A Porsche Cayenne Turbo towing a classic Porsche 911

The Sport-utility vehicle (SUV) vs Crossover-utility vehicle (CUV) decision could well be determined by whether or not you will use it for towing.

The growth in the number of Crossovers (Crossover-utility vehicles) on the market and the blurring of the lines separating them from SUVs (Sport-utility vehicles), can make purchase or lease decisions difficult. Consider the fundamental difference between them when making your selection if towing is in the cards.

Saturn Outlook

Generally speaking, SUVs are based on a truck platform and have the essential ingredients for off-road or rugged use and towing. CUVs, on the other hand, are car-based with smaller, lighter drive trains and suspensions designed for better ride and handling qualities and thus suited for light-duty towing only.

Critical factors to consider include the towing capacities and gross vehicle weight ratings of the CUV or SUV. These two numbers determine the safe operation of the vehicle and occupants while towing. Failure to factor in these considerations can lead to disastrous consequences.

Folks who tow often and have given it serious thought and study are well aware of the importance of knowing one’s equipment and selecting the right vehicle. The decision between an SUV and CUV will obviously include features, performance and operating costs. But if the vehicle is to be used for towing, even occasionally, there are a number of much more important considerations.

Weight and balance are the key factors

Towing a trailer places additional demands on the tow vehicle. If the weight of the trailer exceeds the tow rating of the vehicle, off you go – probably into the ditch at the first corner. The most frequent and costly mistake related to towing is to be ignorant of the actual combined weight of both vehicles and how it is distributed in each.

Toyota Highlander

Regardless of the type and drive train of the tow vehicle, the manufacturer will have determined the maximum limits related to towing. These include GVW (R) Gross Vehicle Weight (Rating) GCVW (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight) and maximum tongue weight (TW). These numbers take into account the total weight of each with all people, fluids, luggage and cargo included. The experts suggest an additional 10-15 per cent ‘safety’ factor.

The SUV or CUV will have been designed around a number of parameters including the maximum load the drive train, brakes and suspension are equipped to handle safely. This includes factors ranging from load to temperatures. The engine has to produce enough torque to handle the maximum rated load, including trailer, with enough reserve to help in emergency situations or when climbing a long and steep hill. It also has to have enough cooling capacity to remain within designed parameters under all those conditions.

Mercedes-Benz ML

The transmission must be similarly matched to the rated load and equipped with proper cooling of its own, in some cases. The vehicle’s brakes have to be able to bring the combined load to a safe stop in a reasonable distance repeatedly without fade. The suspension has to be able to cope with added demands of the trailer and keep the vehicle on an even keel as that load shifts in corners and under acceleration and braking. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s ratings can and will void a warranty. In fact, towing anything may be a warranty consideration, so check that out before signing the lease or purchase agreement.

Whether the vehicle is front, rear, or four-wheel drive also plays a role in relation to towing. In a front-drive vehicle, the majority of the weight is positioned over the front wheels. If sufficient i.e. too much weight is placed on the hitch at the rear of the vehicle, the effect will be to transfer weight off the front wheels and onto the rear, changing the balance of the vehicle and affecting the steering and braking abilities. Too much hitch weight on a rear-drive vehicle will overload the rear wheels and similarly alter the balance.

Know your numbers or: Think while you pack!

It is obviously critical to know the various weight and ratings of the tow and towed vehicles and to pack accordingly. In all cases, include a full tank of fuel (an additional 45 kilograms or 100 pounds, plus), all passengers, luggage, equipment and everything else in both vehicles. It is very easy to overload the tow vehicle and exceed its GVW or GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) with a full complement of passengers and luggage – leaving absolutely no provision to tow anything.

Mercedes-Benz ML

So the decision to tow, whether with a CUV or SUV, should be based on a thorough knowledge of what you will be carrying in the tow vehicle as well as the Gross trailer Weight (GTW). Whether you are hauling a small utility trailer behind a CUV or a substantial travel trailer behind a big SUV, it will be just as critical to ensure that the weight in both the towing and towed vehicles is correctly distributed.

The location and placement of a single heavy object, whether a suitcase or a packed cooler, can significantly alter the balance and thus tongue weight of the hitch – which in turn affects the balance of both vehicles. Generally accepted practice is to have 60 per cent of the weight on ahead of the trailer axle and 40 per cent at the rear – without exceeding the recommended tongue weight

Time to choose

Trailer Hitch

You can see that what you tow will determine whether it be with a CUV or an SUV. Most safety experts suggest that you give yourself a 10-15 per cent margin on all weight ratings. If you plan to tow often, there are a number of additional considerations at the time of purchase, including auxiliary transmission and oil coolers, heavy duty battery, suspension and radiator, as well as auxiliary towing mirrors and a factory-installed wiring harness and hitch. Stabilizer and weight-distributing bars are recommended, and additional safety chains for the hitch are compulsory. Check the regulations in your jurisdiction regarding requirements for auxiliary or trailer brakes.

As to whether you should pick an SUV or a CUV, a good rule of thumb is that most CUVs are capable of towing trailers up to about 2,000 pounds (907 kg) GTW with 200 pounds (90 kg) of tongue weight with a Class 1 hitch bolted directly to the bumper or chassis – check with the manufacturer. Anything from there up, and especially over 5,000 pounds (2268 kg) probably requires an SUV, a weight-distributing hitch and more serious study.

Once you have checked with the manufacturer about everything from warranty to available equipment and recommendations and pre-selected your CUV or SUV, check out the following article for appropriate information regarding everything from hitches to lights and brakes to oil:

Tips and Advice on The Art of Towing