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The 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost won a powertrain performance exercise against the competition towing a trailer up the Davis Dam area in Arizona. (Ford Ford)
The 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost won a powertrain performance exercise against the competition towing a trailer up the Davis Dam area in Arizona. (Ford Ford)

Ask Joanne

To tow a big trailer, you'll need a real truck Add to ...

My husband and I are retiring and wish to purchase a tow trailer to travel. We are looking at pulling approximately 10,000 pounds. Do we need a full-size truck such as the Ford F-150 or are there large SUVs that will pull that kinds of weight - such as the Suburban? - Sharon in Peterborough, Ont.

You're retiring and taking the weight off your shoulders, and now you want to pull it behind you - 10,000 pounds is the equivalent of four Mini Coopers or a decent-size travel trailer, which is what I assume you are thinking of here.

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The towing capacity of the vehicle you choose is obviously critical to make your driving experience not only possible, but pleasurable and safe while carrying the weight of a loaded trailer.

"Safety is the biggest issue, but if you tow something heavier than the vehicle is designed to pull, you'll damage your drivetrain, and your transmission and engine will overheat or overwork. You'll also burn your brakes out a whole lot faster," says Dan Bird, general manager of Totem Towing in Victoria.

A vehicle's gross combination weight rating (GCWR) is determined by the manufacturer to be the maximum weight of a loaded tow vehicle and the loaded trailer attached to it. The total weight of the tow vehicle and trailer should not exceed the GCWR.

While many SUVs can handle large loads, even the largest fall short of your 10,000-pound requirement. The Suburban, which you mentioned, can tow 9,600 pounds. If you want to stick with an SUV, you'll have to scale down your trailer size.

The type of trailer you purchase will also determine whether an SUV can handle your towing needs. Two common types of travel trailers are fifth-wheel and bumper-pull. You can't pull a fifth-wheel trailer with an SUV, because you need a truck box to mount the hitch. The pin on a fifth-wheel fits in a hitch inside the box of the truck. An SUV can handle a bumper-pull trailer, however, which attaches to the hitch underneath the bumper.

"A lot of us like to use a bumper-pull, but the reason many people like a fifth-wheel is they're easier to hook up, easier to handle and back up. I myself have a pull trailer, because I won't give up my box, and I have a lid on it so I can put bicycles in the back and lock them up, nice and clean, and they won't get stolen," says Mark Boucher of Fraserway RV in Toronto.

"If you're going to pull 10,000 pounds, you need a pickup, and you have to have the right truck to do the right job. The Ford F150, from 2009 onwards, is probably the best truck, period, for pulling right now, in my opinion. It's beautiful inside, decent on gas, and it's affordable. And it will haul up to 11,200 pounds with the right package," says Boucher.

Once you've found the truck that will carry your load, other factors you'll want to consider are comfort, fuel economy, crash test ratings and cost.

"Typically, we tell people to buy the trailer first, then go to the car lot and tell them what you're pulling and put that right on your bill of sale. If the salesperson signs it, and there's any problem, they get the truck back," says Boucher.

If you had your heart set on the comfort of an SUV, don't despair. Many modern pickups offer considerable luxury: leather interiors, heated steering wheels and sun-roofs. You may even get a pleasant surprise with fuel economy - a friend who drives an F-350 diesel and tows a fifth-wheel gets better fuel economy than another who drives a new SUV.

If fuel prices don't co-operate with your retirement plans, you may wish to follow the lead of some U.S. farmers, recently reported to be switching back to ox and cart.

E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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