Towing with a 2003 Honda CR-V

I have a 2003 Honda CR-V (the model with the 4WD that kicks in automatically). The listed towing capacity is 3500 lbs in the US, and 3500 kg in Australia. Which makes me think that there was a conversion error somewhere. How do I find out which value reflects the true towing capcity?

Here is my dilemma; I want to get a small camper to tow behind the vehicle, but don’t know if it is worth the investment at this point in the cars life. With the exception of the brakes (replaced once) and the tires (replaced more than once), all equipment on the CR-V is original, including the suspension.

It is a great car, and I prefer not go give it up. How can I determine what needs to be replaced / upgraded on the CR-V to be able to tow up to 3500 lbs…or is it 3500 kgs?


Well? One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. Do you feel that your CR-V is able to tow 7,500 pounds?

Your owners manual will reflect what’s required for towing at a certain weight.


I think that 3500lbs is optimistic. I think the car may be able to handle it on flat level ground in no traffic but from experience I wouldn’t want to tow 3500 lbs with anything less than a full-frame pickup. I’d also want brakes on the trailer if I’m towing it with a CR-V. It’s not just about pulling the trailer, it’s about steering and stopping the combo as well. And I like to feel safe when towing something.

Where did you get those numbers? 3500 lbs tow capacity? No way. lists 1500 lbs towing capacity for your vehicle, and I believe that is correct. I have a '99 CRV and 1500 lbs is also its rated towing capacity.

You want to tow 3500 lbs? Get a big SUV or a full-size pickup. A CRV is simply not designed for that kind of towing capacity.

Yes, you can put a hitch on your CRV and tow a small camper, like a teardrop. But you will find very few campers, even popups, that will be under 1500 pounds when fully loaded with gear, etc.

You will have to tell us where you got a tow capaity of 3500 lbs or a 2003 CRV. I have only been able to find 1500 lbs. It’s basically a 4 cylinder fwd car till the wheels start slipping, and none that I am aware of can survive towing 3500 lbs very long. Plus, it 's 10 years old with all the wear and tear that goes with it. I had a 4 cylinder truck rated for 3500 lbs. It really struggled managing 3000 lbs and easily would have gone through a clutch if I continued. The only vehicles capable of that weight that i would tow on a sustained basis, are those with rwd and 6 cylinder or bigger. Personally, I recomend you shelve the idea. ;=( …or listen to the good recommendations of those above for bigger vehicles.

I believe OP is mistaken

Check out the owner’s manual. It clearly states that the towing limit is 1500 pounds

I think that dagosa summed it up very well.
The CR-V was not a good tow vehicle when it was new, and, after 10 years of use, it certainly hasn’t gotten better.

Using a vehicle with a 4-cylinder engine for towing is never a good idea, IMHO.

Using a model whose history of automatic transmission failures is…not good…is never a good idea for towing.

Using a vehicle that combines those two realities, along with the inevitable wear and tear of 10 years of driving is a REALLY bad idea, unless the OP’s idea of outdoor recreation includes the probability of being stranded, following mechanical breakdown.

3500lbs would be the tow rating for a 2003 Pilot (next size up) V6 with the tow package (transmission cooler and other upgrades) The CRV is rated for only 1500lbs

I’m pretty confident you can tow 3,500 lbs., but whether should is another question. If the trailer has its own brakes, and you’re not towing through the mountains, I would feel confident towing something up to 3,000 lbs. with that vehicle. However, I’d feel much more confident about this idea if you limit yourself to a 2,000 lb. trailer.

Modern camper trailers can be pretty light weight, and you actually have several options under 2,000 lbs. Popup camper trailers come in a lot of different configurations, but they are known for leaking. I gave up on trying to waterproof the bed covers on one I used to use, and I finally just put tarps over the beds. Something like this might also be a good option:

This one has a gross vehicle weight rating of 2,700 pounds:

Towing and safely towing are two different things.

I have been associated with the RV world both as a private owner and employed by a large RV dealer for over 30 years. The thing that I have found to be true is that most vehicle manufacturers grossly over-inflate towing capacities of their vehicles. Pulling and towing are two very different things. +1 for MikeInNH BTW.

@missleman, I must disagree with you. The manufacturer will not grossly over-inflate the towing capacity for liability reasons. They tend to under-estimate almost as a rule. However, many owners also underestimate the overall weight of the total load they pack on a vehicle for towing. They miss the part about trailer weight plus load weight plus additional payload on the towing vehicle (5 guys and dogs plus luggage).

