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Old 11-20-2006, 10:41 AM   #1
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Towing an Airstream with a Highlander Hybrid

Last weekend we look our maiden voyage with our 2006 Highlander Hybrid Limited towing our new 16' Quiksilver Airstream. We went to Hershey, PA (about 200 miles each way) and I am happy to say that the trip went very smoothly and a good time was had by all - myself, my wife, and our two young children. The HiHy got about 17 MPG - not as good as our normal 25 MPG, but much better than the 10 MPG we got earlier pulling the Airstream with my parents borrowed Jeep Commander.

For those contemplating using their HiHy to pull a travel trailer I offer the following based on our experiences...
0. It will take longer than you think to gather the necessary parts and install them.
1. Get a Class III Hitch Reciever designed for a Weight Distributing hitch (e.g. Valley)
2. Install a 7-pin connector on the HiHy. You will need:
....a. Either the drawtite HiHy wiring harness (#18248) or a pair of Toyota parts
....b. A 4 pin to 7 pin adapter
....c. A good quality brake controller (eg tokonsha prodigy)
....d. A connection to the brake control wire in the drivers side door sill since the HiHy doesn't have a brake controller plug.
Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as one might hope. Because of the brake controller issue I ended up having Hecht Trailers do the installation.
3. Get a good quality WD hitch with sway control (e.g. Equal-i-zer)

And for those contemplating a 16' Airstream...

You will need to pay close attention to the tongue weight. Loaded with cargo distributed equally and with a normal start of trip setup - full LP and fresh water, empty black/grey tanks - the Airstream can easily exceed 600 lbs of tongue weight. And so...

4. Pack heavy in the back (e.g. tools) and light in the front (e.g. toilet paper)
5. When not boondocking, travel without fresh water. 23 gals of water weighs almost 200 lbs.
6. Get a custom mattress for the rear bed. We chose a tempur-pedic custom cut for the Airstream by Savvy Sleeper. It is much more comfortable than the standard issue mattress and the extra weight in the rear helps.

We ended up just under 400lbs of tongue weight and 3500lbs of total weight - 11.4%, close to ideal.

The Highlander Hybrid is a GREAT tow vehicle. The electric motors can provide max torque at any speed which allows for very smooth starts. The towing MPG can't be beat. And when we unhook, we have a 7 passenger vehicle that gets 25 MPG that we can drive easily on the smallest village or city street.

The 16' Quiksilver Airstream is a GREAT travel trailer. It is very easy to tow, you can park the tow vehicle and trailer in a 'normal' supermarket double space, and you can even make U-turns if you have to. Assuming you just want a place to sleep and have breakfast, it is very comfortable for a family with small children. And as my wife says, it is cute as a button.
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Old 11-20-2006, 11:45 AM   #2
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Interesting! What's the maximum weight that the HiHy can tow? 17mpg is about the big full size diesel trucks get, isn't it?
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Old 11-20-2006, 11:49 AM   #3
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hi ljmiii and welcome to airstream'n

it's always fun to read post from folks who have worked out the details...

of towing with a less conventional rig....

your process seems reasonable and

the satisfaction is obvious...

that will help others who r...

trying 2 do the same.

and i like that picture of the happy couple in front of bambi!

please share more pics and stores of airstream adventures...

i'll bet no ones asks you...
"does that thing have a hemi?"

cheers
2air'
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Old 11-20-2006, 12:15 PM   #4
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Congrats on your maiden voyage. Hopefully the first of many.
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Old 11-20-2006, 01:44 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ankornuta
Interesting! What's the maximum weight that the HiHy can tow? 17mpg is about the big full size diesel trucks get, isn't it?
3500lbs (the same as the 16' Bambi's GVWR).

I was a little worried given all I've read about only using 80% of your tow vehicle's capacity, 'white knuckle driving', and such...but the Highlander Hybrid/Bambi combo was really very pleasant to drive. And even during the 'worst case scenario' usually given - a big rig blowing by me on a downhill - there was no trailer sway...just the usual pull left/push right I feel when I'm not towing a trailer.
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Old 11-20-2006, 01:49 PM   #6
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I had been planning to post an inquiry to see if anyone was towing with a hybrid yet...I was thinking hybrid Tahoe or Surburban, but now I don't have to to know that if you stay within its limits it can be done satisfactorily.
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Old 11-20-2006, 01:57 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljmiii
You will need to pay close attention to the tongue weight. Loaded with cargo distributed equally and with a normal start of trip setup - full LP and fresh water, empty black/grey tanks - the Airstream can easily exceed 600 lbs of tongue weight. And so...

4. Pack heavy in the back (e.g. tools) and light in the front (e.g. toilet paper)
5. When not boondocking, travel without fresh water. 23 gals of water weighs almost 200 lbs.
6. Get a custom mattress for the rear bed. We chose a tempur-pedic custom cut for the Airstream by Savvy Sleeper. It is much more comfortable than the standard issue mattress and the extra weight in the rear helps.
ljmiii,

I was always under the impression that even though it seems to make sense to keep heavier stuff in the back of the trailer, the best place for the heavy stuff would be just in front of the rear axle on the tow vehicle. For a while I thought that if I could put more weight in the backend of the trailer, that would off-set the weight on the tongue somewhat. Alas what I was thinking was not a safe alternative. Someone hear can maybe clear this up.

