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Old 07-09-2021, 09:34 PM   #1
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What is an ideal TV for towing a lightweight trailer into the mountains?

Hi everyone,

I am a new Airstream owner based in Boulder, Colorado, and I am trying to figure out what would be an ideal tow vehicle to purchase to tow my 1966 17' Airstream Caravel into the mountains, possibly in the winter.

When I originally purchased the Caravel, I thought I could tow it with my 2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R, which has a maximum tow rating of 3000lbs when the electric brake is connected, and 1500lbs without the electric brake, and max tongue weight of 200lbs. The 1966 Caravel has a 2500lbs dry weight, and 250lbs tongue weight, so I thought I would be just under the tow capacity of the Subaru, and marginally over the tongue weight by 50lbs. However, after reading some forums, I am not confident that this is the right TV to tow this Airstream into the mountains, and I am hoping to purchase a more robust TV with a higher tow capacity.

To provide some context, I would like to tow from my home to Breckenridge, possibly in the winter, which involves 10k feet of vertical elevation along mountain passes.

My question is, how conservative should I be when considering potential TV tow capacities, given the mountainous terrain and potential winter road conditions?

For example, I was interested in purchasing a used, older model six-cylinder V6 Tacoma, which typically has a ~6400lbs tow capacity. But my brother-in-law has an older Tacoma, and he said he would not be confident towing the Airstream with that vehicle. Maybe his Tacoma has the four-cylinder engine, which has a tow capacity of ~3500lbs, or maybe he is just trying to discourage me from asking to borrow it

I was wondering if a larger truck would be a better choice, like a Tundra, which has a 10k lbs tow rating, is wider, and I believe has a longer wheelbase? Or would this be overkill for towing this model trailer?

The same questions apply to the 4Runner and Sequoia, as they are built on the Tacoma and Tundra chassis (you can tell I really like Toyotas).

Or, is the vehicle's tow capacity irrelevant, as long as I am not grossly exceeding it? For example, would a Honda Ridgeline, which has a 5000lbs tow capacity, and which is recommended by Consumer Reports for a compact truck, be a reasonable choice?

Are there other factors I should take into account? Does anyone have any vehicles that they have used to tow into the mountains and which they would recommend?

I would appreciate any insight anyone could offer into this. Thank you for your help,

Jake
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Old 07-09-2021, 09:52 PM   #2
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What is an ideal TV for towing a lightweight trailer into the mountains?

Welcome to Airforums. If I were in your situation I would seriously consider using your Subaru. Send an email to Andy, the Canadian Airatream dealer that probably knows more about towing than anyone. Probably step one though is to weigh your Airstream. I would also recommend installing some radial snow tires. Good luck.

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Old 07-09-2021, 11:47 PM   #3
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I think the Subaru Outback could tow that trailer most everywhere, except in high mountain regions because of braking capacity. And unfortunately, your living in Colorado.

The believe the Toyota Tacoma from years 2014 - 2021 would have no difficulty towing your small Airstream trailer. It handles payload in ranges between 950lbs to 1450lbs, depending on the options installed. Also, even in the mountains, the Tacoma brakes are sufficient, and you can always upgrade the rotors and pads for increased stopping power and confidence.

Don't tow on the ball, but get a reasonable cost WD hitch from either Reese, Blue Ox or Equalizer. This should provide towing stability. You can also install the Toyota Tacoma TRD rear sway bar for additional towing performance. Currently, I am using a Reese SteadiFlex hitch and it's very reliable.
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Old 07-10-2021, 01:04 AM   #4
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We happily tow our vintage Caravel with a Ford Flex, in fact we are on our second Flex, we liked it so much. The Flex has more than enough capacity to tow the Caravel, and it is a very comfortable vehicle. There is little difference between driving with or without the Caravel hooked up. I can't speak much to winter driving because we don't really get it out in the snow.

The Ridgeline would be a good choice as well, I had a friend who towed their larger Airstream all over with one. Plenty of capacity for your Caravel.

If you wanted to stick with Subaru, I think they have a 7 passenger SUV now that might be a better choice.

