by. That is why vehicles are given ratings in the 1st place. You don't see "regional exceptions" on ratings.

I live in So Ca and I mostly tow along the coast, which could be considered, "Moderate" towing. However, there will ALWAYS be that "one special trip" to the mountains or wherever.

I truly feel that any responsible person should have a TV that is capable of towing a specific weight trailer that they have, under the most extreme circumstances. It is the very odd exception that someone would go out and buy a new TV because a particular trip presented itself (and trust me.....it always will).

When you are a camping enthusiast (as many of us are) or even if you're not, that scenario seems to always present itself.

When I say "the most extreme circumstances", I'm not suggesting that it is essential that one has a 1-ton pick-up to tow a TM. I'm merely suggesting that one should never compromise with the factory weight limits because they "Mainly" travel in flat lands. It only takes one incident to ruin a trip or even take a life.
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Old 07-03-2009, 07:46 AM   #6
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Along the same lines as being discussed here, you should also look at the full financial commitment when purchasing a TM. (as I'm finding out).
You need a towing package, the factory installed one is most desirable, a WDH hitch will likely be needed, increased maintenance of the TV over time, what does your used TM need to get it trail worthy and comfortable, license plates and taxes, what accessories do you need to make it work for you? covers? new tires? how about a tv or microwave? Generators? Storage fees? Batteries? Brakes? Solar panels? Propane tanks......
You get the idea, it starts adding up quickly and I assume it is on going to a certain extent. My point being, it would be wise to take a full inventory to get a good estimate of true costs.
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Old 07-03-2009, 09:49 PM   #7
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Default Towing Capacities

The 2007 Toyota Highlander states: Total load capacity means combined weight of occupants,cargo and luggage. Tongue load is included when trailer towing. Total load capacity with third seat is 1159 pounds. Towing capacity with 3.3 L V6 with towing package is 3500 pnds max. No asterick. page 310 of owners manual. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is 5,360 for my vehicle(on front driver's door jam).

On page 402 Towing capacity (trailer weight plus cargo weight) is 3500 pounds. There is an asterick here with foot notes 7,9 which state 3.3 L V6 engine and with tow package. Page 322 states the gross combination weight (sum of your vehicle weight plus its load and the total trailer weight) must not exceed the following 3.3 L V6 with towing package 8860 pounds. (GVWR 5,360 plus 3,500 Tow Capacity equals 8860)

It also notes if your vehicle will be towing a trailer, load from your trailer will be transferred to your vehicle. Consult this manual to determine how this reduces the available cargo and luggage load capacity of your vehicle.

I don't see a problem towing up to 3500 pnds but the problem is the max 350 pound tongue weight for a 3.3 L V6 with tow package. Toyota says the trailer cargo load should be distributed so that the tongue load is 9 to 11% of the total trailer weight. Page 323

So the big disclaimer: CHECK YOUR OWN VEHICLES OWNERS MANUAL CAREFULLY AND NOT WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE.

Read carefully is the key, as you can see all this information is on many different pages. Performance also changes when any weight is changed so just because you are within limits doesn't mean it's going to stop or handle the same. Robert
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Old 07-03-2009, 10:37 PM   #8
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Good post I do not have much to add. I bought my TV before I bought my TM. I study the specs on the TM and the TV I eventually bought. I do think people tend to look at the dry weight of the TM and use that as the towing weight instead of the gross weight. The TM salesmen also tend to sale it on the idea it can be towed by almost any vehicle.

I also agree with harveyrv you should but a TV for the most demanding towing conditions.
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Old 07-04-2009, 06:10 AM   #9
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As you can see from my equipment profile, I have what might be considered overkill, but when I had an unusual incident in front of me two weeks ago requiring an aggressive stop, it was certainly not overkill.
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Old 07-04-2009, 07:03 AM   #10
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I reviewed all the TV specs and did a lot of figuring before purchasing the TM, it all works and I have about 800lbs left over for gear in the car. I'd MUCH prefer to have overkill like Rumbleweed, but that can't happen right now. My Subaru is getting high mileage, so plans are being made for when it needs to be replaced.

If the Highlander #'s were aimed at me, they are all wrong for the '08 Highlander, different beast. But still appreciate the analysis.
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