We towed our Lance 1685 with our trusty little Toyota 4 Runner over 10,000 miles through the mountains, out west and back with no problems, but we might have just been lucky. Read on for a tale of a totaled Lance 1885 being towed with a slightly heavier and more powerful (8 cyl) 4 Runner. Thanks to Tom S. on the Lance Owners Forum (LOA) for sharing his experience towing a Lance 1885 (3700# dry) with an 8 cylinder Toyota 4 Runner.
As Tom says … “So, lesson’s learned from all this? I think the most valuable lesson is to never underestimate the importance of a big tow vehicle. We got by fine with our 4 Runner until we didn’t.” Here’s the account directly from the LOA link “Tale of a Totaled Lance 1885” or if you can’t access the forum, read on …
So, let me share what I hope is an unusual story of how quickly a beautiful Lance trailer can end up in a salvage yard.
I’d never towed anything beyond the occasional U Haul trailer when we bought our 1885, but did a lot of research on tow vehicles and settled on a V8 Toyota 4Runner. Everything I read indicated the 4Runner would have adequate power and tow capacity to handle our 1885, and the dealer agreed. For three years the 4Runner did its job. It was, indeed, an adequate tow vehicle. That being said, it always felt a little wobbly and I often thought about upgrading someday to a truck designed for towing. I was concerned about what might happen if I ever had to jam on the brakes in an emergency situation.
A few months back my wife was returning with our rig to Denver CO from a solo trip to Moab UT. In the mountains east of Vail Pass on I-70, the Lance tires got caught in the asphalt ruts that 18-wheelers sometimes make. The trailer started to sway. We aren’t exactly sure what happened next because my wife doesn’t really remember. What we do know is that when everything stopped moving, the 1885 was lying on its side off the passenger’s side of the road and the 4Runner had been pulled sideways perpendicular to the highway. Luckily my wife was unhurt and there were no other vehicles or people involved.
Our best reconstruction of the chain of events is that my wife panicked when the trailer started swaying. She hit the brakes and downshifted which accentuated the swaying. The trailer swung all the way around 180 degrees across the passing lane and smashed into the driver’s side of the 4Runner. Then it swung back around the other way, tearing the hitch off the ball, twisting the Anderson “no-sway” weight distributing hitch bars like they were made of plastic, and rolled over, dragging the 4Runner sideways by the tow chains.
Luckily the trailer came to rest against an exit sign, which you can see in one of the pictures. Otherwise it might very well have pulled the 4Runner over with it. It must have been quite a sight. Both sides of the 1885 showed damaged from coming into contact with the ground, but the roof was undamaged. So we think it rolled onto the passenger’s side with such force that it bounced up and over the roof somehow. We really aren’t exactly sure.
The passing lane was closed for two hours while two massive tow trucks maneuvered the trailer up onto a flatbed and picked up all the pieces. The state patrol declined to cite my wife since there was a white cross beside the road to mark where someone had rolled a fifth wheel at that same spot. The firefighters on scene told us the driver had died as a result of those asphalt ruts.
I know what you’re thinking; the outside doesn’t look that bad from the photos. That was my initial thought when I arrived at the scene about an hour after the accident, but the frame was bent in several places, the roof torn open at the front seam, and the inside…OMG! The one inside photo doesn’t do justice to how completely destroyed it was. I could not believe how bad the inside was destroyed. Cabinets exploded off the walls, toilet torn out of the floor, fridge ripped out and tipped over.
Well that’s the bad news. Now for the good news: Actually there was a lot of good news. Most important, as I said, my wife was safe and no one was hurt. The 4Runner, although bloodied, was okay to drive. The plucky Lance was totaled, but she held together, other than that rip in the roof along the front seam. So all of our belongings stayed inside the trailer, rather than being strewn out across the accident site. I was able to salvage my solar panels, wiring, and Trimetric equipment (please note that those self-installed panels remained securely fastened to the roof, thank you very much, and were not easy to remove!). We were also able to salvage most of our belongings.
The other good news is that I got on the LOA site soon after and located a 2013 1885 for sale in Denver. We love that model and I figured it would be much easier for us to just move right back into another one, as well as knowing how to remount my solar equipment back where it belonged.
Then I spent two days researching a new tow truck and settled on a Ford F-150. Buying a used vehicle is time-consuming, but really easy on the web these days. I wanted a heavy-duty tow package, with electric tow mirrors, back up camera, and remote start since I can’t fit a big truck in my garage and a warmed up truck is critical on cold winter mornings. We found the perfect truck.
The other good news is the way our insurance company, State Farm, treated us. They were quick to respond and more than fair. We had the 4Runner body damage repaired and the vehicle sold within a month. The payoff on the 1885 took a little longer because there was some disagreement between State Farm and Ketelsen (dealer) on how detailed the repair estimate needed to be, which State Farm required before declaring the trailer a total loss.
At the end of the day we ended up with a slightly older version of our original trailer and a much, much, safer and more powerful tow vehicle.
So, lesson’s learned from all this? I think the most valuable lesson is to never underestimate the importance of a big tow vehicle. We got by fine with our 4Runner until we didn’t. If my wife had been driving the F-150 when she got caught in those ruts she might not have been scared so badly when the trailer started to sway because it wouldn’t have bobbled the truck like it probably did the 4Runner. The trailer might not have swayed as much with the bigger truck out front. The F-150 anti-sway system might have kicked in before she panicked. So, if you have a choice, go bigger with your tow vehicle, and one designed specifically for towing.
The other lesson is to think through what you would do, how you would react, if your trailer got caught in a sway situation, either because of wind, or ruts, or whatever. Get that set in your mind so that if it ever happens you can stay calm and react properly. In hindsight, my wife realizes she should have just kept the vehicle moving smoothly while she slowly steered out of the ruts, and perhaps eased up on the gas pedal. She should have never touched the brakes or downshifted while the trailer was swaying.
We were so lucky in so many ways. So we tried to stay focused on the good things as we worked through this, everything we were thankful for, and everything has turned out just fine.
So now you’ve heard the “dark side” of towing with a 4 Runner, you can make your own decisions. Read about our experience here. And about why we switched from a 4 Runner to a Toyota Tundra here.
Personally, we’re glad we upgraded from our beloved 4 Runner to a Tundra. If the 4 Runner is rated for 5,000 lbs, make sure that the trailer weight doesn’t exceed that capacity. The 1885 in Tom’s situation was 3700# dry weight. The gross weight was likely (just like our 1685) scary close to the 5,000# limit. Safety first! With a 4 Runner, keeping the trailer dry weight under 3000# is probably a safer/good idea. We see a lot of 4 Runners & other smaller tow vehicles towing smaller Casitas, A-Liners, R-Pods and pop-ups with no problem – and no weight/tow safety issues.
Personally I’m just glad we didn’t experience what Tom & his wife went through, although it’s apparent to me that we were lucky. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts or experiences. Cheers! Jan