Choosing the Right Tow Vehicle


Choosing the proper tow vehicle for your trailer is extremely important for your safety, as well as your cargo. However, the process of choosing a tow vehicle isn’t as easy as going to a dealership and picking out a truck or SUV. Selecting a vehicle that will safely haul your trailer and cargo requires some research and a little bit of math. This article will discuss a few important factors to consider when choosing the right tow vehicle for your trailer.

Why Weight Matters

When deciding which tow vehicle to purchase, the first step is finding out how much your trailer weighs. While some trailers have their empty weight listed on the title, the more important number is the Gross Vehicle Weight.

The GVW is the actual weight of a single vehicle and its complete load. In order to calculate the GVW, load up your trailer with everything you think you might take with you when you’re hauling (including horses, feed, water, equipment, etc.) and take it to a scale and weigh it. For a safety margin, add 20 percent and you will know the correct weight for which your tow vehicle needs to be rated in order to haul safely.

It’s a common misconception among many that aluminum trailers are lighter than steel. There are many factors that determine the weight besides the construction material. If the weight is listed on the title, it is most likely going to be the generic weight of that model. If there is extra features added by the manufacturer, they won’t add that on to the weight.

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is not the actual weight. It is the total weight the trailer can weigh and still be safe stated by the manufacturer. Usually, this rating is printed on a sticker inside the trailer. Rather than loading it up and weighing it, it is easier to use this number to choose your tow vehicle. If you do not overload the trailer, you will have the recommended safety margin you need.

GVWR of a trailer is normally determined by axle capacity. Axle capacity is the combined weight rating of each axle. If the trailer has a GVWR of 5,000 pounds, then that means the trailer has two 2,500-pound rated axles. A bit more may be added to the GVWR by some manufacturers, allowing that some of the tongue weight is on the tow vehicle. Your trailer’s coupler should be equal to or greater than the axle capacity.

If the axles have a 7,000 pound capacity and the coupler has a 5,000 pound capacity, the trailer would only be rated at 5,000 pounds. The trailer is only rated to the lowest rating. However, the towing capacity of a vehicle is generally calculated for hauling travel trailers or boats on flat ground. So if you are planning to travel in the mountains, consider a larger towing capacity than if you’re hauling on average terrain.

Vehicle Ratings and Add-Ons

A combination of engine size, transmission and axle ratio all determine a vehicle’s towing rating. The engine needs to have enough power to pull the rig in any conditions and over any terrain. The gearing that multiplies torque to the rear wheels is the axle ratio. Torque gets the load moving and provides pulling power. The higher the gear ratio, the more torque. Lower gear ratio equals better fuel efficiency.

The transmission provides the gears to get the load moving. Because first gear is smoother in an automatic transmission, automatic transmissions are usually recommended for tow vehicles to make it easier to operate and to get the load moving. Four-wheel drive does not contribute to towing capacity.

Know Your Load

Another issue that arises when towing is overloading your rig. You should never exceed the Gross Combination Vehicle Weight Rating in any situation. The GCVWR is the maximum the total trailer/vehicle combination can safely weigh, specified by the manufacturer of the tow vehicle. The combined weight of the tow vehicle, the trailer, passengers, horses, cargo, plus all equipment and supplies carried in both the tow vehicle and the trailer is all included in this. The load you are pulling should never exceed the GCVWR.

All About the Hitch

The last factor to consider is the hitch. Coming with two ratings, weight carrying and weight distribution, hitches should always be a class 3 or 4 hitch for tag-along trailers. For towing horse trailers, a proper hitch is a frame-mounted, stabilizer hitch. No matter what the capacity, you should never pull from the bumper.

It is also important for the ball and ball mount to be rated to the correct capacity for the weight of the trailer. Because you are only rated to your lowest number, it is important that everything is rated the same.

When it comes to tag-along trailers, front end floating (bouncing off the ground) of the tow vehicle is a serious concern. One way to prevent floating is by using the proper hitch equipment. Floating, which can also lead to sway, typically happens when the tongue weight of the trailer weighs down the back of the vehicle and takes too much weight off the front end. This allows the front of the tow vehicle to lift or bounce off the ground while driving. This can especially be a problem on short wheel-based vehicles, like SUVs. It is recommended to use weight distribution bars, which are often mistakenly called sway bars, in order to combat floating.

Sway is also another serious concern. A few causes of sway include:

  • A poorly designed trailer (tongue weight too light)
  • Uneven weigh distribution in the trailer (often happens on three-horse slant tag-alongs)
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Uneven tire pressure
  • An unlevel trailer (nose down)
  • Bent axles
  • Mismatched weight of trailer versus tow vehicle

A sway bar can be added to the hitch to prevent this issue, but unless you’re in areas where there’s a lot of wind, the cause of sway should be fixed, not compensated for with a sway bar.


These are just a few factors to consider when choosing the right tow vehicle for your trailer. Contact Gooseneck Trailers today for more information!


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