How to Pick the Best Tow Vehicle for Trailer: Tips for Choosing an RV Tow Vehicle

Tips for Choosing an RV Tow Vehicle

Picking the right tow vehicle for your trailer is crucial to RVing safely and comfortably. The tow vehicle must be able to haul the trailer weight reliably over long distances. This comprehensive guide provides tips for choosing the best RV tow vehicle for your needs.

Selecting an ideal tow vehicle for your RV trailer is key to maximizing performance, safety, and enjoyment on the road. But with so many tow vehicle options available, from pickup trucks to SUVs and vans, it can be challenging to decide what’s best for your particular trailer. This article will guide you through the key factors to consider when choosing a tow vehicle, including engine power, tow ratings, vehicle size, fuel efficiency, drivetrain, and more. We’ll also cover understanding your trailer’s specifications, properly matching the two components, safety features, maintenance, and making the final decision. Follow these tips to pick the perfect tow vehicle for hassle-free and smooth RV towing.

Key Takeaways

  • Assess engine power, tow ratings, size, drivetrain, and efficiency when selecting a tow vehicle.
  • Understand your trailer’s weight, dimensions, and hitch type during the pairing process.
  • Match your vehicle’s tow rating to your trailer’s loaded weight for a safe combination.
  • Prioritize braking systems and stability control for safe towing performance.
  • Stay on top of maintenance for both the tow vehicle and trailer.

Understanding RV Tow Vehicles and Trailers

Understanding RV Tow Vehicles and Trailers

The tow vehicle and trailer need to work in harmony to deliver optimal handling, control, and reliability. Here are key considerations:

Weight Distribution – The tow vehicle must handle a significant portion of the total weight, known as the tongue weight pressing down on the hitch.

Capability – The vehicle must have enough towing capacity to pull the trailer’s gross weight safely over varied conditions.

Control – The tow setup must allow the driver to maintain control and stability at highway speeds, during braking, and in reverse.

Systems – Features like brake controllers and transmission coolers allow seamless braking, shifting, and performance when towing.

Compatibility – The vehicle, trailer, and hitch components must be designed to operate together smoothly.

Understanding these essential factors will help narrow down suitable tow vehicles for your trailer.

Key Features to Consider When Choosing a RV Tow Vehicle

Key Features to Consider When Choosing a RV Tow Vehicle

Evaluate these crucial performance metrics and features when selecting your next tow rig:

Engine Power

The engine must produce adequate horsepower and torque to accelerate, climb grades, and pass with a heavy trailer load. Choose a larger displacement V8 over a V6 when possible.

Towing Capacity

Confirm the vehicle’s max tow rating exceeds your trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) by at least 15-20%.

Vehicle Size and Weight

A larger, heavier truck or SUV provides more stability and control when towing a big trailer. But it may compromise fuel economy when not towing.

Fuel Efficiency

Carefully consider MPG ratings since you’ll be moving substantial extra weight. Balance power and efficiency.

Drive Type

4WD or AWD adds traction when towing in slippery conditions. But it may reduce fuel economy and increase drivetrain wear.

Types of RV Tow Vehicles

Types of RV Tow Vehicles

Now let’s dive deeper into comparing the pros and cons of popular tow vehicle options – pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans:

Pickup Trucks

Pickup trucks are purpose-built for towing heavy loads and designed with optimal power, capability, and durability for handling trailers. Their strengths include:

Powerful V8 engines, often over 5 liters, generating ample horsepower and torque to accelerate and climb grades easily even under load.

High conventional towing capacities, typically 8,000 to 12,000 pounds for half-ton models and up to 35,000 pounds for heavy duty pickups. Enough for even the largest RVs.

The empty bed over the rear axle improves weight distribution and stability while towing compared to SUVs.

Standard 2″ receiver hitches can readily accept ball mounts, fifth wheel hitches, and trailer brake controllers.

Trucks often have greater ground clearance and heavy-duty 4WD systems ideal for off-road access to RV parks.

Potential downsides are a rougher ride, poorer handling, noisy cabins, and worse fuel economy versus comparable SUVs or vans when driving unloaded without a trailer. But for RV applications, trucks are purpose-built for towing big loads.


SUVs offer a nice blend of towing capacity combined with family-friendly comfort and amenities. Benefits include:

Full-size SUVs can be equipped with powerful V8s displacing 5+ liters to give adequate power for towing mid-size trailers.

