Everyone said it can’t be done … or worse, it isn’t safe. But so far, we’re convinced it’s “the little engine that could”. Towing our travel trailer with a 6 cylinder Toyota 4 Runner apparently isn’t conventional RV wisdom. Especially when our first trip involved over 10,000 miles, cross country through mountains and flatlands, through desert heat as well as 6″ of snow. People would stop in campgrounds across the USA and ask “can you really tow that trailer with that tow vehicle?” (UPDATE: Please also read “The Dark Side of Towing a Travel Trailer with a 4 Runner”, click here)
When I wanted a travel trailer to explore USA National Parks, David agreed with one major condition: it had to be a trailer we can pull with our existing tow vehicle … a 2006 6 cylinder Toyota 4 Runner. Luckily our 4 Runner already had a factory tow package including extra transmission cooler (whatever that means). Rated for 5,000 lbs towing capacity, we knew that after almost any trailer was loaded, we were pushing the limits of our little 4 Runner.
The Lance 1685 fit our needs … approx 3800 lbs dry weight (we figure almost 5000 lbs loaded) and just under 21 feet bumper to hitch, with 45 gallon black/fresh/gray water tanks and 2 axles. We travel with empty tanks other than just a bit of “emergency water” in the fresh water tank.
We added a Fastway E-2 weight distribution hitch with 600 pound round sway bars, heavy duty rear suspension and expensive Michelin tires (David’s choice), and away we went.
That’s not to say we went fast … we just went. There’s something of a liberating feeling knowing you can’t go over about 55-60 mph – slower on long uphill climbs. We just stay in the slow lane and enjoy the ride. Vehicles whishing around us all on their way in a frenzy to get wherever as fast as they can … we decided we like the slow lane.
Someone told us about a 2/2/2 guideline – no more than 200 miles a day, camp set up by 2 and stay at least 2 nights. When we were moving cross country, we varied the guideline to include “travel days” – we’d leave at a civilized time in the morning and drive until 4-ish – so maybe 5-7 hour drive days to get across Texas or Kansas.
A few more considerations … Lance built the 1685 to be towed by a Honda Pilot, which as near as I can tell has a tow rating of 4500 lbs, 500 less than our 4 Runner. Not sure how comfortable that would be. There were times when despite being in low gears, the 4 Runner was straining. Going up and down hills, we’d always gear down.
The 4 Runner has a 22 gallon gas tank. At 10-13 mpg, that gives us only about a 200-230 miles range before having to stop for more gasoline. It wasn’t really a problem, although while out west, there were a few times we filled up before we needed to just because we were unsure when we’d find another gas station.
Another consideration: Route Variations & Flexibility. We’re flexible. For the first two months of our out west trip, we planned our route to make sure we weren’t going over 12% grade mountain passes if we could avoid them. And we really didn’t re-route that included any more distance, just different routes than the most direct route sometimes.
But the May drive from Durango to Denver was different. The day we were scheduled to leave there were blizzard conditions forecast over Wolf Creek Pass, the highest pass on the trip so far. Blizzard doesn’t sound encouraging in any vehicle, let alone a 4 Runner without snow tires pulling an almost 5,000 lb travel trailer. Ugh. So we left a day earlier and drove the long way back to Interstate 25. Turned out it took a bit longer, but it was an easy drive, when the pass did end up with blizzard conditions – smart move on our part.
I figure if that was the only serious deviation from plan to error on the part of safety in the 4 months we’d been traveling with the trailer, life was all good. It’s all about attitude, no “got to go no matter what” macho attitudes in our camp. 🙂
On the other hand, we discovered we love dirt road driving – NOT pulling the trailer, just exploring – Cottonwood Canyon Road, House Rock Road, Hole in the Rock Road … the list goes on, but the reality is the 4 Runner is well suited to dirt roading – good ground clearance and the ability to negotiate ruts/washboarded dirt roads. We chose good weather, wouldn’t want to try it in wet weather, but for what we did it was a wonderful way to reach trailheads and arches we couldn’t have seen otherwise. The Wave and Grosnever Arch come to mind.
We have no major excursions planned until next summer when we’ll head west once again … this time to Glacier National Park and beyond. We’ll keep our “little engine that could” 4 Runner until then and likely do alot of weekend and weeklong camping throughout the Midwest and Northern Midwest. But for the Glacier trip, it’s possible we might look at a different tow vehicle. It’s also possible it might end up being another 4 Runner! But time will tell.
Any other crazies out there towing with an “undersized, unsafe” 6 cylinder vehicle on a 5,000 lb trailer? Please leave a comment and share. You can even feel free to tell us how dangerous what we’re doing is and leave photos of larger, more capable tow vehicles flipped on the side of the road … we’ve seen & heard lots of tales of woe … 🙂 Cheers! Jan
#towvehicle, #roadtrip, #4Runner, #Lance