Towing with 2018 Highlander - Maiden Voyage - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-29-2018, 09:28 AM   #1
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Towing with 2018 Highlander - Maiden Voyage

I had some fears about towing our new, larger trailer with a Highlander. Recently back from our first trip in the mountains, I can report that we made a good choice.
Here are the specifics.
TV: 2018 Highlander LE with AWD and V-6. Towing capacity 5000.
TT: Escape 17A made by Escape Trailer Industries in B.C. Loaded wight was 3100, tongue weight 420.
Brake controller: Tekonsha Prodigy P2.
WDH: Curt TruTrack Trunnion Bar 17499.
The itinerary: Car camping in the Sierra Nevada, crossing the Central Valley and crossing a good number of high passes and summits at 8,000 to 10,000 feet.

The preparation:
Toyota certainly gives more support for towing to other vehicles in its lineup, such as the 4-Runner, the Sequoia, and, of course, the trucks. We ordered the Toyota hitch and wiring. The hitch is nicely integrated into the bumper, but there is no Toyota brake controller available and the wiring is only 4-pin, so you are forced to go third-party to pull more than 1000 lbs. The shop that installed the Tekonsha and the 7-pin connector said it was easier for them if we had the Toyota 4-pin wiring in place already.
Becasue some of the safety features of the Highlander use automatic braking, the Tekonsha was causing the vehicle to throw a fault when you used the manual override, for example when you are calibrating. During manual override, the brake controller energizes the brake light circuit even though you have not depressed the brake pedal. The Highlander didn't like that. Solution was to block that output from the controller using a one-way diode. The downside is that the brake lights will not illuminate when you slow down or stop using the manual override without also depressing the brake pedal at least slightly. When doing a calibration, make sure there is no one behind you and use a hand signal.

I tried doing without a WDH, taking on some of the hilly and curvy roads near home, but did not like the feeling. The rear suspension in the Highlander is too soft for that much tongue weight. Fortunately, the Curt 17499 has proven to be a terrific WDH. It has built-in fishtail control (also called sway-control), does not need special procedures for backing up or for maneuvering in a campground, is simple to mount and dismount, and gives a rock-solid performance on the road.

Next installment: The trip.
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Old 07-29-2018, 11:30 AM   #2
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Highlander maiden voyage: the trip

Gas mileage with the Highlander was better by 22% than what we got pulling the same trailer with our 2003 Tacoma, even though the Highlander is 400 pounds heavier. What makes the difference is a smarter engine (Variable-Valve Technology, etc.) and an automatic transmission that has more speeds: 8 rather than 4.

To track gas mileage, I split the 860-mile trip into two parts. Outbound we averaged 15 mpg., homeward-bound 17 mpg. There were more passes and summits on the outbound leg. Note that our overall mpg. with the Highlander at home when not towing is 25. Because the speed limit when towing in California is 55, I'm not going to tell you exactly how fast I was going. However, it was always under 60. The two fuel-economy killers when towing are hills and speed/wind-resistance.

The Highlander has a direct-shift mode which is terrific for descending hills. You still need to be prudent, though. If a requested shift would put you at or over the redline, the system will reject your request. So downshift ahead of time, keep your brakes relatively cool and your speed in a safe range.

The Highlander had just enough power for maintaining 55 over the passes, which was a big improvement over our 2003 Tacoma. I may have been able to do even better using direct-shift mode, so I'll try that the next time. In any case, if you want to be able to pull a 3100 pound trailer at 65 over any pass in North America, you'll need either a bigger engine or a turbo. Don't forget that the passes in the West are not only steep and long, they are also at high altitude, which reduces horsepower, especially if you don't have a turbo.

The ride was very smooth, noise level was remarkably low. When towing, I try to tune in to the feeling of the trailer, the forces it is putting on the tow vehicle. For that reason, I cancel the Lane Assist feature of the Highlander, which uses automatic steering. When automatic steering makes a correction, it feels like the trailer might be starting to fishtail because the vehicle is changing direction without my doing it myself. Incidentally, the Owner's Manual also recommends canceling Lane Assist when towing.

