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Tips for Buying the Right Vehicle to Tow Your RV

If you’re interested in becoming an RVer but still want the freedom to cruise down smaller, scenic roads or make a trip into town without guzzling your gas budget, a car and towable RV may be the best bet for you.

Although deciding on whether to invest in a travel trailer or fifth wheel is a big decision in itself, it’s equally important to consider whether you have a vehicle that can tow one. If you currently own something smaller than a midsize car, you’ll need to look into buying a car that can actually tow your home away from home. 

Although many mid-sized cars, SUVs, and even minivans on the market have the capacity to tow a trailer, not every make and model will be right for you and your rig. To help you purchase the right vehicle to tow your RV, we’ve gathered some tips to help you throughout the process. 

Tips for Picking a Car that Can Tow

Depending on whether you’re purchasing a car to go with a trailer you already own or if you’re buying a vehicle before you invest in a towable, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind.

Always Check the Owner’s Manual

When it comes to finding a car that can tow, weight will be your limiting factor. Always refer to the owner’s manual to find the towing capacity of the car. The total amount of weight a car can tow, also known as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), will be a guide for the size of trailer you can tow with it. Get a rough idea of what kind of trailer you can tow with each type of car below.

  • Midsize cars + some minivans and small SUVs can tow up to 3,500 to 5,000 lbs or a light camper or pop-up trailer. 
    • Think the Hyundai Santa Fe or Chrysler Pacifica
  • ​​​​​​​Larger SUVs + small or midsize pickup trucks can tow anywhere from 5,000 to 7,700 lbs or a small toy hauler or family camper.
    • Think the Chevrolet Colorado or Ford Expedition Max
  • Full-size trucks can tow the most weight with certain models able to tow upwards of 12,000 lbs under the right circumstances or any larger toy hauler, travel trailer, or fifth wheel.
    • Think the Nissan Titan or Chevrolet Silverado 1550 

Use the 80% Rule

Although a vehicle’s GVWR may be a certain weight, it’s best to make sure your trailer or towable RV isn’t maxing this number out. It’s recommended that you tow something that is below 80% of your vehicle’s towing capacity because anything closer to its limit will put lots of stress on your car’s engine, brakes, and transmission over lots of time and distance. 

Avoid 2-Wheel Drive and Go for Higher Horsepower

If you are choosing a mid-size car or small SUV, look for all-wheel or 4-wheel drive. This will allow you greater towing capacity over a car that only has 2-wheel drive. Additionally, something with higher horsepower will do a better job of moving a heavy load. Keep in mind though that getting your rig moving is one thing, but if it’s too heavy, stopping can damage your vehicle due to all the stress on your car. So make sure to keep tips #1 and #2 in mind first.

Tips for Getting a Deal on Your Tow Vehicle

Although travel trailers are an affordable way to live the RV life, having to purchase a new vehicle with the right towing capacity can make costs comparable to buying a motorhome. Below are a few tips to help you save money on buying a car, so that you don’t have to break the bank in order to be a boondocker. 

Time Your Purchase Right

In addition to buying the right car to tow your vehicle, you probably want to stick to something that’s in your budget. Believe it or not, the time of year or even week that you purchase your car can have an impact on what you pay. If you can time it right, the best time during the year to buy is from October through New Year’s Day. During this time, many dealerships need to make room for new inventory, fill end of the year quotas, or just have holiday sales that can help you get the best deal on a car. If you can’t wait for the end of the year, going car shopping on a Monday is your best bet.

Do Your Research

Just like you’d do research on the towing capacity of the vehicle you intend to purchase, it’s necessary to do research on the fair market value of a car before you sign on the dotted line. Online tools like NADA or Kelley Blue Book can arm you with the information you need to negotiate a bargain. Use them to look up the fair market price and make sure dealers or private sellers aren’t overcharging you. 

Don’t Forget to Trade-In

If you’re thinking of buying a tow vehicle that will also become your regular ride, it’s wise to evaluate any trade-in offers that may help you get a deal on your new car. Popular car models with low mileage tend to be highly desirable, but ask around for offers first to see if it’s the best move for you. Some things to do to help you get the most value out of your trade-in deal are to make a good impression on dealers by getting a car wash and fixing any minor repairs that need to be done. 

These helpful checklists from The Zebra break down the process of buying a new or used car. Check them out below.

Download the new car buying checklist here.

Download the used car buying checklist here.

Investing in the right vehicle to tow your RV can mean years of fun and adventure on the road. Use these helpful tips to do your due diligence during the car buying process and get the best value on your ride. Once you have a car to tow your rig, you can start enjoying the perks of RV life while also remaining mobile in places your RV can’t go. For more inspiration on where to tow your trailer next, try camping at a National Park or find a nice, remote place to boondock away from it all. 


Author Bio

Pia De Los Reyes is a content marketer and writer with an M.A. in Communication. She specializes in writing about the auto, technology, insurance, and lifestyle spaces and aims to inspire and inform everyday audiences with her work. 

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Boondockers Welcome is a community of RVers that provide overnight stays with each other for free while traveling through an area. We help RVers to travel more economically and find options when campgrounds may be full. It’s a great and safe way to meet fellow RVers or for people curious about the RV lifestyle to learn from members, while also providing a safe place to park for one night or up to five nights.

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