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Towing with a Forester

kayakingsuekayakingsue Posts: 13
edited August 11 in Subaru
How do I connect a trailer with trailer brakes to my 2007 Forester? I bought the tow package with the 07, but it only has a four-prong connector for brake lights and turn signals. The people selling me a pop-up tent trailer say I must have a 7-prong connector to connect the trailer's brakes to the Forester, but that Subaru must install it. When I went to Subaru, they said that the Forester was rated for 1000 pounds without trailer brakes and 2400 pounds with trailer brakes, but that they didn't sell or add the connectors to allow the car to tow the larger amount. What sort of "Catch 22" is this? They say it will tow 2400 pounds, but won't equip the car to do so. Now what should I do?
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Comments

  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,727
    Unfortunately the dealer is correct. This a problem common to virtually every vehicle that tows. There is a braked trailer rating and an unbraked trailer rating. Subaru is not alone here.

    The simple fact is the Forester can "pull" 2400 pounds, it just can't "stop" 2400 pounds safely or quickly, hence the need for trailer brakes for anything over 1000 pounds.

    What I would do is go to a trailer dealer—one that specializes in all sorts of trailers—not a camping center, which may sell pop-up trailers. Trailer dealers do this all the time.

    You will also need a dash-mounted or console-mounted electronic trailer brake controller, so that you can adjust the amount of braking needed for the trailer. That's what the extra wires on the 7-pin connector are for.

    Bob
  • Thanks for your answer! I guess I was just naive when I thought that buying a towing hitch meant that they were selling me everything I needed to tow (and, of course, stop). I'm still pretty cranky that the guy at Subaru Parts acted like he didn't have a clue what I needed.

    I wonder what the new wiring and trailer brake controller will cost?
  • Bob,

    Is there going to be any problem with the rest of my Forester's electrical systems if I retro-fit a 7-prong plug and brake controller into the car?
  • kavoomkavoom Posts: 181
    "Is there going to be any problem with the rest of my Forester's electrical systems if I retro-fit a 7-prong plug and brake controller into the car?"

    Man they sold you a bill of goods. I got a retrofitted Class II Hidden Hitch for less then the Subaru Class I hitch. And NO, if it is done right, you will have NO problem with the electrical. They will run a wire down from the battery then put a converter (little black box) in line and connect up with the four pin under the tire and run it all back to a preset 7 pin box connector next to your hitch. No problem, but around 150 bucks. And let a hitch installer do it. They generally will say it is very easy on a Subaru as it is already set up for a four pin and that makes it easier for them.

    Show them up front how it is set up and that might lower the estimate since it is easier for them.
  • Thanks for that quick info! I'll check it out.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    "Is there going to be any problem with the rest of my Forester's electrical systems if I retro-fit a 7-prong plug and brake controller into the car?"

    Man they sold you a bill of goods. I got a retrofitted Class II Hidden Hitch for less then the Subaru Class I hitch. And NO, if it is done right, you will have NO problem with the electrical. They will run a wire down from the battery then put a converter (little black box) in line and connect up with the four pin under the tire and run it all back to a preset 7 pin box connector next to your hitch. No problem, but around 150 bucks. And let a hitch installer do it. They generally will say it is very easy on a Subaru as it is already set up for a four pin and that makes it easier for them.


    This is not entirely true.

    What has to happen is that a brake controller needs to be installed, not just a 7pin connector.

    The best brake controllers to get are the Teckonisha (sp?) and run about $120-150 depending on where you buy it. Then you need to connect it up yourself or have a trailer place wire it up. Since the Subarus IIRC are not pre-wired for the brake controller you'll need to run a power wire from the battery to the controller, then the controller connects up to your brake light switch and a few other connectors, then runs back to the 7-pin connector in the rear. What this does is provide 12 volt power and amperage to actually engage your brakes on the trailer. Simply putting a 4 to 7 pin adapter will not yield any braking action on the trailer.

