• Choosing a Tow Vehicle

    by serious offshore

    Selecting the right tow vehicle to tow your boat, especially one that is that is agreeable as a daily driver, can be a very difficult decision.

    And even if you begged, most dealers would not allow you to actually hook up your boat and test the combination out. Much of what you have to go by has to depend on the vehicle's specifications, its towing capacity, and your driving impressions. Whether you have your heart set on a particular vehicle or not, there are still many choices to be made about the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, comfort and luxury features, and whether you want two or four-wheel drive.

    Here are some important steps you should take when considering buying a vehicle to tow your boat.

    Trailer weight: Know the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and the actual weight of your boat. You may have to get an actual weight on the boat and trailer combination. Never use the "dry" weight rating typically found in a brochure, as this is the weight of the boat with no options or any of your stuff loaded in to it. Virtually everyone that visits a scale with their boat leaves shaking their head. Your boat weighs more than you think it does. It really does. Fuel, coolers, jackets and all the stuff you drag along.

    Vehicle loading: Consider the weight to be carried in your vehicle. Every vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the maximum permissible weight of everything on board your vehicle, including the vehicle itself plus passengers, cargo, and fuel. Estimate the weight of all your gear, passengers, fuel, and luggage that is going to be in the vehicle, then add up the weights. You must also include the tongue or pin weight of your boat. This can add substantially to the vehicle's total weight and put many vehicles over the permissible GVWR. If you'll be carrying close to the maximum GVWR while towing near the maximum towing weight, you should forget about that particular vehicle and go to something with more load and towing capacity.

    Vehicle type: For comfortable, no-nonsense hauling, heavy duty trucks with towing packages and big diesel engines cannot be beat for towing the big 5th wheel. But for towing a smaller performance boat you don't necessarily need a truck. You might be able to get by with a passenger vehicle, like an SUV or large sedan. Check the vehicle's manual for tow ratings. Be aware though, that seemingly similar vehicles (in power, size, and weight) can have quite different towing capacities, and some vehicles don't allow towing at all.

    Frame type: There are two type of frames in today's vehicles: full-frame and unit-body. Full-frame vehicles and traditional trucks are the better choice for hauling very heavy loads because the tow hitch can be attached directly to the frame with trucks and full-frame SUVs, minimizing the strain placed on the body of the vehicle. With a unit-body vehicle, there is not a traditional rail frame. The body and the chassis share the load together. The tow hitch is attached to the body or bumper in a unit-body vehicle. If you tow heavy loads regularly in a unit-body vehicle, you're likely to find more creaks, rattles, and body integrity issues. If you just tow occasionally on weekends, it's nothing to worry about.

    Drive train: The undisputed choice for serious towing is rear-wheel drive. It offers better traction and stability compared to front-wheel drive. Truck-style four-wheel drive is not advised, as it should never be used while towing, unless you are in an emergency situation. All-wheel-drive systems are a mixed bag: some aid in towing, while others have a reduced towing capacity and are vulnerable to added wear or damage from towing.

    If you're thinking about the all-wheel-drive model, check that the towing capacity for the all-wheel-drive model is similar to the two-wheel-drive version. Some of the more sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems will change the proportion of torque going to the front and rear to compensate for any change in stability due to the boat. These systems are typically available on the car-like SUVs that are otherwise front-wheel drive.

    Transmission: An automatic transmission is usually the best choice for towing. A manual is OK only for experienced, careful shifters. With an automatic, just remember a few precautions: make sure your vehicle has a transmission cooler, and remember to always disable overdrive to prevent excessive wear.

    Engine type: Think torque rather than horsepower for towing. If the terrain permits, see how confident the vehicle can accelerate from a stop up a steep hill. Torque is what gets the load moving so in general, the more you have the better. Modern turbo-diesels really excel in towing, and they're a great choice when available due to their better mileage and long-term durability. They also maintain their power at higher altitudes where gas engines tend to lose power, as much as 3% power per 1000 feet of altitude. This assumes the gas engine is not turbo or supercharged. Be aware that if you choose a smaller engine for economy, it might be so strained that it actually uses more fuel than the larger engine, not to mention all the extra engine wear.

    Brakes: Most modern vehicles have assisted braking, known as ABS. Ensure that the vehicle you choose has ABS. It can really help in a panic situation, especially towing a large boat. Some vehicles have an electronic trailer brake option which is incorporated into the vehicles braking system. This feature controls the brakes on the boat in relation to how much you are braking the vehicle. If the vehicle you are looking at has this option, get it!

    Towing packages: Make sure you get a vehicle with the special towing package if it's available. If it's not, look at another vehicle. The towing package should include an oil cooler, transmission fluid cooler, heavy-duty alternator and battery, higher-capacity rear springs, and possibly a stabilizer bar (or larger one than standard). Trucks might also get a lower final drive ratio (a higher number means lower gearing which is desirable for towing), and heavy-duty differential. Don't get a stripped-down version of the vehicle you want thinking to add all of these things as needed. It will be cost-prohibitive and likely void your warranty.

    The scariest words youíll ever hear out of a boaterís mouth are "Iím not going very far and Iím really safe, Iíll take it easy".

    Donít be that guy!
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Ratickle's Avatar
      Ratickle -
      I actually smoked the transmission on the S-10 when I was moving the Scorpion to test run the engines before putting in the water that year. No problem with the 2500 Chevy though. But, I'm looking at 2012 F350 SRW 4x4's with diesels now. Any strong opinions either way out there on the choice?