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Passenger car towing capabilities

I don’t need a truck for anything else, but I want to tow a 3500 lb. trailer. Why do most manufacturers of rear wheel drive passenger cars “not reccomend” towing; and, can a fix be inexpessively made?

No, you can’t alter a vehicle to increase its towing capacity. Towing capacity is about frame strength, suspension, braking capacity, and many other factors, some of which can’t be safely modified.

When you think about it, 3,500 lbs. is a lot of weight. It takes a substantial vehicle to tow something that heavy. Either get something that can tow that amount of weight safely or get a lighter trailer.

You need a truck or a truck-based SUV (Suburban, Tahoe, etc.) to safely tow such a heavy trailer. A friend of mine has such a trailer and he tows it with a “heavy half” Ford F-150 V8 with a transmission cooler. Works great!

A few cars, specially equipped, such as the Ford Crown Victoria, and Mercury Grand Marquis have “trailer towing” packages, and were rated for 5000 lbs. If you can find a used one or a police version, which has heavy duty everything, that might be a good buy.

I don’t even recommend a small truck, such as a Ford Ranger; those can’t hack it either.

As they make cars lighter to maximize mpg it takes away from the frame strength which makes cars poor tow vehicles. Modern cars also use gears and components that are strong enough for moving the vehicle but don’t have extra capacity for towing.

You have to realize that towing is tough on the tow vehicle. There is the extra weight, but there is also a huge increase in wind drag. More wind drag just increased the work load on the tow vehicle.

Back in '60’s cars and light trucks shared many more driveline parts; motors, transmissions, rear ends, and axles were very similar with some different gearing ratios. The full sized cars often had full frames under them the same as trucks. Now cars are unibody (which means no full frame) while trucks and SUV’s have full frames.

Bringing a trailer to a stop is important. Today’s cars do not have brakes designed for stopping heavy loads. ABS and traction control systems for cars are not tuned for towing either. Trucks have more powerful brakes and towing is expected and designed into the entire braking system.

A used police intercepter packaged Ford Crown Vic might do fine with your trailer. But your choice of cars that can handle a 3,500 lb trailer is very limited. Lot’s of choices in SUV’s however.

Don’t forget the other safety aspect: STEERING
When you add weight to the back of the car, it will tend to lift the front of the car up due to fulcrum effect. This will allow less force on the front of the car to keep the tires down. If you add more weight to the front of the car to counter this, it will wear out the steering components faster. Thus do the right thing: get a tow capable truck. 3500 lbs is the weight of an entire car - heavier than most compact cars. The steering and suspension of many passengers and even some light trucks simply cannot safely handle that much extra weight.

Heavy towing is a reason for having a truck if you do it enough, else renting or hiring someone will be necessary…

Daer Folks,

Thanks to all who replied – good stuff.

You know I’m looking for something, that, when I’m not towing, I can drive around and not guzzle more than 25 mpg (combined) of fuel. And, I’m an older fella, so an automatic transmission.

Any recommendations ? Is there a website I could go to that would answer all these questions, so I wouldn’t be squandering your time?

You can’t get over 1000-1500 pounds towing capacity on any car these days. Some like Honda, do let you tow anything, even a snowmobile trailer. They don’t have frames anymore and the high ratio transmissions won’t take it anymore.

We’re here to answer questions, so you’re not wasting our time by giving us questions to answer.
What you’re looking for doesn’t really exist. You’d need to lower your mileage expectations for a vehicle rated for towing that much.

If you’re not going to tow the trailer very often you’d be better off getting an old heavy duty pickup to haul the trailer, and keep whatever you’re driving now for your regular driving.

I used to live in Europe for many years so I always follow these discussions about not being able to tow trailers with a passenger vehicle with much interest. Simply because in Europe they do it all the time and I have always wondered where that difference in perception is coming from. People hook up camping trailers to their Passats or GM mid size vehicles and what not and drive hundreds (even thousands) of miles. It is very common practice - and the engines there are much less powerful than what is sold here. With gas prices being as high as $9 per gallon people (like the original poster) just don’t see a point in driving a truck all year long just because the tow a trailer a couple of times a year,

So I guess to some extent it is a matter of perspective. It is - I believe - also a matter of towing in the mountains or on flat surfaces. This discussion sparked my curiosity and I googled a bit on some European websites and found that a 4 Cylinder Volkswagen Passat Wagon can tow 3500 lbs. More if it’s a V6. The limit on inclines is 8%. So according to these sources you can tow 3500 lbs on inclines up to 8%. It says that the trailer has to have its own brakes.