    Cost runs about $200-300 to get the install done, so you are looking at roughly about $500 overall to get a good controller and have it installed. Don't get a cheap controller that only works off your brake lights as they will kill your brakes on the trailer as they are not inertially controlled as the more expensive ones are. The inertially controlled ones provide braking based on how quickly you are braking rather than on how long your foot is on the brake pedal.

    -mike
  • This is getting more and more complicated, and I REALLY appreciate everyone who has taken the time to help me understand all the aspects of this issue. I've made notes of all the suggestions, and I'll post what the feedback I get from the Trailer Guys in the next couple of days.
  • kavoomkavoom Posts: 181
    I thought we had already dealt with that and that brakes were "assumed." But yes, the Prodigy is the best brake controller out there for the money and worth any extra few bucks you might pay.

    That is the reason for having a 7 pin hitch. It's the brakes... And that is failing of Subaru. Why install electrical for towing that isn't up to the brakes that you (as a manufacturer) require for anything over 1,000 lbs. All that does is tempt people to not put them on...
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Don't single out Subaru on this. Until this year and only this year on 2500 series pickups was there a brake controller on the pickups. Yet all the Pickups and SUVs come with a 7-pin connector and require braking above roughly 1500lbs.

    You have to get someone to install the brake controller anyway, they don't charge a lot more to get the 7pin connector also wired in.

    -mike
  • Out of curiosity, what is the size of the opening on the Forester's trailer hitch? I currently have a hitch-mounted bike rack for my Liberty which I think requires a 2" hitch mount.

    Is it 2 inches?

    Thanks
  • kavoomkavoom Posts: 181
    Nope, it's the smaller 1 1/4 inch I think made for Class I and II hitches...

    There are not as many choices for items like what you are looking for, but they are out there and there are also reducers for the 2 inch openings.
  • dt63944dt63944 Posts: 66
    It's amazing the number of people, even trailer dealers, who don't see the need for trailer brakes. I tow a 1000# tractor with my Forester and the trailer doesn't have brakes and I consider it an unsafe situation. My new trailer is going to have hydraulic (surge) brakes so the others in my family can use it with their vehicles. Electric brakes are a pain because the vehicles using them require wiring. Hydraulics don't rely on electric controllers. BTW, I recommend Triton trailers, they've got a very versatile line at fair prices.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,727
    It's amazing the number of people, even trailer dealers, who don't see the need for trailer brakes.

    Yep. That's been a long-time hot-button issue with me. The vehicle makers (Subaru!) don't make it any easier either, as they bury that trailer brake info in the owner's manual. I've even requested that Subaru offer an dashboard-integrated electric trailer brake control, like what Ford and GM offer on their HD pickups.

    It would be great if Subaru took a leadership role here, but they don't seem to care. :(

    Bob
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Good luck finding surge brakes. Most states only allow them on boat trailers, and even then most of the boat trailers are going to Electric over Hydrolic.

    I was looking for surge brakes for my car-hauler flatbed trailer and could not find them anywhere on the east coast.

    Electric over hydrolic or straight electric are superior in that there is no tounge smacking into the ball giving your car a push from the trailer as it comes forward.

    As for an integrated controller, it's a lot of hardware to include when 95% of the vehicles out there don't tow. They other problem is that some trailer brake systems are incompatible with the factory brake controllers. For instance the GM factory controller cannot control Electric over Hydrolic used on a lot of boat trailers.

    I have surge hydrolics on my cigarette boat trailer with disc (just had them converted from drums) on 2 of my 3 axles. I love them now, they are running vented discs that are found on the front of 3500 series GMC trucks so it's nice because rotors and pads are easy to find when I have to replace em :)

