Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Safe Towing

Our church has a 10,000 GVW dual axle trailer for disaster relief. We’ve taken it to Mississippi a number of times post Katrina to help repair homes and into Appalachia on Appalachia Service Projects. We’ve weighed it and it comes in at around 6600 lbs with the tools and equipment we carry.

We’re looking at the possibility of getting a tow vehicle that would also handle passenger duties when the trailer isn’t deployed. A 12+ passenger E350 or GMC 2500 Savannah passenger van comes to mind. Though in looking at this link: the selection of non-pickups capable of towing 10,000 lbs is pretty limited.

If we were to buy a tow vehicle does it need to match the maximum capacity of the trailer or would something that is rated to tow 7500 lbs OK as long as we don’t exceed that on the trailer? Anyone know where I can get the definitive (aka LEGAL) answer? When the van is towing the trailer I would likely not be carrying a full load of passengers. The passenger transport duties would be to pick up aging members from a new local senior citizens village for Sunday services and events at church. This would be the vehicles primary purpose. Given the possible limited mobility issues with seniors we don’t want something like a Suburban 2500 or used Excursion because the third rows are all but useless for senior citizens. We’d also use it for youth group trips to the beach or mountain camps.

In hindsight I wish they would have listened to me when I advocated a smaller trailer that can be towed by a half ton pick-up like an F-150 or Chevy/GMC 1500 series. It has only been recently that the Ford and Chevy half tons have been listed with a 10,000 lb towing capacity. This beast is so big we leave it at home on some of these trips and transfer stuff to a smaller trailer from the Scout troop instead of lugging the beast. Even though we have 2000 members in the church we have a very limited number of F-250/2500 series pickups in the congregation.

I recommend a crew cab pickup truck with a dual rear axle, like a GMC Sierra 3500HD or a Ford F-450XL.

Anyone know where I can get the definitive (aka LEGAL) answer?

The definitive answer can be found in the tow vehicles owners manual.

The short answer is you don’t have to get a vehicle that can tow 10,000lbs. You can get one that can tow 7500lbs as long as you don’t exceed the towing capacity of the vehicle.

But there’s something else you have to worry about and that’s the GVWR. It’s not just how much you’re towing, but the total weight of all passengers and other equipment in the vehicle.

Here’s a website that might it explain it more.

For Ford towing information go to and see the towing guide located in the menu at the bottom of the page.
Many vehicles can tow.
but STOPPING on the other hand…
There’s your achilles heel to most towing related problems.
When given the chance to choose, buy a factory towing package to get all the extra cooling and suspension upgrades.

I’d imagine a trailer that size already has electric brakes on it.
I’d say …never have anyone tow it who’s vehicle is not outfitted to operate those brakes. ( I could see a church type group may have many volunteers )

( I can tell you a personal experience with near-death dangerous scary brake fade )

The trailer does have brakes. I’ve towed a 2990 gvw trailer, but I’d likely pass on towing this beast.

I own a 10,000 lb trailer with really well maintained electric brakes and I tow it with a 1/2 ton SUV with an 8800 lb rating. I may exceed the truck’s tow rating by a little bit at times but try to stay under the 8800 rating. As for LEGAL issues, check each state between yours and where you want to go. Every state has their own set of laws and you need to understand this for yourself. I have heard that some states will ticket over-gross private vehicles but I don’t know it for a fact. Do the research for your church so you don’t get any surprises.

As for surprises, keep in mind trailer tires are complete crap. They will go bad just sitting on the trailer with NO miles at all after 3-5 years even if they are over rated for the load. The belts break and the tire will either vibrate and explode or just explode. Fortunately the trailer will be pretty easily controllable if you make no sudden inputs. Always run with a spare. If one explodes, replace them ALL soon after or they will pop one after another in very short order. I have LOTS of experience with this concept and have not found a brand that avoids this.

