The Great American Anti-Towing Conspiracy

Son Will on the day we “towed” four houses in 1997

Scion does not recommend towing a trailer… your vehicle was not designed for towing.” Welcome to the great American anti-towing conspiracy. Manufacturers of anything less than a big SUV or pick-up are trying to take away our God-given right to tow with our cars. For a guy who’s towed everything from a Radio Flyer wagon behind a pedal-powered John Deere sidewalk tractor, to a three-bedroom house, I feel like I’m being singled out. Of course, there’s a possibility that I’m the cause as well as the target of this jihad. A lot of lawyers do drive the Ventura Freeway, and one of them may well have seen my spectacular stunt with a trailer.

Before I recount the creative maneuver with which I simultaneously occupied all four lanes of “the world’s busiest freeway” at sixty-five mph, let’s look at the prejudice American would-be towers are up against …

in Europe, Yaris’ are magically able to tow

On Toyota’s UK website, the Yaris is credited with a towing capacity of 1050kg/2315lbs. That’s right in line with the old rule of thumb that a car can safely tow an amount equal to its own weight.

But here in the land of the (not so) free, the Yaris’ owner’s manual admonishes: “Toyota does not recommend towing a trailer with your vehicle.” The unnamed author goes on to give a partial pass to our northern neighbors: “In Canada only, total weight of cargo and trailer not to exceed 700lbs.” Please leave your trailers at the border? Perhaps this partial exemption reflects Canada’s status as being somewhere between English and American. But the logic is lost on me.

Rated to tow 4400lbs, but only in Europe

Maybe it’s a blatant tactic by Toyota to meet Tundra sales goals, by forcing us tow-heads into buying that over-achieving tug (rated for 10,000+lbs). But Honda is in on the conspiracy too. The CRV weighs 3600lbs and offers 166hp, about the same as an old gen Explorer. In Europe, where folks often buy CUV’s specifically for their towing capacity, the CRV is rated to tow 2000kg/4400lbs. And in the tow-aphobic US? A measly 1500lbs!

It wasn’t always like this. In the sixties, you’d commonly see 40hp VW Beetles pulling a trailer. In 1976, my VW Beetle died in Ohio heading back to Iowa, so we left it and hitch-hiked the rest of the way. My girlfriend’s Mom was driving a 70hp Corolla, which was rated to tow 1800lbs, exactly the weight of my VW. She generously offered it. Towing the Bug home, the Corolla never broke a sweat.

And during my multiple Peugeot 404 days, I had a tow bar all set to go in order to rescue other 404s, and drove the tandem Peugeots all over the LA freeway network. They never broke a sweat either.

The Long Trailer

Which I can’t say for myself when I nearly shut down the 101.

It was 1986. We had just bought our first house, in Woodland Hills. I rented a big double-axle twelve-foot trailer to haul debris and junk to the dump. My Mexican helper was a zealous worker, loading lots of broken concrete into the back end of the trailer. I remember glancing at the warning sign about having 60 percent of the weight ahead of the axles. But any fleeting thought of relevancy or concern was quickly overpowered by the testosterone-fueled urge to PULL!

That trailer must have weighed about three times as much as the Jeep Cherokee tug. I managed to squeeze into the perpetually crowded Ventura freeway.

how it could have ended

When our rig (finally) hit 65 in the right lane, the trailer began oscillating and fishtailing, which escalated exponentially. The next thing I knew, the Jeep was being swung wildly from side to side, like the tail on a dog. One moment, we were facing towards the shoulder, then across all the lanes facing the center divider. The Jeep was utterly out of control; there was nothing to do but hang on for dear life, waiting for the fishtailing trailer to roll and/or get creamed by the four lanes of traffic behind us.

Fortunately, the other drivers (and that corporate attorney) were on the ball and held back, in awe of our mad gyrations. When enough speed was scrubbed off and stability resumed, we found ourselves four lanes over, in the narrow left shoulder up against the center divider, where we sat bathed in sweat.

I had no choice but to steel myself, get back in the traffic, and fight my way across four lanes while keeping the speed below fifty. When we finally pulled off on the right shoulder, my ashen-faced helper tumbled out, got on his knees and crossed himself, before we started re-arranging the trailer’s load.

Having learned that cardinal lesson of towing, I’m a hair more cautious now. But I still believe that cars, by their nature, are “designed for towing.” So I always carry a tow rope in the old Ford pick-up instead of an AAA card. More than once, Stephanie has schlepped me home with the Forester. I don’t even want to know what its tow rating is; it’s survived just fine. And I’ve found an after-market hitch for the xB, rated for 2000lbs.

[Update: This was originally written in 2008. I did buy a hitch for my Xb, but never got around to mounting it, because shortly afterwards, someone stole my utility trailer. Oh well. But if I find the right trailer at the right price…]