Be safe.

Jonathan
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Old 11-20-2006, 03:03 PM   #8
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Too much weight in the rear can indeed be unsafe as it will increase the risk of sway. I once towed a U-haul trailer (I think it was the longest single axle avaiable) with an S-10 and put the washer and dryer on last. Any speed over 40 MPH resulted in uncontrolable sway. Try a 400 mile trip with that going on. Not fun. I am convinced that had the washer and dryer gone on first this would not have occurred. BTW, there was no other furniture on board, just clothes and other accessories.
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Old 11-20-2006, 03:18 PM   #9
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This is discussed here:
http://www.airforums.com/forum...ear-27604.html
And, no, I wouldn't put anything heavy at the back of a trailer to reduce the tongue weight. The thread explains why.
Nick.
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Old 11-20-2006, 03:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickcrowhurst
This is discussed here:
http://www.airforums.com/forum...ear-27604.html
And, no, I wouldn't put anything heavy at the back of a trailer to reduce the tongue weight. The thread explains why.
Nick.
I was in college when I did it.
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Old 11-20-2006, 03:47 PM   #11
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I was in college when I did it.
Then I guess we'll let you off the hook...
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Old 11-20-2006, 04:10 PM   #12
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16' Bambi tongue weight problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by crazylev
I was always under the impression that even though it seems to make sense to keep heavier stuff in the back of the trailer, the best place for the heavy stuff would be just in front of the rear axle on the tow vehicle....
Jonathan
Depending on the authority you believe, the ideal tongue weight is 10-12% or 10-15% of the overall weight of the trailer. As another poster mentioned, in an empty U-haul trailer it is indeed dangerous to put all the weight in the back because you can get much lower percentages...even a negative tongue weight if someone loads all the stuff in the trailer next to the rear cargo door.

However, owners of the new 16' Bambis have the opposite problem. With full LP and fresh water tank and an empty grey/black water tank the Bambi's tongue weight can exceed 20%. And so the challenge is to increase stability by redistributing the weight off the tongue.

Or to put it another way, Airstream has already put most of the 16' Bambi's 3000 lbs of 'heavy stuff' - the frame, the refer, the water system - in front of the rear axle. The challenge is to redistribute your 100 or 200 or maybe even 300 lbs of cargo to reduce the 16' Bambi's tongue heavy bias.
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Old 11-20-2006, 05:51 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickcrowhurst
While the thread veered a bit off topic (as fyrzowt mentioned) your post is interesting and informed.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to address the problem faced by a 16' Bambi owner
Quote:
Originally Posted by nickcrowhurst
The original post talks of placing items to the rear of the axle to lessen the tongue weight. I would never do this, but I would happily move items within the area in front of the axle to achieve the correct tongue weight.
Unfortunately, no amount of shifting of items in front of the axle will achieve the correct tongue weight because the Bambi's tongue weight starts out too high, not too low. To borrow from your analogy, I already have two grandkids sitting on my frame about eight feet in front of my axle - my LP tanks. They (and my battery and my hitch and my frame) are at the end of a long moment arm forward of the axle that wants to move my hitch around. And so the question is how can I redistribute my cargo weight to minimize their effect. My answer is to not add to the problem by putting weight forward of the axle but to instead park a pair of grandkids about 3-4 ft aft of the axle - on my bed and rear cargo space.

That said, you could argue that the axle pivot matters less than the hitch pivot. And certainly the 120 lbs or so that I place 12-13 ft off that pivot is worse than placing them 8-9 ft off the hitch pivot. But 120 lbs at an extra 4 ft isn't going to make much difference in a 3000 lb system already centered about 10 ft off the hitch. Certainly not enough difference to justify worsening the hitch weight situation.

To borrow your misquote, the price of freedom IS eternal vigilance. 'Never add weight to the rear of a trailer' is a good rule of thumb...but it is just that. And rules of thumb are no substitute for careful measurement and calculation.

All that said, my guess is that given the target market for 16' foot Bambis, Airstream intentionally made it 'idiot-proof' by distributing the weight forward. No matter how you load a Bambi (unless you carry ingots under the bed) you can't get the tongue weight under 10%. And the danger from the instabilities introduced by a 20% tongue weight pales in comparison to that from having your Bambi sway back and forth until you see it swing past you on the left.
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Old 11-20-2006, 07:38 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljmiii
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to address the problem faced by a 16' Bambi owner
rules of thumb are no substitute for careful measurement and calculation.
I certainly agree that the thread doesn't address (or solve) the problem faced by a 16' Bambi owner.
As a fellow enthusiast for careful measurement and calculation, you might like to look at this thread:
http://www.airforums.com/forum...sis-19236.html?
It's not directly related to this issue, but it might be of interest.
Nick.
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