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Towing tips for SUVs

draggin1draggin1 Posts: 2
edited March 2014 in Ford
I have a '97 V8 Explorer that I use to haul a
horse trailer. It handles the weight just fine
except the rear end is lowered, pulled down, even
when the trailer is empty. It is an aluminum
2-horse and the tongue weight is about 250 lbs. I
use a receiver hitch, class 3. I know that I
should be using a full size truck but I hate to
part with my Explorer. Has anyone else had this
problem and would an air lift system or helper
shocks/springs fix it?


  • eagle63eagle63 Posts: 599
    I also have a '97 explorer. the "butt-sag" syndrome is characteristic of almost all explorers. even a few hundred pounds will often cause this. from what I know, it's not harmful to your vehicle; it just looks dumb. an air lift would probably do the trick, but if I was you I would consider adding a leaf spring to the rear. that should help a lot, and also give you a firmer ride. (which I prefer) BTW, how heavy is your trailer when loaded?
  • mazman1mazman1 Posts: 229
    There are several things you can do to improve it. One is to replace the factory shocks with high quality air assist shocks. You can also replace the rear left springs with harder ones, but that can run serious coin. An easier fix is the front end has ride height adjustments (which move the rear end up) with its torsion bars.

    I'd talk to a 4x4 shop and to a Ford dealer's parts dept before spending any money.
  • JimJAJimJA Posts: 1
    I put 142,000 miles on my '92 Explorer and about 10% of those miles were towing at, or slightly above, the recommended max gross vehicle weight. I too experienced the "tail drag" I see on so many SUVs when towing or loaded heavy. My fix was to add Monroe Air Shocks. Cost was about $100. That cured the tail drag and there was no discernible difference in non-tow handling. I didn't like having to inflate/deflate the shocks all the time from outside the truck, so installed a gauge in the cubby and a pump above the spare tire. These items were obtained at Off Road Warehouse for $93. I could then inflate/deflate the air shocks from inside the truck. The shocks come with a graph of weight vs. pressure and by doing a little estimation could inflate accordingly. The air shocks were a big selling point when I sold the truck, "that's slick," and "I could use that" were some of the comments. With the air shock install some suggested there could be a breakage problem with the upper shock mounts...never had a problem.
    Initially I planned to install Air-Lifts but when "check fitting" prior to install deemed them to have too many disadvantages, the main one being the axle must be "strapped" when using a "wheels free" hoist or jacking to prevent damage to the air bladders because of the weight of the axle. There was also very limited space to install them. Cost was about $250. I sent them back.
    I didn't look into an extra leaf in the springs but certainly that could be done, probably a little cheaper.
    I now drive a '00 Explorer which I ordered with load leveling. The load leveling option in an SUV makes so much sense it should have been done long ago. It works perfectly and I have so far towed about 4,000 miles with it. BTW, when towing, the '00 V8 AWD gets about 1 1/2 MPG better than the '92 V6 4x4. I wish Ford had installed a air hose and gauge to use the existing pump to inflate the tires or recreational stuff needing air similar to what GM has done with some of their mini-van models.
    One thing I think anyone towing should consider VERY SERIOUSLY is a cushioned ball mount. The hitch is slotted and inside are poly bushings to allow slight movement fore and aft when starting or stopping. Very quiet. Once you tow with one of these you'll never go back to a solid ball mount. Cost is about $45. To see an exploded view go to Jim
  • With two horses (Arabians), I'm hauling no more than 4500 lbs. The specs on the truck say my max is 6400. It really is a good little hauler except for the dragging bumper, which does pull the front up to the point that I'm getting flashed for high beams when they're not on. It is a little swimmy in the front, too, especially when the roads are wet. I know I'm not as solid as I'd like to be.
  • While this "Butt-Sag" is somewhat common with Explorers, I see it WAY more often with 4Runners.
  • 250 lbs tongue weight is light for 4500 lbs. Have you weighed the trailer loaded to see what it actually weighs? 10% of the total trailer weight is usually recommended as a good starting place for setting up your towing package, & 8% is about as low as I've ever seen recommended on any package to insure trailer stability in all situations. My suggestion would be for you to weigh your load, then set up your trailer to get about 10% on the tongue, & finally go with a good set of air-shocks to level your truck. Air shocks are relatively inexpensive, firmer when pumped up to tow, & have almost zero effect on ride quality @ lower pressures. They are almost bullet-proof as well, rarely giving any problem if the hoses are properly routed. Be very cautious about doing any tweaking of the torsion bars as this will affect your front suspension geometry & can greatly disrupt your vehicle's basic stability. Any adjustments to the torsion bar loading needs to be done @ a reputable shop, followed by a 4 wheel realignment. Good luck.
  • Hi,

