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Question DetailsAsked on 11/10/2014

Towing A Small Boat With a 4 Cylinder Engine SUV?

I'm looking to replace a six cylinder SUV with (probably) a four cylinder SUV/Pickup/Jeep. I routinely tow a small 18' boat. Rated weight of boat + trailer about 2100LBS (1847 for the boat, estimated 250LBS for the single axle trailer). Trailer has no brakes. I typically only pull the boat about 10 miles each way to the nearest mariner, but do like to have the option of pulling further away if I want to try out a different launch point. Maybe 30 miles max each way.

Most of the vehicles I'm looking at have a 2.4lt engine. What type of towing issues should I expect with a smaller vehicle like this? Would there be any towing difference with an AWD or 4x4 ?


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Obviously, check the towing rating for the vehicle - I figure they overstate reasonable towing capacity by about 1/4-1/3, especially if looking at towing any distance at highway speeds.

If tow is mostly flat and not long distances, and without any signficant long grades that could overheat transmission, probably not an issue there. Ditto if short tow not at full highway speed.

I would say probably almost any SUV with a 4-banger is likely to have a short wheelbase, which will greatly aggravate trailer sway and make the vehicle want to wander on the road. You will not know till you try it, but for highway speeds you may well need trailer stabilizers - shock absorbers basically that go from the bumper to the trailer to reduce swaying. I do know vehicles with wheelbases less than about 100-110 inches are far more prone to trailer sway, when when it gets out of control can result in total loss of control and flipping over. I have seen far too many of that type accident on the road - probably at least two dozen or more over a half century of driving - with CJ's, Brats, Elements, short subarus, etc towing snowmachine or ATV trailers or boats bigger than basically dories or rowboats.

2100 lb trailer without brakes - that one DOES scare me with anything lighter than about 4000# towing vehicle weight. An old trailering rule of thumb, that car manufacturers totally ignore today, is that the towed weight for a personal vehicle should not exceed 40% of the vehicle weight - 50% with trailer brakes, so in your case a Blazer/ Ranger/ Wrangler/ Ramcharger/ Durango/Cherokee sized vehicle at a minimum. If doing more than a few miles slower speed trailering with any frequency, I would opt for the pickup or Durango/Yukon size vehicle, but few of them come with 4 bangers. That also gives you room for loose gear in the towing vehicle instead of weighting down the boat carrying all your gear.

Remember - not only is your vehicle having to provide braking for the vehicle and trailer in all road conditions, but the trailer pushes the towing vehicle forward during stopping so you need enough towing vehicle weight to provide not only forward movement braking but also to prevent the trailer from pushing the back end sideways. If it has never happened to you then count your blessings - having a trailer flip around on you is downright SCARY - happened to be once towing a 4 ton air compressor that blew both tires on the same side and flipped me around 360 degrees - amazingly staying on the road and hitting nothing - NOT comething you want to do twice unless you are Evil Knievel. Obviously, this rule does not apply to commercial trailers with independent braking systems.

And of course, with a 2000# trailer you would have to watch tongue weight on a small vehicle, so you do not overlaoad the rear axle of the vehicle or lift weight off the front wheels - like first photo in this article which also might give you good info in the article -

Also, check your state laws - in your state and anywhere you might take it - because trailers over a certain weight are required to have brakes - 1000# in NY for instance, 2000 some other places, 3000 max on interstates and many other states - the highest limit I have ever seen is 5000# in Alaska.

As for 2WD/4WD - unless towing in conditions where you would be using 4WD, I can't see that would make any difference. AWD's obviously always have less tendency to lose traction so would be a better choice especially if frequently towing in rain or snow, but unless it has 4 wheel traction control I can't see it making a lot of handling difference.

BTW- if you ever replace your trailer, don't let anyone convince you surge brakes are suitable. Even the electromagnetic trailer brakes are pretty much of a joke - put a slight drag on but do not provide true braking and operation is dubious after some road dirt and water gets in there. If towing a trailer more than about 1500# I think they should require true ABS electric brakes, not surge or electromagnetic ones - but that does require that you have more than a 4 or 5 pin connector, because you need true power to the trailer for the braking power unit - so typically needs a 7 or 9 pin connection.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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