After much experimenting we actually do tow just on the ball, with friction sway control but I'm not sure that is necessary either - we have towed without it as well, and the Flex has built-in trailer sway control. The towing manual for the Flex says not to use WD below 3000#, and we are under that.
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Old 07-10-2021, 06:16 AM   #5
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Welcome from another Colorado Airstream owner, just down the road from you in Evergreen. Colorado is a great place to own an Airstream.

Before you finalize your choice on a tow vehicle, you need to decide how you’ll use the tow vehicle. Will you carry lots of gear like bicycles, coolers, a generator and gasoline can, etc? The weight of all this kind of stuff can add up quickly and exceed the payload capacity of a small tow vehicle. Also, I find that it’s nice to have a truck bed for things like wet fly fishing gear, muddy boots, etc. That said, these things may not matter to you, so an enclosed vehicle like an SUV might work fine.

Once you’ve decided on your camping style and needs, then select your vehicle. Your Airstream is relatively lightweight, so this gives you lots of options for tow vehicles. As mentioned above, get a good brake controller and a good anti-sway/weight distribution hitch. I use Blue Ox and it works well, but there are many others out there.

Personally, I don’t like to be too close to any of my tow vehicle’s maximum ratings (less than 80% is a fairly common guideline). I would think that a mid-sized pickup like you mentioned would be easily up to the job. For mountain towing, I’d recommend AWD/4WD and good winter tires between October and May.

Good luck!
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Old 07-10-2021, 06:26 AM   #6
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Good comments above, but an important consideration that hasnít been brought up yet. Look for a vehicle with a turbocharged engine. Turbos donít lose power at elevation like naturally aspirated engines do. Since you plan to go well above 6Kí it will be a huge improvement to towing.

Also, if you do decide to go with a weight distribution hitch (unnecessary with the size of trailer you have, but good extra precaution), consider the Andersen.
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Old 07-10-2021, 06:46 AM   #7
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Great question.
Let's first talk about winter mountain driving independent of towing.
For that as you probably know, ideally you have 4WD or AWD, and the ability of the vehicle to use some type of engine downshifting to have the engine slow down the vehicle without having to use the brakes.
Like when you come over that ride on I70 from Frisco to Silverthorn.
Idea is that your shift down and don't have to touch the brakes and stay in perfect control that way. This is also what you want for towing in the mountains.

I know from experience that our 2014 Tundra 4x4 did this exceptionally well.

Then the next thing you need to look at like the poster above said, is how much payload you need based on your trailer and your stuff. While it's true that a smaller lighter trailer by itself uses less payload. But what many people overlook is that because your trailer IS small, you are somewhat forced to put more things in the vehicle. And that uses payload too.

It can be difficult to find out the Payload on vehicle, since they are not on the website often. I know the 2014 Tundra we had could "tow" around 10,000 pounds, but the Payload was 1335 on the door jam sticker. When we needed a new truck the 2021 Tundras had gone down to 1220 on payload (which was not enough for us with a 27 and 2 adults). Ended up with a Ford F150 with payload of 1736. So you can see that the actual sticker is what matters, not the towing ability.

Payaload needs to meet or exceed the hitch weight and occupant weight and any pets, gear, and added permanent things on the vehicle (like tool boxes, toppers, etc)

In your situation I would be looking at any vehicle with 4wd and enough payload to meet your needs. With your smaller trailer you could look at pickups or even a robust sport utility vehicle like Jeep Cherokee Diesel, or probably some of the fords and toyotas. The key will be the payload sticker . This is what they look like.

And the Tundra is a fantastic tow vehicle for your situation.
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Old 07-10-2021, 08:08 AM   #8
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Hi

Not yet mentioned ..... Airstreams and winter really don't go together very well. Indeed there's winter in Key West and that does work. Winter in ski country is not quite the same as Key West.

First off you have the water system. If things are going to be sub zero at night and in the teens during the day, you will have a tough time keeping the pipes and tanks from freezing. Most simply don't use water / flush toilets / sinks / showers in these conditions.

Next up you have heat. If you are running off your own power sources, you have a very limited time you can keep the trailer warm ( as in > 50F) in cold weather. You will burn a lot of propane and use a lot of battery trying.

