View Full Version : Can I tow this? (Car question)
L. G. Butts, Ph.D.
05-13-2009, 01:35 PM
I'm confused, please help me understand whether my car can tow this trailer or not...
My wife owns a 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan that we got when we had our second kid (tangential question: how do I deal with the fact that I am a yuppie? It just happened; one day I woke up and I was a yuppie... What should I do?). It's a great car, but it does not have the towing package. When we bought the car and we were presented with this option, we declined, not having anything to tow. The salesperson assured us that we could always add the requisite gear at a later time if we needed too, though he told us to go somewhere besides the dealership as they would overcharge us.
Well, now (4 years later) we have something to tow. A little pop up camper was given to us that weighs (fully loaded) about 2800 lbs. Yea, no more sharing a tent with small children (who kick and burrow while they sleep). First things first, I checked the Sienna manual and it said I could tow 3500 lbs if I had the tow package installed and only 2000 if not. I called the dealership and asked them what was in the tow package and how much it would cost to install it, they said You need a transmission oil cooler and a larger radiator and maybe some other stuff (something for the suspension???), but we don't really do this and it will cost over $7,000. :eek:
I then heard from a local mechanic that they are full of shit and that all I need is a transmission oil cooler (and the towing hardware) that he can install for ~$300. :dubious: :confused:
Now I am confused. My wife and I cannot afford another car so we cannot afford to blow up this one. It only has 30k miles on it and we were planning on driving it for another decade if possible. We would love to keep this camper, and if it only costs a few hundred bucks to upgrade our car to the point we can tow it, then we are in business. Over $800 or so, not worth it. Who should I believe? What is the real answer? What, exactly, is in the towing package that I need? If the mechanic is correct, why would the Toyota dealership pull this kind of crap? They were not trying to overcharge me (which is behavior I would understand), they were trying to discourage me... Anyone out there know?
05-13-2009, 01:40 PM
Why not go to a local campsite, if you have one, and ask the people that are actually towing these things. I would think you would get a more honest answer from them.
L. G. Butts, Ph.D.
05-13-2009, 01:47 PM
Why not go to a local campsite, if you have one, and ask the people that are actually towing these things. I would think you would get a more honest answer from them. I am trying to find people locally that tow with their Toyotas, but I was hoping that someone online here would have experience / knowledge. As far as local campsites, there are none here in the city and heading up to the hills would be a time consuming hit or miss proposition.
05-13-2009, 01:53 PM
As long as there are no steep grades along the way, I'd go for it. But that's just me. I don't think 800lbs over the max will cause anything catastrophic to happen, but it may eventually take it's toll on your brakes.
L. G. Butts, Ph.D.
05-13-2009, 01:59 PM
As long as there are no steep grades along the way, I'd go for it. But that's just me. I don't think 800lbs over the max will cause anything catastrophic to happen, but it may eventually take it's toll on your brakes.There are a couple of small passes I would go over (I am in Colorado, it is possible most people would not agree that the passes are small). The camper has electric brakes, so no worries there. I think the main thing is the transmission and engine, can they pull this much weight for a long haul (say 250 miles) with moderate hills?
Thanks for the replies, regardless...
05-13-2009, 02:11 PM
Some observations from around the internet:
1) The Sienna has a BIG problem with the trailer hitch dragging on the ground; most people solve this by using a smaller hitch (1-1/4" vs. 2") or by adding air shocks, a lift kit, or otherwise tinkering with the suspension. The cheapest suggestion was some sort of air lift bladder made by Firestone or Air Lift Co. www.ride-rite.com www.airliftcompany.com
2) The early 2000s Siennas had a problem with engine sludge; at one time, it's said, they shipped all models with the towing package because the larger radiator would minimize the conditions leading to said sludge. Towing with such a vehicle would be ill-advised without the larger radiator. I don't know if yours is such a vehicle.
3) Don't forget the connections. All trailers have/should have brake lights, and may also have their own brakes, which you'll need to have connections for.
All in all, it sounds like your dealership doesn't like dealing with all this crap, but your mechanic may not be fully conversant with the special problems of the Sienna. Also, a lot of people had trouble towing with the Sienna for the above reasons, and many people who are apparently incapable of properly installing a trailer hitch are doing it anyway, and charging money for it.
05-13-2009, 02:26 PM
Brochure from Toyota's used car website says 2005 Siennas came with towing prep standard for all models.
