SUVís and Trailers

SUV's aren't my first choice as a tow vehicle, but I do understand the economics. Not everyone can afford a truck and a car. And the size, weight and height of a SUV gives you the feeling of safety in traffic. You want that same safety towing a horse trailer by making the right choice matching your trailer and SUV. SUVís are becoming more popular each year. Recently the smallest Hummer. 2006 H3 Hummer (size similar to GM Trail Blazer) was unveiled at California Auto show in Oct. Who do you think this is targeted at ladies?

Hummers make a surprisingly good tow vehicle, more.

SUV's have such variety and now more diesels are coming. The reason I have a soft spot for diesel SUV's for a tow vehicle, is the torque that translates to towing power, more so than from a gas engine. That's why all over the road semi trucks are diesels. And the diesel engine itself weights 600 to 800#'s more than a gas engine, giving a SUV, already hampered by a shorter wheelbase, some leverage. Pickup truck configurations generally have a longer wheelbase than SUV's, a longer wheelbase can leverage your SUV for better controlling your trailer. For example a Ford Excursion has a wheelbase of 137 inches. and a Ford F250 crew cab long bed has a wheelbase of 172 inches.

 
 

Get the biggest and longest SUV is the short answer. The full-size SUVís have similar frames to trucks and a lot of them are boxed frames instead of C-frame, so they are strong. But you've got to get as much wheelbase as you can find. So to pull a trailer similar to a Ĺ ton truck, (GM, 1500, Dodge 1500, Ford F150, Toyota Tundra,) you need a SUV with a similar weight to a Ĺ ton truck. This would include Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and others. These SUVís have a ďBody on FrameĒ construction like trucks.

Always look at the vehicles trailer towing limits from the manufacture. Most factory brochures and manufacture web sites will give you the brake down of weight limits and hitch weight limits according to engine size, transmission, and rear axle ratio. For the highest trailer capacity, usually a weight-distributing hitch is required with a receiver hitch, at least class 3 or higher. This is different from a weight carrying hitch, which is just a drawbar inserted into the receiver hitch. The weight-distributing hitch attaches to the trailer tongue with adjustments usually with chain links to transfer weight forward to the SUV, putting weight on all the axles. Yes I have pictures of these hitches, at http://www.mrtruck.net/trailers.htm. In cases where the weight distributing hitch adjustment doesnít take all the sway away when pulling the trailer, a sway bar can be added to the weight-distributing hitch. All this will help you pull level, with weight on all of the axles of the SUV and trailer and less swaying from a bumper pull trailer.

All of the SUVís listed above have rear coil springs with the exception of the Dodge Durango which has rear leaf springs. Rear coil springs are designed to give you a better ride, but this also gives you more rear movement. You donít want extra movement when pulling a trailer. So itís even more important to have a weight-distributing hitch on SUVís with rear coil springs and especially SUVís with independent rear axles. Independent rear axles are similar to front axle of a front wheel drive car. Each side can move independently of the other. And once again this is to improve the ride with more movement, not necessarily a good thing when pulling a trailer. These independent rear axles need the weight-distributing hitch. Some of the SUVís with independent rear axle are Mercedes, ML320 and bigger, 2002 Ford Explorer, 2003 Ford Expedition and more. Always get the factory tow package with your SUV, which should include a class 3 or higher receiver hitch, an external automatic transmission cooler, anti-roll bars or anti-sway bars and a wiring harness. Also make sure both of your trailer axles have brakes and have a good trailer brake controller added to your SUV.

The largest SUVís are the longest ones that are available in 3/4 tons, which are the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and Ford Excursion. These newer models all have leaf springs on the rear axle, which makes them, more stable than smaller SUV's with rear coil springs. These larger SUVís will pull similarly to ĺ ton trucks, (Dodge 2500, Ford F250, GM 2500,) they generally donít have as long a wheelbase as a truck. So once again depending on the total weight of your loaded trailer, a weight-distributing hitch might be necessary. One advantage of the Ford Excursion is the diesel engine option, which will add another 800#ís on the front for stability and balance when pulling a trailer.

