Boat-Towing with Front-Wheel Drive

A buddy of mine was nosing around the Auto Trader the other day looking for a used SUV to replace his clapped-out old beater. He has a boat, so he was definitely looking for something that would pull it around, but he didn’t want a full-sized SUV any more. He was really interested in a 2011 Explorer because it has a 5,000-pound tow rating and really fits the needs of his family with its third-row seating.

A front-wheel drive vehicle can get the job done, depending on the numbers, but rear-wheel drive gets a traction assist from the trailer tongue weight -- and four-wheel or all-wheel drive will do best of all.

A front-wheel drive vehicle can get the job done, depending on the numbers, but rear-wheel drive gets a traction assist from the trailer tongue weight — and four-wheel or all-wheel drive will do best of all. Photo courtesy of Ford.

I told him the best way to look at this is by the numbers. His boat weighs around 3,000 pounds, maybe a bit more because of the four-stroke engine, which was not available when the boat was built. Add in a dual-axle trailer and, depending on what it’s made of, he’s probably towing at least 3,750 to 4,000 pounds.

As a rule of thumb, I always suggest having about 1,500 pounds of towing capacity in excess, so that you’re not asking everything of your vehicle each time you tow with it. But a thousand pounds is a decent buffer, so that should be OK.

His other concern was that the 2011 Explorer is front-wheel drive. He wondered whether it could pull his boat up a ramp. The short answer is it likely won’t have much trouble doing so, even with the tongue weight unloading the drive wheels, which typically will be on the dry portion of the launch ramp rather on the exposed slippery sections that come with tidal changes.

That said, I generally prefer a longitudinal engine mounting and rear-wheel drive over a transverse-mounted front-wheel drive V6. When you have the trailer hooked up to a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, the tongue weight will assist in traction rather than diminish it, as can happen with front-wheel drive.

I told my friend that he might want to consider other vehicles, too — the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Toyota 4Runner, or VW’s Touareg, all of which feature longitudinal engines and available four- or all-wheel drive. The 4Runner has a towing capacity comparable to the Explorer, and the Touareg and Grand Cherokee have even more.

That’s the thing about owning a boat—it affects your automotive life, too. Sure, you can pull a boat with a front-wheel-drive vehicle, but do you really want to?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December of 2015 and updated in November 2017. 

Speak Your Mind

*


Archives