You’ve made the exciting decision to purchase a travel trailer or fifth wheel. Now you need to make sure you have the proper tow vehicle. While a truck may come to mind as your first option for towing a camper, SUVs and minivans can also be reputable tow vehicles and ensure you can bring the whole family along. However, a minivan or SUV can also be limiting as a tow vehicle, so it’s important to understand size, towing capacity, engine types, payload, and more.
Read on to learn more about the best minivans and SUVs for towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel.
Important Factors When Considering a Minivan or SUV for Towing
When considering a minivan or SUV as a tow vehicle, the most important limiting factor is the payload rating of the vehicle. In trucks, towing capacity and payload are important, but in SUVs and minivans, where families tend to be more numerous and carry more cargo, payload plays an even more important role. And while you might be tempted to bring more cargo, remember that the primary purpose of minivans and SUVs is to transport people.
- Payload capacity: The total amount of weight the vehicle can safely operate within, meaning how much you can load the tow vehicle with (including people and gear). To calculate the payload capacity, take the GVWR (see below) and subtract the vehicle’s curb weight (how much it weighs without anything or anybody in it).
- Tow capacity: Estimated weight that the vehicle can tow. To calculate the vehicle’s tow capacity, subtract the GCWR (see below) from the vehicle’s curb weight.
- Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): The maximum amount your vehicle can weigh, including passengers, cargo, and the tongue weight of the trailer you’re hauling.
- Tongue weight: The amount of pressure the trailer puts on the tow vehicle’s trailer hitch or the fifth wheel. It varies based on trailer design and how you distribute its load.
- Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): The maximum weight of both the vehicle and trailer, plus the passengers and cargo in both.
You’ll find the payload rating of a vehicle on the driver’s side door jamb on one of the manufacturer’s stickers. The weight listed takes into account the following items: The weight of each passenger (including pets), the cargo inside the vehicle, and the hitch weight that the camper is transferring to the vehicle.
Can I Tow an RV with my Minivan?
While many families tow a trailer or fifth wheel with a minivan, keep in mind that most minivans are limited to a 3,500-pound towing capacity. Minivans are built to be people haulers, often on unibody frames that offer more passenger room and comfort; their primary purpose isn’t for towing.
That being said, small campers or anything under 3,000 pounds should be fine to tow, but you have to be mindful of how many people will ride in the van and how much cargo it will carry in order to be under the payload capacity. Most pop-ups, A-frames, teardrops, and overlanding type trailers with foldout tents are all examples of rigs that can be compatible with using a minivan as a tow vehicle.
Towing an RV with a Light-Duty SUV
In terms of towing, most light-duty SUVs are generally not very capable because they are designed on the chassis of a sedan and share a lot of parts in order to be efficient in manufacturing. That being said, there are a few light-duty SUV models that can tow between 1,500 and 3,500 pounds. These are usually excellent daily drivers, but an owner needs to consider the specs of the camper they are looking at closely to not go over the towing capabilities.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
This light-duty SUV is a solid family vehicle with a track record for reliability and fuel economy. The regular Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds, but we like the hybrid version for this class. It can tow up to 3,500 pounds and delivers class-leading fuel economy when not towing.
It’s the only SUV in this class to have an optional trailer brake controller. GM built this SUV with towing in mind and it’s worth considering as a travel trailer tow vehicle.
Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco
These two vehicles are adventure mobiles, and owners shouldn’t be limited to just tent camping. Note that the new Bronco Sport only tows up to 2,200 pounds; it’s the bigger Bronco that tows up to 3,500 pounds.
Our Favorite Light-Duty SUV and Rig Match:
Ford Bronco towing a Jayco Micro Ultra-Lite
Towing an RV with a Medium-Duty SUV
Medium-duty SUVs generally have a towing capacity between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds. Most of them are still built on frames from their sedan counterparts, but with bigger unibodies for slightly more capacity. These can be excellent family vehicles and are capable of towing smaller campers if you’re mindful of not overloading.
The Toyota 4Runner is a classic body-on-frame SUV, similar to a truck, that can tow 5,000 pounds. Compared to its competition, the 4Runner is slightly behind in features, amenities, and fuel economy, but it makes up for it in reliability and its bulletproof drivetrain. If you want a go-anywhere SUV, this is it.
