Finding Trailer Towing Capacities for Cars, Crossovers, and SUVs Can Be Tough — Kudos to Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler — as well as Ford — with an Honorable Mention to Volvo — and a Comment on the Automotive Industry’s Inexplicable Failure to Use the Internet Intelligently

© 2013 Peter Free


08 August 2013



This essay was prompted by two observations


(1) Most auto manufacturers selling in the United States (and probably elsewhere) make it inexplicably difficult to find even relatively basic information.


(2) American regulations or practices reduce the utility of small vehicles, with apparently no valid empirical basis for doing so.


Let’s take small vehicle tow capacity ratings as an example of both elements.



An introductory contextual anecdote — that I imagine many people have experienced


I’ve owned a ridiculous number of cars and pickups in my life, but the core vehicle has always been a pickup truck, due to the number of years spent on a farm or continuously moving.


Two years ago, my wife’s military career landed us solidly in an urban environment, which made my full size pickup usually irrelevant and often difficult to park.  Driving solo in a sizeable chunk of mostly unused steel seemed excessive.


Because my wife’s next assignment will likely also be urban, I began thinking about substituting a smaller car for the pickup.   The one requirement was that it should be capable of towing 1,000 to 1,500 pounds on an occasional basis.  Like most rural mentalities, I have a hard time renting a truck to do the predictable things that we pickup owners take for granted.


So, it was off to the Internet to see which cars would do what I wanted.



Finding tow capacity information for non-trucks is significantly more difficult than it should be


Let’s start with the handful of manufacturers that do provide tow capacity ratings in ways that the average Internet user might actually be able to find.



Jeep wins the helpful website sweepstakes


Jeep appears to be the only entity that recognizes that some Americans need to do more than one thing with the same vehicle — which is a little ironic, given that Jeep’s deservedly iconic Wrangler does only one thing really well:



Under a webpage category entitled Towing, Jeep lists every one of its models along the header and then breaks each down by engine size and transmission below.


Jeep addresses the related performance component, Fuel Efficiency, the same way.


And, unlike most manufactures, if you plug “towing” into the website’s search box, it returns a host of towing-related hits.



Second place goes to Jeep’s Chrysler group companions, Dodge and Chrysler, and to Ford


Dodge’s Towing Capacity page is here — reached by plugging “towing” into Dodge’s search box.


Chrysler’s is here.


Ford provides a list of tow-capable models in its Towing Guide.  Clicking on each model returns a PDF file that, like the Chrysler group, lists engine and transmission configurations.  Ford goes one helpful step further in designating trailer plus vehicle frontal air resistance area.



Volvo’s equivalent information is more difficult to find — but it still provides more than most


Volvo’s search box is useless for “towing”, but each model’s specification sheet lists its towing capacity.  For example, see the C30’s here, under Capacity.



Every other major manufacturer is obtusely unhelpful at returning model line tow capacity data


Most do not even return anything pertinent under “towing” or “tow capacity.”


Those that do, like Toyota and Honda, do so only for random models like the Tundra or Ridgeline.  So, you have to guess that whatever is not there doesn’t tow.


Most manufacturers do not even provide findable links to specific owner’s manuals.  When they do (like Toyota), tow capacity information is frequently impossible to find.


Chevrolet does not even provide a search box.


GMC does, but it returns the information in foolishly scattered way.



Third party tow overviews usually do not help


I have found that third party claims about various manufacturers’ tow capacities are often wrong.  One sample, in fact, attempted to contradict Mazda’s owner’s manual recommendation against towing.



Trailer Life may be a partial exception has a year by year list of Trailer Life’s Guide to Towing that covers individual manufacturers, here.


These are useful because they allow readers to quickly scan comparative data.  But I would not take anything as true, until I verified it with the manufacturer’s own publications:


For example, my scan of the 2012 PDF revealed that the estimates for Subaru’s models are noticeably inflated.


And nowhere does the Trailer Life supplement provide the caveats that Subaru attaches to its own ratings — many of which would cause a tow-minded person to eliminate Subaru from consideration — like no towing in high heat or up long hills and so forth.



The conundrum about manufacturer’s caveats


Europeans apparently lawfully use small cars for towing that, in America, are not recommended for the task.


This is problematic for those Americans, who might like to follow the European example.  If these folk get into an accident towing a trailer, with a vehicle not recommended for such, there might be legal repercussions.


What if your insurance company did not want to pay a seemingly legitimate claim because the driver had violated the manufacturer’s limitations or recommendations against towing?


This consideration makes the YouTube videos, which helpfully show how to install receiver hitches on subcompacts, of questionable value.  (Many of these refer only using the hitch for a bike rack or suitcase carrier, not a trailer.)



In sum, auto manufacturers are generally not using the Internet to its obvious information potential


Jeep scored big points with me for making my towing research easy.  Guess where I went to test drive today?


In contrast, Chevrolet lost a potential customer in me for being inordinately dumb.  In addition to making tow ratings more difficult to access than necessary, Chevy’s website lists models according to trim packages — like LS, LT, LTZ, and RS — but the local dealers, where I live, list their Sonic inventories by what are apparently option designations — like 1SD, 1SC and 1SF.


This disparity makes it impossible to price correlate the dealer’s Sonics with the trim levels listed on Chevy’s own website.  That is the kind of (probably intentional) stupidity that I refuse to deal with.



The moral? — It should not be this difficult to shop


Praise to Jeep, which auto reviewers love to malign for its allegedly not up to par line of non-Wranglers.


I suspect that Jeep’s intentional compromises between on and off-road performance is responsible for a lot of the less than stellar, specific purpose characteristics that reviewers criticize.  Most of the “opinionaters” who criticize the Jeep Compass and Patriot for not being a Wrangler— or a more civilized Subaru/RAV4/Equinox/Terrain/Escape — seem never to have driven either model off road.


Jeep seems to get the dual purpose and accessible information concepts.  Most manufacturers do not.


And it would be nice if the United States regulators began to recognize that one should not need a 5,000 pound vehicle to tow a small trailer.