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General Towing Question

Background - we have a 2011 Honda Odyssey and are thinking about purchasing a boat so I started looking at towing capacity/information. In doing an internet search, I found a post on a forum of someone towing a 7,000 lb airstream trailer with an odyssey, promptly followed by a slew of posts saying s/he was crazy, an idiot, will likely die on his next trip and go to hell, etc.

All this got me thinking - When I was growing up our neighbors had an airstream trailer that they towed with their 1978 Ford LTD. Now I don’t know the specifics of the trailer, but I’m guessing it on the order of 5-7000 lbs. Now, comparing the LTD with our Odyssey:

1978 Ford LTD
Engine: 5 L V8, 134 HP, 248 lb-ft torque
3 speed automatic transmission
4222 lbs
4 wheel 300mm disc brakes
Towing capacity: ???

2011 Honda Odyssey
Engine: 3.5L V6, 248 HP, 250 lb-ft torque
5 speed automatic transmission
4337 lbs
4 wheel, 320 mm disc brakes
Rated towing capacity: 3500 lbs.

I don’t have the details on the suspensions, but I’d wager that the Odyssey has a better suspension system than the LTD.

So the question I have is where does the 3500 lb rated capacity come from, is it necessarily unsafe to tow a larger load, and if so, how do you reconcile that with the fact that a vehicle that was arguably inferior in every aspect could tow something nearly twice as heavy? (for the sake of argument, assume that the odyssey has a proper hitch and transmission cooling, etc)

The LTD was rear-wheel drive and presumably had body-on-frame construction. Both of those helped for towing.

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… along with the reality that the Odyssey has a notoriously weak and problem-prone transmission.


First of all you are comparing apples to oranges . Decide on a boat first ( don’t buy just decide ) get all the facts such as overall weight and how much weight will be on the hitch. Then tell whoever is going to put the hitch on what you are considering and see if they match. As low as the Odyssey is you might have water in it when you back down the boat ramp and the front wheel drive might have trouble getting you back up the ramp.


Your Honda weighs about 4500 lbs empty
The Max combined gross weight is 8400 lbs (that’s car, passengers, cargo, trailer)

Now your at a max towing capacity of 3100 lbs not the 3500 lbs the owners manual says.

add 4x150 lbs passengers, that’s 600 lbs

Now your max towing capacity is 2500 lbs

Clothes, food, water, ice chest, camping/fishing gear, another 500 lbs

Now your max towing capacity is 2000 lbs, which is about the max you can tow with a 2011 odyssey with out the trailer having it’s own brakes.

If the loaded trailer weighs more than 40% of the tow vehicle it must have brakes.

And you only have 248 HP not 348 HP

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I have a 2005 Odyssey (same engine, I think you might have a different transmission, though), and while I have a trailer hitch for mine, I don’t attach anything heavier than a bike rack. I wouldn’t even think about trying to tow something as heavy as a boat…as low to the ground as Odyssey’s are, you’d have a heck of a time trying to get the van back out of the water after you launch and dock the boat…If you don’t want to purchase a truck that’s designed to tow a boat as big as you want, why not look at the cost of renting a truck that capable of towing the boat?

OP, don’t get into this situation:


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The 78 LTD had a fairly low HP and Torque figures because of the primitive smog controls, however it was a much more robust vehicle than your Odessy. Cars of this type regularly pulled house trailers up yo 40 ft long, not just Airstreams.

As others have pointed out, Minivan transmissions are notoriously weak and front drive is particularly unsuited to pulling a boat up a wet ramp.

Much of what makes your minivan so heavy are safety requirements and comfort items that the LTD didn’t have that add nothing to the strength of the vehicle.

The engine, transmission and most importantly , frame are what made the ltd heavy.

Instead of a frame your Honda has folded sheet metal.

If you try towing a 7000 boat you will find out what happens if the folded sheet metal kinks or tears.

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That’s absolutely insane.

That’s what Honda has rated it and will accept as max towing weight (it’s the same amount as the European versionl)

Besides that, I would never tow with an automatic transmission of any kind.

Ford EU even says in their manuals:
If you need to tow with your car with a/t, it is imperative that you get your vehicle equipped with a separate oil cooler for the transmission. If not, the transmission will be damaged and any warranty will be canceled.

That’s one other reason not to buy a Ford.

Living in trailer country

It comes from engineers who know what they’re talking about. That’s all you need to know.

You are barking up the wrong tree! My neighbor last year wrecked a perfectly good Odyssey by pulling a tent trailer.The Honda transmission is just not up to the task. Forget about engine power for the time being.

I have pulled trailers mostly and successfully with a REAR DRIVE US car with an added transmission cooler.

Puling a 7000 lb trailer with a Honda Odyssey is wishful thinking. You won’t get far.

I would take Honda’s tow rating with a grain of salt. My neighbor now has a Honda Pilot which is rear drive and has a better transmission.

The 1978 Ford LTD is a better tow vehicle.

Most people I know with trailers have either an extended cab pickup truck or an SUV with rear drive such as a Chevy Suburban. Our son has a Toyota Tacoma with all the right equipment.

Don’t rent a truck; rent a boat by joining a club. No purchase, no storage, no repairs, no towing, and when you no longer want to boat, just non-renew.

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In addition to all the discussions about weight and transmissions, keep in mind that tow ratings aren’t solely based on “is the car powerful enough to move this thing?”


This Porsche SUV pulled a 285 ton airplane in a publicity stunt. It was powerful enough to move the plane. But its tow rating is obviously not 285 tons, or anywhere near it, because if it got that plane up to speed and then tried to stop or turn, bad things would happen.

You could probably use your Odyssey to safely pull that airstream or boat around at 10mph in a parking lot, but pulling it at 60mph+ on the highway is just asking for a wreck.


Thanks for the replies.
First, I’ll say that we haven’t purchased a boat. I’ve just started looking and researching, which is what led me to ask the question. Our Odyssey is 8 years old with 85K miles, is in good shape and paid for, so I’d prefer not to get a new car if not necessary.

Yes, that is the crux of my question. (We had thought about getting a 727, but opted for the boat because I didn’t want to get a Porsche Cayenne to pull it!) I’ve read the manual, I’m just trying to understand the apparent discrepancies and why the manual says what it says.

The frame construction that the LTD had vs unibody construction was one thing in the back of my mind. Someone suggested a pilot, but the pilot shares the same platform as the odyssey. The engines are the same size (? possibly the same) and the pilot actually has a lower rated towing capacity than the Odyssey.

We wouldn’t tow much - the boat would be at the cabin all summer, I’d just need to get it out and into storage in the fall, then back in the water in the spring, so we very well may end up renting a truck for the few times we need to move the boat.

We have friends with a pretty good size Cabin Cruiser type boat. The place they store for the winter will take it out of the water , winterize it , store it and put it back in the water when they are ready to use it again .

Just do what they did with Howard Hughes’ old airplane:


I see you’re from Minnesota, not somewhere with an ocean, so what kind of boat are we talking about? Just a little lake skiff with an outboard, or a pontoon, or what?

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No it is not. The pilot is based on the Oedssy minivan chassis so it is FWD or AWD, but not RWD.


It depends on how big and heavy a boat you really need. Our 16ft Silverline weighed in at around 1600lbs ready for a day trip but when we took it camping our 2000lb tow rated volvo really struggled where under the same conditions the 1988 Grand Voyager had no problems at all for our seasonal towing needs.

(that van was optimistically rated for 4,000lbs but tow tests at the time suggested no more than 3,500lbs )

Yes. Rent a truck! I have neighbors with $100,000 motor homes that they use at most 3 months per year! Why? They could rent one for $500 per month/$1500 per year. A pickup with 6,000lbs towing capacity with hitch, transmission cooler, and lights connection can be rented for $30 to $40 per day! Years ago I was building a retaining wall. I decided I wanted one more layer of blocks. About 60 at $1 each. The originals were delivered with other building materials by a local lumber yard. When I went back for the additional blocks I requested delivery. The clerk advised me that would cost an extra $25. I said fine. The clerk asked, don’t you have a pickup? I replied, No. I might need a pickup about every 5 years, I don’t consider paying your $25 delivery as needing a pickup. I could buy a new base model pickup for $30,000 then add insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. The clerk did not underatnd. I live in a pickup culture. They think everyone should own a pickup. I would guess 20% of people in my county own pickups. I don’t understand why people want to tow something with vehicles that are not designed for towing? Could it be seeing motorcycles and bicycles with tiny trailers? I really have no idea.


Thanks for the correction. He told me it was RWD based, but his is AWD.