Do I need an eight-cylinder engine in a truck or SUV to tow a small trailer?

I want to purchase a truck or small SUV to pull a small trailer. Must it be a V-8 or will a V-6 do?

Carol V., Sacramento, Calif.

A V-8 engine is no longer your only choice for towing strength. To make that case, we offer as Exhibit A the Ford F-150 pickup truck, which has a maximum towing capacity of 11,300 pounds with the optional 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. That exceeds the maximum towing capacity of an F-150 with a 5.0-liter V-8 by 1,300 pounds.

Though the above example is an exception to the general rule, a V-6 engine might be all you need to safely tow a “small trailer.” You need to compile a good estimate of how much your trailer weighs, plus the weight of what you will carry on or in the trailer. In addition, when calculating towing needs you need to add the weight of the driver and passengers in the tow vehicle and any cargo you might be carrying either inside the vehicle or on the trailer.


If all that adds up to less than 3,500 pounds you can probably get by with a smaller SUV powered by a V-6 engine, such as a Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento or Toyota RAV4. The Ford Explorer also can tow 3,500 pounds with a V-6. If you will be towing more than that then a Honda Pilot (4,500-pound capacity) or a Jeep Liberty, Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota 4Runner (5,000 pounds) or Chevrolet Traverse (5,200 pounds) would be more appropriate.

Midsize pickups such as the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma also are possibilities because they can tow up to 6,500 pounds with V-6 engines.

The first thing you should do is estimate how much towing capacity you need, and bear in mind that it is better to have more towing capacity than needed than too little. Exceeding a vehicle’s towing limits can lead to mechanical and safety issues. On the other hand, you don’t want to buy a full-size SUV or pickup with a V-8 when a midsize vehicle with a V-6 is sufficient. You’ll pay more for a larger vehicle and a V-8 and also pay an ongoing penalty of lower gas mileage.

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Answered by Rick Popely on February 17, 2013 in I'm Just Wondering | Permalink

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