Choosing the Right Tow Vehicle

Many of us trailer our boats, which naturally means we’ll need a tow vehicle. Which one should you choose? Without getting into a Ford vs. Chevy argument, there are some stand-out attributes that make one vehicle better than another for towing boats. And note that I say “vehicle,” not “truck”. Truth be told, these days there are plenty of SUVs and vans that are also up to boat-hauling chores.

Ready to get a new tow vehicle? Choose wisely, and your boat will thank you.

The number-one factor, of course, is finding a tow vehicle that has the capacity to haul your rig. But don’t push the manufacturer’s recommendations. Remember that the published weight of a boat is nowhere near the actual towing weight. You have to account for the weight of the engine(s), the trailer, a full fuel tank (gasoline weighs about 6.2 pounds per gallon, so a full 50 gallon fuel tank can add as much as 310 pounds to your haul), and gear.

Consider the vehicle’s mirrors. Regular-sized side-view mirrors simply don’t cut it for hauling a boat. Over-sized mirrors are better, but still not great. What you really want to look for is true towing mirrors that flip up or extend, to gain you extra length and a better view aft.

Take the brakes into account. Oddly, larger boat trailers often aren’t too much of an issue in this regard because they have their own brakes. But relatively small single-axle trailers often do not. In this case,  you’ll want to make sure the truck has heftier brakes. And in some cases you can get electronic trailer brake control in a tow vehicle, which allows you to control the trailer’s brakes from the driver’s seat.

Make sure you get a true towing package, with a frame-mounted receiver hitch. Bumper hitches are, IMHO, good for nothing. Period. Even with small rigs, eventually they often lead to bumper damage.

Check out the tires. Some “trucks” or SUVs come with tires that are rated for passenger vehicles. These are sub-par, when it comes to towing.

Back-up cameras are a must-have in this day and age. They make it one heck of a lot easier to back up to the hitch perfectly, each and every time.

At least one manufacturer (Ram) offers “hill start assist”. This prevents the truck from rolling backwards when you take your foot off the brake, which comes in quite handy on steep boat ramps.

Four wheel drive is another must-have, at least it is if you launch and retrieve a boat bigger than a dinghy, and sometimes visit slimy or slippery leaf-covered ramps.


Lenny Rudow: