One of the one most common misconceptions about trailering is that any vehicle with a tow ball or a trailer hitch can tow just about anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every type of vehicle has specific limits on what it can safely tow.
Front wheel drive
Front-wheel drive dramatically improves a vehicle’s handling and traction, improving safety when road and driving conditions deteriorate. Although designed to be light and efficient, a front-wheel drive may not be powerful enough to pull a trailer
Front-wheel drive also proves far less effective in controlling trailer sway than rear-wheel drive. The heavier the rear of a vehicle is relative to its front, the more stable the trailer is; however, a front-wheel drive has more than 50 percent of its weight over the front axle, making it less stable.
Front-wheel drive doesn’t perform well on a boat ramp because the weight of the trailer on the vehicle’s rear transfers weight off the front wheels, causing them to lose traction.
Another innovation resulting in reduced towing ability is the unibody platform, on which nearly every car is now made. A rigid sheet-metal shell, the unibody doesn’t have a separate, underlying steel frame, which is still common on conventional full-size pickups and SUVs.
Vehicles with a strong frame bolted to a separate body have greater lateral stability, making them less subject to sway. The additional braking and steering loads imposed by towing have less effect on them, and their separate frame provides a strong mounting point for a trailer hitch.
Designed to maximize fuel economy, today’s small-displacement, high-revving, multicam, multivalve engines pack a lot of horsepower but lack the low-end torque needed to get a load moving.
Towing creates a lot of heat that needs to be removed from the engine and engine compartment. Big, efficient radiators, transmission coolers, and engine oil coolers are essential when towing. Lacking these heavy-duty cooling components, the majority of today’s cars have reduced tow ratings.
As cars became smaller and lighter, car brakes became smaller as well, making them insufficient to stop an extra ton or more of boat and trailer.
With a few exceptions, today’s state-of-the-art cars are not up to the task of towing a boat and trailer combo weighing more than 1,000 pounds. If you want to tow a boat these days, you are probably going to be happiest with a full-size pickup, sport utility vehicle or crossover utility vehicle.
When it comes to buying a vehicle to tow your new boat, look closely at the tow ratings specified in the owner’s manual. The manufacturer’s ratings are derived from rigorous testing, and you expose yourself to potential danger and legal liability if you tow a boat that exceeds your vehicle’s rating capacity.
To learn more, take the Trailering Your Boat seminar from a squadron near you.