FWD vs. AWD - Fiberglass RV

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Old 09-03-2016, 10:44 PM   #1
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Name: Albert
Trailer: Trillium (USA)
Posts: 9

We've been towing our Trillium 1300 with a truck. We would like to switch to an SUV for various reasons. We're looking for a used Toyota Highlander. There are a lot of used FWD Highlanders around here, many fewer AWD's. Should we hold out for an AWD? We would never tow on snow, and if the front wheels spin occasionally, such as in a hilly campground with dirt roads, I think we could work around that. The Trillium only weighs about 1700 lbs. loaded.

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Old 09-03-2016, 10:52 PM   #2
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Name: Jason
Trailer: BigFoot
British Columbia
Posts: 25
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that most AWDs are real-time systems, which means that they the rear only kicks in when the front are slipping, so in dry and normal condition, AWD == FWD (unless you have full time AWD like Subaru).

Even for a trillium, I think you will want to go with a tow package for your SUV no matter the drivetrain to protect the transmission.

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Old 09-04-2016, 07:15 AM   #3
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Name: Jon
Trailer: 2008 Scamp 13 Std
Posts: 3,578

We tow our Scamp 13 with a FWD Pilot. There have been a couple of occasions I have wished for AWD due to exactly what you describe: wheel slippage going uphill on a loose surface.

One local lake is three miles off the pavement, mostly downhill with one steep section. No problem getting in, but that one slope nearly defeated me coming out. Electronic stability control doesn't like wheel spin, so it shut down the throttle and braked the whole rig to a standstill halfway up. Had to back down, turn off ESC, and take another run.

I'd say if it's just campgrounds, FWD will be fine. If you plan much backroad travel on dirt or gravel, I'd hold out for AWD. And yes, with a used Highlander, you'll want to find one one with the factory tow package for the ungraded engine and transmission cooling and heavy-duty alternator. You may find that rules out a number of the FWD units.

BTW, most AWD systems operate as FWD under normal conditions. Even Subaru's system sends 90% of torque to the front wheels under normal conditions. But when slippage is detected, it can send up to 90% of torque to the rear. I owned a Subie for 14 years and it's a great system. My wife's current '06 CRV can only do up to a 50-50 torque split. The one Honda offers in the Pilot has a locking mode for low speed use in slippery conditions, which would have made a drama-free ascent on that lake access road. In short, AWD systems vary. You need to research the one you're looking at.
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Old 09-04-2016, 12:18 PM   #4
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Name: Michael
Trailer: Li'l Hauley
Posts: 4,523
My former '08 Highlander was full time AWD, with about a 60/40 power split between the axles. So is my current Lexus GX470. The hybrid HL has an electronic rear drive that kicks in when slippage is sensed.

I like AWD. Years ago I towed with a FWD Windstar minivan, and its front tires scrubbed quite a bit and wore prematurely. But you can correct this with a weight distributing hitch (like the Andersen No-Sway).
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... --Ecclesiastes 3
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Old 09-04-2016, 12:50 PM   #5
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Name: Albert
Trailer: Trillium (USA)
Posts: 9
There's something I hadn't thought of: if the vehicle has ESC, make sure it can be canceled when necessary. BTW, we're looking at the Pilot too.
I knew that current AWD systems are intelligent--the Subarus of the 1980's were "dumb" and got awful gas mileage for such a small car--so I was mainly concerned about the very first time that AWD "kicks in": when you write the check before you drive it off the lot.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Jason. We'll probably end up going for an AWD model, but I can see that some folks would never need it.
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