    I just bought a 1996 Rodeo and have some questions regarding towing. It is a 2WD automatic.

    1. The owner's manual says to use the set the transmission on 3 (1st, 2nd and 3rd gears) when
    towing a trailer. Do I have to do this even when I'm on the highway doing 55-60 mph (with a trailer)? Or is it just when I get the truck (and trailer) moving until I reach enough speed to shift to 4th?

    2. Is it safe to tow a trailer 2000 miles using the 3 position?

    3. Is it ok to use cruise control when towing and using the 3 position?

    4. The specs say that I can tow a trailer upto 4500lbs. Has anyone tried towing a U-Haul (with furniture etc) with the Isuzu? Any words of wisdom??

  • I also tow a horse trailer with my '95 Chevy Blazer. Fully loaded, it can push the 5,000 lb limit. When getting the brakes and lights done, the hitch place recommended an "EZ Lift". I used to have the "bumper drag", but the EZ Lift re-distributes the weight on a 3 point axis more towards the front of the truck. It tows like a dream with no sway or driveway drags. Check it out.
  • You will probably be just fine towing with your Rodeo as long as you keep the following things in mind:
    1. Since you have a V-6, you will probably have to tow in 3rd gear pretty much all the way. There isn't anything wrong with leaving your transmission in 3rd gear instead of overdrive. Otherwise the tranny may hunt gears since it has to keep the engine up in RPM to make more horsepower and torque to keep all the weight moving. V-6's typically don't have very broad horsepower and torque curves, which means the maximum horsepower and torque may only be available high in the RPM range, (maybe 4000 - 4500 rpm).
    2. Make sure you load the trailer so it has adequate tongue weight. Ideally, you should have around 10% of the total weight of the trailer on the tongue of the trailer. If your trailer and contents weighs 2000 lbs, you should have about 200 lbs of tongue weight. This is important so the trailer behaves correctly, and will minimize swaying as much as possible. Too much tongue weight is almost as bad as not enough. You may have a weight limit for tongue weight for your Rodeo - check this also.
    3. You should be able to use the cruise control. As with anything, try it for awhile, and if it works OK go with it.
    4. Keep your speed below 65 mph. The faster you are going, the faster things can happen. If sway starts to develop in the trailer, your safety margin decreases rapidly with extra speed.
    5. You may notice the pull and push as trucks and large trailers pass you. Be aware of this and keep an eye on vehicles overtaking you so you are prepared for this. As a truck starts passing you, you will feel suction from the truck. Steer slightly away from the truck. This only lasts for a brief period of time before you will feel a push from the truck and you will have to steer back towards the truck to correct. As long as you know its coming its not that big of a deal. Since your Rodeo probably has quick steering, be careful with how far you steer, as it doesn't take much of a turn of the wheel to make up for this.
    6. If your trailer and contents weigh over 2500 lbs you will need trailer brakes for most of the country. U-haul can wire a trailer brake controller in your vehicle if that is the case.
    7. You have a pretty short wheelbase vehicle. If you get too long of a trailer, you may have sway problems. U-Haul may have limits for your vehicle that prevents you from getting too large a trailer, so this may not be a factor.
    Hope this helps you out!
  • 2bays2bays Posts: 1
    I don't mean to be a critic but you should possibly reconsider towing horses with any SUV that is as "small" as an Explorer. Even though the companies say that these vehicles are strong enough to tow the weight you desire, the vehicles themselves do not weigh enough to make horse towing safe. Live animals can be (as I'm sure you know) unstable and if anything should go wrong with your trailer it is likely that your vehicle will be flipped by the trailer. Horses and horse trailers are not just about weight, they are also very tall compared to most smaller suv's and that can affect you negatively. My suggestion is to get a Suburban or a Pickup or let someone else tow you horses. Good luck and drive safely.
  • sdc2sdc2 Posts: 780
    Here's what to do:

