Towing with the Jeep
200 kg on the roof and 700 kg in tow
We have a 2013 Jeep Sahara Automatic with original suspension and tires. The Jeep does not have the towing package, so the transmission is the standard ratio. The upgrades are documented in the Towing a camping trailer with a Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited in great detail. The one thing that is not original anymore are the breaks. We replace the OEM breaks with the Power Stop. That included Drilled/Slotted Rotor, new Caliper and Break Pads.
Our Jeep can pull up to 2000 lb (900 kg) as per manufacturer. If somebody tells you that your Jeep can pull 3500 lb, it is the manufacturer specs that sets the maximum towing capacity, not your friend. The difference between 'can pull' and 'allowed to pull' will become very clear when you have an accident. The insurance agent will read the specs. The other critical weight limit is the tongue weight on your hitch receiver. It is likely 150 kg (350 lb) with the OEM hitch, we couldn't find a reference from Jeep.
To make it clear, we do not exceed the maximum towing or load capacity with our Jeep. And we strongly urge you to do the calculation for your own Jeep and trailer yourself.
What is 'our Experience' when it comes to pulling?
Well, we spent four weeks travelling East and six weeks travelling West. We did shorter trips to Montreal and several in Ontario going north of North Bay. This is somewhere in the 15,000 km range of pulling the camping trailer up and down, with head wind, no wind, rain, snow, fog, day, night and some stretches of dirt roads. Yes snow, it was coming down fast and we had an overnight in Algonquin Park ahead of us.
Our major travel routes
Mississagua, Montreal, Quebec City on the Trans-Canada. South in New Brunswick to Grand Manan Island. To Moncton into Nova Scotia to Truro along Bay Of Fundy. All counter-clock wise along the coast to Cape Breton Island. To Price Edward Island and back on Trans-Canada to Mississauga.
Lots of wind and winding roads along the coast. Some short 10% drops and climbs.
Trans-Canada to Sault St. Marie, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Penticton, Vancouver and on Highway 99 to Whistler. Continue on Highway 99 to Williams Lake. Over the Heckman Pass to Bella Coola, Vancouver Island to Whistler again. Then return home via highway 99 to Calgary and Trans-Canada to Mississauga.
800 meters elevation gain from Winnipeg to Calgary and always head wind.
The Rocky Mountains crossing from Calgary (1045 m), Banff (1400 m), Lake Louise (1750 m), Golden (800 m), Rogers Pass (1330 m), Revelstoke (480 m), Duffylake Road on Hwy 99 (1279 m), Pemberton (210 m), Whistler (670 m) and Squamish on Sea Level . There is plenty of ups and downs.
Ontario Highway 400 and 11
Starting from Mississauga which is on Lake Ontario (74 m). Highway 400 travels along Lake Huron at 176 m and Lake Superior (183 m). Travelling further north and sort-of parallel to the 400 is highway 11 where you cross the Arctic Watershed (395 m).
Not much elevation gain, but the Canadian Shield is a constant up and down. There are several Provincial Parks in this area and most of them within a days reach. Most of the area is Crown Land and countless Forest Service Roads lead to amazing lakes and secluded places.
So lets start with the setup and what we carry in the Jeep, on the roof and in the trailer.
|Jeep inside||weight in kg|
|Tools and parts|
|Chains and parts for Hi-Lift Jack|
|Portable camping gear (tent, chairs, tarps)|
|Biking, running, hiking, climbing, fishing gear|
|Shoes and clothing|
|Food and cooler|
|Two passengers fully nourished|
|Camping Trailer||weight in kg|
|Net weight as per manufacturer|
|Two Propane cylinders|
|Electrical Cable extension|
|Stationary camping gear and dinner tent|
|Clothing and sleeping |
|Cooking utensils and dishes|
|Drinking water & wine & pop (30 + 12 + 12 )|
|Food including canned food |
(max tow capacity of Jeep is 900 kg) total
Weight distribution system to level the Jeep
The law may require them for trailers in excess of the Jeeps capacity.
The lowest weight distribution system starts at about 4000 lb from what we could find.
We never had an issue with the trailer swaying. Not when crossing heavy trucks. Not in heavy winds from any directions.
There are many factors that cause a trailer to sway. Trailer and tongue weight, load distribution in the trailer, tires pressure and speed are some of them. The Jeep is not a good towing vehicle for several reasons, axle, spring, length etc. But one factor is in the Jeeps favour, the distance from the axle to the hitch ball. The shorter the better.
