Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all wheel drive, and weight-distributing hitches - Fiberglass RV


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Old 04-16-2011, 07:40 PM   #1
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Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all wheel drive, and weight-distributing hitches

Hello all,
I joined here last year but I think this is my first post. Now I am in need of a vehicle and would like to get something that will tow one of these trailers. I've been reading a lot of the threads in this section and while I've learned a lot I'm also getting confused. I can't find this information on a search so I decided to just ask. Right now I have 2 questions; they're on separate subjects so I'll give them separate threads.

This first one is about the drive type and how - or whether - it's related to the hitch type. I like FWD - 4 of the 5 cars I've owned (in 35 years) have had it and I know some of you here have TVs with it. But I've also heard that it's not a good thing to tow with - maybe because the drive wheels are not near the hitch?

After some reading here I started thinking about smaller vans, like minivans or Astros, because they'd hold more than a car and get better mileage than the full-size vans; whatever I get will be my only vehicle and I don't want a gas hog. But I'm not too familiar with minivans and some of the tow ratings I saw for them on Camping Life's page seemed low - 3500# or less. I'd read somewhere - on another forum, I think - that the total weight of the trailer should be no more than 75-80% of the tow rating, which would drop that 3500# down to about 2600#. The Astro/Safari line had a higher tow rating - 5000# - so I started looking locally for one of those.

I found an AWD Astro van on my local Craigslist; it seemed to be in good shape and the mileage and price were right. But the seller told me it didn't have a hitch, so I figured there was no tow package either. Camping Life's page mentioned things like a transmission cooler and a weight-distributing hitch. I was trying to get an idea of the total cost of setting this van up for towing so, figuring I could get a hitch anywhere, I started by calling a local transmission place (an AAMCO branch I'd used before) just to get a price on the cooler.

The mechanic I talked to gave me that price and then said they could also get a hitch installed. I had the tow ratings page in front of me while I was on the phone so I mentioned the weight-distributing hitch, mainly to get a price. But before we got into that the mechanic gently asked (trying not to offend me) if I would have help hitching and unhitching; he'd seen one of these hitches used and said it takes a fair amount of strength - or more than one person - to deal with the two bars they have.

I've read the thread on these hitches and how heavy they are and I've checked out the photos someone linked to. Based on that thread and what the mechanic said I've started to have second thoughts about buying something that would need this kind of hitch. I am going to be traveling alone - full-timing, at least for a while - and about the most I can lift is 30#. Plus I have a bad back; it doesn't usually bother me but it does make me very careful about not overdoing things.

So now I'm wondering if I should stay with a rear-drive vehicle just to avoid having to use a weight-distributing hitch. But - is that why this kind of hitch is recommended? Or is there some other reason? I've seen lots of possibilities in the local ads but have been reluctant to check any of them out in person because I'm just not sure what will work for me.

I know I'm doing this backwards and should get the trailer first. But I can't afford both and I really would like to stop taking the bus everywhere. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - drive wheels, towing, and the hitch type.

Meg
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:25 PM   #2
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Wow I get to go first, The Chevy Astro or GMC Safari are both a good choice, Rear wheel or all wheel drive, either one is good except they have stopped building them so you would be buying used. U Haul hitch world can set you up with the hitch and the wiring, they install hitches. As for the WDH, I don't think you're going to need that unless you're getting a really big trailer. You will get more answers here than you'll no what to do with.
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Old 04-16-2011, 09:30 PM   #3
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If your towing within the allowed towing specs of your tow vechile you really should not need a WDH. I tow with an all wheel drive and have no issues with it what so ever. I dont use a WDH as not only is it not needed but the car manufacture does not support its use.
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Old 04-17-2011, 01:34 AM   #4
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Hi, Meg