The Explorer has a few trim levels that can tow up to 5,600 pounds, and it’s also one of the most feature-rich tow vehicles in the category. The third row makes it more spacious compared to other SUVs in this range.
If you want luxury travel on your way to the campground, look no further. This SUV has a towing range between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds (depending on the trim level). The XC90 has all the elements of a comfortable SUV and is a safe daily driver for the family.
Our Favorite Medium-Duty SUV and Rig Match:
Toyota 4Runner towing a Rockwood Geo Pro G20BHS
Towing an RV with a Heavy-Duty SUV
The towing range of SUVs in this sub-segment is between 6,000 and 9,300 pounds. A few of these SUVs are built on chassis like a truck, where the body or cab goes on top of the frame. This is important because these SUVs will not only tow better, but a few offer a long wheelbase option, just like trucks. A long wheelbase SUV (like the Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition Max) will tow better than a short wheelbase SUV (like the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition) because the extra footprint on the road will better combat the movement of the camper.
Be on the lookout for Jeep’s introduction to the heavy-duty segment with the release of the three-row Grand Wagoneer in 2022.
2021 GMC Yukon XL
GM recently redesigned the Tahoe, Yukon, and Escalade with an all-new platform for 2021: The interiors are elegant and feature-rich and the suspension has been revised, which makes for a better ride and more room for the third row and cargo area. In particular, we like the Yukon XL as a tow vehicle. The 10-speed automatic transmission now comes standard, increasing the fuel efficiency. And the towing capacity ranges from 8,000 to 8,400 pounds, depending on which trim level and options you select.
The Nissan Armada is constructed on the base of the venerable Nissan Patrol, which is popular overseas. It’s a reliable and capable SUV tow vehicle that combines luxury and value, with a surprisingly low price point for the segment. The towing capacity of the Armada is 8,500 pounds.
2020 Dodge Durango
If you don’t want to drive a giant SUV, the Durango is smaller than most heavy-duty SUVs, yet still seats seven people. It has a 7,400-pound towing capacity and a range of engines to choose from.
Our Favorite Heavy-Duty SUV and Rig Match:
2021 GMC Yukon Denali XL towing a Rockwood Roo 233S
Diesel Engines in Heavy-Duty SUVs
If you’re looking for a diesel tow vehicle, there are a few options coming to heavy-duty SUVs thanks to the success seen with these engines in trucks. In late 2021, GM is set to bring the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder Duramax Diesel into this segment. And Ford is working on bringing the Powerstroke Diesel from the F150 truck model into the Expedition SUV. If you’re in the market for a heavy-duty SUV for towing, these vehicles might be worth the extra weight as diesel engines have better fuel economy and more torque than gas engines.
Electric SUVs and Towing
The Tesla Model X, which has a 5,000-pound towing capacity, has been on the market for a few years now. And because it’s an electric vehicle (EV) with a towing capacity, the automotive industry is using it as a test mule to see how EVs will tow in the future. When tested while towing an RV, the range of the vehicle is reduced by more than 60 percent. For example, you should only expect to get around 100 miles of range when towing a camper with the Model X (compared to a 340-mile range when not towing). The other drawback that EV owners experience is that parking spots at charging stations are only designed for single vehicles, so it’s difficult to charge the vehicle when towing. It’s also difficult to find Supercharger stations around national and state parks, so your route will be dictated by charging station locations.
The good news is that the electric segment is growing, and in particular the SUV sub-segment. Tesla recently released the Model Y and other companies have come to market, including Audi’s E-Tron and Rivian’s R1S. The R1S is touting a 7,700-pound towing capacity, which would put it among the top rigs in the SUV segment, but we have yet to see what kind of range it has when towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel.
Use this guide to help understand the towing capacity range of the SUV you want to use as a tow vehicle. Make sure to do more research with specific models’ towing guides to determine which model and trim level have the right combination of payload and features to match your style and budget.
Considering a pickup truck as your tow vehicle instead? Check out our guide on how to choose the best truck for towing your travel trailer or fifth wheel.
Disclaimer: Togo RV is part of a joint venture, partially owned by Thor Industries, Inc., of which Jayco is a subsidiary.