Is an after market tow package worthwhile?

We have an 07 Chrysler Town & Country, 87k. We’re looking to a buy a trailer (a pop up–nothing huge) but need something to tow it. Don’t tell me to get a new car, we just paid this one off. Is an after market tow package worth? Will towing with it kill my engine/transmission? The tow package includes a transmission cooler, heavier rear shocks, better brakes, brake wiring, a hitch, etc. We probably won’t tow it more than 50-100 miles over light hills. The owner’s manual says w/o the towing package, it can tow 1800 pounds but if we’d gotten the manufacturer’s towing package, it can tow 3500 pounds, with the same engine listed. It has a 3.8L V6.

Well, minivan transmissions are weak at best. But given what you’ve described, I’d do it (the cooler is a must). Of course, you left people no other way of answering by saying “Don’t tell me to get a new car…” So perhaps your mind is made up already. So the question is, will the money spent be worthwhile to you for whatever enjoyment you will get. That’s a question of personal satisfaction more than of cars.

Has the transmission fluid ever been serviced over that 87k miles?

If not, do that first. The condition of the transmission fluid will determine if you should start towing with the vehicle.

The transmission is the weak link in these vans.


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Normally I’d say yes it’s well worth it but much could depend on the total price of the package and so on.

At a bare-bones minimum you should consider the installation of an auxiliary transmission fluid cooler and consider changing the fluid every 30k miles; especially at the start of summer.

Even towing 1800 pounds can be tough on the transmission, brakes, and so on.

I’d do the fluid change and the trans cooler and wouldn’t worry about the rest. Cooling capacity would be the other thing but you can’t change that without a new readiator so just make sure that is up to snuff too.

The transmission cooler is critical as your van transmission is not stout to begin with and towing will stress it.

Also realize 1800 lbs towing is if your van is barely loaded not loaded to the hilt with camping stuff etc.

Be very careful on the weight of the trailer. Know what it is fully loaded, not empty. There’s a lot of stuff you’ll add to it.

Yes, I would get the aftermarket tow package.

An after market towing “package” isn’t the equivalent of a factory installed package. Better shocks helps but the factory package also includes stronger springs and other components. I doubt the after market better brakes, would be as good as the factory installed larger brakes. Still the aftermarket package is better than nothing. The transmission oil cooler is essential, and the higher the capacity the better. Factory packages will include a higher capacity radiator too because towing puts a lot more stress on the motor. You might want to get a bigger radiator and higher capacity cooling fans. Towing on a hot summer day with the AC going full blast and going up and down hills can over work your standard cooling system.

The absolute critical element in this discussion are necessarily omitted; the weight of the trailer. Regardless of how you prep the van, what ever the tow weight is, you need to be well below it for comfort, safety and reliability. 3500 lbs after market prep is just as good as a dealer installed if done correctly. But, you still have a minivan and not a truck and I would only tow the smallest and lightest of trailers as general advice. The terrain, frequency, maintanace and speeds you will be towing at along with the additional weight you will be carrying when in use are all open ended questions which just makes this a discussion and prevents you from getting practical advice specific to your needs.

Personally, if I owned “your” van, I would nix the idea. ;( I see a big money investment in a tow package just to shorten the life on a vehicle that has a spotty reliability history you now can’t afford to replace with a better option.

Nothing wrong with the package. However, as advised, minivans are not the best tow vehicles. Take it easy and stay out of overdrive!

Guys, it’s a minivan and a small popup camper trailer. I think you’re over-analyzing the situation.

Oh, and @FerretMan, keep in mind that if the trailer you buy has surge brakes, you won’t need wiring for electric brakes.

My dodge owners manual sez tow in OD to reduce trans heat buildup. Fwd sedan. It would be interesting to install trans temp gauge and monitor temp using OD and not.

Are you going to use this once a year or every weekend? Once a year, if the pop up camper is very light, you may get by with just a hitch, if you change your ATF just before each trip. If it is heavier and you only use it once a year, consider options.

Rent a cabin at your destination.

Rent an RV.

Rent a truck to tow the camper.

If its every weekend, then get the best trailer towing package you can get with the biggest transmission cooler.

What’s your definition of “small”?

“Small” pop-ups range in size and ratings for example-

Tongue weight 120-200 lbs
dry weight 1305-2154
GVWR 2098-3464

That’s a quick look at one mfr.
Ever stood on the back bumper of a minivan? 200 lbs is going to cause some decent drop in rear bumper height without the stiffer springs in the tow package. Think he’s going camping alone and without any gear? The back of the van will be loaded too. That could have some significant effect on handling under adverse conditions not to mention constant trailer sway. Then factor in up to 3500 lbs behind the vehicle. Safety concerns aside, those vans are notorius for weak transmissions…

I’m all for keeping things sensible and not being the safety nazi but let’s also realize that most people will eventually push the limits after gaining some confidence. They get bold after awhile and kids get older and toys get heavier…etc.

Personally, I used to take a lot of chances/risks when it was just me. Then I had to consider my wife and now, with the kid, I couldn’t live with myself if something happened that was the result of a poor decision on my part. So I err on the safe side…

@TwinTurbo, I think you need to adjust the bottom of the weight ranges downward. There are many popup camper trailers that weigh less than the weights you list.

Tow weight is the most critical element in actual towing…and we don’t have a clue what it will be. Tow weights are given with little consideration for the load carried inside. We also don’t have a clue how it will be loaded and how many family members there are. We are answering questions that don’t exist.
Sure, pop ups can be very light. But common manufacturers do list weights from 1500 lbs to 4000lbs, unloaded.
So I’m with @twinturbo and his reasoning. Go to plan B.

I always thought gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) was the dry weight plus an estimate of maximum cargo weight.

Exactly. And that’s what we should be talking about . Without a clue what will be carried inside, and how that affects the tow weights by adding the tongue weight, we are just guessing. Somehow our answers to these questions keep omitting the load inside the car and just focus on the tow weights. IMHO, that’s not a valid approach. How many manufacturers actually give you a gross combined weight rating in the manual ? Btw, OP specifically said, pop up which I assume means Camper. IMHO, to me, that does not mean a tent trailer but a camper with utilities. They start at 1500 lbs. So, right now it’s a guessing game and you and I and turbo are completely guessing different things !
Just looking at this for example could possibly give you much lower limits then we are talking about, once you know how the vehicle will be loaded.

On my 86 and 89 Buicks, the dealer told me never to tow in OD, ever, even for a small unloaded trailer. The reason was the 4th gear clutch was not substantial enough. Using OD or not resulted in maybe a 400 rpm difference. Always stayed out of OD and never had a problem. On my G6, the difference in OD and 3rd was from 2000 rpm to 3000 rpm which I thought would result in a higher trans temp. Trans shop said no problem using OD, just not to lug it at all. So I think it would behoove you to talk to a dealer or good trans shop on whether or not to use OD. Back in the 80’s the dealer said transmissions were ruined with just a few hundred miles using OD.