There's a thread discussion about Astros at the Airstream forum that you might find useful: Chevy Astro/GMC Safari as tow vehicle - Airstream Forums
Of course, bear in mind that the Airstream is a lot heavier than most of the trailers in this forum.
You don't say what you have in mind for a trailer, so it's kind of hard to make recommendations. There seem to be two basic groups in this forum, and the dividing line between them is the magic 2000lb. trailer/200 lb tongue weight combination. That's where WD hitches start to come into play, for one thing. Also, if you're thinking of staying in the lighter class, there may be smaller, still roomy but more gas-friendly TV's we can recommend.
Otherwise, I agree with the above posts- the Astro will pull just about any of our trailers, and need for WD hitch would be per your TV's maker's recommendations.
For what it's worth, if I were shopping, I'd mentally add $1,000 to the asking price of a vehicle that lacked a tow package, as it can cost that much or more to have the necessities installed.
You should also take a careful look at the components of any preexisting "tow package" on a for-sale rig. That term can mean almost anything, from the installation of a "sports bar" for carrying a bicycle rack to a homemade 2 1/2 inch pintle-hook receiver, and light connections etc. are even more all-over-the-map.
You might find the thread at Recommendation for an electric brake controller? instructive on that subject. In that case, the vehicle's "factory tow package" is turning out to need some expensive improvements to satisfy Jane's towing requirements.

Hope this helps!

Francesca
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Old 04-17-2011, 09:19 AM   #5
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We tow with a front wheel drive Honda CRV that has 'on demand' 4 wheel drive. (On Demand 4 wheel drive refers to the ability of the car to detect front wheel slippage. When this happens power is delivered to the rear wheels as well as the front. Over our 7 years we have only noticed the 4 wheel drive kick in a few times, each time an appropriate response.)

If the car is properly balanced, both front and rear wheel drive work well. I've seen both front and rear wheel drive cars improperly loaded where the front wheels do not have enough weight, headlights pointed skyward and steering too light.

Our Honda is very weight biased towards the front drive wheels, about 60% of the car's weight is on the front wheels, as a result reasonable hitch weight has little effect on the car's balance. I will say we try to keep the hitch weight down and do not overload the Honda.

We do not use a WD hitch but usually use a sway bar though I have never seen the Scamp 16 or Casita 16 sway. (When we began towing someone suggested that a sway bar is helpful in emergencies so we own one.)

As to the 75 to 80% number you refered to, this is commonly used in Europe where it is recommended that the trailer not weigh more than 85% of the weight of the tow vehicle.

We intitially choose the Honda CRV as a tow vehicle because we owned the Honda and as a result selected trailers we could tow. We have towed a 15.5 Sunline, a Casita 16 and a Scamp 16. The Casita 16 was the heaviest of the group, when presented with the oppourtunity to buy a Casita 17, we turned it down because it was very 'nose heavy'.

This is our fourth year of towing and are gone 6-7 months of the year. We have been across the USA and Canada in our trailers. On long up hills we do have to down shift to maintain speed, (as well we tend to down shift on long downward runs to keep speed down). We do average 23 mpg towing the Scamp and Casita and 20 mpg towing the Sunline, a more boxy trailer.

This winter we bought the Scamp 16 and will be soon towing it home to NH. We liked it's side bath layout, its taller inside height and it's lighter weight.

Next year will be our first year of extensive Scamp towing as we plan to loop the USA again though this summer we are attending the fiberglass rally on Prince Edward Island.

Wish you well in your tow vehicle and trailer selection, though they are important, the most important thing is just being in an RV and seeing America.

Norm
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Old 04-17-2011, 10:42 AM   #6
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Meg,

I PREFER all-wheel-drive or 4 wheel drive. I would probably have gotten stuck in sand or mud on a few occations with out it.

Art
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Old 04-17-2011, 10:52 AM   #7
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Hi Meg. I would avoid rear wheel drive if I lived in Denver. Not good in snow. What size trailer are you thinking about? Many members pull a 13 ft trailer with cars like a Subaru. With a larger trailer, a truck or van might better provide the power needed especially in the mountains. Good luck, Raz
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Old 04-17-2011, 12:21 PM   #8
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Thank you all for this information. To answer some questions - I'm not planning on staying in Denver; I want to do some traveling and if/when I settle down again I'm leaning toward the West Coast (the Pacific Northwest). But I do have family on the East Coast and there may be times when I'll have to deal with snow - which is fine with me, I actually like snow .

