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My current car is a 2004 Honda Civic. I put a ball and electric for lights for a trailer on it right after I got it and have been pulling stuff with it for ~9 years.

My car has been through the ringer and I'll be replacing it soon (10 years, 180k+, overheating and the cost to fix will be more than it's worth). I want another car... and I want to be able to pull light loads. I assume the damage done to car - and it's current state - is at least partly due in part to pulling a trailers across country (from San Diego, to St Louis, to Phenix Alabama, to Wilmington De... not all in one go mind you).

What should I look for in a new/newer car that will make it more accommodating to pulling? I'm not talking about daily, or even weekly... but I do have 2 trailers and this will be my main transportation (shown below).

Edit for clarification:

I want to stress I'm looking to do this safely and efficiently, which I probably haven't focused on as much in the past. I'm looking for few things:

  • Decent gas mileage while not pulling. My Civic gets ~33mpg and it's 10 years old. (I know mileage will be lower while pulling... much less pulling a square box)
  • Decent pulling capability - for a car. There are a few cars that have some ability. I've found a few lists like this which include cars with 1500 pound pulling capacity like the Toyota Corolla and Accura ZDX. I understand this isn't a Dodge Durango, a Ford F 350 or tractor trailer - but I don't need that much "oomph".
  • Safety. I've pulled the bigger trailer below across country. Right or wrong, the car has stood strong until recently and I've never "overloaded" the trailer - nor have I paid attention to things like curb weight, tongue weight, GVRW, GCWR, etc. When pulling, I keep ample space between me and whats ahead of me - but the car most likely isn't rated to what I've been doing.
  • Maybe adding breaks to the trailer, since that takes stress off of the puller.

removed math Corrected understanding of tongue weight (downward force on ball) and towing capacity (total weight of pulled trailer).

Some resources I've found so far:

These are more or less my trailers (Same shape/size if not exact same model):

Enclosed Trailer trailer

closed as too broad by Gabriel Mongeon, Captain Kenpachi, Rory Alsop, Iszi, Nick Aug 23 '14 at 22:48

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    Most cars and small trucks only have a tow capacity of around a thousand pounds at most. You need to look into a small SUV to safely tow the weight you are describing. I know your loads aren't huge. The biggest consideration is not whether it can tow it, but whether it can stop it. Something else to think about. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Aug 5 '14 at 1:44
  • Definitely. I'm actually researching this before I purchase so that this time... I can actually do what I've been doing safely (or at-least safer). the smaller-open trailer, I'm not worried about. The biggest thing on it is normally a mower, small amounts of lumber and dirt/mulch. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 1:47
  • Just think about getting pushed by your trailer as you are trying to emergency stop with a heavier than rated load, the car and trailer jack knife and now there are two accidents and possible loss of life. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Aug 5 '14 at 1:51
  • Expanded question slightly based on comments and replies. Please let me know if I'm off base on any of my assumptions or math. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 13:56
  • Further refining my understandings based on comments and research. The closest I can find is auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-parts/towing/towing-capacity/… which has a 2006 Honda Civic has actually having 1500 pounds towing capacity. I've honestly probably gone over that, if not by much (~1080 curb weight of the trailer, plus cargo even if never overloaded). Some of this research (like 2004 specs) isn't relevant to my NEXT vehicle, but I'd like to understand so I can be more informed this time. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 14:59
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What's the tongue weight on that box trailer when it's loaded? From the configuration, I'm betting it's pretty seriously heavy. Might even be a chore to lift the tongue by hand when it's empty. Assuming that's the case, I'd lean pretty hard towards either a half-ton pickup or a full-sized van.

I've towed a horse trailer configured like that box trailer before, carrying only a little 400lb pony. My half-ton truck struggled with it. I'd NOT see you pulling something like THAT - especially loaded - with any Civic, not even heavily modded with a 5th wheel.

  • Well, without any pictures on me to prove it... I bought the big trailer in St Louis (not the exact model in the picture, but close) and it's now in Southern Delaware (with Phenix, AL in between) - fill with small furniture and assorted "I'm moving cross country" stuff. Might not be the smartest thing to have done, and as mentioned, is probably at least partly the reason behind some of my troubles (years after the fact though, I've been here for almost 8 years now). I pull the smaller trailer frequently. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 0:53
  • After some thought, I do want the focus of the question to be what can I get (not my current vehicle), that's got good gas mileage (35ish?) and can pull 1500-2500. I'll adjust the question shortly. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 1:34
  • Never heard of tongue weight before, but I found this article that explains it in a way that makes sense to me: ehow.com/list_7543378_honda-civic-towing-specifications.html – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 1:48
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    Man - ya ain't ASKIN' fer much, are ya? 8) 35mpg and a good ton of towing capacity. If you're looking for both at the same time, we're going to have to do some hard thinking about aerodynamics and VERY HARD tires to kill some of the rolling resistance. That box trailer is a lot like a towable billboard - it's going to be really hard to get 20mpg pulling it EMPTY without some slipstream management, with 15mpg being a more realistic number. If we're just talking about mpg-go-hang towing with a side benefit of 35mpg NOT towing, then it's difficult but possible. – TDHofstetter Aug 5 '14 at 3:35
  • ...requires a very small pickup truck or van, and rear-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive just doesn't give you a structural enough rear axle to tow any significant weight without hurting things. As to the 35mpg... my wife's YARIS barely gets 40, so said pickup or van will have to be as small & lightweight as that. LITTLE truck. – TDHofstetter Aug 5 '14 at 3:37
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Get a Diesel pickup. They're much nicer these days than they were 20 years ago. Or something with at least a V6 engine and RWD.

  • I would consider a diesel, if it wasn't for the premium they cost. RWD is something I might try and go for, if I can find something with it. My goal is a daily commute vehicle (read: decent mpg and features) that can occasionally pull a Pace Journey safely. I don't want to commute in a truck that gets 20mpg so I can pull something once every three months (or more). – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 14:06
  • With great torque comes great gas mileage, as my uncle Ben would say. What's your budget? – Captain Kenpachi Aug 5 '14 at 14:12
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You need to look at the maximum rated towing weight for the car - this is the weight that car car can pull, and stop, safely (though not necessarily quickly or economically). I don't know about the US, but all manufacturers selling cars in the EU are required to calculate this, and stamp it on the VIN plate.

This weight needs to be more than the maximum gross weight (MGW) of the trailer - i.e. the weight of the trailer itself, plus the maximum load - again, over here that has to be calculated by the manufacturer and stamped on the trailer's ID plate, but again it might be different for you.

Make sure you can get a properly rated hitch for the vehicle too - easy enough for pickups and vans as they are commonly used for towing, but possibly harder or more expensive for smaller or less common vehicles...

  • Added some basic calculations to the question, based on 850 for a Civic. The Hitch was looked at last year when I got my small trailer. It's attached to frame and was more than enough for it. I'll have to look into what class it is and if it's proper for the bigger Pace Journey. This is something I haven't considered yet, so I'll research into it. Thanks. – WernerCD Aug 5 '14 at 14:02

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