    1. Get yourself a Suburban or the like, and a 4-place snowmobile trailer.
    2. Load up with 4 or 5 of your buddies and head up north for a fun-filled weekend!
    3. Follow the car ahead of you closely, after all, that's what you do every rush hour, and fun waits for no man! Never mind that it is snowing, that's a GOOD thing!
    4. When the car in front of you brakes suddenly, stomp on the brake pedal. You've got antilock brakes, right?
    5. Hey, what's that passing you on the right shoulder...looks familiar...oh it's your trailer! Wave to your sleds as they go by!
    6. Gee, you're in the ditch now. So THAT'S why they call it "jackknifing"! Better put 'er in four wheel drive! Hmmm, funny how 4WD doesn't help you drag your fully loaded SUV and trailer out of the snow...what's up with that?
    7. Call for a tow truck to winch you out the ditch. I'm sure he'll be along any time now, as soon as he takes care of the 450 other knotheads who did the same thing as you!

    I don't sound bitter, so I? I see this every weekend in the winter.

    MORAL OF THE STORY: Give yourself LOTS of room to stop. An Explorer with a horse trailer is really marginal on braking power.
  • marty2marty2 Posts: 11
    Considering a 01 Trooper s / Torque on Demand, Will be out the door for $25,290.+ tax,seems like a excellent price,Will be towing an RV 3800, lbs. Will the trooper do the job??? Thank you in advance
  • lrc1lrc1 Posts: 2
    I have been towing for over 25 years. Mostly large RV's. Rear end sag is due to the tongue weight. The correct way to stop rear end sag and the safest to is to use a weight distribution hitch. This system uses distribution bars that range from 250lbs of lift to over 1,000lbs. They are used with class III, IV, and V receivers. Of course air shocks, and or extra leaf springs help. But in the long run the best way to handle the problem is the weight distribution hitch. It can be found at any RV and trailer shop. PS I own a 2000 Ford Excursion, 4X4 with a V-10. I tow a 32' RV with a gross weight of over 6700 lbs. The X can tow 10,000 lbs. It comes with a class IV hitch. Rated at a tongue weight of 500 lbs stock and 1,000 lbs with a weight ddistribution hitch.I still have to use a weight distribution hitch. If your serious about towing look up this system and ask the dealers. I'm sure it's the right way to go.
  • greg116greg116 Posts: 116
    I recently read an article on causes of the Firestone separations. They cited heavy loads as one of the factors. I'm not saying change your tires, it's just a comment.

    And I agree, even with the V8, an Explorer does seem a little small for a horse trailer. If you need to replace it somwhere down the line, go for a Durango 5.9. Plenty of power and payload in a god size, and it won't stick your headlights in other peoples faces. In the meantime, just add a couple leaf springs to your suspension. A light front end is not a good thing in any vehicle.

    My $0.02
  • I had a 1999 Trooper w/Lux Package, Auto/TOD. Used it several times to tow my 25 foot TT. While it could do the job, it ust didn't seem to handle as good as I wanted. Seemed to be always at the limit of control. Got about 8 MPG when towing.

    The Trooper is a great SUV. I did not have any problems with it at all. Had about 25K miles on it when I traded it for a 2000 Ford Excurcion (Leftover model). Have only had the TT out with the new vehiclel once, but what a difference in the overall handling.
  • Sorry in advance for the long post. If you have serious towing needs and you're comparing any non-commercial vehicles with 4 tires...GM RULES. Even Ford's Excursion with V-10 is 2000lbs less than GM's big block V-8 in a 3/4 ton Suburban or Yukon XL (8.1L with 4.10 = 12,000lbs) and 300lbs less than the small block (6.0L with 4.10 = 10,300lbs.) The following facts are the most current for GM's full size SUV line-up.

