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Old 05-29-2013, 09:46 PM   #1
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Benz GL as a tow vehicle

Hi all,

I am looking into buying an Airstream/Argosy. I would greatly appreciate your feedback on my tow vehicle/travel trailer set up.

First the tow vehicle:

2012 Benz GL 350 Bluetec
Engine: V6 turbo-diesel, horsepower: 210 HP, Torque: 400 ft-lb
Wheelbase: 121 inch
7500# towing capacity
600# hitch weight limit (for both weight carrying and weight distribution)
break controller: Tekonsha P3

A couple of things to note:

1) I know of several people who have reinforced the hitch on the GL (the weakest link it seems) and are towing 27 ft or 30 ft Airstreams. They are exceeding the 600# hitch weight though. I do not intend to take this path.

2) I have two choices when it comes to WDH/sway control: a) not use any, as GL has Air suspension (it is self leveling) and it also has built in trailer sway control, or b) Use a light hitch like Andersen (total hitch assembly weighs 50#), so I am left with 600-50=550# for the trailer tongue weight.

The trailers I am looking at (some vintage, some newer) have a dry weight of 4000# to 4500# and a dry hitch weight of 400# to 500#. I suspect the loaded tongue weight would exceed the 600# limit (as dry hitch weights are always under stated), so I plan to reduce the hitch weight by travelling with water tank half full. I expect the trailer weight to be around 5500# and the hitch weight to be 600# (11% of trailer weight on the tongue). The trailers I am considering are from 22 ft up to 28 ft long.

Does this setup seem reasonable? Any feedback/suggestions is greatly appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old 05-29-2013, 09:57 PM   #2
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So far so good. I would talk to the expert, Andy at Can Amm, before you make any decisions.

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Old 05-29-2013, 10:14 PM   #3
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I have the same tow vehicle but a 2011. I have not towed my safari 30 yet with it as I have ordered a nicer hitch, (still using my suburban). From talking with others that have set up a GL or Ml you should not rely on the airmatic for wieght distribution alone. You really need to send some wieght to the front axle for good handling. I cant wait to tow with it, great low end torque.

I have done alot of reading on these setups and seems that they made a hitch resesign in 2010, not sure what is different. While I like the idea of beefing the hitch the thing is the place everyone is reinforcing to is not particularly stout. It is just a stamped fairly thin piece.
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Old 05-29-2013, 10:29 PM   #4
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I have a 2007 ML 320 CDI and had Andy's crew at CanAM do the hitch weld reinforcement. Click on my "Images" number below the avatar and there is a photo of the installation. The car was legal across the CAT scales towing the new empty 25FB international Serenity trailer home with a 1,150 pound tongue weight. Andy's settings and setup instructions were spot on.

Then we loaded the trailer with most of the camping "stuff" and filled the 39 gallon fresh water tank. We put the jack/stand and an air compressor in the rear of the car, filled the car fuel tank and the wife and then crossed the CAT scale again. This time the front axle was overloaded and the vehicle GVW was exceeded. That was the end of the towing this trailer with that car. The car remains my daily driver.

There is now a 2012 Dodge Ram 2500 with a Cummins diesel serving as the tow machine.
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Old 05-29-2013, 10:54 PM   #5
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I may be one of those folks you are aware of. We have close to 7,500 miles pulling our 27 foot safari with our GL 350. It's been a great combo. We did reinforce the hitch receiver.
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Old 05-30-2013, 08:20 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SafariSS View Post
I have the same tow vehicle but a 2011. I have not towed my safari 30 yet with it as I have ordered a nicer hitch, (still using my suburban). From talking with others that have set up a GL or Ml you should not rely on the airmatic for wieght distribution alone. You really need to send some wieght to the front axle for good handling. I cant wait to tow with it, great low end torque.

I have done alot of reading on these setups and seems that they made a hitch resesign in 2010, not sure what is different. While I like the idea of beefing the hitch the thing is the place everyone is reinforcing to is not particularly stout. It is just a stamped fairly thin piece.
Yes, the hitch on the newer GLs is completely different than the hitch on the older GLs that had a recall and had to be reinforced. The current hitch looks very sturdy and has excessive welding everywhere.
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Old 05-30-2013, 08:21 AM   #7
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Thanks all for the replies. I appreciate it.
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Old 05-30-2013, 12:26 PM   #8
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I'm keen to understand all of the hitch reinforcement talk with the GL. I recently bought a 2008 GL320 with the intention of towing my '73 Globetrotter, so trailer weight and hitch weight should not be a problem with the factory setup. I bought my vehicle used, and the PO didn't get the hitch installed as an option. I understand it is a ~$500 option, but to buy one from the dealer and have it installed gets you close to $2000!!!!

Anyway, a week or so back, I bought what is supposed to be the latest and greatest official Mercedes factory hitch from a dealer that does business online. I don't think the hitch looks particularly beefy--will post pictures of it when I get back to the house. I have seen pics of a hitch off of a 2007 that looks a lot beefier--and I understand these are the ones that were subject to the "recall."