If there are multiple people involved and a small trailer, humidity / condensation in the trailer can ( and probably will) become a problem. This gets back to heating and water so it's not a single dimensional problem. If you don't heat at all, the humidity problem will simply be a frost problem.

None of this is to say you *can't* head out in the winter. Folks do and they have fun doing it. The point is to understand the compromises involved and evaluate just how much they matter to you.

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Old 07-10-2021, 08:50 AM   #9
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I think you should ditch the Subaru in short order. Nothing against them (my wife drives one) but the CVT transmission is not for towing and you are bound to have long term issues. This goes for any ford or other light duty vehicle. Get a body on frame vehicle and get one with a real transmission that can do work. In the mountains you will work your vehicle. The caravel is light but it is not that light. My tongue weight in my 1966 caravel came in over 500 pounds.

I pull my Caravel with the Legendary First Gen Tundra. In my fully loaded example I have 1400# of payload. Enough to make newer limited and platinum tundras jealous. Start ignoring the tow rating on the vehicles you look at and just look at the payload.

I would recommend you go with a small v8. It will be more peaceful in the mountains. I have made the trip with a 3.4 4runner. Any newer 4runner or tacoma will be an improvement but 6 cylinders are loud and not nearly as smooth as the toyota 4.7. You could get that in the lexus LX and GX, 4th gen 4runner, and first gen tundra and finally the 100 series land cruiser. Longevity and reliability are the most important thing for us when we tow in the mountains.

https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoo...ruck-all-time/


Final thought, salty roads will not age your caravel well. Stick to 3 season camping or look for an oliver.
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Old 07-10-2021, 09:13 AM   #10
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I am a small TV advocate but I pay for my choice on the 6% grades.
If you don’t want to go big you can get a a mid size SUV with at least 300 lbs torque ( HP means nothing in the mountains) and an 8 speed transmission and you will be happy
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Old 07-10-2021, 09:35 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbeard4 View Post
Hi everyone,

I am a new Airstream owner based in Boulder, Colorado, and I am trying to figure out what would be an ideal tow vehicle to purchase to tow my 1966 17' Airstream Caravel into the mountains, possibly in the winter.

When I originally purchased the Caravel, I thought I could tow it with my 2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R, which has a maximum tow rating of 3000lbs when the electric brake is connected, and 1500lbs without the electric brake, and max tongue weight of 200lbs. The 1966 Caravel has a 2500lbs dry weight, and 250lbs tongue weight, so I thought I would be just under the tow capacity of the Subaru, and marginally over the tongue weight by 50lbs. However, after reading some forums, I am not confident that this is the right TV to tow this Airstream into the mountains, and I am hoping to purchase a more robust TV with a higher tow capacity.

To provide some context, I would like to tow from my home to Breckenridge, possibly in the winter, which involves 10k feet of vertical elevation along mountain passes.

My question is, how conservative should I be when considering potential TV tow capacities, given the mountainous terrain and potential winter road conditions?

For example, I was interested in purchasing a used, older model six-cylinder V6 Tacoma, which typically has a ~6400lbs tow capacity. But my brother-in-law has an older Tacoma, and he said he would not be confident towing the Airstream with that vehicle. Maybe his Tacoma has the four-cylinder engine, which has a tow capacity of ~3500lbs, or maybe he is just trying to discourage me from asking to borrow it

I was wondering if a larger truck would be a better choice, like a Tundra, which has a 10k lbs tow rating, is wider, and I believe has a longer wheelbase? Or would this be overkill for towing this model trailer?

The same questions apply to the 4Runner and Sequoia, as they are built on the Tacoma and Tundra chassis (you can tell I really like Toyotas).

Or, is the vehicle's tow capacity irrelevant, as long as I am not grossly exceeding it? For example, would a Honda Ridgeline, which has a 5000lbs tow capacity, and which is recommended by Consumer Reports for a compact truck, be a reasonable choice?

Are there other factors I should take into account? Does anyone have any vehicles that they have used to tow into the mountains and which they would recommend?

