You’ve made the exciting decision to purchase a travel trailer. 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.
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 pop-up camper or small travel trailer 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
Most light-duty SUVs aren’t very capable of towing campers and other recreational vehicles because they’re designed on the chassis of a sedan. As a result, their trailing limits max out around 1,200 pounds, which is fine if you’re towing a cargo trailer, but not if you’re serious about RVing.
However, as manufacturers develop stronger chassis and engines there’s a growing segment of light-duty SUV models available with tow ratings between 1,500 and 3,500 pounds, and some have trims tailored toward campers that can tow more than 6,000 pounds.
In addition to being more fuel efficient than trucks, these are usually excellent daily drivers that offer higher seating capacity and roomier interiors than trucks. But whether or not they can tow anything larger than a pop-up or teardrop camper depends on the vehicle’s specifications and the weight of the RV, and drivers need to stay below the maximum capacity while accounting for the additional payload of passengers and gear.
If you’re shopping for a new vehicle that can handle light-duty trailering, here are a few light-duty SUVs to consider.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
This mid-size SUV is a solid family vehicle with a track record for reliability and fuel economy. The conventional gasoline-only powered 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.
GM built this SUV with adventuring in mind and it’s worth considering as a travel trailer tow vehicle. Models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine can tow up to 3,000 pounds with the trailer package installed, while vehicles powered by the 3.6-liter engine and the trailer package can tow up to 4,000 pounds.
Wranglers are adventure mobiles, and owners shouldn’t be limited to just tent camping. While both models are capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds, two-door Jeep Wranglers have lower towing capability than four-door models and can only tow up to 2,000 pounds.
Towing an RV With a Medium-Duty SUV
Medium-duty SUVs are generally considered to be mid-size SUVs that have a towing capacity between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds. Most use frames designed for their sedan counterparts, but several models have stronger unibodies with more durable engines that provide slightly more capacity. Because they have roomy cabins with generous legroom, 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 up to 5,000 pounds. Compared to its competition, the 4Runner is slightly behind in features, amenities, and fuel economy, and is generally considered due for an overhaul—but it makes up for this in reliability and its bulletproof drivetrain. If you want a go-anywhere SUV, this is it.
The Explorer is a well-handling and feature-rich SUV that can tow up to 3,000 pounds, and a few trim levels can tow up to 5,600 pounds when equipped with the trailer package. The optional third row that increases seating to seven passengers gives it flexibility, while the hybrid powertrain offers high fuel efficiency and towing capability of up to 5,000 pounds.
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.
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, however, there are unibody options that tow more than a mid-size truck. Moreover, some full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition Max, offer a long-wheelbase option.
In addition to offering more cargo space to store gear, a long-wheelbase SUV will tow better than a short-wheelbase SUV because the extra footprint better combats the movement of the camper.
GMC Yukon XL
The GMC Yukon is a full-size SUV that offers the best of all worlds: a range of powerful engines, a feature-rich interior, and a gross vehicle weight rating that ranges from 7,500 to 7,700 pounds, depending on the trim level and options. For towing novices, the optional SuperCruise feature supports hands-free towing on more than 200,000 miles of mapped highways in the U.S.
The Nissan Armada’s capabilities reflect the body-on-frame truck platform it’s built on, and it can tow up to 8,500 pounds. It’s a reliable and capable SUV tow vehicle that combines luxury and value, with a surprisingly low price point for the segment. It offers standard seating for eight, and is almost as head-turning as its upscale fraternal twin, the Infiniti QX80.
In addition to a towing capacity of up to 8,700 pounds, this full-size SUV comes with bragging rights when equipped with the 6.4-liter V8 HEMI engine. The three-row seven-seater also offers a 5.7-liter V8 option that can support up to 7,400 pounds of trailering and a 3.6-liter V6 for up to 6,200 pounds of towed weight.
Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Returning to this segment in 2022, this model can tow up to up to 9,750 pounds when properly equipped. There’s an interactive passenger display, a panoramic sunroof that comes standard, and plenty of space for your cargo and up to seven passengers.
Diesel Engines in Heavy-Duty SUVs
Diesel engines are not only 20 percent more fuel efficient than their petrol engine counterparts, but they offer more torque and durability for pulling heavy loads. If you’re looking for a diesel tow vehicle, there are a few options available in the full-size SUV segment thanks to the success seen with these engines in trucks.
Buyers who want the power and towing capability of the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder Duramax Diesel engine coupled with the comfort and seating capacity of an SUV should consider the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, or Cadillac Escalade. Several smaller SUVs also offer diesel options, such as the Audi Q7 and Land Rover Velar, but with a much lower towing capacity.
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 with towing capability, 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 most charging stations are designed for single vehicles, and stations with pull-throughs for trailers are few and far between. 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, in particular the SUV sub-segment. GMC recently released the Hummer EV, which can tow up to 7,500 pounds, and the new Rivian R1S touts a 7,700-pound towing capacity, which would put these among the top tow vehicles in the SUV segment—but we have yet to see what the range is when towing a travel trailer. Smaller electric SUVs are also available and can tow lighter-weight trailers, but they’re not designed for towing large RVs.
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.