Stability in cross winds and when getting passed by semis was excellent, thanks in part to the very effective WDH with build-in fishtailing control, a Curt 17499 (see previous post). BTW, If you looking for info on the 17499, note that it is the same as the 17500 but with slighly softer trunion bars for the lower weight range of the Escape 17A.

We might end up with a truck for a TV again someday. One reason would be that we miss not having a "mud room", that is, a truck bed where you can carry stuff that gets dirty without having to worry about the upholstery as you do with an SUV. Another is that we would like higher clearance for access to certain trailheads. But in terms of being able to pull the Escape 17A to a campground, the Highlander does it with ease and comfort.
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Old 07-29-2018, 11:55 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Al Bear View Post
I had some fears about towing our new, larger trailer with a Highlander. Recently back from our first trip in the mountains, I can report that we made a good choice.
Here are the specifics.
TV: 2018 Highlander LE with AWD and V-6. Towing capacity 5000.
TT: Escape 17A made by Escape Trailer Industries in B.C. Loaded wight was 3100, tongue weight 420.
Brake controller: Tekonsha Prodigy P2.
WDH: Curt TruTrack Trunnion Bar 17499.
The itinerary: Car camping in the Sierra Nevada, crossing the Central Valley and crossing a good number of high passes and summits at 8,000 to 10,000 feet.

The preparation:
Toyota certainly gives more support for towing to other vehicles in its lineup, such as the 4-Runner, the Sequoia, and, of course, the trucks. We ordered the Toyota hitch and wiring. The hitch is nicely integrated into the bumper, but there is no Toyota brake controller available and the wiring is only 4-pin, so you are forced to go third-party to pull more than 1000 lbs. The shop that installed the Tekonsha and the 7-pin connector said it was easier for them if we had the Toyota 4-pin wiring in place already.
Becasue some of the safety features of the Highlander use automatic braking, the Tekonsha was causing the vehicle to throw a fault when you used the manual override, for example when you are calibrating. During manual override, the brake controller energizes the brake light circuit even though you have not depressed the brake pedal. The Highlander didn't like that. Solution was to block that output from the controller using a one-way diode. The downside is that the brake lights will not illuminate when you slow down or stop using the manual override without also depressing the brake pedal at least slightly. When doing a calibration, make sure there is no one behind you and use a hand signal.

I tried doing without a WDH, taking on some of the hilly and curvy roads near home, but did not like the feeling. The rear suspension in the Highlander is too soft for that much tongue weight. Fortunately, the Curt 17499 has proven to be a terrific WDH. It has built-in fishtail control (also called sway-control), does not need special procedures for backing up or for maneuvering in a campground, is simple to mount and dismount, and gives a rock-solid performance on the road.

Next installment: The trip.
I question the first paragraph when you said you made a good choice in the Highlander, then down you state all the changes you had to do to get it all to work together and I'm pretty sure by what you say it wasn't all that cheap to do. I'm not a fan of mid size SUV's to start with for trailer pulling, but a 4-Runner would have made a much better choice to start with and the factory towing package. Just because some vehicles are rated for your trailer does not mean it's all going to work out without some extra expenses, but there are vehicles out there where you can just hookup and go without additional expenses. Like you said, Toyota doesn't offer much for the Highlander in upgrading for towing, now you know why.

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Old 07-29-2018, 12:39 PM   #4
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Thanks for the comprehensive report. Seems as if all is working well for you
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Old 07-29-2018, 12:43 PM   #5
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Hi trainman,
We had other reasons for buying a mid-size SUV at this time. Towing is only 10-20% of our miles per year. Mid-size SUV's that would be towing friendly right out of the box would include, as you say, 4-Runner, and also Jeep Grand Cherokee/Dodge Durango. I don't like the ride and interior of the 4-Runner. The Chrysler choices are not the best in crash safety and are much less reliable than the Highlander.
I already knew what my aftermarket costs might be; I went and got an estimate at a local shop before I bought the vehicle. I just wasn't absolutely sure that the WDH would be necessary because a friend of mine tows with a Honda Pilot and doesn't need one. But his Pilot must be more firm in suspension and/or his 17-foot Casita less nose-heavy than the Escape 17.
We also looked at the Honda Ridgeline, which is cross between an SUV and a truck. Suspension is nice and firm, would not have needed the WDH, but then you get the lower clearance of an SUV without the third-row seating of the SUV. Plus they do not offer a direct-shift transmission.
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Old 07-29-2018, 12:45 PM   #6
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Highlander