That's pretty much why I was thinking of an AWD vehicle. I thought the Astro was the only van that offered it but have since discovered some of the minivans do too. But they have lower tow ratings and I'm thinking when I do buy a trailer I'll probably do better with a 16'. And most of the minivan ratings I've seen stop at about 3500# - which seems to be pushing things for a longer trailer.

About rear drive - the only rear drive car I've owned was a Volvo. It did OK in snow but I'd heard they were deliberately weighted for that. When it died I bought a FWD/4WD Subaru wagon. I rarely had to use the 4WD but it came in handy once in a while - mostly when I was stopped and wanted to get started again.

I'd thought about buying a small truck but only if it had 4WD - IMHO, and based on the experience of a good friend, rear-drive pickups are just too accident-prone - not enough weight back there.

Part of the problem is that my budget limits me to nothing newer than about the 2000 model year so I can't take advantage of some of the innovations newer vehicles have. When I first started reading these threads I looked up the CRVs, RAV4s, Outbacks, and Foresters; I can't afford any of those.

I do have a two other questions. Someone mentioned a sway bar. How does that compare to what a weight-distributing hitch does - aren't they both supposed to stabilize the trailer? And can a sway bar be managed by one person?

Meg
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Old 04-17-2011, 12:56 PM   #9
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The sway bar should be pretty easy to manage. It goes onto an extra ball next to the hitch ball, and from there back to the trailer. There's a friction setting screw-in thing to adjust how much you want. I've never had one but read that sway bars may need to be disconnected before backing sharply into a campsite, to avoid bending the bar.

13' and 16' FG trailers are usually not tongue-heavy to the point where you'd need weight distribution, yet plenty enough tongue weight (unless you load the trailer way heavy in its rear) to avoid sway in almost all situations. But if you ever did feel any sway, oscillation of the trailer like a dog's wagging tail, the simple remedy is to not panic... don't slam on the brakes!... rather, maintain vehicle speed while using the brake controller lever (hand control) to apply trailer brakes only.

My 2008 Highlander has a 5000 lb. tow capacity, and I routinely tow 16' trailers (every day for work, actually, as well as for travel) in the 3000 to 4000 lb range without any sway control or weight distribution. I have not experienced sway with these trailers even once, with a couple hundred thousand miles driven. You should be fine. (I did have frightening sway once with a tiny 4x8 utility trailer, though! Only 800 lbs too! It was loaded too heavy on the back and there was NO weight on the hitch. See the difference?)
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Old 04-17-2011, 04:09 PM   #10
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There is one thing I love about internet forums.

There are no experts and you can't be held liable for bad advice!
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Old 04-17-2011, 04:31 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CD Smith View Post
There is one thing I love about internet forums.

There are no experts and you can't be held liable for bad advice!
The thing I love about Internet forums is that people get to relate their experience which is what most members do. In a relatively short period of time, in the last couple of decades people are able to learn from a wide base of events. It is truly amazing and has been a world changer.

Norm
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Old 04-19-2011, 07:18 AM   #12
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They make light duty wd hitches for 350lbs and 400lbs the 400lb unit work in the range of 100 to 400 lbs and they are not that hard to load.

The requirement depends on the trailer and cars like Subaru and Corolla fwd do not require the 15% tongue weight 8% works fine was told.

We have two tanks and battery no box on front and tongue, weight was so light checked it with a bathroom scale.
The sheet on closet door says it requires a min of class II hitch and recommends a Load Equalizing Hitch to shift weight and reduce sway at highway speeds. The boler sheet says to have 202lbs empty min and up to 300lbs on the tongue. I can pick it up and walk with the trailer it is so light. Have to load extra up front to get the desired weight?
The Corolla requires trailer brakes and WD hitch to pull the trailer.
We will not win any races with our setup but love the mileage 80kmh/50mph (55mph max)

Original tires F-78X14 - 4ply b rated 1500lbs X2 3000lbs max maybe that explains the 300lbs tongue max in closet door?

Upgraded to st205r14 6ply c rated trailer tires they exceed the axle of 3500lbs it just feels safer not a legal requirement.
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Old 04-19-2011, 07:20 AM   #13
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In the end it is setup and that depends on trailer and TV combination.
fwd (front wheel drive)
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Old 04-19-2011, 07:34 AM   #14
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WD hitch to get the tongue requirement
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