Tow vehicles

I am in the market for another car and will use it to tow my boat- not alot, but once in a while and probably never more than 100 miles or so. Can I get away with a 4 cylinder car or would that be pushing it? Any feedback in this regard will be very much appreciated...

If you exceed the rated towing capacity of the vehicle, you could be held legally liable if you are involved in an may also void the vehicle warranty and be unable to collect on any insurance claims.
Vehicle owners manuals sometimes rate towing capacity, but often this rating is specific to a trailer with electric brakes.Always get a definitive answer from the vehicle manufacturer.

Although heavy by modern sailboat standards, the Scot and trailer are light and easy to tow. I figure around 1250 lbs, even with sails and a few other things aboard.

I have towed thousands of miles with 4 cylinder vehicles without any problem. I think the key is the manufacturer's towing capacity, which I think depends on the transmission more than the engine.

The vehicles in my family are a 4-cylinder Tacoma pick-up (3,500 lbs. towing capacity) and a Subaru Legacy (2,500 lbs.) Both tow the Scot without problems. When I was shopping for a new car I noticed several larger cars with 6 and even 8 cylinders but with towing capacities of only 1,000 lbs. Because some offered transmission coolers to raise the capacity, I suspect the transmissions are the controlling factor, not the engines, not the strength of the frame.

I suspect, if you are only towing a couple of hundred miles a year, any tow vehicle will do it.

Have good mirrors on both sides, leave a little extra room to brake, and go for it. Reduce those carbon emissions.

One always thinks about the engine when considering towing. The engine is only one part to consider and its probably even a minor one. More important are the break system -- can the breaks handle the additional load. The car size and weight -- can the trailer overpower the car. The transmission especially for cars with automatic transmissions.

I over boiled the transmission fluid once on a Ford Taurus while the engine stayed cool. Yes, I was stupid and naive. Automatic transmissions often have an extremely wimpy cooler. So a transmission cooler is a good investment and it's easy to install. I made a little write-up about the installation on the Taurus.
With the same Taurus I ended up stranded while I was about to pull the boat out of the lake. The transmission died and I could only drive backwards. Luckily I noticed it before going down the launch ramp. Not sure how much of it was due to towing since the Taurus has a crappy transmission anyway. Lot of people apparently have to get the transmission rebuild, a more than $3,000 item.

Now I got a Ford Explorer V8 and it's a joy to tow with it. However, if you do the math the vehicle can only tow 1,902 lbs instead of the advertised 3,420 lbs. Just enough for the Flying Scot. This is due to the fact that the advertised rate doesn't include any passengers and luggage. My math example along with references can be found here.

Back to your question. Yes, a 4 cylinder can pull the boat. But consider your boat ramp -- can it pull the boat out of it? Consider your driving style. Etc.

PS: I noticed that most cars are rated for 1,000 lbs, even large cars such as cadillacs. This is due to the axel ratio which is laid out to get better gas mileage. Tow capacities could probably increased quite a bit with a different axel ratio on the cost of gas mileage.

Claus FS5074 Ames, IA

Most vehicles recommend changing the transmission fluid on automatic transmissions at around 30,000 miles. My Expedition will make noises if the fluid gets too old.

FS 1385

We have towed our Scot 30 miles over flats and mild hills with a VW Passat wagon (4 cyl turbo) with no problems in performance. This car has no tow rating however so as one of the earlier replies points out, there is a big concern about liability.

To correct this we bought a (4 cylinder, non turbo) Subaru Forester a couple of weeks ago. The advertised towing capacity is 2400 lb. I asked a lot of probing questions trying to root out any potential problems, but but nobody at the dealer raised a red flag. Upgraded brakes and transmission cooler were not being recommeded. Upon reading the owner's manual though, I found that "under no circumstances" shall a trailer over 1000 lbs without brakes be towed. I was pretty upset for a couple of days, but obtained some more facts. (1) Most other small SUVs have an advertised limit of 1500 lb. (2) Jeep liberty advertised at 5000 lb also has a suggested/required limitation of 1000 lbs; Chrysler is setting up this limitation as a general rule it seems. (3) Most states have a limit of 3000 lbs, above which trailers in general must have brakes. (4) For a long time surge brakes (the most common type in use) were oddly illegal in Maryland, where the Scot is built. This has apparently been changed quite recently. So between the MD law and the 3000 lb limitation in most states, it is not surprising that my 10 yeaer old trailer has no brakes. I presume most Scot trailers don't have them either. Trailer shops have been telling me I am fine and shound not need brakes.

I initially did not want to buy any tow vehicle at all, wanting instead to rent a big SUV for the long towing trips for vacation. I called all the major rental companies and found that no hitches are available and towing is forbidden. Judging from this and the Liberty /Chrysler limitation, I suspect that this is a liability issue that the car manufacturers and rental agencies are looking at. The next thought was to buy a used Jeep and have it sit in the driveway 355 days a year, but this would cost $860 for insurance to drive it 1000 miles/year. So we decided to buy something new, and I think we made a good decision. The requirement for brakes on the trailer was something of a rude surpise though.

If it really is a liability issue for the manufacturers then a lot of folks are going to be adding brakes in the future. Older SUVs may not have such a limitation though, and so it might be ok to continue to tow without them, from a liability point of view. I am kind of painted into a corner so we will have surge brakes installed. It will be a few bucks but we are going to Deep Creek Lake in June and I am going to feel a lot better about the long hills with surge brakes on the trailer. This is maybe not so much about stopping power as much as jacknifing in a panic stop while turning, and liability.