We just returned from the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous west of Fort Collins CO. Pulled the 2013 Escape 21 with our 2018 Highlander SLE. Flawless performance, comfortable ride, mileage above and below 14 MPG depending on headwinds, hills, and speed. I drove 62 MPH in 7th gear as an intended goal. This is my second Highlander and the 2012 would do the job too. The two extra gears and the 25 hp. are nice. Highlanders are not free, nothing is. Fortunately we could afford it and since I’ve not seen pockets on a casket, I don’t have a problem spending money. You can call this big grey lady a mall crawler if you like, I’ll not denegrate your choice of tow vehicles but I will tell you “Don’t stop too long for a cup of coffee, I will be along directly” Emory Smith
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Old 07-29-2018, 01:29 PM   #7
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Thanks so much. I am looking at the Hylander to pull a 17 foot Casita that I plan to purchase soon. Your input is so helpful. I will write privately about a couple of things if you do not mind. I am new to all of this so did not understand it all, but it is comforting to know you were able to have such a successful experience. The local service dealer suggested to me that I might want to consider replace the 150 Amp alternator with a 170 Amp...more expense of course. Do you think this is necessary? He also said I might want to consider Forced Induction on the intake for towing --- that one went over my head. Also, I have been told the tongue weight on the Casita 17 is about 420 so your comments about the soft suspension in the HL was of concern. Advice on these issues?? (PS I also looked at the Pilot and the dealer would put in a 7-pin connector where as Toyota will only put in a 4-oin one and then advised that I should get an adapter. Safe??)
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Old 07-29-2018, 01:45 PM   #8
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When we bought the Highlander the dealer installed the hitch, the 4 and 7 pin connectors, the Tekshonka P-3 brake controller and all necessary wiring, and fuses as I requested. We do not have an upgraded alternator, or other special modifications. Remember who is working for who when you buy cars and remind them there's another dealer just down the road. The service manager, parts counter man, and the technicians are often much more tuned in to what's available and the proper setup than the salesman, in my experience. Get the whole package as installed and delivered at time of pickup, and the fact that the work is warranted like the rest of the vehicle. That's our experience.
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Old 07-29-2018, 03:42 PM   #9
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.... Toyota will only put in a 4-oin one and then advised that I should get an adapter. Safe??)
4-pin just controls the trailer lights, it has no charging power nor electric brake circuit. I would let Toyota put in the 4 blade, then have a trailer installer replace it with the 7 blade while adding in the additional wiring required for a brake controller and battery charge. or if you think you may be towing 4-pin trailers (typically light util and small boat trailers, under 1000-1200 lbs gross), you can get a dual 4+7 connector plate. or just use a 7-to-4 adapter for said boats, these are simple, 4 to 7 is not simple due to the need for more wiring.
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Old 07-29-2018, 04:24 PM   #10
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Hi trainman,
We had other reasons for buying a mid-size SUV at this time. Towing is only 10-20% of our miles per year. Mid-size SUV's that would be towing friendly right out of the box would include, as you say, 4-Runner, and also Jeep Grand Cherokee/Dodge Durango. I don't like the ride and interior of the 4-Runner. The Chrysler choices are not the best in crash safety and are much less reliable than the Highlander.
I already knew what my aftermarket costs might be; I went and got an estimate at a local shop before I bought the vehicle. I just wasn't absolutely sure that the WDH would be necessary because a friend of mine tows with a Honda Pilot and doesn't need one. But his Pilot must be more firm in suspension and/or his 17-foot Casita less nose-heavy than the Escape 17.
We also looked at the Honda Ridgeline, which is cross between an SUV and a truck. Suspension is nice and firm, would not have needed the WDH, but then you get the lower clearance of an SUV without the third-row seating of the SUV. Plus they do not offer a direct-shift transmission.
As you know I pull our 2018 Casita with a 2017 Honda Ridgeline, 25-26 mpg highway and 22-23 in town, 16-18 with the trailer hooked up. No WDH and when hooked up the Ridgeline drops 1" which puts everything level. Haven't seen the need for a direct-shift transmission, just did Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado and the Ridgeline had no problem with shifting to the proper gear, if you think you can out shift the computer, your wrong. We all drive what works for us, so I guess there are no right or wrong as long as it works for you. HAPPY CAMPING

