Which of my cars should I put a trailer hitch on?
March 21, 2014 10:37 AM   Subscribe

We have a 4x6 trailer. It's pretty light weight. We need to put a hitch on one of our two cars in order to use it. Is there any mechanical (or other) advantage to using one car over the other?

The first car is a 2010 Nissan Versa. It has a 6-speed manual transmission. It's a 1.8 liter engine and according to google has 122 HP.

The second car is a 2011 VW Jetta SE. Automatic transmission. It has a 2.5 L engine and according to google has 170 HP.

I'm not a car guy, but I assume the higher horse power of the VW would be better. But is it a meaningful difference for a trailer that's so small? Also, does the manual vs automatic transmission have any effect? I would prefer to put the hitch on the Versa, but the Jetta would be OK if it will handle the trailer significantly better.

As for how much we are likely to haul: Probably never more than a few hundred pounds, but you never know what might come up. I don't know how much the trailer itself weighs, but it's one of those steal black ones that you can get from Lowes or Menards.

I guess what I'm asking is: Is there a good reason to put the hitch on the Jetta instead of the Versa if the Versa is where I would prefer to have the hitch?
posted by crapples to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
With towing, the more power/torque the better. Also, the heavier the lead vehicle relative to the trailer the better. A heavier trailer can sometimes 'make the tail wag the dog' if it isn't loaded correctly and a heavier tow vehicle minimises that.

Check the towing restrictions/weights for your car, but if it were me I'd put it on the Jetta without question. 122hp is going to feel like pulling teeth with a trailer on.
posted by Brockles at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a hitch on my '09 Versa with the same engine/transmission configuration. Without a doubt I would hitch your VW. The larger displacement (and extra cylinder!) of the Jetta engine puts out something like 180 lb-ft while the Versa makes 107 lb-ft. Torque is the key engine measurement when you're talking about towing, so the Jetta will struggle a lot less than the Versa. Also, the Jetta has a longer wheelbase (which is good) and it's heavier (which is also good.) Both cars are unibody, so that's a wash.

Unless there's something unique to the VW that makes installing a hitch a complete nightmare, the choice is plain to me.
posted by workerant at 10:56 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Those little trailers are not designed for highway travel, so most towing issue we can ignore.

Those little trailers (and your cars) can't tow a lot of weight, so again most towing issues we can ignore.

Now we're talking about not-too-heavy loads traveling at low-to-moderate speeds. Unless your expected travel route includes going over a mountain pass, either car will do just fine. There's not enough difference to matter - pick the car you want.

Just be careful you don't overload the trailer, it's easy to get carried away when loading bags of gravel or cement blocks or similar when it's a dense material and it looks like there's lots of room. I'd make sure you have the weight capacity of the trailer & towing capacity of your car written down somewhere to remind you to always calculate your load weight before loading.
posted by jpeacock at 11:20 AM on March 21, 2014

Check the owner's manual of both cars. If neither one is rated to tow then I, personally, would go with the Versa because it will probably be cheaper to repair when something breaks (I'd be most worried about the clutch). Also, the size of the trailer is not as important as what you PUT in it. With a 4 cylinder car I wouldn't go above 800 lbs combined trailer + load weight.
posted by Poldo at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2014

Trailers will kill an automatic transmission that isn't set up for it. Towing a trailer puts a LOT of extra load on the transmission and that generates heat and that cooks the fluid and the bands in the transmission. The transmissions in trucks rated for towing have HUGE transmission coolers (an extra radiator just for the transmission oil). I very much doubt the jetta does.

As long as the trailer is light (less than say 500lbs loaded) and only used at low speeds (>40 mph) and driven carefully (easy on the throttle there, fast and furious) you will be ok. On either car. The versa probably can't do any more than that anyway. If you do use the jetta, pay real close attention to your transmission fluid and change it very often if the trailer is a regular thing (like 10k miles or so).

Also you are only going to be able to fit a class 1 hitch on either car and I think they are limited to 500 lbs anyway). And new clutches are WAY cheaper than German automatic transmissions. And remember it is going to wear out brakes way faster also ( this is pretty much car neutral).
posted by bartonlong at 7:01 PM on March 21, 2014

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