Photo of SUV towing a pop-up camper and bicycles

Selecting a Tow Vehicle

Most SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, minivans, and passenger cars can be equipped to tow a trailer. However, the selection of an appropriate tow vehicle and the proper equipment to tow a trailer depends on the type of trailer, its size and weight, and the amount of weight being towed. There are numerous types of trailers, but, in general, they fall into four categories: flat bed or open trailers, boat trailers, enclosed trailers, and recreational vehicle trailers (including travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, and folding camping trailers).

Check the owner’s manual and review the manufacturer’s guide to see if the vehicle you plan to buy can tow a trailer. After you have reviewed the vehicle capabilities, you also must investigate the capabilities of compatible hitch systems for the vehicle. This is especially important if you plan to purchase a hitch from a source other than the vehicle manufacturer. You may find that vehicle manufacturers offer specially designed towing packages that define the equipment necessary to tow different types of trailers depending on their fully loaded weight and size. A towing package may include a heavy duty radiator, battery, flasher system, alternator, suspension, and brakes, as well as an engine-oil cooler, transmission-oil cooler, wiring harness, specific axle ratio, and special wheels and tires.

Towing packages also may include the trailer hitch receiver, which is mounted to the tow vehicle, but towing packages rarely include the draw bar, or ball mount, and hitch ball. The draw bar is a separate assembly on which the hitch ball is mounted. The draw bar then slides into the hitch receiver on the tow vehicle and is secured with a locking pin. The front part of the trailer that hitches to the tow vehicle is referred to as the tongue. At the end of the tongue is a coupler into which the hitch ball is inserted and secured.

Illustration of trailer hitch receiver
trailer hitch receiver

Illustration of ball mount
ball mount

Illustration of coupler

Illustration of hitch ball
hitch ball

A manufacturer may offer different towing packages to safely tow various sizes and types of trailers. Towing packages indicate both equipment that must be installed on your tow vehicle and equipment that is optional or recommended. For example, not all trailers require the tow vehicle to be equipped with extended side-view mirrors. But if you are towing a trailer that is wider than your tow vehicle, you will need extended side-view mirrors to see rear- and side-approaching traffic.

Illustration of extended side-view mirrors
extended side-view mirrors

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