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What SUV to pull a camper trailer?


Recently acquired a nice 17’ camper trailer from the mother in law, not sure what we need to pull it. I tend to stick to smaller cars when possible and I want to avoid over-buying an SUV to pull this thing.

The car will replace a smallish minivan (2001 Mazda MPV) and become my wife’s daily driver. Additionally, she works in a place where the parking is tight and the streets narrow. I’d like to stay away from the “Suburban” end of the spectrum if possible.

The trailer is 17’, and weighs about 3,500 lbs. empty. With water and sundries we’re talking about 4,500 lbs when going out in it. Additionally, it has an electric braking system. I assume that means I could go with a smaller vehicle (less mass) than I might need if it had no stopping power.

Do you think I could stay in the V6 neighborhood? We have 2 kids so a truck isn’t practical. Even a larger cab truck isn’t feeling right compared to an SUV, but a truck with enough seating could work. I’ve always liked the look of the Ridgeline, but don’t know anything about it. It’s probably going to be on the high end of my price range.

My wife likes the appearance of the old Jeep (Grand?) Wagoneers, but I don’t know anything about their reliability. She puts down about 80 miles a week in typical driving, so gas isn’t a huge concern. Obviously newer is better, but wouldn’t mind trading some years for a lower purchase price. I see older 80’s era cars that I could buy outright for $2K or so, not sure if I should do that or go up to $5K, which is my pain point.

What’cha think? Any ideas?


Avoid old Jeeps, not very reliable. You’re looking at 5000 lbs, smaller vehicles can’t tow that. And the electric brakes don’t really enter into it. Start looking at vehicles rated to tow 5000+ lbs.

I assume you really want to do this, otherwise sell it and use the money to rent accomodations or an RV when you need it. Much simpler that way.

My 4Runner can tow 5K, no problem. It’s rated for that, and I’ve actually pulled slightly heavier, but not far, and it wasn’t something I’d want to do very often (it was an emergency pull).

Unfortunately, if you want a vehicle to tow this thing with, you’re looking at a mid-size or larger SUV, or small pickup.

Good luck,

Happiness is a V-8, it’s as simple as that…There may be a few V-6 powered SUV’s that could do it, but they will be working very hard…

Ford Explorer V-8 equipped with the factory tow package…

V8 or V6 doesn’t matter…as long as it has enough torque and hp.

3500 lbs dry then add in all the other weight and it could easily bring you up to 5000lbs. That’s a Class III. If you’re going to do a LOT of towing then get a vehicle that’s Class IV. Otherwise any good Class III rated vehicle will do. When you get into a Class IV rated there are very few if any V6’s out there. You’ll probably have to go to a V8.

If in the Class III range vehicle…Any mid-size SUV (RWD) will be fine. 4runner, Pathfinder, Explorer will be fine.

For Class IV…Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Explorer (with the V8). These vehicles are smaller then the Suburban, but can still tow a LOT.

One last thing…

You made the following statement…

"The trailer is 17’, and weighs about 3,500 lbs. empty. With water and sundries we’re talking about 4,500 lbs "

YOU NEVER EVER TOW WITH WATER OR WASTE. Maybe up to 10 gallons would be fine…but NEVER a tank full…You’re asking for trouble if you do.

Thanks for all the tips so far, I appreciate it.

Mike, the comment about NOT towing with water/waste, is this for handling/load shifting concerns? Hadn’t thought about it, but it makes sense. Should just require a little extra planning to find somewhere to top off the water tank right before getting to my final destination. Or I can bring a small quantity of store-bought drinking water, then use river/lake water for washing and flushing, but not drinking.

Most campgrounds have water hookups. Just plug your white hose into their spigot and fill your tank when you get there. Not a bad idea to put a filter in-line - - you never know what minerals or other fun things are in the local water supply.

oh, and NEVER fill from the dump station, even if there’s a spigot there labeled drinking water. When I had an RV, I lost count of how many idiots I saw using the drinking water hose to backflush their sewage tank.

It is not a good idea to cut it too close on towing capacity. Remember a too small vehicle will be “pushed” around by a too big trailer. Smaller SUV’s mean smaller tires, lessor springs, struts, and sway bars. A larger motor and sturdier transmission will handle the load easier, therefore lasting longer.

In a Toyota brand a 4 Runner might be OK, but a Sequoia would definately be OK. Newer SUV’s have greater towing capacities than 5 to 10 year old models. If you are buying new a 4 Runner is fine. If you are buying used, I’d get a Sequoia. My '01 Sequoia handles a 5,000 lb load just fine.

Mike, the comment about NOT towing with water/waste, is this for handling/load shifting concerns? "

Yes…for shifting…You get even a hundred pounds of shifting water and you’ll notice it…That’s why I said just a few gallons is probably fine. No way would I fill the tank. That’s why camp grounds have areas as you leave the camp ground to empty the water and waste.

I have an 03 trailblazer, 6cyl 4.2 engine. Towing capacity 6200 lbs. 16/22 mpg my average. I have been happy with it as a thought. It depends if you are going to be doing mountain roads or not as to engine size imho.

Found a crude, but usable towing capacity chart at HowStuffWorks. It’s nice for doing a super-quick compare between many makes and models.

It shows some different numbers for the Explorer and Trailblazer that were mentioned here. It lists the Explorer at only 3,500 and the Trailblazer at 5,400, but doesn’t have any extra detail about towing packages or different engine sizes.

Excellent web-site. I’m bookmarking this one.

As a 4 runner owner , I have to jump on that band wagon. Though no suv is really a mileage champ, especially one that can tow 5k lbs, I believe the 4runners will do it most efficiently, and reliably. My second less expensive and with better mileage recommendation, would be a Toyota extended or extra cab in 2 wd PU.
The best alternative, may be a cheaper used tow vehicle used only for that purpose, and a compact for daily use. A used Focus, corolla or civic with an older pickup, will be less expensive then an suv used as a daily driver.

Funny that the web sight shows a truck towing a catamaran. They may weigh as much as 300 lbs in that size. Even a Yugo could tow it. Otherwise, good reference though it lacks specificity. The Tacoma can do 5k in v6 form for example.k

My 4runner does an EXCELLENT job in towing my camper. I barely feel the 3500+ lbs behind me. Even though I have the “Life-Time” transmission fluid…I get it changed about every 30k miles.

More testimony for the 4Runner. I love mine, and it tows with hardly any effort. Even with the before mentioned 5700lb boat I had to tow, it didn’t struggle. I struggled, but not the truck.

For 2011, Toyota has dropped the 4 banger (finally), but the V6 has plenty of power. It’s not the same V6 as in the other vehicles, so don’t think any comparison would be valid. The middle trim (“Trail” this year) comes with part time 4X4 and a locking rear diff. I would choose this model for any camper, due to the fact that you may want to pull through ground that a normal 2WD vehicle can get stuck in. Been there, done that. I’m so happy with 4WD. You can step up to AWD with the Limited, if you like.

Ok, I’m done. Have fun out there.

Hey folks, got a candidate vehicle.

1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 5.2L V8. Research seems to come up with a 6K towing capacity. Even at 80%, the weight aspect should be fine. I see comments online about swaying and wheelbase though. It’s confusing. My hitch has sway bars, but isn’t load leveling.

The jeep is at a local dealer, I may be able to trade straight across for my 2002 Mazda MPV. Of concern is a cough of blue smoke when it was started, but no other colors off the exhaust for the next 10 minutes of running. I’m insisting on a compression check to even continue talking about it. What compression should I see? The motor has 141K.


I guess towing 6k is OK if the vehicle is rated for it…but I do like towing with a Full-Frame (which the Grand Cherokee is NOT…it’s unibody).

Be prepared to pile money into it in gas and repairs if you use it much. If I were going the cheapest route, which a 96 Cherokee is, I would instead look at an extra or extended cab GMC/Chevy or Ford full size PU of that vintage. You will get the towing capacity with a smaller motor and more dedicated vehicle with a frame as MikeInNH alludes to. Full size domestic trucks ride very well, there are plenty to choose from and they are light years more reliable than Cherokees. The Ridgeline is a good option, but you have just jumped ship on that choice going instead to a 96 Cherokee. These things are money pits.

If you were a buddy of mine, I’d push you pretty hard NOT to choose a Jeep GC as a towing vehicle. IMO, virtually any pickup (or full frame vehicle, as Mike suggests) will perform better, and still give you lots more options for moving stuff when your trailer isn’t attached.

I’ve towed some pretty good distance with a GC (NC to S FL), and it was a trying experience. It was a friends Jeep, and his boat (21’ walkaround). I drove down, and he drove back. He has since gotten rid of the GC and purchased a Ford F150 to tow with. It’s a world of difference.

You have no idea how many friends a pickup will suck out of the woodwork, too … everyone wants to know someone with a pickup.