How Much Trailer Can I Tow?

Hensley Arrow and AirstreamThis is the single most popular question we get asked. Folks will watch our free video, where we demonstrate the sway control effectiveness of the Hensley Arrow by towing a 35′ Airstream at 45mph through a slalom course. Yes, the video is real. Despite accusations of Hensley being the only RV company with a hi-tech special effects video lab, everything in the video actually happened. In fact, most of us have towed some very large trailers with sedans and light trucks.

Does that mean you should hook up the Honda Accord to a 30′ trailer? Probably not.

The purpose of the Hensley Hitch is to give you more stability than possible with a conventional hitch. The projection of the pivot point allows your rig to behave with even more stability than a 5th-wheel. One of the issues we have with tow ratings is that they allow more weight with a 5th-wheel than with a travel trailer. Why? Stability. Weight is weight. Once you’ve taken stability out of the towing equation–which is what the Hensley Hitch does–you can tow a travel trailer that is equal in size and weight to a 5th-wheel.

Trailer Sway

You will hear folks from Hensley Mfg. speak often about trailer sway. Trailer sway is the #1 enemy of the trailer owner. Trailer sway has caused more accidents, destroyed more vacations, and taken more lives than any other danger the RVer may encounter. Eliminating–not controlling–trailer sway should be at the top of every potential trailer buyer’s checklist when they walk onto the dealer lot. If the RV industry did its job, no one would ever place more importance on the color of the curtains than in the sway control hitch. It would be like buying a car based on the interior color, then saving money by removing the brakes.

Yes, we’re that serious about it. You should be, too.

Travel Trailer Size

That brings us back to the question–how much trailer can I tow?

There is no hard and fast rule for this. It depends on several factors:

  1. Your vehicle’s tow rating. I never said this didn’t matter. It gives you a good starting point. You may be fine towing more. You may want to tow less. Remember, the advertised weight of a trailer is the “dry” weight. You’ll add about 1500 to 2000 pounds to that after you fill it with water and your collection of vintage cast iron.
  2. How many miles per year are you towing. The weekend warrior will probably tow less than a thousand miles per year. You are probably using the tow vehicle for daily activities and putting an additional 20-25k on the odometer every year. Believe me, that’s wearing down the vehicle more than the towing miles. Yes, you’ll replace parts sooner than if you didn’t tow at all, but that’s part of the cost. No trailer is weightless, so there really isn’t much difference on vehicle wear between a 5,000 trailer and an 8,000 pound trailer. Have the vehicle maintenance fund built up. Eventually, you’ll need it. Of course, if you plan on being a full-timer and putting 20,000 tow miles on your vehicle every year, you’ll want to beef up the vehicle, buy a lighter trailer, or just plan on spending more on maintenance. It’s all about planning.
  3. Your experience. This is probably the best method to determine what you can tow. After you’ve towed, parked, and lived in a trailer for a few years, you have a good idea of what you can handle. I mention parking because few take it into a consideration. A 30′ trailer and an extended cab pick-up equal to about 50′ of parking fun. When campgrounds say they have spaces for 30′ trailers, they apparently assume you don’t plan on bringing a tow vehicle with it. State Parks are notorious for 10′ wide roads in front of the sites, with many young saplings awaiting their fate as you swing the truck around. While the Hensley Hitch shortens that pivot by about 3 feet, you still need some space. Take that into consideration before you buy the Silverado crew cab with the 8′ bed.

Jeep with Hensley Hitch

Travel Trailer Size…do the Math

So it is a combination of several factors. Using myself as an example, I fall under the weekend warrior category (no, Hensley does not give us 6 months a year to “test” our products…still working on that). I have a Chevy Avalanche that has a tow rating of 7200lbs. My 33′ Sunnybrook has a dry weight of 7200lbs., so it weighs about 8500lbs. loaded. The truck tows the trailer easily. Parking with the short wheel based Avalanche is a dream. And yes, I have had to replace some axle components at a cost of about $700. This was after about 80,000 miles.