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Old 07-29-2018, 04:30 PM   #11
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if you think you can out shift the computer, your wrong.

Speaking of wrong; it's you're.
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Old 07-29-2018, 05:04 PM   #12
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Speaking of wrong; it's you're.
You might be right, I don't think an 08 Rav4 had a computer to think for you
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Old 07-29-2018, 05:06 PM   #13
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We all drive what works for us, so I guess there are no right or wrong as long as it works for you.
Yes, well....
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Old 07-29-2018, 10:11 PM   #14
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I really liked my '08 Highlander 3.5L, which came with factory tow prep, and I towed for 140k miles with it before selling it @ 185k on the odometer. It was quite capable with a 16'-17' egg. I still miss it (would have kept it, but my wife didn't like the seat). You should get many years of good use out of it.
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Old 07-30-2018, 08:47 AM   #15
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Good information, i 2nd the turbo part, we tow a fully loaded scamp 13 with our 2.0 liter turbo 4 cylinder lexus nx200t and it eats mountain passes for breakfast without breaking a sweat.
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Old 07-30-2018, 12:40 PM   #16
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What a great write up. Thanx!
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Old 07-30-2018, 01:03 PM   #17
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Thanks Albert

Al, it was a detailed & very informative post about towing your Escape with the Highlander. Many will benefit from your experience.

I tow my 2017 17B Escape Camper with 2017 Highlander XLE AWD V6, we have had our problems with our Brake Controller wiring which was done at UHaul & the Diode installation is still pending.

What I learnt to work around this problem is as long as we do not manually check (calibrate) the P2 Brake Controller by pressing on it, all the lights, the brake controller itself & the messages on the Dash work fine.

By now we are able to make out that the brake controller is working well by pressing the brakes, rather than pressing the Brake Controller.
Now, If we press on the P2 to check if it is working, problems start with all the messages on the dash get wiped out. Then we restart the vehicle & every thing including the P2 is working well as long as we do not press the Brake Controller.

This may sound a much bigger towing problem reading it, but in practicality we have towed the Camper from Chilliwack, Ca down to Central Florida & then another few camping trips in the South Eastern US without too much discomfort, about 5000 miles in total.

One of these days I plan to go a good(?) Controller wiring guy & get that Diode installed & the problem rectified.

Similar to Al, we camp & tow with the Highlander a few weeks a year & majority of driving is around the town & long distance non towing, where it excels.
We may have been lucky, but having driven about 10 Toyotas, their quality has been impressive.

A Escape 21 may be in our future sometime & it reassures me seeing Iowa Dave, Thoer & others towing their 21's by the same Highlander.
We may be able to keep our Highlander for Towing the in future 21.

Best regards
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Old 07-31-2018, 07:21 AM   #18
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Very interesting about the problems with aftermarket brake controllers combined with some of the electronic safety systems on newer vehicles. I'm guessing this isn't the last we'll hear about that.

Seems like manufacturers will be forced to offer integrated trailer braking systems on tow-rated vehicles. The net result is likely to be fewer tow vehicle choices but easier set-up and operation.
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Old 07-31-2018, 10:58 AM   #19
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I have no doubt that the diode can rectify...
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Old 07-31-2018, 11:15 AM   #20
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Highlander maiden voyage: the Diode fix

The shop got the one-way diode suggestion by calling Tekonsha. I had already figured it out and was suggesting that they install a relay, but a diode has no moving parts, so it's a better idea.
I have found that most people don't know that the brake controller itself will turn on the brake lights if you do an override and don't depress the brake pedal. I myself hadn't thought of that until this problem came up.
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