Towing capacity conundrum



I have driven the highways in Germany, France and Italy and often see the big sedans towing campers, trailers and boats. Yet, if you ask a US dealer what the towing capacity is for a big, fat-cat Audi or Mercedes, they tell you to go buy a Tahoe.

My boat and trailer weigh about 3,500 lbs and I make maybe 8 towing trips per year. I’m tired of driving an SUV for six measley trips. Half of these trips are abou 5 miles, the other half might be 200, with one of them being ~300 miles. Is my head going to explode if I install a class III hitch on a ~2002 Audi A8 and get after it?


Will your head explode, you ask? It may.
What does your owner’s manual say about it?

Because someone else does something unsafe and gets away with it does not mean you can too. Remember that not only do the car’s engine, chassis, and drivetrain have to be able to handle the weight, the braking system does too. If your owner’s manual does not recommend towing the weight you have in mind, you risk life and limb by doing so anyway. How will you live with it if you have to hit the brakes going down a decline, the brakes cannot handle it, and you kill someone’s mom?


The engine will be up to scratch, but I fear for the transmission. Those trailer towing cars in Europe probably all had manual shifts and very competent drivers.

Look in you OWNER’S MANUAL to see what towing capacity your car has. You will certianly need a transmission oil cooler if you have automatic.

My brother in law towed a small camper all over Europe with a lowly Mitsubishi Lancer, same as the US Colt sold by Chrysler. He did it in third gear!


Two things come to mind. First: Diesels. Diesels are inherently good for towing as they tend to make lots of torque at low engine speeds. Funnily enough in Europe there are many more diesel vehicles on the road because they ususally get good fuel economy and diesel isn’t taxed as heavily as gasoline in many countries.

Second: We are a very litigious society in the U.S. So it makes sense for automakers to hedge their bets by recommending lower towing/payload capacities for the vehicles they sell here.


Short trips of 5 miles would probably be OK, if you went slow enough. Otherwise, follow the owners manual reccomendations for trips over 10 miles. I have to tow my boats and party barge about two miles to the launch once in the spring to put ikn and once in the fall to take out, and have done it with a small four cylinder pickup before I bought the Silverado with towing package (extra tranmission cooler in the towing package), but would never try a longer trip with something that small. The above posters are right on the money - it’s the transmission that will go first.


It is true. I the US, the recommended towing capacity of big sedans has been downgraded so SUVs could be pushed.


Since you don’t tow that often, how about renting one of those big trucks/SUVs for the times you need it? You won’t have to pay insurance, or car payments, on the vehicle, and it should already be setup for towing as well.


Are the European sedans doing the towing rear wheel drive? 3500 pounds is a lot to tow and an awfull lot to stop, as mentioned above. And then, there is the ramp…


You would be risking repair bills on the most expensive Audi then made. Not good. Rent/borrow a tow vehicle when needed.


NOT going to happen. I know - I tried. Unless you live near a airport where there are many rental car agencies with a plethora of vehicles to choose from it’s almost impossible to find a vehicle that is capable of towing 3500lbs…AND the rental agency ALLOWS towing with their vehicle. And if you do find one…better book it MONTHS in advance to make sure you you have it when you need it. Forget about trying to rent one at the last minute (i.e. 1 month in advance). Also forget about renting it on Holiday weekends…they may be booked a year in advanced.


MOST mid-size vehicles sold in the US are fwd. fwd is NOT the type of vehicle you want to tow with…Especially a light one that is not setup for towing. The engine may be more then capable, but the braking and handling is going to be tough.

RWD SUV’s are far better at towing…especially when you approaching Class-III numbers. Mid-size vehicles can tow up to 1500lbs. I surely wouldn’t tow any more with one.


Agree; I almost bought a Crown Victoria a few years back because it had a 5000 lb towing capacity. They seem to have dropped that.


In Europe, fuel is so expensive that they are willing to tow what in my opinion is way too much weight with inadequate tow vehicles. I don’t think you need something as large as a Tahoe, but I would want something with at least 4,000 pounds of towing capacity. How much towing capacity does your prospective Audi have?


For the Crown Vic, in 1998 Ford redigned the rear suspension with a Watt’s linkage. This compromised the towing capcity. That’s reason for the reduced towing capacity.


U-Haul rents pick-up trucks and cargo vans with trailer hitches.


We have 3 U-Hauls within 10 miles of my house. When I last checked 3 years ago…there was a total of 2 cargo vans you could rent and 1 pickup (which they would NOT allow you to tow with because it didn’t have a tow package with it). The cargo vans go quickly because of their versatility. I’ve rented one for 8 people to go to a Patriots game. Families rent them for vacation. Yes they may have them…but the availability is very very limited. Maybe someplace like Boston or NYC they’ll have more available.


I bet the 5000# was with the tow package model. Critical evaluation of the 98+ HPP models indicate that they are actually better than the old tow package models for heavy hauling. The poster with the intact car and big trailer pic in this thread is reputed to be a suspension engineer that had a hand in the design of the vehicle. IIRC, he indicated that the lower tow rating was to promote purchasing of light trucks and SUVs over the big sedan.

Note that if you have an accident towing more than the owner manual allows, you may be opening yourself to big liability.


Max towing on an '02 A8 is listed as 2000 lbs.


That settles it. The Audi is not capable of towing the 3,500 pound boat/trailer combination.

Renting a tow vehicle 8 times a year might be the best alternative to owning an SUV.

wanton1, your head will probably explode when you can’t fine anyone willing to install a class III hitch on your Audi. Most trailer hitches are designed for vehicles that are built to utilize their capacity.


Yep, they’re out there folks. Coming at you on a narrow road at night…

Here’s an example of 3500 pounds with a Taurus.