Apparently, sales and rentals of recreational vehicles (RVs) are up this season and expected to continue rising. The credit for this goes to the pandemic, as it has limited the crossing of provincial and international borders. Everyone is looking for vacation alternatives that keep their families isolated and relatively close to home. This is despite the fact that changing regulations countrywide may see campgrounds not even allowed to open this summer.
With that, I have been fielding a fair number of questions about hitches and towing in general from my customers. Drivers who would have never dared tow anything before are now considering it. If you’re thinking about buying a boat or travel trailer for the first time, here are a few points.
Firstly, figure out if your current vehicle is up to the task. Get out your vehicle’s owner’s manual and look up its towing specifications. A common tow-weight specification for a mid-size SUV is 3,500 lbs (1,587 kg). Tongue weight is another necessary consideration but often overlooked. It is the downward force/weight that a fully loaded trailer exerts onto the hitch ball. It is usually specified to be 10 to 15 per cent of the total gross weight of the trailer. Too much weight on the hitch will cause the tow vehicle to sag in the rear and be lighter in the front end, affecting steering and braking. Too little tongue weight, and the tailer will sway and be difficult to control.
Popular hitch classes for passenger vehicles are referred to as Class 1, 2 and 3. A Class 1 hitch is the smallest, lowest-weight hitch and can typically handle up to 2,000 lbs, including the trailer and whatever you put in it. The tongue weight is 200 lbs. The most common uses in this class are for small utility trailers, however there are ultralight, tiny RV trailers coming in under 2,000 lbs. Be prepared to cozy up with your partner because these things are small, but they’re very usable, as every nook and cranny is utilized.
Class 2 and 3 are where things get a tad confusing. A Class 2 has a 1¼ receiver. The receiver is the bar that slides into the hitch with the tow ball on it – the one that scrapes your shins when you accidentally walk into one protruding from a parked vehicle. Towing capacity for a Class 2 hitch is up to 3,500 lbs., with a tongue-weight rating between 350 to 500 lbs. Why is it confusing? Well, you may also be able to purchase a Class 3 hitch for the same vehicle. A Class 3 hitch sports a two-inch receiver and has a towing capacity and tongue weight of up to 8,000 lbs and 800 lbs, respectively. So if your vehicle can only tow up to 3500 lbs., then why would you put a hitch on it that is capable of towing so much more? Remember, towing capacity is dictated by the vehicle manufacturer, not the hitch manufacturer. Despite the limits of the vehicle, the larger hitch’s two-inch receiver gives you a wider range of options for items like bike racks and cargo carriers, so most hitch professionals will recommend a Class 3 hitch, even though it might be considered overkill.
Once you have your tow vehicle, hitch and trailer sorted out, you will need to think about adding a transmission cooler. If the trailer you will be towing is nearing your vehicle’s weight limit, it will undoubtedly work your transmission hard, effectively raising internal transmission temperatures. Coolers are always a good idea unless your vehicle is something similar in ratio to a full-size pickup with an 8,000 lb capacity pulling a small 2,000 lb tent trailer. One last point: Whenever the fully loaded trailer weight exceeds 50 per cent of the towing vehicle’s gross weight, then employing a weight-distributing hitch and trailer brakes is recommended and/or required in some areas.
Your automotive questions, answered
Sometimes I receive questions where I don’t have much to say in response. Here are several automotive questions that only require simple answers:
My car uses synthetic oil, and I accidentally poured one litre of conventional oil in before I noticed the label. Do you know if it will cause any real damage? The car needs more oil, so is it OK to add more synthetic oil this time?
One litre of conventional oil is not going to cause any damage in your case, Alexis. Try not to make a regular habit out of it, but for now, just pretend it didn’t happen.
My wife drives a 2007 Honda Fit and only drives, on average, 3,000 km per year, max. With Honda’s schedule of oil changes due every 10,000 km, should I still get an oil change each year or simply follow the schedule of every 10,000 km? All of her driving is short trips in the city. Thanks for any info.
Paul O, Kingston
Once per year using synthetic oil is considered a minimum, regardless of mileage travelled, in my opinion.
I was just looking to find a place to get my trailer serviced and saw Lou’s article about bearings and boat trailers. Does he have any ideas where that work can be done? Have asked a couple of local garages and a Canadian Tire, and they say they don’t do it. I live in downtown Toronto, in case there are any specific recommendations.
I am surprised that so few places service trailers. You can always head out of town to an RV retailer that has a service centre, and they should do it for you. But yes, in downtown Toronto you are unlikely to find any. I might know a shop in Mississauga that would do if for you, assuming it’s not an oversized trailer.
I’m a senior, and I really don’t drive too much. Short trips like shopping and appointments. Maybe 3,000 or 4,000 km a year. After reading your article on the turbo engines, should I be worried about maintenance costs?
I have a 2015 Cruze turbo.
Just be diligent servicing it and try to get out for regular highway journeys whenever possible, Dan, and you’ll be just fine.
Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail email@example.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.