While max tow ratings of 6,000-9,000 pounds are lower than trucks, they can still readily handle lightweight and mid-size RVs.

The smoother ride, quieter interior, and better handling make driving without a trailer more pleasurable.

4WD systems on SUVs add traction in slippery weather while maintaining car-like ride and handling.

The enclosed cabin results in less optimal weight distribution compared to a truck bed. And SUVs lack the extreme tow ratings of heavy duty pickups. But SUVs strike a great balance for RV use.


Big vans like the Mercedes Sprinter can be excellent tow vehicles with family-focused amenities. Benefits include:

Passenger vans provide ample storage, ability to transport more people, and the option to customize the interior for camping on the go.

Large van platforms offer optional AWD and limited off-road packages to provide all-weather traction.

Tow packages can accommodate trailers up to 7,500 pounds, on par with most SUVs.

The lower rear deck improves weight distribution over a standard SUV for stable handling.

While not purpose-built for towing like trucks, big vans are very versatile for RV applications, with available towing capacity combined with interior passenger and storage advantages. The trade-offs are poorer off-road traction and lower tow ratings compared to heavy duty pickups.

Understanding Your Trailer's Requirements

Understanding Your Trailer’s Requirements

The trailer’s specifications will determine the minimum requirements for a compatible tow vehicle. Key metrics include:

Trailer Weight

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the total max loaded weight. This must be less than your tow vehicle rating.

The hitch weight or “tongue load” is the downward force on the hitch when loaded. This should be 10-15% of the total loaded trailer weight.

Trailer Size

The length, width, and height of the trailer determine the minimum size of the tow vehicle for good handling.

Hitch Type

The trailer’s hitch size and type (fifth wheel or bumper pull) must match your tow vehicle hitch.

Consult the trailer manuals for exact ratings so you can select a properly matched tow vehicle.

Matching Your Tow Vehicle to Your Trailer

With key data in hand on both your potential tow vehicle and RV trailer, you can take steps to optimize the pairing and ensure a well-matched, safe setup. Here are important guidelines for matching the two components:

  • Double check that the vehicle’s max tow rating exceeds the fully loaded trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) by a 15-20% safety margin. This extra buffer guards against overloading the vehicle even under adverse conditions.
  • Verify the vehicle’s hitch rating allows it to safely handle the downwards tongue load or king pin weight when the trailer is hitched up. As a rule of thumb, the hitch weight should be 10-15% of the loaded trailer weight.
  • Pick a tow vehicle of similar size as the trailer for ideal handling. Avoid pairing an undersized vehicle like a compact SUV with an oversized fifth wheel RV, which can overload the tow vehicle and cause stability issues.
  • Carefully match up the exact hitch type and mounting points between the vehicle and trailer. For example, a fifth wheel trailer requires a compatible fifth wheel hitch mounted in the truck bed, not just a rear bumper hitch.
  • Make sure all of the trailer lighting plugs including brake controllers properly interface with the tow vehicle’s electrical system and lighting. Upgrade connectors as needed.

Taking the time to properly match all weight ratings, dimensions, hitch types, wiring, and capacities between the tow vehicle and trailer will pay dividends in hassle-free trailering. Adhering closely to manufacturers’ ratings and guidelines ensures a stable, safely integrated towing setup. But don’t hesitate to consult with an RV expert if you need help matching a tow vehicle to your trailer.

Safety Considerations

Safety Considerations

Some advanced safety systems greatly improve towing experiences:

Braking System

An electric trailer brake controller synchronizes the trailer brakes with the tow vehicle brakes for smooth, balanced braking.

Stability Control

Systems like sway control apply individual wheel brakes as needed to keep the tow vehicle and trailer stable.

Backup Cameras and Mirrors

Enhanced rear visibility and guidance lines help with lining up hitching and navigating in reverse.

Lights and Wiring

Systems that connect and coordinate tow vehicle and trailer lighting reduce blown bulbs and electrical problems.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Properly maintaining both your tow vehicle and RV trailer is crucial to ensure safe, reliable operation and prevent breakdowns when on the road.

Closely follow the prescribed maintenance schedule and service intervals laid out in your tow vehicle and trailer owner’s manuals. Key items to periodically inspect include the brakes, tires, wheel bearings, suspension components, and towing-related safety systems.

Routinely check tire inflation pressures on the tow vehicle and trailer per the placard levels. Inadequate tire pressures can lead to blowouts or handling issues when operating near maximum loads while towing. Keep an air compressor on hand to inflate when needed.