    -mike
  • xtopxtop Posts: 29
    Hello: We just purchased a T@B travel trailer. It's GVWR is 1939 lbs. it does have mechanical surge brakes. I have been looking around to see if there is any way to beef up the rear suspension on the Forester without luck. I imagine it's not a common request. I am also looking at the 7-pin trailer electrical plug installation. I have ordered a Subaru specific T-connector and adapter for the 7-pin. We already had a Hidden Hitch class II installed for bike racks and the like so that is done. We haven't actually picked the trailer up yet as the electrics must be installed next week. Are there any suggestions relevant to towing with the 2004 Forester XT with manual transmission? I would love to hear any experiences with this vehicle towing. We live in the Colorado mountains but most travel would be to lower elevation. Thanks and best regards to all, Fred
  • When I first asked about towing with my 2007 Forester someone said that it wasn't what the car could pull, it was what it could STOP. With that in mind, several other people said what I needed was a Prodegy Brake Controller that would connect the car's brakes to the trailer's brakes so they'd activate when you hit the brake pedal. I had one installed for $170.00 in Longmont at Big Boys' Toys; talk with them about where in the car's cab they are going to put the little box because the first time they installed it I couldn't move my right leg from the gas to the brake without knocking against it! I've driven my tent pop-up to the west coast and back and have had no trouble with the brakes. The car needed to be shifted down into THIRD on some of the hills, however, and my car's newer than yours and my trailer is lighter, so don't load the T@B with very much.
  • xtopxtop Posts: 29
    The trailer has its own brakes actuated through the tongue. I'm hoping that's sufficient. I would love to hear if it's not. The 2004 and 2007 Foresters are essentially identical mechanically. What model Forester is yours? Ours is the turbocharged model. I see yours is a manual shift. We don't plan on loading it too heavy as there don't seem to be any kits to increase the load carrying capacity of the rear suspension. We travel pretty light most of the time. We go looking for wildlife as I am a photographer and my wife and I love animals. Did you adjust the headlights for night driving? It sounds like you're having fun with your trailer. Fred
  • From what everyone has told me, if you have a brake controller in the car that controlls the brakes in the T@B you will be fine. The issue with me was the Subaru sold me their hitch set-up as though it would be sufficient for anything the Forester was rated for, but it was not and I had to retro-fit the brake controller and then buy something extra to accommodate the trailer's ball hitch.

    My Forester is the cheapest model, so you may have more soup than I do, which will make climbing those hills much nicer.

    I was a camp-host in Oregon so I could kayak more frequently. I missed my Colorado sunshine, but I had a wonderful time, the the kayaking was fabulous. I like my tent trailer because it has more room when both beds are extended, although it had the same floor space as the T@B I looked at. However, it's really chilly when the nights get cold.
  • From what everyone has told me, if you have a brake controller in the car that controlls the brakes in the T@B you will be fine. The issue with me was the Subaru sold me their hitch set-up as though it would be sufficient for anything the Forester was rated for, but it was not and I had to retro-fit the brake controller and then buy something extra to accommodate the trailer's ball hitch.

    My Forester is the cheapest model, so you may have more soup than I do, which will make climbing those hills much nicer.

    I was a camp-host in Oregon so I could kayak more frequently. I missed my Colorado sunshine, but I had a wonderful time, the the kayaking was fabulous. I like my tent trailer because it has more room when both beds are extended, although it had the same floor space as the T@B I looked at. However, it's really chilly when the nights get cold.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    If you have surge brakes you won't need a controller.

    As for the rear suspension, the easiest thing to do is to move anything inside the trailer to the rear to reduce the tounge weight. You may be able to get some custom upgraded springs for the rear which would help.

    -mike
  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    I don't suppose that installing the self-leveling suspension is a financially feasible option?

    -Frank
  • xtopxtop Posts: 29
    I imagine that I will load up the storage at the rear of the trailer itself to cut the load on the back of the Subaru. A simple and effective method, thank you. The battery might end up being moved as well to help.

    The self-leveling suspension would be lovely but not an option for me.

    What would be an optimum hitch weight on the tongue, does anyone have an idea? It's common knowledge, I'm sure, but I don't know it.

    Thank you, everyone, for your help.

    Fred
  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    Hey where's Bob, our resident towing expert and champion of all things towing related :P
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Ideally w/o the leveling you'd want less than 10% tongue weight of the trailer and not less than 6%.

