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Old 12-04-2013, 12:13 PM   #1
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Fantasy Tow Vehicle - May the Forces Be With You

Lately, my head has been spinning with thoughts of tow vehicles. Sure, I have one, and it has been working fine, but it's big, thirsty, and getting long in the tooth ('07 'Burb 1500). And, it's actually not very economical as a daily driver.

We're not pickup truck drivers. I would never go buy a PU for daily driving. So, I am always fantasizing about daily drivers that would also function as a nice TV. I am questioning the intersection of "towing & driving" to find some compatibility. Some threads recently inspired me to think about such cars as the Toureg and Dodge 300 and Odessey minivan. I began to wonder what actually are the empirical requirements for towing a big AS (25' to 34')? Sure, the pat answer without consideration is "3/4T Diesel." I don't want one. So, I am interested to think beyond that pat answer.

I want to be safe, comfortable and economical. I suspect that's like most people. Two years ago, I thought safety meant "big, heavy, powerful" vehicle. Now, after 18,000 miles of towing, I know that road handling and maneuverability are a bigger part of safety than I realized. This was obvious in daily drivers, but I didn't apply it to towing. You pull down the vizor in the Big SUV and there is a rollover warning. They are all equipped with various stability controls. DUH! There's a reason for that.

Then there is the direction of the industry. The V6 has taken over. Vehicles are smaller, lighter, and have better suspension. Wheelbases are coming down. V6's can put out close to 300HP now, with decent gas mileage. Power to weight ratios are way up. I began collecting some data about all this. I have a spreadsheet with many models to display, key data parameters so I could being to compare the various models to each other and see what is common, what is uncommon. For example, if the Odyssey is a good TV, how does it compare to Sienna, Sadona, Grand Caravan, Quest? (HINT: They are almost identical in specs!) Or, if the Dodge 300 is good, how about a Cadillac DTS?

What are the important criteria to a comfortable tow? It's arguable, but I think the list would include:
  • Sufficient horsepower and torque. Say, 250/275 or something in that range. But most important is a good power to weight ratio.
  • More than a 4-spd transmission. 6 and 8 speed preferred
  • Short overhang as a percentage of wheelbase. Get the ball as close to the rear axle as possible.
  • Medium to long wheelbase. Shorter will be easier to distribute weight, but not handle as well. Longer is reverse - harder to distribute weight, but better handling. 112 to 130 might be ideal?
  • Low center of gravity - good skid pad performance like .8G?
  • Independent rear suspension. Good handling!
  • Low profile sticky and stiff tires
  • High braking capacity. Large disc brakes on 4 wheels.
  • Good ergonomics - comfortable seating, climate control, vision, controls and all the goodies that make any kind of driving pleasurable.
  • Sufficient Load Capacity - this is a tricky one. If you carry a complete mechanic's tool chest, and a 5000W generator with 6 kids and 4 bicycles, you are in a different class than a couple with a toy poodle and a pair of pliers. For the purpose of this thread, I am purposely leaving out the "manufacturer's stated payload/towing" numbers. That's a unique argument unto its own. I am accepting all the empirical evidence that shows many cars work fine in spite of these low numbers. e.g. Odyssey and Edge and Dodge. The 'paint by numbers' solution is surely a fine choice, but for my argument it is only one of many choices.
Using those criteria, it really opens up the field to many nice cars and crossovers, and smaller SUV. Few meet all the criteria, but many meet a lot of the criteria, and provide a range of driving experience. I see opportunities like Ford Edge, GMC Acadia, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna, and ideas like Cadillac DTS, which really intrigues me.

The literature on this subject is quite scarce. There's a lot on setting up hitches, but not much on TVs themselves, aside from the known large SUV and PU comparisons. I suspect it is a bit like "hot rodding" where only the exact experiences are recorded or documented.
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Old 12-04-2013, 12:50 PM   #2
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I am not very knowledgable about transmissions.

But I am skeptical about an 8 speed transmission for towing. ( I am sure someone has an 8 speed and took a 3000 mile trip with NO problems )

My reasoning for my thinking, is that I thought one of the reasons that I towed with the Overdrive turned off ( I'm down to 3 gears ), was the limit the amount of gear changes. I also have a tow switch on my van, (that I thought delayed gear changes, or changed gear changing points or something??)

Wouldn't an 8 speed transmission be changing gears quite a lot?
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:08 PM   #3
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Thoughtful post, hope it can stay that way.

Another important consideration is what are you towing.

The Airstream has stability benefits in its independent suspension similar to cars/suvs. The suspension supports the body at a wider distance than solid axle suspensions giving it greater roll resistance, and the trailer sits lower giving a lower center of gravity.

