Can a Compact Car Tow a Trailer?

by Gabrielle DeSantis

When you think about towing a camper or a trailer, your mind probably envisions a large SUV like a Chevy Tahoe or maybe a truck like a Ford F-150. Those vehicles can definitely get the job done, even if it’s a big job. But what if you only have a small trailer and a compact car? Can a small car tow, too?

Some compact cars can tow more than you think

2013 Kia Soul | Kia

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Compact cars are generally used for transporting up to five people while being fuel-efficient in the process. After all, they’re called “commuter cars” for a reason. Believe it or not, there are many new compact cars currently in the market that can tow up to 2,000 pounds despite their smaller, lightweight statures.

If you currently own a compact car and would like to know if it has a tow rating, then you can check the owner’s manual for one. According to Camper Class, the manual will contain the car’s tow capacity rating and hitch weight. Most small cars are tow rated at 1,000 to 1,500 pounds, however, some of them – like the Kia Soul and the Subaru Impreza – can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

What kind of trailer hitch would a compact car use?

A Class 1 Trailer Hitch
A Class 1 Trailer Hitch |

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Most compact cars will use a Class 1 trailer hitch, which is suitable for small campers and trailers. Typically, a Class 1 hitch is rated at a 2,000-pound towing capacity and a 200-pound tongue weight. The tongue weight is the weight that a loaded trailer puts on the hitch. It’s important to know since a tongue weight that’s too heavy can reduce traction to the front tires and reduce the car’s steering control. Too little tongue weight can cause the trailer to sway.

Crossroads Trailers reports that a good rule of thumb is to keep the weight under 80% of the car’s maximum tow capacity. While you’re searching in your car’s owner’s manual for a tow rating, be sure to look up your car’s “gross vehicle weight,” which is the actual weight of the car. Next, you can look for the car’s “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating,” which is the sum of the car’s weight plus the maximum weight that it can safely carry.

When shopping for a trailer, look for the “gross trailer weight,” which what the trailer will weigh when fully loaded. After gathering up all of these numbers, you can then calculate whether or not your car can tow the type of trailer that you need.

What if my car can’t tow the trailer I need?

If you find that your car can’t tow what you need, or if your car is not recommended for towing at all, then you’ll have to rent, borrow, or buy a truck or SUV. Simply put, there’s no other way around it considering you can’t cheat the laws of physics with a compact car.

If you do the calculations and find that your car might be at the limit when it comes to towing, then we suggest finding a larger vehicle for towing as well. Considering that a lot can go wrong when towing a large amount of weight with a small, it’s simply not worth the risk in some cases.   

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