@Mustangman, that may work for you, but the OP is talking about towing this thing through the Appalachian Mountains. To me, that means you don’t want something with less towing capacity than the trailer’s GVWR.

Also keep in mind that trailer brakes are there to assist the towing vehicle. They are not meant to stop the trailer on their own. The towing vehicle has to do the bulk of the braking. In the mountains, you just can’t chance it.

The trucks I mentioned may be overkill, but I sure as heck wouldn’t tow this thing with a 1/2 ton SUV with 8,800 lbs. of towing capacity through the mountains.

Either the Ford or the Chevy/GMC vans can be equipped to tow 10,000lbs. I’d personally rather have the higher rating even if you are staying around the 7,000lb mark. You might end up wanting to load up either the trailer or vehicle a little more at some point and for what the vehicle needs to do overall.

Regarding trailer tires they definitely need replaced on a age basis not a tread basis. Unless your trailer is in daily use the rubber will break down long before the tread wears out. On our Scout trailers I advocate 5-7 years max. At that point they might have 10,000 miles on them. Trailer tires also are typically inflated to a higher PSI than automotive or truck tires. Our trailers are supposed to be inflated to 50psi.

The Fords and Chevy’s can be equipped for 10,000 the challenge will be finding a late model used one. We might have to go new to get it equipped properly.

Will they be towing the trailer and have the van loaded with people? That’ll be quite a load.

@Whitey, I do tow through the Appalachians. I have to slow while climbing, say, Jellico Pass, but the brakes on my combined rig is more than adequate to stop the whole load in short order. I agree with you, though, more towing capacity is better, especially with less experienced drivers.

“I agree with you, though, more towing capacity is better, especially with less experienced drivers.”

That’s where I get nervous with these kind of questions - it’s not even the (unknown) OP that’ll be driving, it could be whoever volunteers that week…

So far everyone that has towed the trailer has had a fair amount of towing experience. Several of the people that tow also have larger campers that they tow. The guy that normally tows it has a diesel F-250 and owns a 5th wheel camper. Unfortunately he is one of the only people that participates in the ASP program with a large pick-up and he doesn’t go on all the trips.

However, we do run the risk of a lesser experienced driver towing since it would be a church vehicle not their personal vehicle that the owner tows with on a regular basis. If we go the 12-15 passenger van route we would only have about 6 people in the van on an ASP trip. The van capacity is mainly for the other duties when we’re not heading into the mountains towing the beast.

I tow the Scout trailer on a regular basis but it is a 6x12 2990 GVW single axle without brakes. I haven’t hooked up to the larger trailer as my F-150 isn’t rated to tow 6600 lbs let alone 10,000 lbs. With some practice I would drive the van towing the trailer, but I would want some open highway experience before I hit the mountain roads. I’ve towed the smaller troop trailer into some interesting places and fully understand the impact towing has on handling and stopping distances. Windy mountain roads make for an interesting drive with a trailer tagging along behind.

If there are going to be 6 people in the van that will greatly reduce the weight you can put in the trailer. That 7500lb towing capacity will drop to 5000lbs because you’ll exceed the GVWR rating.

Mike, without a specific vehicle to reference to, you can’t really say that. Only the tongue weight is counted against the GVWR. Since the tongue weight is typically 10% of the total weight of the trailer, a 7500# trailer should have a tongue weight of 750#.

The weight of the six passengers plus their luggage plus the tongue weight plus the weight of the vehicle will a full tank of gas cannot exceed the GVWR of the vehicle. Since he doesn’t have a specific vehicle yet, we can’t tell of the towing capacity will have to be reduced or not. If he loads up the van with passengers and luggage to the GVWR, then he can’t tow anything because there is no capacity for the tongue weight.

You’re right Keith…I should have said it COULD drop to 5000lbs.

Point I was trying to make is trailer weight and towing capacity are NOT the only things you need to worry about. 6 passengers is something else in the equation. 7500lbs trailer usually will put more then an extra 300lbs of tongue weight on the hitch.