Doing the math on towing a trailer

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Towing can be an effective way of moving stuff, but the cost may not be worth it. Image: Flickr / new_and_used_tires / CC-BY

If it is across town or across the country, hauling everything you need sometimes requires a trailer or big truck. Towing comes with an interesting set of challenges, and doing the math before you set out can save you money and stress.

Towing capacity

Towing requires, first and foremost, a vehicle that can handle it. Towing capacity for a vehicle is a rating for how much weight the vehicle can safely handle on its axles, struts, shocks and undercarriage. Usually, full towing capacity is listed in the owner’s manual and on the label attached to the frame inside the driver’s door. Exceeding towing capacity could do significant damage to your vehicle, so pay close attention to that rating.

The costs of towing

Towing anything with your vehicle comes with a cost and not just for extra fuel. To safely tow, you need to drive very carefully. This means going no faster than 55 miles per hour, giving yourself extra stopping distance, not making any sudden moves, changing lanes carefully and loading the trailer carefully. This means the trip takes longer, you will go through more fuel and there will be more wear and tear on your vehicle.

The cost per mile of towing

Generally, assume that towing any weight at all will reduce your gas mileage by at least 10 to 15 percent. If what you’re towing is roughly weight of your vehicle, effectively doubling the load, it will effectively halve gas mileage. Depending on the vehicle that you are driving, 55 miles per hour may not be the most efficient speed at which to drive, so be sure to take that into account.

[You can start looking for vehicles with heavy-duty towing power at Miller Dodge Chrysler Jeep.]

You should also add at least 25 percent to the maintenance cost per mile that driving your vehicle usually costs. All told, this means you should take your average cost per mile and add between 20 and 40 percent to determine the cost per mile of towing.

Is towing worth it?

If you have a significant amount of weight to haul, it may be worth considering renting a trailer, truck or moving company to do the hauling. Renting a truck means you will still be paying fuel and miles but avoiding wear and tear on your vehicle. You may also need to consider how you will move your own vehicle if the trip will be one-way. Most rental companies have a hefty one-way fee to pay, so figure that into the cost per mile of your trip. Towing can be worth the wear and tear if you will be making a short trip and have a vehicle that can easily tow the weight. If you are going to be making a longer trip, have an older car with a high cost-per-mile or a smaller vehicle without much towing power, it will often be worth it to pay for an alternative towing option.

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