    The highest 2wd Yukon tow rating is 7,900lbs with a 5.3L and 3.73 rear. The other 3 configurations for a 2wd Yukon provide the following tow ratings: 6900lbs with 5.3L & 3.42 rear, 6900lbs with 4.8L & 3.73 rear, 5,900lbs with 4.8L & 3.42 rear.

    The highest 4wd Yukon tow rating is 8,700 lbs with a 5.3L & 4.10 rear (4.10 rear not available in 2wd Yukon). The other 3 configurations for a 4wd Yukon provide the following ratings: 7,700lbs with 5.3L & 3.73 rear, 7,700 lbs with 4.8L & 4.10 rear, 6,700 lbs with 4.8L & 3.73 rear.

    The Denali has a tow rating of 8,500lbs with a 6.0L, 3.73 rear and AWD. (This is the only configuration.)

    The highest 2wd 1/2 ton Yukon XL tow rating is 8,800 lbs with a 5.3L & 4.10 rear. The other configuration for a 2wd 1/2 ton Yukon XL is 7,800lbs with 5.3L & 3.73 rear.

    The Denali XL has a tow rating of 8,400lbs with a 6.0L, 3.73 rear and AWD. (This is the only configuration.)

    The highest 4wd 1/2 ton Yukon XL tow rating is 8,600 lbs with a 5.3L & a 4.10 rear. The other configuration for a 4wd 1/2 ton Yukon XL is 7,600lbs with 5.3L & 3.73 rear.

    The highest 2wd 3/4 ton Yukon XL tow rating is 12,000lbs with the 8.1L & 4.10 rear. The other 3 configurations for a 2wd 3/4 ton Yukon XL are 10,900lbs with 8.1L & 3.73 rear, 10,300lbs with the 6.0L & 4.10 rear, 8,300lbs with the 6.0L & 3.73 rear.

    The highest 4wd 3/4 ton Yukon XL tow rating is 12,000lbs with the 8.1L & 4.10. The other 3 configurations for a 4wd 3/4 ton Yukon XL are 10,500lbs with 8.1L & 3.73 rear, 10,000lbs with the 6.0L & 4.10 rear, 8,000lbs with the 6.0L & 3.73 rear.
  • afconwayafconway Posts: 8
    Ford just came out with an upgrade to the receiver hitch on the Excursion. The new load limit with the new hitch is 12000#. (3.73 rear reduces it slightly). No other modifications are needed. Late 2001 model's might be getting it already. 2002 model's will have it for sure.
  • jodar96jodar96 Posts: 400
    Does anyone have any exeprience with towing with Jeep GC?

    My 93 ranger has 108.0" WB, and while towing, on bumpy roads, i could feel the effects of short wheelbase. It made me ride sick!! The ride gets really bumpy. The Jeep GC has the same 108" WB. I wonder how jeep can handle the towing, and how much ride quality suffers on Short wheelbase SUV's.
  • craigd4craigd4 Posts: 6
    What is the difference in gas mileage between these two rear end ratios? I'd like the 3.73 for towing but don't want to sacrific gas mileage. Anyone have experience with day to day driving with the 3.73 with the 5.3 V8? Thanks.

    Please email me at
  • lambdaprolambdapro Posts: 51
    There is no difference in city driving. In fact, you might end up in a better gear if you have a lot of 45 mph driving. There also might not be a difference towing, especially if you are right on the edge of needing to downshift a lot due to your load. So the answer is, it depends. The difference would be less than 1 mpg. Let's go to an extreme. When I tow my kayak trailer with a 4.10 (low weight, lots of drag), I can drive in OD and get about 11.5 mpg. When I had taller gears, I had to drive in 3rd and got 10 mpg.
    I just ordered a base model Suburban and opted for the 4.10 for $45 over the standard 3.73 for that very reason.
  • pmbrown70pmbrown70 Posts: 2
    We are going to purchase a sport boat. It weighs approximately 4000# loaded with fuel. It is on a double axle trailer. Since we have a family of 5, we are considering a SUV to tow it. Are there any web sites or magazines that I can go to to see which SUV tests the best for my needs?
  • abbanatabbanat Posts: 57
    You may want to try Trailer Life magazine.

