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Safe to pull a trailer with my VW Jetta tdi?

Hi. I just purchased a 2003 VW Jetta GLS tdi wagon, automatic transmission. I want to put a hitch on it to pull a small trailer to haul my scooters (Honda Elite 110 and Honda Helix 250) and also to haul a few goats now and then. The old-timer mechanic who checked the car out for me told me that I shouldn’t really haul anything with it or it will damage the transmission. Another mechanic at a dealership that sells only used diesel vehicles told me that one of the mechanics hauls a trailer with other cars on it with his Jetta and it doesn’t hurt anything. Who is right?

What does your owners manual say?

Mountain or flatland driving can make a difference. If you are on flatland, occasional trailer pulling will not, without incident, make a problem for your car but don’t permit the automatic transmission to “hunt” between lockup and the top gear if it has the lockup function. Trailer pulling is never as safe as not pulling. Pulling is easy on flatland but stopping and turning are compromised in any terrain. Whatever the owner’s manual says will be the safe, conservative, lawyered answer. Any car can pull a trailer but the weight of the trailer and the load is the deciding factor and that is subject to your own experience. There is no other instruction. I have pulled a trailer for short distances (a few miles) on flatland loaded to 2000 lbs. with a 51 hp IDI VW diesel. Braking was difficult.

Another second for @whatwho. 's excellent comments.

Is the OP asking a “safety” question? Or, is he asking if pulling the trailer will do mechanical damage to the car?

On safely pulling a trailer, it is entirely about the trailer. How big is it? How heavy is it? Will it have surge brakes, electric brakes, or no brakes at all? The two scooters are not that light and both together will be about 500 lbs and up. Add gear and the weight of the trailer, hopefully it will be a very small and light trailer. A few goats should not be heavy, but I’d wonder about hauling them in a very small light trailer with low side rails. I’d think a Jetta with the brakes in good working order could handle a 1000 to 1,500 gross weight loaded trailer even if the trailer had no brakes. Anything over 1,500 would need trailer brakes to be safe behind such a small, lightweight car.

The Jetta has a FWD transmission. This means small gears in the tranny and differential. Also the clutches are small and compact. Plus these transmissions simply are not very robust to start with. These are the sealed “lifetime fluid” transmissions that fail pretty frequently and often at less than 100K miles. My gut tells me towing of any kind will overtax the transmission and drivetrain. I’d be pricing a new transmission to replace the current one and figure this into the equation of whether or not you want to tow anything with this car. Me, I would not put a trailer hitch on this car, no to towing with a 10 year old Jetta.

A VW Jetta is just about the worst candidate for pulling a trailer. They have tiny 4 cylinders or a small V6 with FWD. I think the mechanic at the dealership knows nothing about towing anything. The old-timer mechanic gave you the best advice along with Uncle Turbo.

Those two scooters weigh 350+250=600 pounds dry, so with a trailer, etc. it’s around 1,000 pounds.

@Goatmother - you need to give us more information on your towing, especially the kinds of roads, speeds, and distances involved.

Those two scooters weigh 350+250=600 pounds dry, so with a trailer, etc. it's around 1,000 pounds.

That trailer better be small and made of aluminum.

I have a small 6’ open utility trailer and it weighs 500lbs.

I would reccommend against towing anything with this car. As others point out, these are not robust transmissions, and even without towing they have a higher than average failure rate and shorte life.

I’ve seen these cars pull trailers in Europe, but they were all manual shift units.

I will go back to what was said earlier by “WhatWho” " and add frequency. There is a lot of misconception going on about dealing with the weight in trailer pulling. As far as the drive train is concerned, it’s NO different then loading the interior of the car with the same weight. The main difference after is that with the added wind resistance at higher speeds. We are not talking about handling… If your car has a rated load capacity of 800 lbs, and can tow a trailer of 1000 lbs, it should have no trouble doing one or the other. Combine the two, and the combine weight capacity of both the trailer and the load is important. The GCWR if you will.

So, no firm answers, but saying this vehicle can’t pull anything is valid only if the chassis is not set up for it, not the drive train. The " little cylinders" and transmission can certainly manage a car load of party animals once and a while…it can certainly manage 6 to 800 lbs of trailer and scooters once and a while. I’ll one up MikeInNH. My 240 lbs aluminum trailer is rated for 2000 lbs. so, there are a lot of good options out there for smaller cars. Drive slowly though !

I also add that if you are an idiot…the answers is no.
If you are a reasonable human being, and don’t feel like you are going to go to the mountains trailering, you will be fine.

Tow it like you stole it. You’ll be fine.

Well, do they even sell a hitch for this vehicle?

They make hitches for vehicle I know of.

If you’re doing occasional towing, in good weather, on pretty flat terrain, you can probably do it. But this is probably one of the worst vehicles for towing–it’s underpowered just pulling itself, and so light that unless your trailer has its own braking system, it will be pushing you at the limit of control if you have to do a panic stop.

Possibly the only worse combination would be pulling something with a Smart Car. Although I did see someone towing a trailer full of lawn-care equipment with a Chevy Sprint once. I really hope it was only because his truck was in the shop…

A hitch will let you use a bike carrier rack. I have one. If you use common sense and pull a small/light trailer/cargo than your good. New cars have minimal cargo hauling ability due to small and awkward shaped trunks. A small trailer is great for moving bulky, light stuff.

Mike - motorcycle trailers are just frames with a couple of troughs for the wheels. This high-quality one (2,000 lb capacity) weighs 400 lbs:

But since we’ve heard nothing back from the OP about use, I’ll default to the ‘don’t do it’ recommendation.

In Europe, the VW Jetta Wagon TDI (or as they are known there, Golf Combi TDI) are commonly used to pull all sorts of trailers, I have even seen them pull camping trailers. So, as long as you get a properly fitted hitch and stay within the towing/weight capacity and use some (un)common sense, you should be fine. There seems to be some misconception in the US that unless a car weighs 5000 lbs and sports a V8, it can’t tow, which is rubbish. Many cars with “small” fours and six cylinder engines are quite capable as tow vehicles and are being used as such in many parts of the world.

Gobits…your advice is rubbish. You can pull almost anything with most vehicles. The problem is that it’s can’t be done safely or without damaging the drivetrain especially the transmission. You can tow smart or tow stupid. It’s up to the owner to decide. You should not be giving advice to “tow stupid.”

What Does Your Volkswagen Jetta TDI Owner’s Manual Say About Towing Trailers ?
I Would Go With The Factory Recommendation.

All of my car’s OMs address this topic. If you have a manual, read it. If you don’t have a manual, get one and then read it.


@Gobits Also people in other parts of world have much lower expectations in regards to performance. That diesel Astra hatchback might top out at 50 MPH on the motorway whilst towing a travel trailer, and that’a acceptable to people who have never towed with what we in North America would consider to be a proper towing vehicle. But if you tried doing that in the U.S. or Canada you’d probably be pulled over and told to get off the road.