Tips, Tricks & Trends

Can a Passenger Car Be a Good Tow Truck Alternative?

While it has its downsides, a pickup truck does offer several advantages over SUVs and passenger cars. Especially when it comes to towing. However, not every person can house or afford a dedicated tow truck—or even necessarily needs one. And though SUVs can also be used as tow vehicles, they too aren’t always easy to live with. But can a normal passenger car really be used in place of a tow truck?

When is a tow truck the better choice?

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In terms of outright towing capacity, pickup trucks out-pace SUVs and passenger cars, Motor Trend reports. That’s thanks in part to their body-on-frame construction, CJ Pony Parts explains. It’s heavier than a unibody chassis, but it can support more weight. That’s why pickup trucks have higher GVWRs and GCWRs than passenger cars or SUVs.

In addition, tow trucks typically come with large diesel engines, Roadshow explains. Diesel engines make more low-end torque than gasoline engines. And more low-end torque makes it easier to pull heavy loads.

A gray 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid towing a boat
2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid | Ford

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Furthermore, a pickup truck can accommodate more kinds of trailer hitches and harnesses, Edmunds reports. Even a non-heavy-duty Ford F-Series can tow over 13,000 pounds with the right hitch. For those regularly carrying heavy cargo or livestock, a tow truck is practically a requirement.

However, not every person needs to tow that much weight. True, being rated for 13,000 pounds means towing 1000 pounds should be easy. But pickup trucks’ body-on-frame construction makes them less comfortable on the road. In addition, trucks sit higher and weigh more, both of which make them somewhat dangerous to other road users. Plus, even when you’re not towing, a tow truck doesn’t get great mileage.

Towing with a car

Although passenger cars can’t handle quite as much weight as a pickup truck, they can still tow quite a bit. The Chrysler Pacifica, for example, is rated to tow up to 3600 pounds, MT reports, which puts it in Class II hitch territory. A Volvo V90 wagon, meanwhile, is rated for 3500 pounds, Outside reports.

It’s also possible to tow a trailer with some fairly unconventional vehicles. For example, the 5.0-liter-V8-equipped Mustang GT has a towing capacity of 1000 pounds, Advance Auto Parts reports. That matches the rating of the Dodge Challenger, US News reports.

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With the right trailer hitch, you can even turn a Fiat 500 or a Mazda Miata into a tow vehicle. Flyin’ Miata offers a hitch that can support 850 pounds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s more than enough for a set of good performance tires and some tools for a track day.

Plus, using a passenger car instead of a tow truck has its own benefits. The first is better fuel efficiency. The second is better, more secure handling. Even with the trailer, a wagon, minivan, or sports car has a lower center-of-gravity than a truck.

But, before you start towing with your passenger car, there are some things to keep in mind.

What you need to consider

A silver Volkswagen New Beetle towing a trailer, parked in front of a mountain range
Volkswagen New Beetle towing a trailer | Volkswagen/Jaclyn Heyen via Instagram

Firstly, if your car isn’t tow-rated, don’t use it to tow anything. Towing puts extra strain on a vehicle’s components, whether it’s a truck or a wagon, CarGurus explains. And some cars, especially hybrids, can’t safely handle the stress.

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Secondly, as with a pickup truck, know the weights of your various components. That includes your car’s tow capacity, the weight of the trailer, your hitch’s tongue weight, and your cargo weight. Exceeding your car’s tow rating can be dangerous, not only to the car but to you and your passengers.

Also, make sure that the trailer is loaded properly before setting off. Ideally, about 60% of the weight should be in front of the trailer’s front axle. That way, the trailer doesn’t sway at high speeds, Popular Mechanics explains. In addition, make sure that the cargo is secured, and all the necessary wiring components are connected.

Finally, there are a few things you can to do your passenger car to make towing easier. One is to make sure your tires are properly inflated. Another is to install aftermarket mirror extensions to improve visibility. Many tow trucks offer such towing mirrors, too.

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