The streamline design of the Airstream reduces wind resistance and the amount of power required to move it down the road, and reduces the side forces of crosswinds on the trailer, adding stability.

That gives us an advantage over many trailer designs, and allows a seemingly marginal tow vehicle to be more effective.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:15 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by mandolindave View Post
But I am skeptical about an 8 speed transmission for towing. ( I am sure someone has an 8 speed and took a 3000 mile trip with NO problems )

My reasoning for my thinking, is that I thought one of the reasons that I towed with the Overdrive turned off ( I'm down to 3 gears ), was the limit the amount of gear changes. I also have a tow switch on my van, (that I thought delayed gear changes, or changed gear changing points or something??)

Wouldn't an 8 speed transmission be changing gears quite a lot?
Good question. My understanding is that more gears makes smaller engines more efficient by better matching the engine speed to the load. For example, if your torque peak is 4000 RPM, and you are pulling a grade, you want to find a gear that will give you 4000 RPM.

On the other hand, shifting creates heat. So, if we idealize the transmission, it will have lots of gears and sufficient cooling not to heat up. Big rigs have like 28 gears! Cars like the Toureg and Porsche have 8 speeds I believe.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:18 PM   #5
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If a 6 speed stays in 5th and 4th while towing...
Sometimes 1st is still 1st and overdrive is still overdrive- the added gears are in the middle.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:22 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by dkottum View Post
Thoughtful post, hope it can stay that way.

Another important consideration is what are you towing.

The Airstream has stability benefits in its independent suspension similar to cars/suvs. The suspension supports the body at a wider distance than solid axle suspensions giving it greater roll resistance, and the trailer sits lower giving a lower center of gravity.

The streamline design of the Airstream reduces wind resistance and the amount of power required to move it down the road, and reduces the side forces of crosswinds on the trailer, adding stability.

That gives us an advantage over many trailer designs, and allows a seemingly marginal tow vehicle to be more effective.
That is all absolutely true and is much of why we buy them! In some ways, I think we are just not taking advantage of those properties when selecting the TV. Those properties are what make it possible to tow with lighter or less powerful vehicles. I want to maximize the AS advantage.

I need no proof that it can be done. I have seen the proof first hand. What I'd like to fully understand is how to maximize each important parameter. For instance, I just this morning learned that the transmission in a Cadillac DTS can be tuned by the user (using software, etc) to adjust every parameter of shifting, torque converter lockup and so on. You can go from smooth ride, to sports performance by making software adjustments. Now, that is a cool thing to know. Another parameter to know more about is tires. I notice that it is often mentioned that OEM tires are immediately removed and special lower profile, stickier tires mounted. These things make big differences. I want to smoke some of it out. In my dream, I would buy the car that I would love to drive around daily, and then adjust it for towing my trailer! Of course, it can't be quite that ideal, but I want to see how close it could be. Push the envelope a little.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:29 PM   #7
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I had a subscription to Corvette News in the 70's and 80's. I remember an article in which a Corvette was modified to tow a huge sailboat.
If I could I would get a Porsche Cayenne for a TV. My back pocket slows me down on that one.
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Old 12-04-2013, 02:04 PM   #8
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Andrew Thomson [Andrew_T] of CAN AM RV makes the point [paraphrased] that, after setting up the full range of vehicles which can possibly tow an Airstream over forty years that the equation is 1/3 trailer type/design, 1/3 tow vehicle specifications and 1/3 hitch rigging.

Stability is the byword.

And, for the vast majority, the solo use of the vehicle predominates. Ergo, the vehicle which best suits solo duties that can also tow the trailer is the research parameter (vehicles noted by the OP are also where I would start; especially the latest DODGE Charger with V6/8-speed as with the thread that highlights this).

ONE: Use the BRIDGESTONE or RMA Guides to Weighing an RV (blog by Tireman 9 or CapriRacer or links in this website) as the place to begin. Records, numbers, are what are needed.

TWO: I would add disc brakes as what the TT needs most to perform up to its design standard (beyond best tire/wheel size rating and quality). A VPP hitch, IMO, is never a wrong choice.

Start with the cart, not the horse. More money is wasted on TV's that should have been out into the TT. The broadest range of TV's possible would be the goal.

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Old 12-04-2013, 02:59 PM   #9
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Thoughtful post, hope it can stay that way.
<<Mod Mode>>

An excellent point, and time for a bit of site rules reflection. We've seen a recent trend in heated discussion and bashing of one another and vendors in threads related to tow vehicle and hitch selection, and hitch setup. We find it especially troubling when things boil over and staff intervention is required.