Towing Prep Package — 3500-lb. towing capability with heavy-duty
radiator, heavy-duty fan, 150-amp alternator and power steering oil cooler
Looks like you might just need a hitch installed.
05-13-2009, 02:48 PM
My wife owns a 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan that we got when we had our second kid (tangential question: how do I deal with the fact that I am a yuppie? It just happened; one day I woke up and I was a yuppie... What should I do?).?
I am an Old and Has-been Suburban Professional, and I own a minivan by choice. No kids. Spouse has her own car. I suppose I am fortunate enough to have any car I wanted, but this is the one I want. Mine fits my golf clubs and pullcart perfectly without having to collapse it.
So feast on your Sienna. It may not be a chick magnet but it's a great car.
On the tow package front...you might also consider checking in with specialty-shop folks who put on hitches for a living and get their advice. You don't mention tongue weight (and it should not be an issue with a small camper) but that's another consideration along with whether or not what you are towing has its own brakes. IMO only I like the standard size ball and 2" receiver and not the smaller ones--and no; this is not a play on words.
Oh yeah; one other thing. If you do get the hitch receiver put on your car you can get those bull balls to hang from them and feel more manly about driving around. http://www.bullsballs.com/ scroll down to the pink ones so the wife can feel comfortable with them as well.
05-13-2009, 02:58 PM
Find a mechanic who works a lot on Toyotas and ask them.
05-13-2009, 03:02 PM
If you're near a Camping World, check with them. They specialize in RVs, trailers and towing, and can probably tell just by looking at your vehicle from ten feet away if it can handle that trailer. I'd trust their judgement over some local mufflers, brakes and hitches guy.
One thing to keep in mind - is that 2800 pounds completely dry and empty, or with a "typical" load of bedding, clothes and fresh water?
L. G. Butts, Ph.D.
05-13-2009, 05:55 PM
Thanks all, especially Keweenaw, this was exactly the kind of information I needed. I called the dealer back and they agreed that the towing prep package had been installed as a standard feature and all I needed was a hitch and the wiring harness. I think it is ridiculous that when I called them previously they gave me the spiel about the $7k towing package, they should have known better as they sold me the car originally... Morons.
Chief Pedant, if I tried to hang a set of those on my wifes car, even a pink set, she would take it off and try to replace it with mine. You gotta pick the fights, and I am not going there... Thanks though.
05-13-2009, 08:53 PM
I'd like to add a bit about towing capacities, etc. If Toyota is like most manufacturers, they will advertise a "towing capacity" that is actually based on their lightest model when it is unloaded. Every pound of people and gear (and options in your vehicle) you load in your van will actually subtract from the allowed towing load. Again, I have no experience with Toyotas (at least as tow vehicles), but most towing manuals will include a value called Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). This is normally the limiting value and consists of the entire loaded weight of both camper and van. If you know the actual weight of your van, you'll probably find that you can't pull the "advertised" towing capacity and remain within GCWR.
I've got quite a bit of experience with a variety of campers and boats, and it would surprise me if you overestimated your total weight. Most of us are shocked when we finally put our whole rig on the Cat scales and see the actual weight. When I finally tried it, I discovered I had underestimated by 1000 lbs. (I had 18,000 instead of the 17,000 I expected) In the flatlands here, I don't think the extra pounds are that much problem, but it might be more of an issue where you live.
FWIW, I pull a 5th wheel camper, and a boat together in a sort of road train. 67 feet and 12 wheels on the ground (and yes, all 12 wheels have brakes ;) )
L. G. Butts, Ph.D.
05-13-2009, 09:31 PM
FWIW, I pull a 5th wheel camper, and a boat together in a sort of road train. 67 feet and 12 wheels on the ground (and yes, all 12 wheels have brakes ;) )I guess that would explain your user name then!
Where I do weigh in? The trailer weighs in at 2100 lbs and I estimate I will put in about 1000 lbs of goods (and people). The van has a towing capacity of 3500 lbs, but I am not sure about the GCWR though my guess would be it is the 3500 lbs. Anyway, I will investigate, but where would I go to confirm the weight?
05-14-2009, 08:48 AM
Sorry about the late reply; Lost the computer to the wife (she had to login to her work and finish some stuff).
The best place to weigh is at a truck stop. Many of them have Cat scales, and will charge (iirc) about 20 bucks. I'd just phone around to the closest ones, and explain that you need to weigh your van and camper. IME they're OK with doing a couple of seperate weighs (if they're not busy). Van alone, followed by van+camper so you can have both weights, rather than just a grand total.
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