    They frequently provide reviews of towing performance of SUVs, but with RVs. It is still good information, though.
  • bigm1bigm1 Posts: 10
    There used to be a magazine called "Trailer Boating" that is the most complete documentation on I've found on the subject. They rate all the different trucks, SUV's, and vans. They also have boat reviews and rate towing accessories.

    I haven't seen the magazine for a while. Used to find it in the boating section of a very good magazine store.

    They do have a web-site -
    However the links on the site don't work very well.
  • bigm1bigm1 Posts: 10
    I "guessed" at the wrong name of the magazine. It is "Trailer Boats" not Trailer Boating.

    Take a look at their web site -

    It is very good and contains copies of their articles.
  • polsenpolsen Posts: 25
    If you are buying a SUV to tow, get one with enough towing capacity. The rule of thumb is not to tow more than 70% of your rating. For 4000# that means SUV's with a towing capacity of 5714. And longer is better for stability. And even the long pickups tow better with stabilizing hitches.
  • sj6sj6 Posts: 13
    Hello, I think I already know the answer, but here is the question. My '91 2 door Blazer(100" wheelbase) might temporarily be the tow vehicle for the 19' Trail-lite Bantam (approx 3200lbs). It will have the proper hitch, trailer-brake control, HD cooling, etc. How bad will the highway manners be (sway resistance primarily) assuming the proper balancing of the trailer, correcting any sag,etc. Due to cost contraints, the replacement vehicle will also be a small SUV like an Explorer, Rodeo, or newer Blazer. If this too is unrealistic, please advise. Thanks.
  • trapjacktrapjack Posts: 5
    Can anybody give me a decent explanation why the TrailBlazer with such a big engine able to haul up to 6200 lbs and larger brakes needs seperate trailer brakes if the trailer is over 1000 lbs. That's a pretty light trailer. I don't have any problem towing a 1400 lb trailer with the Explorer I have now. I would really like to go back to Chevy but don't know if I'll be able to. I'm not about to retrofit a '68 trailer if it was even possible. Chevy said it was required so as to not stress the brakes, but 1000 lbs is about equal to 5 adult men riding in the truck. If the brakes can't handle that they need better brakes.
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    two reasons you would want to have controlled brakes on the tow: controllability of the combination, and safety in case the tow comes loose.

    controllability because the braking response would be substantially the same on a normally-loaded vehicle, and even with levelling hitch bars and an anti-sway device installed, if you have to bomb the brakes on a turn, the load without its own brakes will be pushing you sideways, hard.

    safety because with your tow's battery and a safety switch, if the tow comes loose, it will stop itself. I had the second-worst scare of my life when a racing car transporter broke off its hitch ball in the lane next to me at 75+ mph, veered left after breaking the chains, and went across a snow-catching-deep Interstate median and jumped into the oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway. lots of folks left a lot of rubber behind them; it was a miracle the transporter didn't clobber somebody in a wheeled Spam can. it about whanged ME when it first sheared off the hitch ball, and that would have been at speed.
  • afconwayafconway Posts: 8
    I would make sure I had a weight distribuition hitch and then add dual sway control. I have towed a 25 foot Coachman with a 1999 Trooper with no problems with sagging or sway. The dual sway control really keeps the trailer in place when 18 wheelers pass you. It's worth the investment.
  • fievelfievel Posts: 16
    My situation is the same as sj6. I have a 1988 s-15 Jimmy, and am seriously considering a 19-ft Bantam. The Bantam is probably not up to the 3,200 lbs as sj6 said, (maybe fully loaded). I know that empty it is closer to 2,500 lbs. I am going to tow this trailer with a weight distributing hitch and will finally purchase either a GMC Envoy or a Jeep Grand Cherokee, now leaning toward the Envoy after test driving. The Envoy gas mileage is most likely much better than the V8 Jeep. (and maybe more reliable too) I think the Bantam will be a struggle with the Jimmy, especially since the Jimmy has a 3:43 rear axel, but if careful, I think I can tow it temporarily.
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