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Towing vehicle question

From: Charlene

Dear Jessica, My horses are not expensive show horses, but they are my treasures. I am finally beginning to search for just the right towing vehicle so that I can trailer them safely. I thought that I knew exactly what I wanted, but my husband was just given some advice that totally conflicts with the (good, I believed) advice I had received previously from people I know and trust. Can you help me?

I have been told by many trainers and horse owners that the best towing vehicles are long, heavy, and have a large, powerful engine, a "towing package" and 4-wheel drive. I was looking at Suburbans and at large pick-up trucks (250s) and had basically picked three models that I thought we should go look at. All of them matched this description!

Then my husband read something about 4-wheel drive being a bad idea because most of the trucks and trailers that get stuck and have to be rescued by tow trucks have 4-wheel drive! He said that this was because having 4-wheel drive makes people try to drive in places where they shouldn't and take more chances, so it actually increases the danger and risk and makes it more likely for you to get stuck if you have it, and that you are safer with only 2-wheel drive so that is what I should use to trailer my horses. Then he kind of got off on the subject of vehicle size and said that the weight limits and recommended speeds were an average, not a real limit, and that they didn't apply to good drivers.

He has friends who haul (usually boats and construction equipment, not horses) and they pull more weight than they are supposed to and go a lot faster too, and they've never had an accident. This seems wrong to me too, but it's not something I ever even thought about asking anybody so I don't have any backup if I try to argue about it. Using words is not what I am best at, as you can probably tell by reading my writing, LOL!. But I have tried and tried every way to figure out how this makes sense, and I don't see it. I need your help, whether you agree with me or with my husband, it doesn't matter, I just need to know what is true. Can you please either tell me why what he is saying is right, or tell me why I am right and he is wrong, but in a way that I can explain to him? I don't want to make trailering more dangerous than it already is, but everything I read and every person I asked had told me that 4-wheel drive was important and I should be sure and get it. I am pretty certain that if I am confused about this, other people might be confused too, so I hope you will answer it. I am going to try to just stay off the subject with my husband until I hear from you, so that we won't have a fight about it!

If you say it is a good thing, I will insist, because I want to be sure and do what is best for my horses. And this is probably the only time I will ever get to pick out a new towing vehicle anyway, so I need to get exactly the right one. Thank you in advance, Charlene

i Charlene! Relax, your initial research was done well, and the information and advice you had collected were pointing you in the right direction. "Long, heavy, with a powerful engine, a towing package, and 4-wheel drive" is an excellent description of an ideal towing vehicle, especially if you have large horses, carry a lot of gear, carry your own water, and/or have mountains with which to contend.

Let me start at the end of your letter, with the towing practices used by your husband's friends. Don't use them as examples, and don't let your husband or anyone else hold them up to you as examples. It's true that there are many people who think it's clever to carry/pull more than the maximum recommended weight and/or who brag about pulling a trailer whilst driving at speeds higher than those recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Whatever their "reasons" may be, these people are all very foolish. Anyone can overload a vehicle, and anyone can speed - those actions don't require any special equipment or special abilities or special intelligence (or, indeed, ANY intelligence at all) on the part of the driver. Speeding on a dry highway on a sunny day while towing too much weight with an inappropriate or inappropriately-equipped towing vehicle - well, it's true that many people do get away with that sort of thing, sometimes for many years. But they're taking a big risk every time they get on the road, and they're taking the risk not just for themselves and their passengers and cargo (including horses) - they're imposing THEIR risk on everyone else who happens to be sharing the road with them. That's unfair to the sane, sensible drivers. It's also NOT a true test of equipment or skills - THAT comes when the driver has to stop his truck and trailer, as quickly as possible, under less-than-optimum conditions (e.g., whilst going downhill on a wet mountain road).

You might look into the vehicles that offer AWD (all-wheel drive) as an alternative to 4WD. You might not be able to carry quite as much weight, so keep that in mind (AWD weighs more than 4WD, which weighs more than 2WD) but there are some very nice aspects to both AWD and 4WD.

Now, as for the advice someone gave your husband - explain to him that it was not good or sensible advice, because it was based on a series of wrong assumptions.

