Trailering Magazine Archives - Trailering Maintenance
Tow Vehicle Essentials and Accessories
Peter O'Tool Defines
The good that is found in new tow vehicle designs and models in 2003 is the variety. There are options for options. I can give a tow vehicle customer a choice of not only color on the outside (with matching graphics of course), but also details like where the placement of speakers in the cab should be or if the optional thermometer on the control panel should provide the temperature in celsius or fahrenheit. And when the topic turns to towing, if it didn't begin with towing, there are a lot of available features as well. I've seen the look on a few customer's faces when I tell them about a particular tow feature and have seen too many times a completely blank stare. A lot of dealers will keep their schpeel going. I prefer to speak in plain English and take the time to explain what's available and what works best when a vehicle is going to be towing a boat.
Before you walk into a showroom to begin the search for a new truck or SUV, be sure you know the weight of your boat and trailer. This may sound all too obvious and common sense, but I speak from experience: there are many people who can't answer the first question I ask which is "how much weight do you need to pull?" That's scary and it's dangerous and, most frustrating of all, it's easy to find out (these days you can get the weight of the boat and trailer on the Internet). If they can't answer that question, I look it up with them sitting on the other side of my desk. I will tell you this: BoatUS Members always know the answer to the question.
Once I know the weight that is going to be pulled, I select a number of tow vehicles with the appropriate tow capacity. That's the easy part. Picking the right features among the many that are out there? Well, that's becoming more complicated. And that's a good thing because each has it's own use for specific circumstances.
ALL WHEEL DRIVE: This is designed for slippery surface driving (wet, icy or snow-packed roads). This will work well on slippery launch ramps (especially those with algae growing from the waterline to the end of the concrete). With AWD as a feature, it is always engaged and will automatically transfer power and torque from the rear to the front wheels as needed. Under normal conditions, the power ratio is 65% rear wheels and 35% front wheels and it will change depending on the conditions you encounter. But AWD will do absolutely nothing to improve your ability to tow on dry pavement.
FOUR WHEEL DRIVE: Like AWD, 4-wheel drive can be useful on a slippery launch ramp. Unlike AWD, it must be be physically engaged by lever or electronically. Some manufacturers offer locking hubs and some are automatic. When 4WD is used, the trailering capacity is usually reduced by about 500 pounds over a rear wheel 2WD.
TWO WHEEL DRIVE: This usually means rear wheel drive and if you are pulling the boat out of the water at a ramp, this means the rear wheels are in the water. If they begin spinning or if the ramp is steep, there can be trouble. Having two wheel drive with a locking differential will offset this problem.
FRONT WHEEL DRIVE: This has the least towing capability of all so unless you are only pulling a single jetski, this is probably a feature to avoid. Very few front wheel drive tow vehicles have a tow rating of more than 2500 lbs.
AUTOMATIC OR MANUAL TRANSMISSION: The answer is simple: Automatic transmission is what should be used on a tow vehicle (and this is a debate that occurs everywhere in America because there is always a fellow who has no trouble at all with his clutch at a boat ramp. For the rest of us, get an automatic transmission). All manufacturers specify an automatic transmission for towing. In fact, some of the GMC designs I have had experience with, have a special tow/haul mode positions on the automatic transmission. A large part of the heavy duty truck market comes with automatic transmission.
TRANSMISSION COOLER: Usually, this is a standard part of a tow package. Yes, you want the tow package.
LIMITED SLIP AXLE: This will transfer power from the wheel that is spinning to the wheel directly across from it which, hopefully, isn't spinning.
LOCKING DIFFERENTIAL: This locks both rear wheels for traction when the right wheel is spinning.
AXLE RATIO: In general terms, the higher the number, the better the ability to trailer a boat. But, the higher the number, the lower the gas mileage.
DUAL REAR WHEELS: I think only about 10% of recreational boaters need dual rear tires on their tow vehicle. It is handy to have when pulling a heavier than average load over a long distance. The shop talk term for this feature is "a dually."
ELECTRICAL CONNECTION: This should be an integral part of the tow package. Most of the manufacturers have a seven-way socket which will provide the required electrical connection between tow vehicle and trailer for brakes (if electric) and lights. This will also accept a 4-way flat plug.
DIESEL OR GASOLINE? Diesels are expensive. But with that extra money up front you have better torque for pulling a trailer than you would have with a gas engine.
# of CYLINDERS? he rule is, there is no rule. The size of the engine is dependent upon the weight it is going to have to pull. Check the tow capacity of the tow vehicle based on the engine it contains. Then decided if that is the tow vehicle you want.
QUADRASTEER? This is a terrific feature for a tow vehicle. With this option, all four wheels have the ability to turn, so maneuvering a tow vehicle and boat and trailer is less labor intensive. But you pay for it and the cost has yet to start coming down. If you have the available financial resources, Quadrasteer is definitely something to consider.
In years to come, choices, accessories and options are going to increase. Having been in the light and heavy duty truck business for __years, I think future customers will be able to select a two-speed rear axle ratio, meaning the driver decides when to switch over to a higher ratio when towing or a lower ratio, when there is no boat or trailer being pulled. In addition, we are going to have 5 and 6 speed forward gears in future automatic transmissions which will also come in handy when a specific kind of power is required for a specific circumstance. In the meantime, be sure to ask questions if what you are hearing from a sales person isn't registering because every year is going to bring new questions to be answered.