    On my peformance boat trailer I run about 600lb tounge on a 10,000lb trailer and this works out well to keep it balanced.

    -mike
  • tidestertidester Posts: 10,109
    Mike,

    I'm curious. How does one actually determine the tongue weight?

    tidester, host
    SUVs and Smart Shopper
  • kavoomkavoom Posts: 181
    First, Subaru's tow great. 2004's are better than the newer ones IMHO as they softened the ride when they added a half inch of height in 06. I had to retro "Pinks" springs into my 07. I had 200 lbs on my tongue weight and my base model sagged less than an inch so try it. Do not use the OEM hitch go for a retrofitted Class II hitch like a hidden hitch.

    You could beef up the suspension if you wanted but, for example, the load leveling struts (standard in Australia only available in auto LL Beans in U.S.) will run you around 800 bucks for parts alone in the U.S. At a dealer, count on another 3 to 400 for labor.

    You will need a seven pin hook up for electric brakes but Subaru's already have a four pin built in (look in your spare tire well/see the rubber grommet in the bottom?) and installers say they are easy to convert to 7 pin.

    Tongue weight is figured by looking at what the manufacturer says tongue weight is, and then adding the battery weight and the propane tank weight. So, generally, you are looking for around a 150 lb tongue weight to stay under the Subaru 200 lb rating. Don't worry about a few pounds over.

    And Subaru North American tow ratings are low compared to other countries. Many are convinced it is fear of lawyers as to why. In Australia they are rated at 3200 lbs for example and around 240 lbs tongue weight (remember load leveling struts are standard down under except for the absolute 2.0 base model.

    Forester's are still the highest rated (at 2400 lbs)relative to size/engine in the U.S. A manual transmission is preferable IMHO and with the turbo, you will have NO problems going anywhere. You don't need to add a tranny cooler with a manual either. But you will need to change out tranny fluids more often.

    I tow an 1800 to 1900 lb pop up with electric brakes and between my two Foresters (I have an 07 Premium Package manual now) I have put close to 20K in trips over mountains hills and dales. I've seen T@Bs on many a Subaru.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    They're basically fancy struts, so a swap may not be hard, but they are PRICEY! :surprise:
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    You will need a seven pin hook up for electric brakes but Subaru's already have a four pin built in (look in your spare tire well/see the rubber grommet in the bottom?) and installers say they are easy to convert to 7 pin.

    There is no such thing as a "conversion" from 4-pin to 7-pin, at least not easily. For a 7-pin you'd need to put in a brake controller and brake controller connections to the rear where the 7-pin connection goes. It's not plug-and-play so to speak.

    Tongue weight is figured by looking at what the manufacturer says tongue weight is, and then adding the battery weight and the propane tank weight. So, generally, you are looking for around a 150 lb tongue weight to stay under the Subaru 200 lb rating. Don't worry about a few pounds over.

    That's actually incorrect.

    Tounge weight is actually calculated by putting a scale under the tounge at the hitch-height with a fully loaded trailer. You can use a bathroom scale but make sure to put a rod or something so that it's at the correct heigh of where it will be when hitched.

    -mike
  • xtopxtop Posts: 29
    The T@B trailers have a 7-pin plug so I am using an adapter. I notice the 4-pin to 7-pin adapter has has some extra wire pigtails and I assume they are for electric brakes, etc. The T@B uses surge brakes which eliminates the electric brake connection. Now I have to figure out how to hook it up so that the car alternator charges the battery in the T@B through the 7-pin plug. The manual shows this but I will have to investigate this feature further when we get the trailer home. The manual shows the bathroom scale method of checking tongue weight. It should work well for what we are doing.

    We are picking the trailer up tomorrow. It will be interesting.
  • kavoomkavoom Posts: 181
    They have to run wire from the battery to a converter box I can't think of what it is called but it is separate from the controller and is in line. They run the wire along the frame and then hook into the four pin connector that then goes out of the grommet.

    Perhaps I should have said "relatively" easy or "comparatively" easy as compared to a vehicle that has nothing. I can only comment on what two installers said to me.
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