About those tow capacity numbers
September 5, 2016 4:25 PM   Subscribe

The owners manual for my 2011 Toyota Camry purchased in the US gives a 1000 lb. trailer weight limit. The Australian owners manual for a 2011 Camry gives a 2600 lb. (1200 kg) trailer weight limit. Is there any actual difference between the cars to account for the difference, or is this some sort of weird bureaucratic thing where the US makes the car companies low ball the tow rating?

I ask because I've been researching lightweight camper options, are there are some interesting options that are between 1000-1500 lbs. If I can safely tow a small camper with the Camry it opens up options that don't require me to upgrade to a more expensive vehicle. We'd be towing around the Mid-Atlantic area, not taking it over the Rockies or anything like that.
posted by COD to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Which 2011 Camry do you have? Is it a VX40 or VX50?

Once you know that, which version of the Camry is it for that year? There are five variants of the VX40, and three of the VX50 that I know of. These will have variable tow weights between them.
posted by strixus at 5:00 PM on September 5, 2016

It's s 2011 LE with the 2.5 4-cylinder engine - manufactured in July 2010 so that makes it an XV40.
posted by COD at 5:13 PM on September 5, 2016

Others have noticed that US cars have far lower tow ratings than their equivalents elsewhere in the world. This article goes off into the weeds a bit with the math, but eventually gets to the point: lower expected freeway speeds when towing and different margins of safety.
posted by zsazsa at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please make sure to observe the difference between braked and unbraked limits. Very important.
posted by wilful at 5:21 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's like the scene in the film 'Das Boot' where the submarine goes deeper than the manufacturer's recommended tolerances. Sure, you can always haul a bit heavier, but you have to be careful, and you have to keep in mind that the dealer won't be nice about warranties if you run into problems.
posted by ovvl at 6:35 PM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have towed trailers over capacity before. I won't again. Sudden nearly uncontrollable weaving on the freeway is something that makes you reconsider.
posted by bongo_x at 6:42 PM on September 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

No matter what the car can actually do, if you have an accident towing over the limit specified by the manufacturer you may well find your insurance has evaporated.

Do you want insurance?
posted by deadwax at 11:31 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to the Camry specifically, but those tow ratings are pretty important. As an anecdote: We had a Honda Element with a 1000 lb tow capacity. It towed our little 900-lb Scamp trailer just fine for many years, *until* the year that we filled said trailer with 1,100 lbs more of food/equipment to haul it 200 miles for a large event we were running. That's when it tore a bunch of the guts out of the underside of the car (pardon my technical jargon) and we got stranded. We had the Element's underside rebuilt & continued hauling, but were much more careful about weight after that. Also, when we later upgraded to a 2200 lb larger trailer, the dealer wouldn't even let us try to haul if off the lot with the Element no matter how careful we promised to be -- we had to make a rush purchase of a used pickup truck the day after, just so we could haul our new trailer home. Long story short: Be very careful of hauling more than your car can handle.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Modern unibody cars aren't built for towing, and crap out quickly when you exceed their (begrudging) towing limits. If towing is part of your lifestyle, get a body-on-frame car. Mostly SUVs but you can a used body-on-frame sedan for a few thousand dollars that is built like a frickin' tank.
posted by MattD at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2016

This has been enlightening - thanks all.
posted by COD at 10:09 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) which sets emissions for cars sold in that state (and therefore any car model that wants to be sold in all 50 states) lab tests each car model based on its heaviest expected use. So a car with a Chevy engine and offered with a tow option will be tested under those tow conditions, while the same engine in a Corvette may be tested for normal driving conditions instead.

Towing puts a heavy load on an engine, so I imagine some car makers may lower the tow rating in part to pass CARB's stringent tests.
posted by zippy at 11:02 AM on September 6, 2016

It's not just the engine it's the transmission, brakes and cooling system. Those are all upgraded in tow vehicles to handle the task.
posted by fshgrl at 2:12 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

How about this explanation: "Australian road rules state that all trailer with a GTM exceeding 750kgs must have [their own] brakes."

See also: Australian Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development vehicle code for trailers.

And: Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 38/02 - Trailer Brake Systems) 2005

In practice, this means Australia requires a secondary, dedicated braking controller for trailers in excess of 750kgs GTM (Gross Trailer Mass), so that the vehicle's brakes alone are not responsible for stopping both the vehicle and the added weight of the trailer.

In contrast to Australia, there is no standardized, national US vehicle code for towing a trailer. Vehicle codes in the US vary from state to state. Since augmented trailer braking is not a national requirement, Camrys sold in the US proclaim a lower towing capacity than their Australian counterparts.
posted by mosk at 2:54 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have done parts-number cross-referencing between the AU and US versions of my car (a '15 Mazda 3), which exhibit a similar discrepancy. Well, the US manual says never tow! and the AU manual gives a reasonable limit. My old Saab 9-2X (aka a WRX) was similar.

The cars are exactly the same in every way that matters: brake components, spring rates, transmissions, &c.

With even a little bit of research (if your car is an automatic, does it share a transmission cooler; are the brakes the same; and so on), I would not hesitate to tow with any car that had a tow rating elsewhere in the world, and have done so for many thousands of miles.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:05 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Others have noticed that US cars have far lower tow ratings than their equivalents elsewhere in the world. This article goes off into the weeds a bit with the math, but eventually gets to the point: lower expected freeway speeds when towing and different margins of safety.

I found this article actually quite good, if a bit poorly written. The takeaway lines:

To boil it all down, the reason that American vehicles are rated to tow less is based on a difference methodology for tow safety.

US tow safety prioritizes a naturally safe dynamic situation so that more people can pull at freeway speeds with less likelihood of incident. There is no doubt that using this method results in an inherently safer tow situation as it relates to vehicle dynamics.

UK tow safety allows for the possibility to carry more weight, but erring on the side of caution with far less safety margin in respect to the physics.

posted by werkzeuger at 6:55 AM on September 7, 2016

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