Frankly speaking we believe it is a poor reflection of our membership and our expectations are that we all can find a way to share our opinions and expertise without name calling, baiting, or taunting. We have rules for a reason so we would appreciate it if we can keep things civil; even if we don't agree let's keep it Nice.

Let the discussion begin.

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Old 12-04-2013, 03:21 PM   #10
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Great thread. I'm happy to see where this one goes.

I'm excited to hear that I should "Start with the cart, not the horse." as I plan on my restoration to go on for a while before I even need a TV. That said, I'm going to probably buy something to pull the Airstream before it's even road worthy because I'm going to need a Daily Driver here in a few months...

Here's to some good info!
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Old 12-04-2013, 04:52 PM   #11
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TWO: I would add disc brakes as what the TT needs most to perform up to its design standard (beyond best tire/wheel size rating and quality). A VPP hitch, IMO, is never a wrong choice.
=============
Interesting point. Can this be done easily? I have a 2012 25FC. Anyone have more detail on such a mod?

Someone mentioned Cayenne. Indeed, I would LOVE one, but sadly it is off my price range.

So, here's what I did this afternoon for fun. I went to an auto-mall and browsed the following cars:

Ford Edge for $23K (30k miles): You can really see visually how this car meets requirements of short overhang, really low profile tires on 20" wheels, nice power to weight. Roomy inside. Same for the MK/X but with more lux features.

Chrysler 300 Hemi for $18k (25k miles): Again, short overhang, really large wheels, long WB, etc. Plenty of power. Really stiff and low. Looks like it would prowl the road like a cat. Decent comfort inside with plenty of lux features.

Honda Odyssey Touring for $33k (31k miles): This is the highest make of Odyssey and is really a cavernous thing with lots of seats and every manner of power option you can imagine. 19" wheels with 60 series tires. sits low and very wide. I liked the driving position, but this has more room than I would ever really need for the two of us.

Cadillac STS and a CTS for $27K (not sure of miles): Looks like it is ready to race. Very low profile, 18" wheels with 60 series tires. Very stiff. Very luxurious and with about 292 HP direct injection Northstar V8. A car I'd love to have as a daily driver. I have no idea if a hitch can be put on this thing, but if it could, it would be in my hot list.

GMC Acadia - $24K (40k miles). This is one size smaller than my Burb. V6 making 288 HP with a 6speed. Nice mid size SUV. Probably would not handle as well as some of the sedans, but I don't really know. A bit high. I feel like lower would be better.

I didn't drive any. I just wanted to begin to look at them and see if I could detect why they might make a good TV based on stance, width, height, weight, power, tires and all that. Also, the important question, "would I want one for a daily driver?"

I will probably go back and drive the Edge and the Chrysler right off the bat, and see what my impression is after driving them. I think the Odyssey is just more space than I need, and they are wickedly pricy. I may discover some other choices along the way! Who knows.
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Old 12-04-2013, 04:57 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by dkottum View Post
The streamline design of the Airstream reduces wind resistance and the amount of power required to move it down the road, and reduces the side forces of crosswinds on the trailer, adding stability.

That gives us an advantage over many trailer designs, and allows a seemingly marginal tow vehicle to be more effective.
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Originally Posted by mstephens View Post
Two years ago, I thought safety meant "big, heavy, powerful" vehicle. Now, after 18,000 miles of towing, I know that road handling and maneuverability are a bigger part of safety than I realized.
Two key statements guys. Thnxs for posting.

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In my dream, I would buy the car that I would love to drive around daily, and then adjust it for towing my trailer! Of course, it can't be quite that ideal, but I want to see how close it could be. Push the envelope a little.
mstep... I was in your shoes almost a decade ago. Sat across the deck from Mr. T with a short list of performance cars. We went through the list as I listened to every word and comment. In the end a choice was made that suited my needs and it has worked great ever since.
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Old 12-04-2013, 05:58 PM   #13
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But I am skeptical about an 8 speed transmission for towing. ( I am sure someone has an 8 speed and took a 3000 mile trip with NO problems )
Todays modern 6 & 8 speeds are all computer driven. There is no manual overdrive. Although many have a manual shift option, I use mostly for braking or to keep it from upshifting on the down hill. Towing up grades, it knows where it wants to be and does a fine job of selecting gears.
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Old 12-04-2013, 06:37 PM   #14
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If we're talking fantasy - I want a Chevy Nomad station wagon body with a 6 cyl Cummins and 8 speed transmission. I want it with all the modern conveniences and safety gear including GPS, backup camera, air bags, 3-point safety belts, air conditioning, etc.

In other words - I want the glory of the past with the modern conveniences of today in a package I can be proud of and park in a regular parking space :-)

Is that really so much to ask? :-)
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