Which car should I use to tow a small sailboat?

I am considering the purchase of a small, light sailboat (a Hobie Getaway for those who are into boats.) The boat itself weighs about 400 pounds and the trailer will add a little bit more weight.

I own two cars, a 2005 Honda Element and a 2003 Merecedes CLK 320. The Mercedes has much more power than the Element, with all of that power going to the rear wheels.

If I buy this boat I need to add a tow hitch to one of my cars. I’ll be storing the boat near where I sail it (initially near a local lake, but eventually about 3 hours away near our vacation home). The plan is to store the boat on land and launch it from a ramp when I want to go sailing.

The Mercedes is our “road trip” and it’s definitely the best car for taking a 3+ hour trip to the coast. But the idea of taking the Mercedes up and down a boat ramp is intimidating. While the Honda has less power, it’s rated to tow 1500 pounds so it has enough power for this job. And the Honda is front wheel drive, which means that the wheels with all the power will be further from the water and less like to lose traction due to the wet boat ramp.

So I’m stuck on the horns of a dilemma… which car is the better option for towing a light boat?


Look at the boat ramp you plan on using, if it is all cement, either car should be fine. What is the towing capacity of the Mercedes? If it was me I would use the honda, just because any repair on a Mercedes is more expensive.

Both ramps are concrete. MB doesn’t publish a towing capacity for the CLK but the car has a lot of power. I’ve read that towing with the CLK will void the warranty, but mine expired years ago.

You make a good point about added expense with the CLK… if nothing else, towing will increase the wear on the tire and they are much more expensive on the Mercedes than on the Honda.

You would really back a Mercedes down a boat ramp? Really?

Yes, I might… that’s the whole point of this question.

I also park my Mercedes on the street all year long. It’s 11 years old, has 100K+ miles on it and is paid off. It’s a motor vehicle, not a piece of art.

And I wouldn’t do it…that’s the point of my answer. How long do you think those rear bearings are going to last being dunked into water?

It really doesn’t matter for a boat that light and easy to tow. Personally, I would use the Element if it has AWD. Lots of gear storage space. These things are very aerodynamic. You won’t even know it’s there. Had a Dart 18 of similar weight. It towed like a dream with just about any car.

My Element is front wheel drive. We hate taking it out for long trips… it catches wind like a sail and the mpg is much lower than the Mercedes. Hence the dilemma.

As long as the element is front wheel drive, I don’t see a problem.

One thing bad with rear wheel drive and boat launches. I had a ranger rear wheel drive and always carry about 700 to 800 lbs of gear in the back. I went to launch my little 12 foot boat with a 15Hp motor and when the boat was far enough into the water to launch, I couldn’t get out and kept slipping deeper into the launch. I had good tires, but the concrete ramp was covered with a thick green alge/moss that was about 2inches thick. It was like grease and another boater had to pull me out…
That’s why I cut off the tongue on the trailer and fashioned a tongue that fit inside. Now I pull up. pull two pins (double safety) and I can push the boat back…extending the tongue by about 6 feet. Now my tires never even get wet.


RWD is better for boat launching than FWD. The ramp angle shifts weight towards the rear and away from the front. That means the FWD will have less weight on the tires for traction and the RWD will have more. Yes, the rear tires may get on wet pavement but as long as the tires are not 10 years old and hard as a rock, you should be better off. The Merc, being more powerful, should be a better tow. It would be a tossup IF the Element had AWD.

“As long as the element is front wheel drive, I don’t see a problem.”

Front wheel drive vehicles make a very poor choice for towing anything. The fact that the FWD Element would have to tow the sailboat out of the water uphill makes it an even worse choice.

@Yosemite we had a similar experience with a 1973 Volvo 144 towing a 1600+/- outboard boat. Backed down the ramp enough to pull the boat onto the trailer and when my dad went to leave the rear tires just made enough contact to smoke the tires but no forward movement. Had to get a rope tow up the ramp and to the top of the steep hill. Switched to a FWD Minivan and never had a issue on the same launch ramp. That launch ramp closed for public use and we moved on to a marina with a much easier ramp. We used the minivan as our tow vehicle from 1988-2009 and never had traction problems on the steepest boat launches.

There is no dilemma !
With a weight this light and negligible tongue weight, towing with front drive vs rwd is not a problem either way… I am normally a big proponent of towing with rwd drive but because these are such light boats, fwd IS NOT AN ISSUE. IF the car has any tow rating what so ever, and you move gear forward in the car itself for occasional launchings, go for it. Either car works fine and nether will hardly notice the weight. Theses boats are very light and very aerodynamic. Tow with either car that makes it convenient.

I see no problem what so ever and I don’t understand the trepidation of others. If you add a front dolly wheel to the trailer and tie a rope to it, you can push the trailer well into the water by hand or down any ramp and keep the car out of water or any slippery going if you are the least bit worried about a fwd car climbing a hill…We do this stuff all the time when racing dingys and cats at our yacht club and public landing and guys tow these light boats and launch them with every kind of vehicle with absolutely no problem. Let’s not think we are at talking about anything heavier then a very light utility trailer taking a very light load to the dump…

Just yesterday I saw a canoe on a trailer hauled by a Smart car. The car may be Smart, but I wonder about the driver.

“There is no dilemma!”

Sure. Leave your name, address and phone number so all the people who get stuck with a FWD vehicle while taking a small boat out of the water can call you for help or send you the tow bill. I only say this because I had to drive 20 miles in the middle of the night last month to help pull my brother-in-law out of the water with his pontoon boat. His FWD vehicle would not even pull his trailer back up the ramp after the boat was unloaded. BTW…not all boat ramps are friendly. The ramps are steep and not built of the best material. Trepidation keeps me out of Volvo’s, Mercedes and BMW’s for the most part. You call it trepidation…I call it “past experience.”

After reading the pros and cons,I’ll take back that FWD would be better.

But I suppose that it’s all in the way that you load and the ramp you are using.

My only problem was thta the ramp was so full of this greasy algee.
I don’t know what they could ever do for that ramp. It led into the river between two lakes.

I could see a family…even with a small boat…and the FWD vehicle loaded down with their camping gear in the cargo area. They may have enough of a load in the back that it transfers too much weight away from the front end and they lose traction.
I’ve been there when the wife and kids brought along so much stuff that you’d have a hard time
finding room in the cargo area for the ticks that you will come back with.

I think I’ll stick with my tongue extention, works every time!!!1


I tow a 1800 pound sailboat rig with a Crown Vic and never have any problems on boat ramps. I’ve never spun a wheel coming up a ramp…Backing a trailer down a ramp takes practice with any vehicle…Develop that skill in an empty parking lot, not on a boat ramp Saturday morning…

Perhaps you should check on hitch availability before making your decision…For many model cars, there are simply no ready-made hitches available. Check with U-haul…When towing ANYTHING, an aftermarket transmission cooler is always a good idea…

Guys, so happy we could all reach an obvious consensus on this topic.

Here’s the solution I’m beginning to favor: Sell the Element while the resale value remains high (it’s a 2005 with 60,000 miles) and while I can still get 0% financing on a Mazda CX-5 AWD.

The AWD CX-5 is good for towing / launching and will work for better than the Honda for road trips. (It actually might work also better than the Mercedes for road trips since it can store more stuff inside the car.)

It’s just a matter of money…

Sounds like a good solution. You get the vehicle you need and someone gets an Element they can enjoy.