Before you hit the road with your RV in tow, you want to make sure you have the right vehicle for the job. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the travel trailer, the bigger your tow vehicle needs to be. If you look at the RVs rolling down the highway, you’ll see a lot are pulled by heavy-duty pickup trucks. Without a doubt, pickups are one of the most popular types of passenger vehicles in the US, but they’re not for everyone. They can’t beat a SUV when it comes to a comfortable weekday commute, and when you’re traveling, a SUV with its third row has more space for your family and their gear, and you can still go off-road.
So what’s a person to do if they want to camp, but don’t want to invest in a pickup? Fortunately, there’s a whole class of travel trailers under 6,000 pounds that you can tow with many small and midsize luxury SUVs. We’re proud to say that the Bowlus, at just 3,200 pounds base weight, is in that group. To help you figure out which SUV is the best for towing a travel trailer, we’ve put together this handy guide.
It’s All About The Weight
Figuring out which camper you can safely tow with your SUV can be confusing, so let’s take a quick look at the key terms you need to know.
Dry Weight, or shipped weight, is the weight of your camper as it was shipped from the manufacturer. In and of itself, this isn’t a terribly useful number as it doesn’t include the weight of any of the stuff you need, other than the camper.
Tongue Weight / Hitch Weight is the amount of weight or pressure that’s applied from your camper’s tongue to the hitch on your vehicle.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is determined by the manufacturer, is the maximum weight the vehicle is able to carry. Both your SUV and your camper have a GVWR, but we’re primarily concerned with the GVWR of your RV, which can typically be found near the entrance of your trailer. The GVWR includes the trailer’s dry weight plus everything you put in or on it – fluids (water tanks, propane tank), accessories (like a bike rack), and all your cargo.
Make sure you don’t exceed your trailer’s GVWR when you’re packing, and it’s best if the actual trailer weight is less than the GVWR. Toss a few things on the bathroom scale because clothes and the pots and pans are probably heavier than you think. Over time, you’ll figure out what’s essential, what’s nice to have, and what’s just taking up space.
Maximum Towing Capacity is the maximum weight that can safely be towed by your SUV. This number can typically be found in your owner’s manual or on the manufacturer’s website. Your camper’s GVWR should never exceed your SUV’s maximum towing capacity. There are a number of factors that impact a vehicle’s tow rating, including engine size and type (V-8, diesel, ecoboost, electric, turbo), horsepower, transmission, and the drivetrain (four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive). Vehicles with the factory installed towing package are typically capable of towing more than those without this option. So, when you look for your SUV’s towing capacity, make sure you’re looking at your exact make, model, and trim level (including the model year).
It’s Also About the Hitch
With a standard hitch, the trailer’s tongue weight is transferred to the rear axle of your SUV. If it’s too heavy, the back of your vehicle sinks and the front lifts up, compromising your ability to control your rig. That’s why if you have a heavier travel trailer, you’ll need to invest in a weight distribution hitch. Like the name suggests, this type of hitch uses spring bars to evenly distribute the trailer’s weight, giving you a more stable, level ride when towing. They can also reduce trailer sway.
Check your owner’s manual to learn what the maximum tongue weight is for your vehicle. Typically, you’ll need to use a weight distribution hitch if your trailer’s GVWR is more than 50% of your vehicle’s GVWR. The Bowlus, for example, has a hitch weight of just 300 pounds and a GVWR of 4,000 pounds. That’s light enough that with most luxury SUVs you’ll be able to avoid the expense and hassle of a weight distribution hitch.
What Happens If You Exceed the GVWR and Towing Capacity (Hint: Nothing Good)
GVWR and towing capacity aren’t suggestions – overloading dramatically decreases the life and safety of both your camper and your SUV.
Here are just a few of the problems you could see if you exceed either the GVWR of your RV or the towing capability of your SUV:
· Your fuel economy or your EV’s range will plummet.
· You can damage the frame, suspension, axels, wheels, or radiator.
· You can overheat and damage the engine and shorten the life of your transmission.
· If you exceed the towing capacity of your SUV, it will take you longer to stop.
· Overloaded RVs are more prone to tipping over, and the rig is harder to steer. You’re also more susceptible to tire blowouts.
· Your insurance company may not cover your claim if you have an accident.
The Best SUVs for Towing Your Bowlus
This is where the rubber meets the road (so to speak). What, you ask, are some SUVs that are capable of towing a travel trailer that weighs under 6,000 pounds? What about a luxurious RV like the Bowlus Terra Firma or Endless Highways Edition, both of which have a GVWR of just 4,000 pounds? We took a look at the manufacturer’s stated towing capacity of some of our favorite luxury SUVs:
Best Full Size SUVs:
Lincoln Navigator: 8,700 pounds
Infiniti QX80: 8,500 pounds
Best Midsize SUVs:
Land Rover Defender: 8,201 pounds
Land Rover Discovery: 8,201 pounds
Porsche Cayenne: 7,700 pounds
Mercedes Benz GLS: 7,700 pounds
Bentley Bentayga: 7,716 pounds
BMW X7: 5,950 pounds
Audi Q7: 7,700 pounds
Range Rover: 7,716 pounds
Best Compact SUVs:
Jaguar F-PACE: 5,291 pounds
Porsche Macan: 4,409 pounds
Audi Q5: 4,400 pounds
Best Electric SUVs:
Tesla Model X: 5,000 pounds
If you don’t have one of these in the garage, you’ll still have plenty of options to choose from. Interestingly, many small and midsize luxury SUVs equipped with a towing package have more towing capacity than their mainstream counterparts from Jeep or Dodge. Full-size SUVs like the Suburban, Ford Expedition, and the Nissan Armada are built on the same frame as a pickup truck, giving you both towing capacity and three rows of seating.
Every Bowlus is Lightweight, But Comes With Plenty of Space and Safety Features
Let’s take our real world example a step further. As we said earlier, the Bowlus’ dry weight is 3,200 pounds and her GVWR is 4,000 pounds. That leaves you with a net carrying capacity of 800 pounds, half of which should be reserved for the RVs essential systems.
The Bowlus comes with a 19-gallon fresh water tank, a 21-gallon grey water tank, and a 4.5 gallon black water cassette- a total of 44.5 gallons, or 371 pounds, if all the tanks are full (though realistically your fresh water tank and your grey water tank are likely not going to be full at the same). Our fully filled propane tank weighs 51 pounds. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a total of 422 pounds of water and propane that you can carry in your Bowlus, leaving you with roughly 378 pounds for everything else. That’s plenty of room to stock our unique storage solutions with food, clothes, dishes, and whatever else you need to make your camping trip fun and memorable.
The other great thing about the Bowlus is that with a GVWR of just 4,000 pounds, she’s a spacious 26-feet long. Most of the other travel trailers on the market that are under 6,000 pounds are a mere 20-feet (or less). Our superior ultra lightweight construction means you don’t have to compromise on space just to get a travel trailer you can tow with your SUV.
To help ensure your safety while towing a Bowlus, we also offer a smart trailer brake controller. This integrated Bluetooth device provides highly responsive, smooth braking to any tow vehicle. It doesn’t require any modifications and it has vehicle specific memory profiles so you can tow with your Porsche Macan one day and your Tesla Model X the next. There are a lot of reasons to choose a small travel trailer, but we absolutely love that we can hitch our Bowlus up to our SUV and safely hit the road in style.