It actually won (according to Wikipedia) “Practical Caravans Towcar of the Year Awards 2008 for its array of towing features such as its Trailer Stability Programme”. I assume that “Practical Caravans” is a caravaning & camping magazine. If you look at heir website where they review lots of towing vehicles, 50% of those are passenger cars. the only pickup truck I could find was a Ford Ranger:

I am pretty sure that this Passat towing package that I was talking about is not available in the US. On some Passat internet forum I found the following info: “All the hitches available in North America are class I. The VW hitch available in Europe is class II (up to 3500 lbs) but it’s not available openly in North America because it replaces the bumper I-beam and can’t meet the 5 mph bumper safety spec.”

So I guess this post did not really help the original poster but I felt it might be interesting for fellow car nuts on this forum to get some perspective about the fact that towing with a passenger car is not as outlandish as we stateside may think it is.

Although the engine is important, so is the transmission. I had a ‘77 Olds with a 350 V8, pulling a small 15’ boat, about 1300 lbs. I had to have the transmission rebuilt 5 times and I pulled it over flat ground, usually no more than 100 miles each way. I bought an '89 Toyota pickup with a 3.0 liter V6 and towed a 2400 lb boat for many years, putting 193,000 miles on the truck. I had the clutch replaced at 186,000.

I think the best bet here is a small to mid size pickup with a long wheel base (extended cab), trailer brakes on the trailer if possible. Don’t expect 25 mpg but you should be able to get 19 or 20. Most transmissions are now automatic so that’s not a problem although you may require more frequent transmission service. Don’t drive fast and leave lots of space in front of you. If you can find a mid 90s Toyota Tacoma I think you’ll come close to what you need for both types of driving.

if you want 25mpg+, you need a car. If you want to tow 3500lbs+, you need a truck.
Find a gently used compact to get you those 25mpgs then find a beater truck to tow your loads with and park it when you’re not using it.

I did some more research this afternoon because this question really puzzled me this afternoon. How can it be that in the UK the European Accord (here called Acura TSX) is considered a perfect towing vehicle for a 3500 lbs camping trailer and you don’t see them do that here? Well, I have not found the answer but what I have found is the “Car Talk Auto Advisor” at

It allows you to tell it your requirements towards a vehicle (here: towing capacity & fuel economy), prioritize everything, and spits out matching cars. As far as vehicles with 25+ MPG fuel economy it gave me two options: Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Hyundai Santa Fe.

The Euro Accord is sold here as the Acura TSX. It’s listed as having a 1,000lb towing capacity. I highly doubt that the Euro version of the car is designed for or recommended for towing 3500 pounds.

As for the 4cyl Passat being able to tow 3500 pounds - It’s a diesel. That version of the car isn’t sold here.

You COULD beef up a Crown Victoria so it could tow 3500 pounds, but it would cost more money than it would worth…The key would be finding a 3.73 rear axle found in some police cars…As a matter of fact a P-71 model (police) would be a good vehicle to convert to a tow car. All the heavy duty stuff is already there…

P71’s only went up to 3.55 gears. Most have 3.27s. The civy CV’s have 2.73 or 3.08s depending on the year, and 3.27 gears with the towing or Handling/Performance package.

Actually, Honda’s UK site lists the Accord/TSX with the 2.0 gas engine as towing 1500 kg (3300 lbs) and the 2.2 liter diesel as towing 1700 kg (3750 lbs).

What I found even more striking is that even the VW Golf 2.0 TDI can tow 1500 kg (3300 lbs). They have a long article & review about it: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that Golf towing a trailer like that.

I am not pointing all of this out because I want to draw any conclusions for the original subject of this thread. I more satisfied my own curiosity because I remember seeing perfectly normal cars towing these trailers and have always been wondering why we don’t see that here in the US.

I think the main reason that the original poster wanted a passenger car was gas mileage of 25+ MPG. The Crown Vic (I used to own a police version myself) gets around 20. If you’re gonna settle for 20 MPG you might as well go for a Crossover utility that provides the comforts and features of a modern car.

In Denmark:
Accord 2,0 petrol engine, automatic = 3300+ lb. trailerweight with brakes.
VW Passat 1,8 TFSI petrol engine, manual = 3300+ lb. trailerweight with brakes.
VW Passat 2,0 CC 2,0 TSI petrol engine, automatic = 3527,4 lb trailerweight with brakes.
The Passat 2,0 should average 31 mpg. combined.

…I have always wondered where that difference in perception is coming from.

This might have something to do with it.

This is VERY impressive :slight_smile:

Then again: