What to pay attention in a car that will tow a camper

Hello Dear CarTalk Community,
We are expecting twins this fall and upgrade one of our sedan cars to a bigger vehicle (minivan or SUV) to fit 2 adults and 3 kids. We also enjoy outdoors and plan to buy a small size camper next spring (2021). We would like to make sure that we buy the most appropriate vehicle to be able to tow the camper for camping trips. Of course we have some other purchase criteria as well but we have never towed anything before and have never had a non-sedan vehicle. So we dont know what to look at in terms of a good car to tow. I would appreciate any kind of advise. Thank you in advance.

I would suggest shopping for the camper first and get the weight of the camper and add 25 to 30% more for when the camper is loaed for travel then shop for the car and add 25% more tow rating than you need. Good luck.


Towing capacity of the vehicle is a definite thing to look into along with tongue weight. Also you will want to buy a vehicle with a factory tow package. One major inclusion is usually a transmission fluid cooler.


You can probably rule out front wheel drive vehicles - meaning most minivans. I don’t usually recommend this, but you could ask a car salesperson your question.


When I was looking at vehicles for towing a boat, I watched what non pickup vehicles were towing boats. Trailblazer was the most popular, so I got one, never regretted it. Watch for campers the size you are thinking, and see what is towing them for some ideas.


Campers vary a lot in size and weight. If this is a pop up tent camper, it can be towed by some small SUVs and minivans. If you want a hard side trailer, they start around 5000 lbs and that pushes the limit of the non-truck based SUVs. An all in one reference can be found online of available tow ratings of many vehicles. Just seach for trailering or towing guides.

As others have posted, pick your desired RV first and then search for a vehilce to tow it. Go big on the tow rating because it is safer and if you like camping, you will want a bigger RV.


Minivans are great vehicles for a family of 5 but the transmissions are not suitable for anything heavier or with more frontal area than a tent camper. I have towed a lot of tent campers with minivans. For a heavier camper I would want something with a frame and a 4 liter or larger engine.


For similar uses my brother bought a new to them Toyota Sequoia which is probably Overkill for daily use but has proved itself as the road trip machine

The size of trailers they’re looking at are comfortably below the tow raring. Upgraded from a 2006 legacy wagon which isn’t easy to get 3 booster seats into the back

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Don’t know the exact weight but a cousin tows one of those Shasta trailer’s that’s a modern 50’s trailer with a Toyota FJ. Only a family of 4 but a Toyota 4runner might be in the future. Co worker has a 4runner for their travel trailer bas we’ll.

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I’d get something with a frame, such as a truck or SUV. With twins on the way, though, you’ll need something with 4 doors. Meaning a larger, more expensive truck or SUV.

We’re on our 2nd Honda Odyssey, and I’m convinced it’s the best vehicle for families.

You’re going to have to balance being able to pull a trailer/camper with fuel economy and space to carry your family. It might be worthwhile to get a minivan for most of your family hauling. and an older truck/SUV for trailer/camper use. Just a suggestion.


Another alternative - buy a minivan, rent a motorhome when you want to take a camping trip.


And more than that if you plan to take it to places without fresh water hookups, because you’ll need to fill the fresh tank before you get there, and water is heavy.

Depends on which camper you get. The 13’ Scamp is only 1,200 pounds. The 16’ is 2200 with all the options on board. Even the 19’ is only 2600 pounds fully configured, but you still need a pickup for it because it’s a 5th wheel.

The biggest problem with Scamps is that they’re very well made and very popular, and compared to other lightweights like teardrops they’re competitively priced, so you sometimes have to wait a long time for one to be available.

Winnebago also has the Minnie Drop, which is a camper that sleeps 4, has a slideout (!), and still only weighs 2800 pounds.

There are even a couple of Airstreams out there now that weigh less than 3,000 pounds - but you’ll pay through the nose for those.


For what it’s worth… I’ve known quite a few people who go out and get either a boat, camper, or other “toy” along those lines, with all sorts of starry-eyed dreams of family fun, etc. And they are fun, to be sure.

But then the boat’s motor blows up, and costs $3000 to replace.

Or you suddenly realize that small, faithful SUV won’t pull the camper around, and you need something bigger.

Or while you thought you could park that boat/camper in your yard or driveway, your homeowners agreement forbids it. Then you’re looking for either a boat slip to rent or a self-storage place to park it.

Or, while you had the best of intentions to take the boat out every weekend in the summer…it costs $100 in gas to fill it up, and your kids have other activities too. Suddenly you’re making a boat payment for a boat that sits most of the time.

Point being…owning these boats/campers/toys can be a lot of fun… but it’s very expensive. Think carefully about whether it might be cheaper to rent when you do want to go out.


2 comments… This is the first 5th wheel RV I have ever seen with a single axle. With a weight easily towable with a tag hitch. Not sure what market Scamp is targeting. Probably tows really well though. I would not want to give up the truck bed capacity for that.

Second, it may weigh less than 3000, luggage and gear can add to that weight very quickly pushing that number up by 1000 lbs easily. Water tanks are a whole 'nother load.

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My biggest suggestion is stay away from a FWD vehicle. RWD or AWD are far better. If for some reason the trailer starts swaying, it’s more difficult to get under control with a FWD vehicle because you have little control of those rear wheels.


Some people really like that private little bed over the 5th wheel hitch. It’s the same reason they keep buying class-C motor homes when many class B’s are now the same thing, but without the cabover loft that murders fuel economy and leaks if it has a front window.

Definitely. That’s a huge problem with the large class-C and B motor homes built on van chassis. By the time you get that 50 foot house box on there and filled up, you’re left with a cargo carrying capacity sometimes well south of 500 pounds, so if two people with a weekend’s worth of clothes get in there you’re overweight before you even stock the fridge with beer. And since almost no one who hasn’t done this before ever thinks of clothes and gear adding weight…

That said, if you take the 16’ Scamp with all the interior options, add 1,000 pounds of gear, and fill the water to the top, you’re still only up to 3,400 pounds (3800 if you get the heavy all-wood interior). The fresh water capacity on those things is only 24 gallons, and that’s only if you add the optional 2nd tank.


My next door neighbor bought a boat and wanted to put a parking pad between our houses to keep it on. The pad would have been right up to my property line. Fortunately (for him), he asked us about it. I told him that for a parking pad that close to the property line, he needed a zoning variance. I also told him we would oppose it. I felt badly about it, but we didn’t want a 25 foot motorboat sitting about 25 feet from our house. He ended up parking it in his garage. If he had just built the parking pad, I might have forced him to tear it out, although he probably couldn’t have found a contractor to do the work without getting the zoning variance.

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Easy to rent a camper. $200/night. Kids love it till they are 13. Then no bleeping way. But, where you going to be in 13yrs? Pop up camper? Meh, I’ve had them. Mold when wet. Critters love them. Hard shell? Pickup towing. Motor home? Now your talking.

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Only if you like spending money. :wink: Those things can drain your bank account at an astonishing speed.

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We rented because we didn’t do it often. Maybe the OP could rent to see if that’s what they really enjoy.

Other options would include tent camping and camping in state park cabins, they can be pretty good.

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