Feature: 4WD or lightweight towing?

By: Malcolm Street


You can tow a caravan without a large 4WD, but it involves some compromises at both ends.

Feature: 4WD or lightweight towing?
Feature: 4WD vs lightweight towing
DO YOU REALLY NEED a 4WD for towing? Unless you are a keen offroad explorer, the answer is no.

Naturally there are a few qualifiers with that statement. The most important is that many of today’s larger vans have a loaded weight (ATM) greater than the 2300kg that the Ford Falcon can tow (see 2WD/AWD Tow Ratings box). If your van exceeds that, you’ll still need one of the larger 4WDs or even a light commercial truck.

Four-wheel-drives generally make good tow vehicles because of their solid construction and maximum towing weights, even if you never have any intention of going offroad. However, not all will tow in the three-tonne region, so always check first.

SUITABLE 2WDS/AWDS
So, are there many 2WD/AWD vehicles that can be used for towing? Yes, as long as you are considering a lighter caravan and have the appropriate tow pack fitted to the vehicle (which may include a transmission cooler and the like). For the most part, it’s the weight factor rather than engine performance that poses limitations.

The best of the bunch is the Ford Falcon. With its heavy-duty tow pack, it has a maximum towing mass of 2300kg and therefore the greatest range of caravans that it can tow. Not so long ago I looked over a 5.6m (18ft) Supreme Aero caravan with a bathroom – a comfortable van without being squashy inside. Its maximum ATM of 2253kg made it just suitable for the Falcon I was towing it with. Indeed, performance-wise, the Falcon had no problems towing it at all.

An alternative is the Explorer, also from Ford, a cross between a 4WD and sedan but with the choice of RWD or AWD with a maximum towing capacity also of 2300kg.

Surprisingly, the Falcon’s principal rival, the Holden Commodore, has considerably less towing capacity. Unless you have a Statesman with its maximum towing capacity of 2000kg, or the Captiva (Ford Explorer’s rival), also at 2000kg, then the rest of the current Commodore range (including the wagon) is limited to 1600kg, which puts it in the same capacity as a Toyota Aurion or a Ford Mondeo Zetec Hatch (the other Mondeos don’t seem to have a tow rating at all!).

The Subaru Outback 3.6R (AWD rather than 2WD) does slightly better with its maximum towing mass of 1800kg, but only with the automatic. A 2WD Volkswagen T5 van, especially one fitted out with multiple seats for family travel, is a towing prospect as well, although it’s somewhat the size of a 4WD. Its 2.5L, 128kW motor delivers enough power and it has a maximum towing mass of 2000kg.

SUITABLE CARAVANS
If you take such weights into consideration, your towing options are a bit limited – something like Jayco’s pop-top Starcraft which is quite small, or one of the European vans, e.g., Adria’s 6m (19ft 8in) 542PK. In some cases you might have to go without an on-board bathroom but most Adrias have one, as does a locally built Majestic Knight. That was quite a surprise with an ATM of 1929kg.

Other suitable towing prospects in the pop-top and fold-out range include Jayco’s Expanda models as well as its camper trailers. WA-based Coromal has its Pioneer pop-tops and Silhouette campers, while Windsor has its Rapid fold-out range as well as smaller Genesis caravans. In Qld, Gary Kratzmann sells his Franklin Sonic pop-top/fold-outs.

Full lightweight caravans are a little rarer but more are appearing from companies like Jurgens Australia, with its Skygazer line-up. Many caravan manufacturers do at least have smaller vans (often without a bathroom) that can be towed by a 2WD sedan.

TARE, ATM AND BALL WEIGHT
One thing to note here is the maximum loaded weight of a caravan. All vans on their nameplate should have a Tare mass figure (unladen weight) and ATM (aggregate trailer mass, or the weight of the van loaded to the maximum it’s designed to carry). That information is supplied by the caravan manufacturer.

What matters with the caravan is the actual loaded weight and some people get a little confused between that and the maximum nameplate ATM. Generally speaking, caravans have a load capacity (ATM minus Tare) of 300kg or 400kg. Some vans have a much greater load capacity but what matters is the actual loaded mass.

For example, we could have a van with a Tare of 2000kg and an ATM of 2600kg, giving it a 600kg load capacity. If that van was loaded to its limit, then at 2600kg it would not be suitable for a Ford Falcon tow vehicle. However, if it had only 295kg of gear on board including water, gas and the rest, then the Falcon would be suitable – though it’s always good to have something in reserve and not to go right up to the limit. Use a weighbridge if in doubt.

The other item of interest is the weight on the towbar, also known as the ball weight or towball mass. Most vehicle manufacturers specify it as 10 per cent of the maximum tow rating but some specify a lesser figure. It all depends on the structure of the towbar and the tow vehicle it’s attached to.

The bottom line is that there are caravans (and all the derivations) that can be towed by a 2WD sedan-type vehicle or ‘hybrid’ vehicles like the Holden Captiva or Ford Explorer. However, with the exception of the Euro caravans, they’re generally going to be on the smaller side. In this ecologically-conscious world, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

2WD/AWD TOW RATINGS
(Note: there can be variance between models)
Ford Falcon: 2300kg
Ford Explorer RWD or AWD petrol: 2300kg
Holden Statesman: 2000kg
Holden Captiva RWD or AWD diesel: 2000kg
VW T5 Transporter van: 2000kg
Subaru Outback 3.6R AWD automatic: 1800kg
Holden Commodore (Omega/Berlina): 1600kg
Ford Mondeo hatch FWD: 1600kg
Toyota Aurion FWD: 1600kg
For more tow tests, see our RV Test Archive

GLOSSARY OF TERMS
4WD: Four-wheel drive vehicle for rough offroad travel
AWD: Permanent all-wheel drive but not for serious offroad tracks
2WD: Two-wheel drive (can be front or rear)
RWD: Rear-wheel drive
FWD: Front-wheel drive
ATM: Aggregate Trailer Mass (weight of the trailer with the maximum load it can carry)
Tare: Unladen weight of the trailer

WORDS Malcolm Street
Source: Caravan World, Jan 2010

Pics: Toyota Aurion tows Adria Altea; Franklin Sonic; Jurgens Lunagazer with an ATM of 2000kg.

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