In one sparkling case of intentional underestimation, I once owned an '88 Ford LTD, the last of the boxy ones. The towing capacity of that large, full framed car was calculated higher than the same year F-150, but was purposely understated in the owners manual so as not to pull sales away from the trucks.

I agree @misselman and @mikeinnh.

The ability to tow, even 1500 lbs on a vehicle rated that much is compromised by the gross vehicle weigh capacity including everything you put inside which severely compromises the suspension and the ability to handle it. I hear people talk about tow ratings as absolutes with ability to handle it with no problem till it reaches 1501 lbs. In reality, depending upon the terrain, the speeds, the traffic, the load inside and the experience of the driver, towing safely is on a continuum. And, towing a 1500 lbs camper by a loaded 10 year old CRV with an inexperienced driver might really be restricted to backing the camper to the side of the garage, and using it at home for guests. That could be a realistic limit.

We not knowing the driver and his experience and unknowns like the cheapest tires with 40k miles already on the car might sway all our comments to the side of caution.

@BustedKnuckles…what you are saying should be true but it’s simply not the case. I have hooked up countless travel trailers to vehicles that should be able to tow the weight but can’t tow in a safe manner. Not all vehicles are over-inflated when it comes to towing. Your Ford example can be used to support my position since they purposely understate the tow capabilities. If they are understating some vehicles…they can just as easily overstate the tow capabilities of other vehicles. I stand by my statement on over-inflating tow ratings.

Their tow ratings are inflated because vehicle manufacturers seem to associate “pulling” with towing. RV dealerships run into this problem every day. I’ve been employed by two different RV dealerships and both used the 75% rule of thumb when it comes to a vehicle’s tow ratings. Sometimes…75% of a vehicle’s tow rating is over-inflated in itself.

I couldn’t tell you how many times a customer has come back in after towing for a little while and traded their unit for a smaller one. If they really like the size of the trailer and want to keep it…they sometimes trade in their inadequate tow vehicle for something larger and more in line with towing in a safe manner. Safe towing is the bottom line. Thanks @dagosa for your support.

@missleman, I think we are talking two different things. Allow me to explain.

The vehicle’s tow rating is set by the manufacturer based on the car’s ability to tow, to pull the load without grenading or self-destructing, the frame from bending, and the brakes from completely burning up trying to stop.

You seem to be talking about the driver’s ability to safely drive a towing vehicle. I agree with you that an awful lot of people are completely unprepared to handle the changes to a vehicle’s driveability with a huge tow load on it. A CRV with a load approaching 1500 lbs. will experience a ton of changes, like slow acceleration, stopping distances will double, if not more, and cornering will be down right scary.

Selling camper trailers, it seems to me, is completely reasonable to use a 75% tow rating or less to size a unit. These people will typically tow for long distances a highway speeds. For one , people underestimate the additional load of water, food, and gear. Also, most people would not want to slow down, give much more space to the car in front, and make major adjustments to their driving style.

However, I still believe a CRV can safely tow a 1500 lbs load. But, like you, the driver is TOTALLY responsible to understand the changes in handling the CRV will experience, and adjust his driving to make is safe for everyone else.

Guys, can we at least agree that OP’s vehicle should not be towing 3500 lbs, let alone 3500 kgs?

While the vehicle might survive that adventure once, there may be consequences down the road

I whole heartedly agree; OP may have confused the GVW of 3500 lbs with the towing capacity. Towing capacity is only listed in the owner’s manual; never on the door post or glove box lid.

So, 1500 lbs for trailer and contents would be my maximum figure with a recommended transmission oil cooler. And that oil should be changed very 12,000 miles while towing!

My neighbor down the street burned out the transmission on his Honda Odessey towing a modest tent trailer. He now has an Exterra which is better equipped.

HI All,

Thanks so much for the advice. Yes, I was incorrect in the OP on the capacity, it is inded 1500 lbs. The car is a manual transmission, so I won’t have the issues wiht the automatic tranny.

It sounds like using the CR-V for towing a small camper up the west coast of the US is ill-advised. Sure I could tow a boat to the local resevoir, but a long trip with an aging vehicle towing a load (with trailer brakes!) does not seem wise.

Thanks again!!!

Well, if ur overloaded, u can crash in 1 mile. Driving 10 miles gives u more opportunities to crash. Driving 100 miles give u even more chances to screw up