Should I choose an SUV or a Trailer?

SUVs aren't my first choice as a tow vehicle, but I do understand the economics. Not everyone can afford a truck and a car. SUVs are becoming more popular each year. Get the biggest and longest is the short answer. The full-size SUV’s have similar frames to trucks and a lot of them are boxed frames instead of C-frame, so they are strong. But you've got to get as much wheelbase as you can find. So to pull a trailer similar to a ½ ton truck, (GM, 1500, Dodge 1500, Ford F150, Toyota Tundra,) you need a SUV with a similar weight to a ½ ton truck. This would include Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and others. These SUVs have a “Body on Frame” construction like trucks.

Always look at the vehicles trailer towing limits from the manufacture. Most factory brochures and manufacture web sites will give you the brake down of weight limits and hitch weight limits according to engine size, transmission, and rear axle ratio. For the highest trailer capacity, usually a weight-distributing hitch is required with a receiver hitch, at least class 3 or higher. This is different from a weight carrying hitch, which is just a drawbar inserted into the receiver hitch. The weight-distributing hitch attaches to the trailer tongue with adjustments usually with chain links to transfer weight forward to the SUV, putting weight on all the axles. Yes I have pictures of these hitches, at In cases where the weight distributing hitch adjustment doesn’t take all the sway away when pulling the trailer, a sway bar can be added to the weight-distributing hitch. All this will help you pull level, with weight on all of the axles of the SUV and trailer and less swaying from a bumper pull trailer.
All of the SUVs listed above have rear coil springs with the exception of the Dodge Durango which has rear leaf springs. Rear coil springs are designed to give you a better ride, but this also gives you more rear movement. You don’t want extra movement when pulling a trailer. So it’s even more important to have a weight-distributing hitch on SUVs with rear coil springs and especially SUVs with independent rear axles. Independent rear axles are similar to front axle of a front wheel drive car. Each side can move independently of the other. And once again this is to improve the ride with more movement, not necessarily a good thing when pulling a trailer. These independent rear axles need the weight-distributing hitch. Some of the SUVs with independent rear axle are Mercedes, ML320 and bigger, 2002 Ford Explorer, 2003 Ford Expedition and more. Always get the factory tow package with your SUV, which should include a class 3 or higher receiver hitch, an external automatic transmission cooler, anti-roll bars or anti-sway bars and a wiring harness. Also make sure both of your trailer axles have brakes and have a good trailer brake controller added to your SUV.

The largest SUVs are the longest ones that are available in 3/4 tons, which are the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and Ford Excursion. These newer models all have leaf springs on the rear axle, which makes them, more stable than smaller SUVs with rear coil springs. These larger SUVs will pull similarly to ¾ ton trucks, (Dodge 2500, Ford F250, GM 2500,) they generally don’t have as long a wheelbase as a truck. So once again depending on the total weight of your loaded trailer, a weight-distributing hitch might be necessary. One advantage of the Ford Excursion is the diesel engine option, which will add another 800#’s on the front for stability and balance when pulling a trailer.
On shorter wheel based tow vehicles, having some steering weight on the SUVs front axle, transferred from the trailer with a weight distributing hitch will give you better control and less work on your part.  Once again look for factory towing packages with external auto transmission coolers, class 3 or higher receiver hitch, wiring harness and anti-sway stabilizer bars on the axles of the SUV. The newer SUVs have 4-wheel disc brakes, which can be an advantage slowing down a trailer. And of course you need brakes on the trailer and a brake control in your SUV.  Folks have been pulling horse trailers successfully for decades with the oldest SUV, the Suburban.

 If you have to pull with a smaller SUV than mentioned above, in my opinion the Chevy TrailBlazer, Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer and so on are better choices for a tow vehicle with a lighter trailers properly equipped, like 4000#’s and smaller. These SUVs are also “Body on Frame” design similar to trucks. The Durango and Explorer 2001 and older have leaf springs also. These SUVs are heavier than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, and smaller SUVs like Suzuki and Kia.
 I get asked my opinion about the Jeep Cherokee pulling trailers quite often. I do see them pulling trailers and it has with the V-8 option the power to pull trailers that out weigh it, but its’ chassis is like a car with a "Unibody" undercarriage. With framed chassis vehicles, “Body on Frame,” the receiver hitch bolts directly to the frame, as do the front and rear axles. The frame takes the stress from the trailer directly and gives you more weight at the bottom of your SUV, a good place to have weight on a SUV. And a weight-distributing hitch can easier transfer some of weight forward to your front axle thru leverage on the frame. On the Jeep “Unibody”, it has sub frames at each axle, which bolt to the floor pan, which is just corrugated sheet metal, so the axles are not tied together with a frame but separated by the floor pan.

The last series of Jeep Cherokee does have some square formed sheet metal welded to the floor pan for added strength but it’s still not a framed chassis with a body bolted to it, as is the “Body on Frame” design. If you notice on the Cherokee you step over the threshold to get in and your feet go down in a hole instead of a flat floor. The floor has to be corrugated, wavy like a barn roof to make it strong since the floor is not bolted to a frame. Car companies do this “ Unibody” construction to lighten up the vehicles for gas mileage and save money. To add a receiver hitch to the Cherokee, the hitch, bolts to the rear axle sub frame, which in turn bolts to the floor pan sheet metal. So the stress from the trailer goes just to the rear axle sub-frame and the bolts and rubber bushings that connect the axle to sheet metal floor instead of a frame. So as far as I can figure using a weight distribution hitch, (which I strongly recommend,) to distribute weight, (which is what they do) to the front axle, has to leverage the floor pan between the axles. The first ”Unibody” I remember was the VW Beetle. I remember the floor pan rusting out and looking down and seeing the road between my feet. Can you imagine pulling a horse trailer with the old Beetles?

The smallest class of SUVs, such as Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and so on, are “Front Wheel Drive” SUVs. These fall into the same towing category as “Front Wheel Drive” mini- vans. Special receiver hitches are required with any FWD to transfer weight as far forward as possible to the driving axles for traction.

The bottom line is you can safely pull a horse trailer with a properly equipped SUV when it’s matched properly with a receiver hitch, weight distributing hitch, engine, transmission and rear axle ratio, within the weight limit capacity set my the manufacture. Good Pull’n, Kent Sundling (MrTruck.) For more info visit my website and check out my new “Insider Club.”

Till next time, Good Truck'n.
Kent Sundling (MrTruck)

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