Suggest everybody take a look at the owner's manual and see what it says for your tow vehicle. I'd be interested to see what vehicles are requiring brakes on the trailer, as of what model year.

Answering the question, 4 cylinders seems just fine to me for ordinary driving. Just don't climb Mt. Washington! {And don't listen to the salesman or service guy. Ask to see an owner's manual, and look up towing.}

BTW, if you want to rent a tow vehicle go and rent a moving truck (U-haul, Riders, etc). With them it's common practice that something is towed. Of course then you could just put the whole boat into the truck as well.

Claus FS5074 Ames, IA

I have contacted Flying Scot concerning the subject of this thread. Their position is that any vehicle with a towing capacity of 1200 pounds is sufficiently strong enough to do the job. That said, the more towing capacity the easier the job will be and it goes without saying that a transmission cooler is recommended, especially for vehicles at the lower range of acceptability and/or for longer hauls.

I've been shopping for a car that's adequate for towing a Flying Scot. Too bad I didn't see David's earlier post regarding the Subaru Forester as I'm in the same fix--with the same car! Anyone had any experience with adding a trailer brake recently who can tell me more and the approximate cost?

I should add that I'm looking for a used Flying Scot. Are the FS trailers equipped with brakes? Because I've not noticed any mention of trailer brakes in ads, etc, I've assumed they are not standard and that I would need to add brakes to the trailer.

Post Script:

The long and the short of this issue it is that I did not and will not be getting brakes installed on the trailer - they are not commercially available. I would have to buy a new trailer that was a lot bigger, thus separately pushing the envelope on towing capacity. The states have limits at something like 3000 lb (for NJ). The lowest state was CA at 1500 lb. So towing the Scot without brakes is fully within the law in 50 states. What then of the Subaru warning? I called my insurance company and they said I was covered regardless of the stipulations in the owner's manual. I think it is posturing by Subaru (and Jeep/Chrysler) to limit their own liability for accidents - they have the deep pockets, and too many lawyers! Any issues are then put squarely at the feet of the driver. But we knew that anyway. That is why we carry insurance.

A friend (no authority) suggested high liability limits on the car. $5 Mil, he said, would not be unusual for somebody with a trailer. I have no idea if that is accurate. I might think about raising mine.

If you look at installation, I found that my "Lil Rider" is in fact a Load Rite trailer. The axel is a 2"x2" square galvanized rail fixed to the springs by U-bolts, and it has nothing on the end of the axel but an open hole. For brakes to be installed there has to be a steel plate perpendicular to the axel that has four holes to bolt the brakes on. The plate has to be perfectly square to the axel for alignment of the brakes to the wheel. Load Rite has axels with plates on them but they are all longer than my axel. A long one would have to be cut in the center and re-welded shorter (my idea) or plates would have to be custom fabricated onto the existing axel. After that the brakes would have to be purchased and mounted - I think that means new hubs too. The brakes are best actuated by a master cylinder mounted on the tongue which is integral with a new coupler (surge brakes). Hydraulic lines then run to the brakes. No electrical or hydraulic lines connected to the car's system. I don't know the total cost on this.

Bottom line - there is a reason that men never ask for or read directions. Ignorance is bliss! :-)

A friend (no authority) suggested high liability limits on the car. $5 Mil, he said, would not be unusual for somebody with a trailer. I have no idea if that is accurate.

Maybe if you were pulling a semi-trailer. You can get a million dollar umbrella policy for about $175-$200 though. Which should be a no brainer for any sailor that takes other people out on their boat (or for that matter has the potential to run into another boat full of people, i.e. racing). An umbrella policy sits over all of your other liability policies - auto, home, boat, etc.

I pull our Scot with our Suzuki Sidekick. It has a 1.8L engine and an automatic transmission. Towing is usually limited by transmission cooling capacity and braking ability. Heat is the enemy in both cases.

Coolers definitely help transmissions. Synthetic transmission fluid also helps a lot. Years ago transmission fluid used to have whale oil in it. Since we decided to save whales (a good thing, I think) transmissions have faired less well. Now transmission fluid begins to brake down around 175 deg F. Synthetics push this up to 250 or so. The chart at this site, ,gives an idea of the effect of heat on transmissions. I use synthetic fluid in my Suzuki. I don't have a tranny cooler right now because I have only towed for short distances. If I begin to travel to regattas away from home, I'll add one.

If you decide to add a transmission cooler, consider adding an external filter at the same time. Here's an example: The external filter is just a mount that allows you to add a regular oil filter in the transmission system. It does two things for you. It gives you a much better filter than the one inside your transmission. It also increases the fluid capacity of your system. This means you have more fluid to absorb heat.

You can also do something for you brakes if you want. Towing capacity of vehicles is often determined by what the vehicle will stop by itself. Ford rates their trucks this way. Pads come in different grades with different characteristics. For example you can get some that continue to brake (and even work better) in high heat conditions. The trade off is that these pads are harder on rotors, require more peddle pressure initially, and may be noisier. I put some of these on my Suzuki because of the mountain roads I sometime drive in the summer. I haven't done any research on these products lately, but a good mechanic should know about the options. Raybestos may be a good place to start on the web. Anyway, it is possible to increase braking without adding trailer brakes.

Hope this helps


We use an '05 Subaru Forester 2.5L (non turbo) and it works great. I talked to the local maintenance advisor at the Subaru dealer and he said no extra tranny cooler etc is needed if under 2000 lbs but not to quote him on it. So my wife and I ordered a Draw-Tite hidden hitch on the internet and installed it ourselves.....wonderful hitch, strong and hidden.