Here’s where you do the math. You can buy a 3/4 ton truck with a 6.0l engine for about an additional $10,000. You will use about $500 more gas every year as well. Was the trade-off worth it for me? Absolutely. Would a full-timer heading to Alaska be comfortable with the possibility of a breakdown somewhere in the Northwest Territories? I think probably not. I’m going with the 3/4 ton or the smaller trailer (and two spare tires).

The nice thing about full-timers and snowbirds is that most have been towing for a while. They know what the risks are and can make the buying decision based on a long history. Most first-time buyers are the weekend warriors. I always advise them to keep the trailer around 27′. I find those to have plenty of room, full slide-outs, and can easily fit into any public or private campground. With that starting point, you can determine where to go for your next trailer. The one I refer to as the “empty-nester.”

If you have any questions at all, we’re all RVers here at Hensley Mfg. We’ve all been towing for a minimum of twenty years, so we’ve got a pretty good database of knowledge. We’re happy to help. Give us a call at 1-800-410-6580.

See you under the awning.


  1. Jeff Newkirk says

    You left out the importance of the ability to actually stop your rig. One of the reasons that there is a recommended max weight that a tow rig can tow safely is the amount of braking the tow rig has. Yes, I know any travel trailer of any size is equipped with very good brakes. But in a worse case scenario, like they quit working, all the weight must be stopped by the tow rig.

    Lets see a show of hands of the RV owners that have had this nasty surprise!

    We do our maintenance, we do our safety checks on all our systems at the start of our travels and during them as well, but sometimes either due to simply aging components, or something as simple as corrosion in the connections to the electric brakes, they can, ‘go away’, either completely, or partially. When this happens, you most likely notice it on a long down grade, and isn’t it just thrilling to suddenly realize that towing an RV that well exceeds your maximum suggested weight was not such a great idea.

    And there is always the joy of encountering an 6,000′ change in elevation on a mountain pass with too little horse power.

    Now this might not be a problem say if you travel only in the great planes states. But trust me I have been towing RV’s for over 30 years. I used to ALWAYS exceed the recommended towing weight of my RV by a lot! Even now, I still exceed the recommendations, but by far less.

    Arrive alive is such a nice feeling, and getting home to be able to share the beauty you saw on your travels is a lot better than talking about the accidents, and injuries, and for-shortened vacation plans.

  2. Ken & Sue Kill says

    We have come to be fearful of something far more dangerous than drivetrain component failure, loss of brakes, tire failure or ~~~~. If you are involved in an accident while towing an overweight/overloaded trailer, you could be facing a letigious barrister whose only intent is to focus on your equiptment than the fact that his/her client was at fault. It is about the same as having a couple of cold ones last night and having a teenager run a red light cashing into your vehicle. You’re a drunk driver regardless. DO NOT TAKE THIS RISK. Tow within your legal limits.

  3. says

    We have recently purchased a 2009 Open Range Journeyer Travel Trailer JT337RLS. The trailer is light in the hitch and is approximately 36′ long. Open range added weight to the hitch to help with the sway problem. We also have a Reese duel cam hitch. The sway problem still is there. Will your Hensley Arrow help with our Trailer? and what guarantees do you have if the hitch does not work? Thanks, Jimmy Dreiss … Jimmy – The Hensley Arrow Sway Control hitch is 100% guaranteed to eliminate trailer sway in your Open Range. If you’re not completely satisfied that all trailer sway is eliminated, return your Hensley Arrow within 60 days for a full refund of your purchase price. We call it the 60 day test drive. We stand behind our products. Give it a try.

    • Hensley Mfg. 1-800-410-6580 says

      I can guarantee that the Hensley Hitch will eliminate your trailer sway. We’ve been doing this for 20 years now and have never failed on that promise. You’ve got 60 days from the time you start towing, so if you buy now but don’t tow until July, you’ve got July and August to try it out. Give Terry a call tomorrow at 1-800-410-6580 x117. He’ll give you all the details.