Boating Tips


Posted 9/29/2011

It’s Off to Tow We Go
Shop by the Numbers and You’ll be Trailering to Exotic Destinations in No Time

Selecting a tow vehicle to match your boat and trailer requires a bit of comparison-shopping, not only for the best price, but also to find a towing machine with the intestinal fortitude to do the job.

Cars are pretty much out of the equation, due to their unibody (frameless) construction, and lack of towing-related equipment. Automobiles are great for fuel economy and comfy transportation; however towing any kind of trailer isn’t a typical car’s forte.

That leaves us with pickup trucks, large vans, and SUVs – powerful workhorses that can pull your boat and trailer safely – if you’re diligent when comparing the various specifications. Just because a pickup truck looks big and bad, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your towing needs.

We strongly recommend loading the truck and boat just as you would if you were going boating, then taking the rig to a certified public scale (most truck stops have them) to find out exactly how much the package really weighs. It’ll be an eye-opening experience. Armed with the actual weight figures, you’ll be better equipped to choose the best tow vehicle for your situation.

Details, Details
During your quest for the perfect tow vehicle, keep in mind that most vehicle manufacturers determine the tow rating based upon one person (the driver) in the truck, without gear or passengers. By the time you load up with your crew and all the necessities (refreshments, camping gear, bicycles, and such), you can easily add upwards of 1,000 pounds to the truck’s weight – thus reducing the vehicle’s towing capacity.

This is called the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) – the weight limit of the tow vehicle, sans trailer.

The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) is probably the most important tow rating criterion. GCWR is the maximum permissible weight of the tow vehicle and the trailer – fully loaded. This includes all the stuff in your boat (gear, fuel, toys) and truck (passengers, more gear, and full tank of fuel).

Another critical statistic is the vehicle’s maximum trailer rating – or Trailer Weight Allowance (TWA). This tidbit of info tells you how much trailer a given vehicle can pull, and varies significantly depending what equipment is on the vehicle (manual transmission, automatic transmission, 2WD, 4WD, engine size, etc.).

Towing Packages
Vehicles designed for towing trailers have extra equipment to enable the truck to handle the additional load, as well as the stress and strain on the drivetrain.

Typically, the engine is larger (or the engine’s computer is set for low to mid-range power), the engine’s cooling system is enhanced with a larger radiator and perhaps a bigger engine oil cooler. The transmission will have an auxiliary oil cooler and probably be programmed to shift differently to maximize the engine’s torque; the differential (rear axle gears) will likely have a lower gear ratio for increased pulling power.

In addition, the truck will probably be pre-wired for trailer lights, and may even have a factory-installed trailer hitch.

On some tow vehicles, the instrument panel may have gauges instead of warning lights, to allow you to monitor the engine/transmission’s health during your travels.

Two Wheel Drive, Front Wheel Drive, Four Wheel Drive?
Avoid front wheel drive tow vehicles if you’re towing anything marginally heavy, because the boat trailer tends to lift the front of the vehicle (all the weight is in the back of the vehicle, and aft of the trailer hitch).

Two-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive) trucks are OK most of the time; however, you’ll have a tough go of it trying to pull a heavy boat up a slippery boat ramp.

We prefer four-wheel drive tow vehicles. With 4WD, you can get in and out of unimproved launches, as well as yank the shifter down to 4WD Low to retrieve a big stubborn boat up a steep, slimy boat ramp.

Use Your Head
Don’t simply waltz into the car lot and pick out the prettiest/baddest one on the lot. Take a deep breath, and use the information we’ve given you – these numbers are really important, so put the salesperson to work to get the tow vehicle that’s just right for you.