Thoroughly inspect all hitch components for signs of wear, cracks, corrosion, or other damage. Look for worn ball mounts, damaged fifth wheel king pins, bent headers or hangers, and degraded wiring. Replace any worn or defective parts before towing.

Test all of the trailer brake electrics, jacks, and breakaway systems to confirm proper functioning before each trip. This includes the brake controller, auxiliary power, safety chains, and breakaway battery.

Carefully load the trailer to keep weight even side-to-side and front-to-back to prevent fishtailing or trailer sway. Secure all cargo to prevent shifting. Balance the weight properly on the hitch. Overloaded trailers put strain on the tow vehicle.

Staying diligent with preventative maintenance and regularly inspecting key components will provide peace of mind and avoid costly roadside headaches when towing your RV.

Making the Final Decision

Making the Final Decision

With so many factors to weigh, choosing the ideal tow vehicle for your trailer is a big decision. Here are some final tips for picking the perfect tow rig.

Take plenty of time thoroughly researching the makes and models that meet your requirements. Compare specs, reviews, tow ratings, and ownership costs across different vehicles.

Test drive vehicles fully loaded with a weighted trailer within the range of your actual RV to truly assess towing performance. Pay attention to power, braking, transmission behavior, and handling when accelerating, stopping, and cornering.

Carefully inspect the engine bay, undercarriage, hitch system, and electrical hookups of any used tow vehicles you are considering purchasing. Look for signs of damage, wear, under maintenance or potential problems.

Have a trusted mechanic complete a pre-purchase inspection focusing on the engine, drivetrain, wheel bearings, suspension, brake system, trailer wiring, and hitch forused vehicles. This will identify any issues needing repair.

Crunch the numbers on both purchase price and ongoing ownership costs including fuel, insurance premiums, estimated maintenance and repairs, depreciation, loan terms, and licensing fees. Make sure it fits your budget.

Ultimately choose a tow vehicle with proven durability, adequate power, robust towing capacity, appropriate size, and modern towing features to meet your needs at a reasonable price.

Doing all your homework upfront and making a prudent, informed choice will pay dividends for many years down the road with safe, reliable, and enjoyable RV towing. Take your time and select the perfect towing partner for your trailer and travel needs.

Conclusion for Choosing an RV Tow Vehicle

Picking the right tow vehicle for your RV trailer is a complex but very important decision. With so many factors to consider like vehicle ratings, trailer specifications, towing equipment, maintenance, costs, and features, it can be overwhelming. But taking the time to research and understand your needs will lead you to the ideal long-term towing solution. Use the tips provided to narrow down the best RV tow vehicle options for your travel trailer, fifth wheel, or other recreational trailer. Making a prudent, informed choice will allow you to tow confidently, safely, and comfortably as you embark on your RV adventures on the open road.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the minimum towing capacity needed for an RV trailer?

The minimum towing capacity depends on the loaded weight of your RV trailer. In general, aim for a tow vehicle rating at least 15-20% higher than your trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Small trailers may only require 5,000 lbs capacity, while larger fifth wheels can require over 10,000 lbs.

What are the top-rated trucks for towing a 30ft camper?

The Ford F-250, Ram 2500, and Chevy Silverado 2500 are highly rated trucks for towing 30ft, 10,000+ lb travel trailers. Look for models equipped with tow packages, V8 engines, 4WD, and integrated brake controllers.

Which vehicles are the cheapest to tow a camper?

Typically midsize SUVs and pickup trucks offer the most budget-friendly tow vehicles for smaller campers under 4,000 lbs. Options like the Honda Passport, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, and Chevrolet Colorado can provide basic towing utility.

What factors should be considered when choosing a tow vehicle?

Key factors include towing capacity, payload capacity, engine power, drivetrain type, integrated brake controllers, vehicle dimensions, hitch and wiring, cost, reliability, and special towing features.

Where can I find information on VIN towing capacity?

A vehicle’s VIN tow rating is available on the driver’s side door jamb sticker or in the owner’s manual. You can also reference online towing guides when you know the make, model, and VIN.

What makes a good RV tow vehicle?

A good RV tow vehicle has ample power, heavy-duty components, high tow ratings, integrated brake controllers, the right hitch equipment, stability control, sufficient payload capacity, and the durability to haul safely for thousands of miles.

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