I would appreciate any insight anyone could offer into this. Thank you for your help,

Jake
Instincts can be helpful; emotion can be dangerous! Lots of good advise here...if your looking for an SUV, make sure you get 4x4 with a decent payload beyond your needs....don't go by the specs on a vehicle with just the "tow weight" numbers. You need to make sure you have decent payload...although your unit is not too heavy, I would opt for at least 1400lbs payload, which will put you into a decent SUV or pickup. I wouldn't consider the 4Runner or Ridgeline IMHO. People love the Tundras and Sequoia's-- just make sure it has a decent payload on the door jamb sticker...thats the negative on those 2...low actual payload. But with your size AS, could work out. good luck!
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Old 07-10-2021, 09:59 AM   #12
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Welcome to the AS family. We just completed a 3 nite stay at the Natíl Forest CG, Olive Ridge near Estes Park, CO. Warner Robins saw Subaru Outbackís and Crosstrekís with tents. Toyota RAV and Honda C-RVís with tents. Tent trailers were pulled by Tacomaís. Hard sided trailers were pulled by F150 and F250 equivalents depending on size of trailer.

We left Boulder and went on the road to Jamestown which turned into a dirt road prior to joining Peak to Peak road which is paved. It was raining and our gas 2 WD F250 defied the odds makers on 4 to 6% grades of wet and muddy roads with over 6000 lbs of trailer and hundreds of pounds of camping stuff by happily climbing all hills!

The CG had no water, electric or sewer access. We had to dump our tanks in Golden for $18! So folks at the CG brought extra water, and some generators. Subaruís = tent camping.

You have lots of options for Toyota TVís. Ridge lines not so much. Anyone follow a Ridgeline with any kind of trailer? The rear wheels alway bow out at the bottom = unsafe towing.

Enjoy your analysis of TVís and consider if/when you want a longer AS, it will require more capability from your TV than your current AS requires.
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Old 07-10-2021, 03:36 PM   #13
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Another quick note on Subarus: each of my sons suffered catastrophic engine failure in a Subaru Forester at roughly 75K miles. Neither were used for towing. Subaru corporate was no help as the cars were beyond the warrant period. Both cars were properly maintained, with service records to prove it. In my opinion, Subaru doesn’t build a robust product and the stress of towing will lead to premature engine failure. This is obviously based on my personal experience (n of 2), but I’ll never buy another Subaru again and I’d certainly never try to tow with one. Ticking time bomb.
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Old 07-10-2021, 03:45 PM   #14
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Tacoma will get it done

I have a 2nd gen Taco (2014) with the factory tow package and an after market transmission cooler and a 2020 BCX. It tows my BCX like a champ, but wo the transmission cooler the transmission temps were over 220 going over the Rockies to Moab. Much lower with the transmission cooler. The hard part will be finding a used Taco that is not hammered for a reasonable price. Good luck and happy trails.
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Old 07-10-2021, 03:50 PM   #15
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I have a 19 footTommy Bahama we have been out since June 1st we are traveling in the mountains of Wyoming Colorado and Idaho my 2.8 diesel in my GMC Canyon does a wonderful job a averages 17.5 pulling the trailer and 30 mpg with out. all the power you need in the mountains and going down hill with the exhaust brake and the down shifting I hardly have to to touch the brakes it’s a terrific TV
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Old 07-10-2021, 06:42 PM   #16
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I would be looking for an AWD (not 4wd) small to medium sized sport utility or minivan, with a turbocharged engine, and without a CV transmission.

Subaru, Honda, Mazda, or Ford. Maybe Toyota if you want to skip the turbocharger.
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Old 07-10-2021, 10:09 PM   #17
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Your 2010 Outback still has a 5 speed automatic - not the CVT. I consider that a major plus.

It also has nearly 250 lbs ft of torque. Thatís plenty to move a trailer that might be 3500 lbs loaded, especially since the car only weighs about 3600.

I havenít towed at 10,000 feet, but Iíve towed plenty at 6,000 - always with a car. Most mountain towing is not nearly as stressful as people make it out to be. A bit of patience goes a long way.

I would go with the Subaru. Receivers are available that are rated for 600 lbs tongue weight. Oddly, while these look quite strong, they are not rated for weight distribution, so optimally, you would need to get the receiver reinforced.