I can see how someone who had several teenaged boys at home might believe that having 4WD would cause them to spend more time off-roading and make it more likely that they would become stuck somewhere. It certainly IS true that many accidents and "stuck truck" situations involve vehicles equipped with offroad lights, roll bars, etc. But this doesn't happen because there's something about these add-ons that causes sensible adults to go crazy as soon as they get into those vehicles, it's just because so many of those vehicles are driven by relatively inexperienced young drivers. They aren't driving crazy because their trucks have extra equipment - they bought the extra equipment and had it installed because they WANTED to drive crazy, take chances, and look "cool" to their friends. In real life, most people who buy off-road vehicles do it for fun, and not because they actually live or work halfway up the side of a mountain with no paved roads anywhere in the area. This isn't about reality - it's all about appearances and being young and silly (or, in some cases, middle-aged and silly!), and suffering from what the ER and ICU doctors and nurses refer to as "testosterone poisoning."

For a sensible adult driver who is buying a truck so that she can haul her precious horses in a trailer, there is just about NO chance that she will decide to "drive crazy" because her new truck has 4WD (or extra-traction tires, or a GPS system). If she's like most adult drivers hauling horses, she'll be sensible and cautious, and grateful to have the equipment in case she needs it, in the same way that she's grateful to have her cel phone in case she needs THAT - but she doesn't make a habit of driving and chatting at the same time. Many drivers don't even turn their cel phones on unless they need to make an emergency call.

I think that the idea that having 4WD will make drivers silly and careless is on a par with the idea that riders without helmets are "safer" because helmets give them a false sense of security and they go out and ride like idiots, believing that they can't be hurt. It's just not true. There may be a few people who think that way and act on it, just as there are, I'm sure, some people who truly believe, and act on, the idea that driving without seatbelts and airbags is safer, because those things provide a false sense of security, and fastening seatbelts just makes people go out and "drive crazy". Again - for most people, this is just wrong. If you drive safely and conservatively, 4WD can give you an edge. Where I live, we tend to have large snowstorms that pile deep snow in our very long driveway, and effectively "ground" my 2WD car until spring. The truck, on the other hand, has 4WD, and can be relied on to make it from the house to the road and vice versa, even when the driveway is buried so deep in snow that we have to drive across the pasture. If the snow inspires me to go out and drive like an idiot, across the field or on the road, I won't be able to blame my behaviour on the 4WD. It may EMPOWER me to act stupid, but it can't CAUSE me to act stupid. ;-)

If you still need one more good point to convince your husband, try this: If there is ONE feature that can make or break the sale of a used truck, that feature is 4WD. If you should ever decide to sell your new truck, it will sell more quickly and probably for a significantly higher price if it HAS 4WD.

And now for a few last thoughts on towing weight and towing packages...

I don't know what you're using as a towing vehicle at the present time, but I suggest that you load up your trailer with everything you plan to haul, including water. Then WEIGH the trailer - you can use any public scale, and the process is quick and inexpensive. It's a little bit of trouble, but it's worth it. When you KNOW - not guess, estimate, or hope, but KNOW - what your trailer weighs when it's fully loaded, you will KNOW whether your new towing vehicle will be pulling 6,000, 7,000, or 10,000 pounds.

When you sign up for a towing package on your new truck, check the specs! Not all towing packages are the same, and the manufacturer of your new vehicle, whatever it is, may offer several different towing packages depending on the customer's specific needs (and willingness/ability to pay). Check to be sure that the one you get is designed for the heavy towing you're planning to do (horses in a heavy trailer) and not for the light towing that your neighbour might be planning to do (a small sailboat on a light, flat trailer).

Also - this should go without saying, but I've seen it happen to several people now, so just in case... if you should decide to buy a used vehicle instead of a new one, be SURE that you know what's on it. It might have the "little sailboat towing package" instead of the "big heavy horse trailer towing package" - or it might not even HAVE a towing package. Some people install a beautiful, solid, heavy-duty hitch on a truck without actually bothering to buy the towing package from the manufacturer (engine, oversized radiator, transmission cooler, etc.) Over time, they may forget that they did this, in which case they will also forget to mention it to prospective buyers. So even if they're your parents or your best friends, CHECK EVERYTHING. As Damon Runyon said, "Trust - but verify."


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