Tow Package Or Not?

By John Tiger, Jr.
Published: Summer 2013

Many of us will be using our old reliable vehicle to tow, but if you're thinking of buying new, you might want to consider a factory tow package.

Know What's Included

The cost of a factory tow package used to be exorbitant compared to an aftermarket hitch. Today, the packages are much more competitive, especially considering all that's included. Carefully read the invoice, window sticker, and manufacturer's web pages to be sure of all that's included in the tow package for the vehicle you're considering.

Aftermarket Options

With all the indicators leading toward selecting a vehicle equipped with a factory tow package, what are the pros and cons of aftermarket products? To start, there's nothing wrong with aftermarket hitches and wiring packages. In fact, there are instances (quite a few, actually) where owners of vehicles with factory hitches have had them removed, and an aftermarket hitch installed. This was more common a few years ago, when aftermarket hitches were generally rated to tow heavier loads than OE hitches. That's not the case today; over the past few years, the OE manufacturers have caught up with aftermarket products in most applications, and now you can buy a truck or SUV with a factory hitch that's rated competitively against aftermarket hitches.

Tow package illustration

Tip iconMost vehicles' tow-mode option automatically disengages when you turn the engine off, so make sure you reengage the tow/haul function after you stop for food or fuel.

The only case where aftermarket capabilities still trump those of OE is in the extreme, heavy-duty truck arena, where aftermarket manufacturers like Draw-Tite, Reese, and Curt build huge receiver hitches that handle upward of 16,000 pounds Gross Trailer Weight (GTW). Reese's Titan receiver handles 18,000 pounds GTW, with 2,000 pounds tongue weight (TW). On a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup, for example, that's a huge leap over the factory's rating, which is around 12,400 pounds, depending on drivetrain and model.

This begs the question: If the factory only rates the vehicle to tow 12,400 pounds, why does the aftermarket build and rate a hitch for so much more? The answer is that the market demands it; if the builder can design a hitch, test it, and rate it at that level, they'll do so. The bottom line, however, is that any vehicle is only safely rated to tow at the lower of the hitch's and overall vehicle's rating. If your SUV is rated to tow 3,500 pounds, and your hitch says 2,000, you should only be towing 2,000.

Paying Up Front?

Dodge - towing a boat

As a parting thought, it's important to remember that duplicating the OE towing package with aftermarket components is usually next to impossible. While the aftermarket hitch and wiring are comparable, even sometimes better, it would be cost prohibitive to go to the aftermarket and try to retrofit and upgrade the alternator, battery, shocks, brakes, and other components that are typically included in the OE tow package.

Bottom line? If your vehicle choice has a factory tow package option, evaluate it carefully for value — and ensure that it meets your needs. Chances are high it will be your best bet. The cost gets spread out in the monthly payments, too. That means you won't have to come up with another $400 or so at the aftermarket hitch shop, right after you blew the big coin on the vehicle down payment.End of story marker

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