The Subaru is a robust, capable car. Yes, head gaskets have been an issue. Without going into a lot of detail, the 3.6 flat six seems better than the 2.5 flat flour. I donít think towing would have a major effect on durability.

I really believe that with a good hitch setup the Outback would outperform a Tacoma. Tow ratings in themselves are not a predictor of performance.

As someone else said, reach out to Andrew T. Do this before spending a lot of money on a new tow vehicle.
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Old 07-11-2021, 11:26 AM   #18
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Your 2010 Outback still has a 5 speed automatic - not the CVT. I consider that a major plus.

It also has nearly 250 lbs ft of torque. Thatís plenty to move a trailer that might be 3500 lbs loaded, especially since the car only weighs about 3600.

I havenít towed at 10,000 feet, but Iíve towed plenty at 6,000 - always with a car. Most mountain towing is not nearly as stressful as people make it out to be. A bit of patience goes a long way.

I would go with the Subaru. Receivers are available that are rated for 600 lbs tongue weight. Oddly, while these look quite strong, they are not rated for weight distribution, so optimally, you would need to get the receiver reinforced.

The Subaru is a robust, capable car. Yes, head gaskets have been an issue. Without going into a lot of detail, the 3.6 flat six seems better than the 2.5 flat flour. I donít think towing would have a major effect on durability.

I really believe that with a good hitch setup the Outback would outperform a Tacoma. Tow ratings in themselves are not a predictor of performance.

As someone else said, reach out to Andrew T. Do this before spending a lot of money on a new tow vehicle.
Not sure why anyone would recommend a beefing up your Subaru to do a job it clearly was not designed to do: tow an AS trailer... Brakes, suspension, and tow limits should be the rule...if you modify, you takes your chances...safety first, right?
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Old 07-11-2021, 03:49 PM   #19
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Not sure why anyone would recommend a beefing up your Subaru to do a job it clearly was not designed to do: tow an AS trailer... Brakes, suspension, and tow limits should be the rule...if you modify, you takes your chances...safety first, right?


No, I donít put safety first. If I did I wouldnít get out of bed in the morning. However, it is an important consideration for getting things done.

The Subaru doesnít need any beefing up to tow a 3000-3500 lb trailer with a modest tongue weight. Itís not a small car, but clearly in the mid-size category. When the OPís Airstream was new, people were towing those small one with six cylinder Ford Falcons. The Outback is a world apart from those 1960s compacts.

Was the Subaru designed to tow? All I know is that the manufacturer puts a number on it. It also has substantial brakes for its weight, and I trust the trailer does too.

From my perspective an optimum tow vehicle design includes a low centre of gravity, a short rear overhang (more significant than a long wheelbase), fully independent suspension, unit body construction for maximum torsional rigidity and effective weight distribution, an effective pm payload of at least 1500 lbs (to deal with those 1000 lb tongue weights) and enough power to tow an Airstream at least 65 mph on level ground at less than 3000 rpm. I canít think of any pickups that check all those boxes for me. The Subaru sits a little high and is a bit shy on payload capacity, but probably has about 1100-1200 lbs which is more than adequate for the OPís trailer.
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Old 07-11-2021, 05:26 PM   #20
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If you're looking at Toyota's (including Lexus), for mountain and high elevation towing, I'd highly recommend anything in their lineup that has a V8, for that low RPM grunt to compensate for loss of power at elevation. Including the older 4.7L, newer 4.6L, or 5.7L. These are found in Tundras, Sequoias, GXs, LXs, and the rare 4Runners.

As JCL mentioned above, I'd also high consider something that is full time 4WD or AWD. 4x4s are only handy once you've lost traction or are on slippery surfaces. All wheels driven has utility when pulling in from sideroads that have dirt and gravel, particularly if accelerating uphill. They also have benefits to engine braking with all drive wheel braking stability, rather than just the rear axle.

Of the above list, Tundras are not full time 4WD/AWD. Only the SUVs have this capability.

Not sure how old you're willing to go but the first generation of Sequoias and GXs, fitted with the 4.7L, are a fine fit in size and power for your Caravel. Any of the second generations are fine vehicles as well with more power still.

Good luck!
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