Could I use my Honda Civic to tow a small trailer over the Sierra Nevada mountains?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I'm going back to school, and the stuff I need/want to take won't all fit into my car. My friends say I should rent a trailer. I'm concerned that my car will be ruined by the effort of towing a trailer across, first, the Sierra Nevada, then the Rockies. My car is a 1997 Honda Civic, with 155,000 miles on it. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and I'm going to Indiana University in Bloomington. What do you suggest? -- David

RAY: I suggest a garage sale, David. You have too much stuff.

TOM: Yeah. You're supposed to be footloose and fancy-free. These are your college years. You'll have the rest of your life to surround yourself with a house-and-a-half full of useless junk that'll prevent you from ever moving again. Why start now?

RAY: Plus, it probably will croak your car. Or at least shorten its already tenuous life. Engines and transmissions have to work hard to get over mountains -- especially small engines. And when you add another thousand pounds of weight for them to pull, not to mention the additional wind resistance of a big, pizza-box-fronted trailer, you're just asking for the engine or tranny to overheat or fail. And a compact Honda Civic -- as nice a car as it is -- was not built to tow trailers over multiple mountain ranges.

TOM: So, my suggestion would be to throw some of your stuff overboard (i.e., get rid of it). If you absolutely can't bear to do that, you can always ship some of it to school. Send the stuff by UPS, and let them drag it over the mountains and cook their transmissions.

RAY: Or, if you really must take a ton of stuff with you, you can always rent a whole truck and tow your car behind. But I'd say, just take some clothes, your laptop and a coffeemaker, and when you need other stuff, do what all college students do; bum it off your roommates.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One