I have read a lot about folks having welding done on their GL hitches to "beef them up," but still wonder what is the basis for this beefing. Do they not believe the hitch is rated to what Mercedes claims? Do they just think it "looks" wimpy? My concern is that a factory hitch may have been welded into an assembly, and then the whole assembly heat treated to relieve stresses/establish uniform metal characteristics. If you start arbitrarily welding away on it, you are wrecking the temper of the metal in some areas.

If you are looking to beef up the hitch to get you a greater than 600 lb tongue weight, then I question whether you have simply chosen the wrong vehicle for the size of your trailer. You might be able to remanufacture your hitch to bear 1000 lbs of hitch weight, but the vehicle wasn't engineered to deal with that weight. Ya, ya, I know that there are people pulling semi-trailers with Minis, but just be cause you can make it work, doesn't mean that you should.

I also saw reference to the air suspension on the GL above. My understanding is that if your hitch electronics are properly installed, the trailer electronics are routed through the rear SAM module, and the truck knows there is a trailer in tow and 1) disables the air suspension, and 2) adjusts the stability parameters. Again, overloading the hitch seems risky as the effects on stability controls are unknown, and an option to use air leveling should not exist if things are wired properly.
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Old 05-30-2013, 01:10 PM   #9
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Note that many factory receiver on a variety of vehicles are marginal, or very inadequate.
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Old 05-30-2013, 10:45 PM   #10
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The air suspension is most certainly not disabled when towing. But yes the truck is very much aware when the wiring harness is connected to a trailer...

As far as hitch receiver reinforcement? For me it was about peace of mind.
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Old 05-30-2013, 11:10 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belegedhel View Post

I have read a lot about folks having welding done on their GL hitches to "beef them up," but still wonder what is the basis for this beefing. Do they not believe the hitch is rated to what Mercedes claims? Do they just think it "looks" wimpy? My concern is that a factory hitch may have been welded into an assembly, and then the whole assembly heat treated to relieve stresses/establish uniform metal characteristics. If you start arbitrarily welding away on it, you are wrecking the temper of the metal in some areas.

If you are looking to beef up the hitch to get you a greater than 600 lb tongue weight, then I question whether you have simply chosen the wrong vehicle for the size of your trailer. You might be able to remanufacture your hitch to bear 1000 lbs of hitch weight, but the vehicle wasn't engineered to deal with that weight. Ya, ya, I know that there are people pulling semi-trailers with Minis, but just be cause you can make it work, doesn't mean that you should.
I can't speak specifically for the Benz hitches but my minivan aftermarket hitch was beefed up with the addition of two three feet long pieces of steel, welded to the hitch just behind the receiver box and bolted to the car's body at point just behind the rear axle. The modification has three benefits:

1. I now have three anchoring points rather than two.

2. The hitch is now more rigid and helps resist the torque when the weight distribution system is active.

3. In resisting the torque, weight is better transferred to the front axle.

I'd guess that the Benz would benefit in much the same way.

I liked your point about just buying a tow vehicle that can cope with the load without having to modify it. I think many people do just that. Others, though, only use their vehicle to tow for a fraction of the time and look to use something that is smaller and more fuel efficient for the bulk of their driving. It's then, I think, that a well modified and set up smaller vehicle really becomes a practical proposition.

As an aside, I'd just like to register my (not entirely serious) indignation that the spec on the OP's Benz isn't wildly different from my minivan and yet its tow rating is twice as high!
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Old 05-31-2013, 07:21 AM   #12
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I think the main problem is that modern Airstreams are heavy (especially VERY tongue heavy), and not too many of them can be towed by SUVs (barring Suburbans/Expeditions). Airstream used to make light trailers in 60's and 70's. Why can't they build light trailers now (with all the advances in the technology), is beyond me.

I really think Airstream should revive the Argosy brand of the 70's. Argosys used to be the lighter and the less expensive Airstream. I believe there is a market for such trailers now a days, as not everyone can pay $80K for a trailer and buy 3/4 ton diesel truck just dedicated to towing the trailer.
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Old 05-31-2013, 08:37 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by rostam View Post
I think the main problem is that modern Airstreams are heavy (especially VERY tongue heavy), and not too many of them can be towed by SUVs (barring Suburbans/Expeditions). Airstream used to make light trailers in 60's and 70's. Why can't they build light trailers now (with all the advances in the technology), is beyond me.

I really think Airstream should revive the Argosy brand of the 70's. Argosys used to be the lighter and the less expensive Airstream. I believe there is a market for such trailers now a days, as not everyone can pay $80K for a trailer and buy 3/4 ton diesel truck just dedicated to towing the trailer.
I wouldn't disagree that Airstreams are heavy, and expensive, but they are still the best towing travel trailers on the road. Because they tow so well, it's perfectly feasible to tow large Airstreams with cars, minivans and SUVs, many people do, but just not straight off the auto dealer's lot or without some modification. I guess it's how you intend to use your vehicle when you're not towing that's the real key to the issue. Happy towing!
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Old 05-31-2013, 08:48 AM   #14
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I always thought Argosy were basically painted Airstreams...
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