What Kind of Car Do I Need to Tow a Boat?


Cars only have a few functions. They accelerate. They slow down. And they turn. But not every car will do those things adequately while pulling a boat and trailer. In fact, few cars are adequate to safely and effectively tow a boat. Most are the larger SUVs, with a few exceptions in mid-size cars capable of towing small boats.


  • Ideally, the weight of the vehicle towing is heavier than the load it is towing. This doesn't have to be the case, but a ratio that favors a heavier tow vehicle is much preferable. If the vehicle is too light, the boat and trailer tend to push it around. It will be hard to turn and slow down. Heavy vehicles should also have a firm suspension. A firmer suspension helps keep the vehicle stable while absorbing the additional weight of the boat and trailer.

Power and Drivetrain

  • Horsepower is not the key requirement for towing. Torque is the most sought-after characteristic of a good tow engine. The difference between torque and horsepower is often misunderstood. Horsepower is a measure of the maximum work an engine is capable of producing at a given time. This measure generally includes high rpm. Torque is the maximum torsion or rational power an engine can exert. Torque is what is needed to, for example, stop on a hill at a red light, then excelerate from a dead stop, while pulling a trailer. Where the power is exerted also matters. Towing vehicles are either rear-wheel drive or, ideally, four-wheel or all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive is too apt to slip, especially with a lightened front end caused by the load on a trailer hitch.


  • Brakes are of critical importance. Modern cars all have disc brakes. But, to tow a boat and trailer, they must have adequate surface area and adequate pressure to stop a heavier load. Also, they must have the ability to cool down quickly, as hot brakes don't work well. So, heavily worked brakes must cool effectively or they will diminish as they heat. Ideally, boats will be pulled on trailers that have trailer brakes. Trailer brakes use the brake signal from your car to actuate brakes on the trailer so the car doesn't have to provide all the stopping power.

Good Tow Vehicles

  • The Edmonds automotive website ranks tow vehicles. And while its favorites are trucks, it lists a number of cars, too. The Nissan Armada is Edmond's highest ranked car. Also listed are the Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition, Chevy Suburban, Range Rover, and Chrysler Pacifica. For light-duty towing, Edmonds even gives a nod to the Hyudai Elantra and Suburu Outback, each with towing capacities around 3,000 lbs.

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