If you want to install a weight distribution system with sway control, go ahead, spend the $500 and the aggravation to connect/disconnect the chains and bars every time you (de)couple. Use the $500 for an off-road light like the Ridgid D-SS, or better, make a trip to the Nagagamisis Provincial Park. Amazing campsite and more Forest Service Roads than you have time to discover them all. From Mississauga to Nagagamisis and back is about 2,200km, with a gas price of $1.40 and 16 liter per 100 km and your $500 are spent.
You didn't buy the Jeep for the great gas milage. You'll be surprised how far you get with a trailer in the tow. The worst we noticed was 18.4 liters.
When we tow the trailer, only the best for the Jeep. We fill up with the 91 octane juice. No pinging, no issues. We noticed pinging with Regular.
The 18 liter consumption was between Winnipeg and Calgary, the engine was running hot. Not on the temperature gauge, but the automatic transmission just does some wild shifting when the oil is getting hot. We typically switch to manual (1 to 5 to select from) and lock it in on 4 or 3. The only time we switch to 5 is downhill and no head wind.
When driving through cities, it's in automatic.
Most highways are gear 3 or 4, unless you get into the Rocky Mountains. We had to go down to 2 and crawl up the pass at about 50km/h. Running a higher RPM just increased the engines heat, not worth it.
Head wind is a killer. The Jeep is already as aerodynamic as a brick. The trailer in the tow adds more wind drag. We already noticed an increased drag with the loaded roof rack.
When we drove towards Calgary, the Jeep wouldn't hold the speed in the 4th select gear. We couldn't figure it out at first. We stopped to cool down the engine and noticed a constant wind from the west. "What's happening, it's all flat, after all we are in the Prairies". Then we monitored the elevation on the Garmin GPS over a long distance. The highway gains about 800 meters from Winnipeg to Calgary, so it is flat and uphill.
Electrical trailer breaks
Our trailer came with them. We installed the Tekonsha Voyager 9030 Electric Trailer Brake Controller. It is not required by law for a trailer of our size. Ontario requires the breaks on trailers with gross weight of more than 2,800 kg.
We often disable the breaks. When driving on highway or uphill, they are more a problem than a help. The breaks are activated by the break lights and a sensor inside the unit. Crossing the Rocky Mountains, the breaks worked fine downhill. We enabled them when we reached the pass summit. We didn't have a break situation where we had to avoid an obstacle, so all breaking we did was controlled. And we know that the new Power Stop Breaks work flawless and better than the Jeeps OEM version.
When we had the trailer wheel problems on the Heckman Pass in BC, we would have disabled the trailer breaks anyway for the following reason. You have very little control over the force applied to the trailer breaks, it's all controlled by the Tekonsha unit. Driving downhill on gravel, the trailer would have more likely skid out of control than gently break. There is a fine line between breaking and skidding on gravel. We don't have any useful recommendation for this situation. We do however know that upgrading the breaks on the Jeep when pulling a trailer is worth every penny.
In conclusion, should you worry about anything except the towing weight, trailer weight and tongue weight when you pull a trailer from home to a camp site? If it's for weekend trips, we don't think so. Prerequisite is that the Jeep is properly maintained, most notably the breaks. We are not experts in cars, trailers, towing or hitches. So our advice is solely based on our own experience. We did a lot of reading of manufacturers specifications, spoke to camping trailer dealers at shows and of course read many articles and comments on the Internet. It all boils down to common sense. Get yourself a trailer first and make it safe with the lowest investment as possible. Then add upgrades, or gadgets, as you need them. Please drive within the speed limit. Trailer Tires are not built for racing.
Keep in mind that the trailer will push the rear of the Jeep down and your head lights will blind oncoming traffic. We avoid driving at night like the plague, not just because of the lights. The places we travel are inhabited by deer as well as smaller and even bigger creatures. They pose a much greater risk than any cars or swaying trailer.
Looking at all the upgrades we added, the breaks is the one thing we strongly recommend. The Break Control Unit is a nice to have, but a pain to install. And lastly the Air Lift 1000 load assist in the rear spring is beneficial not only when driving at night.
The Power Stop Breaks was by far the most expensive upgrade with over $2,000 for parts and labour. We were never happier that we upgraded the breaks as we found out during our West Coast trip.
The Tekonsha Break Controller set us back about $150 and the Air Lift 1000 also about $150. We did the installation for the Tekonsha and Air Lift ourselves, not sure what the labour cost would be.
We have no plans to lift the Jeep or buy off-road tires. The original tires have great milage and got us through many gravel, sand, mud and water passages. And the tires are perfect for pulling the trailer.
First published on October 06, 2019