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Towing Motorcycles with a Car

Posted by on November 20, 2012
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Bob Ward

Fiction author with a zest for adventure travel. Blogs, tweets, videos, and pins for research and fun. He also hosts Ward's Adventure Travel Research & Trip Journal, a weekly podcast available on EFN, iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and more.

A lot of people have the mistaken notion that cars shouldn’t be used to tow.

Here’s the basic idea…

Towing a motorcycle with a carImage via SouthBayRiders.com

This is a Smart car towing a KTM XCR-W. This guy claimed to get 33 mpg while towing at an average speed of 65-70. The trailer looks to be an inexpensive, garden variety flatbed, such as those you can buy almost anywhere.

This picture illustrates (rather effectively) that a car can tow a motorcycle and trailer.

To be sure, the total weight here is less than 1000 lbs.

I called and asked the following question to a local Toyota dealer, a hitch installation company, and a trailer sales company:

Can I safely trailer two lightweight motorcycles behind a Toyota Camry?

In all three cases, the vagueness of their answers frustrated me. I got the impression they wanted minimal responsibility in determining what I should or shouldn’t tow. They basically said, “As long as you don’t exceed the tow rating on the vehicle or the hitch, you should be fine…in theory.” (In fact, the Toyota dealer I contacted neither sells nor installs aftermarket hitches.)


 

After considerable research online (where confusion and contradiction reigned supreme), I dragged out my vehicle’s owners manual, flipped to the index, and located the page on Trailer Towing.

Here’s what I figured out for my Camry:
(Disclaimer–read your own manual, and do your own math, before you tow.)

1) For your safety and the safety of others, you must not overload your vehicle or trailer.

2) Before towing, make sure the total trailer weight, gross vehicle weight, and trailer tongue load are all within the limits.

PART A – THE TRAILER

Total Trailer Weight (trailer weight plus its cargo load) must not exceed 2,000 lbs.

  • So this means my Camry’s towing capacity (aka tow rating) is 2,000 lbs.
  • I can tow 2,000 lbs of Total Trailer Weight behind the car
  • The trailer has its own separate axle and weight limits, which have nothing to do with how much the car can pull. Trailers have their own certification label and specs. This is the least of my concerns since I know the trailer won’t collapse under the weight of my 2 dirt bikes.
  • For motorcycle hauling, calculating gross trailer weight is simple because you’re dealing with known weights:
    • Weight of the Trailer
    • Weight of the Bikes
My Trailer Example:
item lbs
Lightweight motorcycle trailer
Suzuki dr-z400
Honda Xr650L 
350
317
346 
Total Trailer Weight 1,013 (well under Camry’s Tow Rating)
 
Note: My manual says, “If the total trailer weight exceeds 453 kg (1,000 lb.), trailer breaks are required.” So I will probably need trailer breaks to be safe. Also, it says make sure you hook up all the safety chains between trailer and hitch, which is common knowledge.
 
PART B – THE CAR
 
Gross (Total) Vehicle Weight is the sum of the empty vehicle (aka curb weight), people, luggage, fuel, hitch, and trailer tongue load. The GVW must not exceed the GVWR.
  • My GVWR from certification label on the doorjamb: 4,180 lbs.
  • The total weight of the loaded car has to stay under this.
  • Has nothing to do with the weight of the trailer.
  • 4,180 minus 3,120 (Camry’s curb weight) leaves 1,060 lbs available for people, luggage, fuel, hitch, tongue weight.
  • Safe towing and stopping requires GVW stays below GVWR.
My Gross Vehicle Weight Example:
item lbs
2 adult men (180 x2) 360
All luggage and gear (est) 400 <–stay below
18.5 Gallons Gas @ 8 lbs each 148
Hitch – Draw-Tite Class 1 32
Trailer tongue load (see below) 101
Added Vehicle Weight 1,041
Curb Weight 3,120
GVW 4,161 (leaving 19 lbs to spare)
 
Trailer Tongue Load (the extra weight pushing down on the hitch, which adds to the total vehicle weight) must not exceed 200 lbs (straight from my owner’s manual).
  • The hitch will be rated for this load
  • Distribute bikes on trailer so that 9-11% of total trailer weight is loaded onto the hitch via the trailer’s tonue. (I’ll use the bathroom scale technique)
  • Never load more weight behind the trailer’s axles than in front. 40% in rear; 60% in front.
  • Main tongue weight issues: too little downward pressure on the hitch can lead to trailer sway; too much can lead to steering problems.
My tongue weight example:
item lbs
Bob’s Total Trailer Weight 1,013
Approximately 10% on Tongue 101
Load distribution (bikes only=664 lbs) 398 front (60%); 266 back (40%)

 

THE END 


Side note: A transmission cooler may be a smart idea, but since it doesn’t seem to be a safety issue (just an out of pocket expense if the transmission burns up), it’s the least of my concerns, especially considering my total trailer weight will only be about half of the Camry’s maximum tow limit of 2,000 lbs. Keeping well under the limits is how I prefer to roll.

I had considered adding several other links I found on the internet, but since they generally just added a bunch of extra complication and vernacular, I decided to leave that out. In the end, I found my owner’s manual explained everything I needed to know.

I will add this though…

My plan is to have U-Haul install the hitch on my car, because instead of buying a trailer (which I’ll then just have to store at home), I’ll simply rent a lightweight trailer whenever I need to, which, in reality, will be infrequently. Even at $20 per day rental fees, I can rent a trailer once a month for several years before matching the price of buying my own.

Men tend to buy things they don’t really need, such as chain saws, lawn tillers, trailers, etc.

Last note, I spent way too long on this post, and blew a weeks worth of other topics to make sure I understood everything correctly. I nearly said to hell with it, but I’m glad I didn’t. I needed to get a solid handle on the math of towing motorcycles with a car. If I discover anything else important, I’ll come back and update.

U-Haul Trailer and Towing Tips

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4 Responses to Towing Motorcycles with a Car

  1. Zack

    I am currently on the market for a motorcycle Trailer for my 1981 Honda xl 185s. its a very small bike. So I would need a Small trailer. Any recommendations??? also once the hitch is installed on the first car. is it possible to transfer over the hitch?

    • Bob Ward

      Zack, thanks for asking. Like my reply to Ganesh, I know I’m WAY late on this post…but luckily yours was saved by Akismet as legitimate. I personally like aluminum trailers. Although they’re often more expensive, they are lightweight and don’t rust or flake paint. Did you buy a trailer yet? The XL 185 can’t be too heavy. I have a Yamaha DT175 and it’s very light and easy to ride and lug around. I don’t know why you couldn’t transfer a hitch; however, I doubt I’d worry about it. I’d just charge an extra $50 for the car when I sold it.

  2. Ganesh

    Bob,

    Thanks so much for taking time to come up with such details. Even I had trouble figuring with toyota folks for my RAV4.
    Now with the manual & your description I feel quite comfortable.

    • Bob Ward

      You’re very welcome, Ganesh. Out of 11,000 comments, only 2 were legitimate: yours and Zack’s. The rest were dumped by Akismet just now. My reply is long overdue, I know, but I was so sick of spammers, and I only figured out Akismet this morning.

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