Today: To Tow or Not to Tow

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 18, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray:

My son is taking a new job in Sioux Falls, S.D., about 850 miles away from our home near Detroit. The old man promised to help him move, even if it wrecks my 56-year-old back. Here's the issue. He has a small apartment's worth of furniture, plus three guitars. It should fit in a single-axle rental trailer. We'll be pulling the trailer with a 2003 Jeep Liberty with the V-6 engine and 138,000 miles. Is this too much to expect from the aging Jeep? Should we rent a truck instead? My own judgment is questionable because I own a 1972 MGB. Thanks, boys.

-- Bill

RAY: I'm not worried about the Jeep, Bill.

TOM: Of course not. It's not YOUR Jeep!

RAY: I don't think Bill needs to worry about it either. But I am worried about Bill. And his kid.

TOM: Right. Towing a trailer, even a single-axle rental trailer, is tricky business. A trailer can make the car -- even a car with the appropriate towing capacity, like this Jeep -- handle very peculiarly.

RAY: And the handling is always made worse by an improperly balanced load, rain, snow, poor road conditions and gusty winds.

TOM: So if you do this, you have to get some good advice on how to pack the stuff into the trailer. You have to take the trip when no wind, rain or snow is forecast for the route, and you have plan to drive slower than other people on the highway -- 55 maximum -- for all 850 miles.

RAY: And you have to be extra careful to go very slowly on turns, leave more room to stop than you think you'll need, and be careful not to make any quick maneuvers that could upset the trailer -- even changing lanes too fast can do it.

TOM: If that sounds like more risk than you thought you were signing up for, you can always rent a whole truck. The same driving rules apply to a truck full of furniture, but due to the noise and vibration in the cab, you won't accidentally forget that you're carrying 1,500 pounds' worth of furniture behind you.

RAY: And remember, whether you rent the trailer or the truck, YOU'LL have to drive it back empty, Bill, or pay a large one-way drop-off fee and buy a plane ticket home.

TOM: So, after considering all this, you might want to look at option C, Bill, which goes something like this: "Son, I've called Global Van Lines. They're picking up your stuff on Tuesday. Here's a bus ticket for you. Hope you make it home for the holidays!"

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