6 Best Tips For Towing A Trailer With A Car, SUV Or Truck

Towing a trailer with a car is not that difficult unless you take care of basic checks. Well, your SUV or Truck seems big and fit, but can it pull your camper safely? Here’s what you need to know before you ever hook the two together.

1. Don’t Tow Too Much

Most SUVs can tow, but owners are often mistaken about how much towing capability their SUV really has. Exceeding the tow ratings can lead to accidents. The driver can’t control the tandem vehicles, and the results aren’t pretty.

SUV towing camper
Nissan SUV towing an Airstream travel trailer

Towing a too-heavy camper dramatically increases the chances of overturning, losing control and/or getting in a wreck. That’s why it’s vital to choose a trailer that weighs less than your SUV’s towing capacity.

Even if you don’t crash, too much weight can damage your vehicle permanently. You will put unnecessary strain on your brakes, chassis, and engine. This action could shorten the lifespan of your SUV and make it unable to stop quickly. The transmission will deteriorate from increased friction and temperature. The frame may bend as well.

2. Know Your Tow Ratings and GCWR

Clearly, safety starts with knowing your tow rating and GCWR.  Your vehicle’s towing capacity depends on the axle ratios, chassis, engine type, hitch class and type, suspension, tire and load ratings, trailer type, and transmissions. Using your VIN sticker, you can start to calculate the towing capacity.

GCWR plate
GCWR plate

The VIN sticker displays the curb weight, which is how much your car weighs when empty. Add the weight of cargo, fuel, and passengers to this number. Subtract the total from your car’s gross combined weight rating (GCWR), which is the maximum total weight your vehicle can stand with cargo, fuel, passengers, and attachments. This value is your maximum towing capacity.  If you want a shortcut to these figures, look at your SUV model’s car manual.

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3. Adjust Your Driving Habits

The SUV must pull the camper and not be controlled by it. Otherwise, the situation is unsafe. This means that you will need to adjust your driving habits to address the effects of tandem driving.  

You may need to invest in bigger side mirrors to ensure visibility.  The SUV’s tires must be inflated correctly and have enough tread. The brakes must be in good condition on both the car and the camper.

Man driving Mercedes camper van
Mercedes-Benz camper van

For towing safety, your SUV should have built-in trailer sway control. More and more SUVs have a tow-haul button that will adjust the transmission to handle the extra weight more smoothly and safely.  There may be other adjustments you can make to the traction system. The key is to know what tools you have and to make sure you are using them.

4. Understand Fuel Economy Changes

Camper size impacts the speed and fuel efficiency of your vehicle. Increasing your SUV’s combined weight by attaching a camper increases the force required to move it. You cannot expect to use the same amount of fuel as you do when the SUV isn’t pulling a trailer. 

Fuel gauge meter
Fuel gauge meter

You will need to spend more on gas, and you will need to travel slower.  Campers can reduce gas mileage by up to 25%, depending on the conditions during travel. Choosing one with proper sizing for your vehicle or getting a new SUV with better towing capacity can improve fuel efficiency. I also recommend checking the RV gas mileage calculator to plan the fuel budget.

5. Hitch Up Carefully

Manufacturers provide towing guides that generally tell you everything your SUV needs to be able to tow.  When you purchase an SUV, this equipment is usually presented to you as a towing package. It will include a trailer hitch receiver, locking pin, and hitch ball. A trailer hitch harness often referred to as a 7-pin connector, is also necessary for a successful hookup.

This is one time where every detail really counts. The tongue weight, which should be listed in your towing guide, is usually calculated at 9 to 15 percent of the camper’s weight.  In this instance, you want to put enough weight (downward force) on the hitch to help ensure the front of the camper keeps its wheels on the ground.  However, you need to be sure the rear has enough weight to keep the rear wheels from lifting.

Airstream Hitch
Airstream Hitch

Hookups need to be done with care. It usually takes two or even three people to get it done.   There are new gadgets assisting with this process, such as the Honda multi-view rearview camera. It shows you three views of the rear bumper. This can help you match your SUV’s ball hitch to the camper’s hitch. 

6. Select the Right Camper for Your SUV

While window shopping, notice the camper’s weight. This figure varies based on its manufacturer, purpose, and model. There are camper weight classes, but you should still check the individual camper you want to know its exact weight. Now it’s time to match the camper to the SUV. 

The family-sized Honda Pilot, for example, can tow up to 5,000 pounds, if it is equipped with all-wheel drive.  This matches up to a small travel trailer. It typically weighs 3,500 pounds before you add your belongings. Most midsize SUVs can tow 3,500 pounds, but it is probably safer to pull a teardrop trailer or off-road pop up camper trailer. These weigh 2,500 pounds or less, and that leaves you room to add your belongings.

Happy camping letter sign
Happy camping letter sign

There are some big SUVs that can pull a 6,300-pound trailer, a typical full-size camper. One thing’s for sure: you should not select a camper that exceeds your SUV’s towing capabilities.


When considering a camper for your SUV, remember that you need your tow ratings to be a bit more than the camper’s weight. You must consider the weight you will add to the camper. Beyond that, you must follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to purchasing a hitch, if you don’t have one already built-in. Finally, you must carefully balance the camper’s weight to keep its wheels on the pavement. 

Well, being careful at every stage in the process of matching a camper to an SUV, you should ensure your safety once on the road.

Written by Shailesh Thakran

Hi, I am a Marketing professional. I help Organizations/Startups in Structural, Design and Content Marketing to become online entities. I love blogging, mainly about automobiles, travel trailers & everything related to wheels. With the help of Thorttlebias, I want to educate and share in-depth articles/tips for other RVers. Outside of work, I love to read & play with my Rottweiler. Guess what! We can be friends, below are my social profiles.

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