Hummers make a surprisingly good tow vehicle. The H2 with the 4.10 axle ratio, 6.0L High Output gas engine and it's rear axle so close to the rear bumper, makes a stable towing machine. I've towed 7000# trailers with an H2 through high country snowy passes and was impressed. The H1 Hummer called Alpha for 2005.5 will have the GM Duramax diesel and the Allison automatic. This could make a nice expensive SUV towing vehicle.

On shorter wheel based tow vehicles, having some steering weight on the SUVís front axle, transferred from the trailer with a weight distributing hitch will give you better control and less work on your part.  Once again look for factory towing packages with external auto transmission coolers, class 3 or higher receiver hitch, wiring harness and anti-sway stabilizer bars on the axles of the SUV. The newer SUVís have 4-wheel disc brakes, which can be an advantage slowing down a trailer. And of course you need brakes on the trailer and a brake control in your SUV.  Folks have been pulling horse trailers successfully for decades with the oldest SUV, the Suburban.

 If you have to pull with a smaller SUV than mentioned above, in my opinion the Chevy TrailBlazer, Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer and so on are better choices for a tow vehicle with a lighter trailers properly equipped, like 4000#ís and smaller. These SUVís are also ďBody on FrameĒ design similar to trucks. The Durango and Explorer 2001 and older have leaf springs also. These SUVís are heavier than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, and smaller SUVís like Suzuki and Kia.

 I get asked my opinion about the Jeep Cherokee pulling trailers quite often. I do see them pulling trailers and it has with the V-8 option the power to pull trailers that out weigh it, but itsí chassis is like a car with a "Unibody" undercarriage. With framed chassis vehicles, ďBody on Frame,Ē the receiver hitch bolts directly to the frame, as do the front and rear axles. The frame takes the stress from the trailer directly and gives you more weight at the bottom of your SUV, a good place to have weight on a SUV. And a weight-distributing hitch can easier transfer some of weight forward to your front axle thru leverage on the frame. On the Jeep ďUnibodyĒ, it has sub frames at each axle, which bolt to the floor pan, which is just corrugated sheet metal, so the axles are not tied together with a frame but separated by the floor pan.

The last series of Jeep Cherokee does have some square formed sheet metal welded to the floor pan for added strength but itís still not a framed chassis with a body bolted to it, as is the ďBody on FrameĒ design. If you notice on the Cherokee you step over the threshold to get in and your feet go down in a hole instead of a flat floor. The floor has to be corrugated, wavy like a barn roof to make it strong since the floor is not bolted to a frame. Car companies do this ď UnibodyĒ construction to lighten up the vehicles for gas mileage and save money. To add a receiver hitch to the Cherokee, the hitch, bolts to the rear axle sub frame, which in turn bolts to the floor pan sheet metal. So the stress from the trailer goes just to the rear axle sub-frame and the bolts and rubber bushings that connect the axle to sheet metal floor instead of a frame. So as far as I can figure using a weight distribution hitch, (which I strongly recommend,) to distribute weight, (which is what they do) to the front axle, has to leverage the floor pan between the axles. The first ĒUnibodyĒ I remember was the VW Beetle. I remember the floor pan rusting out and looking down and seeing the road between my feet. Can you imagine pulling a horse trailer with the old Beetles?

The smallest class of SUVís, such as Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and so on, are ďFront Wheel DriveĒ SUVís. These fall into the same towing category as ďFront Wheel DriveĒ mini- vans. Special receiver hitches are required with any FWD to transfer weight as far forward as possible to the driving axles for traction.

A Unique SUV for towing, which will take another article, is the Suburban 2500 and Yukon XL Quadrasteer. This system changes the pivot point from the rear axle to the middle of the vehicle to dramatically reduce the sway that can come from a trailer. It's like having a steering axle on your trailer. More details at www.QuadrasteerClub.com

The bottom line is you can safely tow the right horse trailer with a properly equipped SUV when itís matched properly with a receiver hitch, weight distributing hitch, engine, transmission and rear axle ratio, within the weight limit capacity set my the manufacture.

SUVís fun function and even a safe towing machine when equipped right. Excursion diesel, Hemi Grand Cherokee, Touareg diesel, and the GM Quadrasteers are all bringing excitement to the SUV towing world.

Some horse trailer manufactures come with a place for the wdh in the tongue . www.mrtruck.net/wdh.htm