“You can’t tow it with that”

Towing an airstream trailer with a minivan

If there’s one divisive topic over at airforums.com, it’s towing. One fraction firmly believes that bigger is better and that towing any trailer with anything less than a 250 truck is an invitation to certain disaster.

Then there are people like myself, and CanAm RV in London, ON, who talk about how modern vans have a low centre of gravity, independent suspension, powerful engines and a payload that rivals, and often exceeds, that of 1/2 ton trucks. They also have a much higher maximum lane change speed, and far shorter stopping distance, which means they can avoid trouble before it hits. What they don’t have is a high tow rating out of the factory, which fills the truck crowd with horror.

Our tow vehicle is a 2008 Honda Odyssey Touring van equipped with a custom receiver, added transmission cooler and LT tires. Our Airstream weighs 7500lbs ready to camp, with a tongue weight of about 10% of trailer weight.

The car ends up carrying about 600lbs of that weight, but with an available payload of above 1300lbs and proper weight distribution the Honda makes for a stable and economical tow vehicle. Our fuel consumption on the highway is around 15l/100km, or about 15mpg. Not bad, given that many trucks barely manage that kind of efficiency when not towing.

For added safety and stability, we use a Hensley Hitch, completely eliminating the possibility of trailer sway. The hitch is nothing short of amazing and highly recommended.

One argument that I often hear from people towing with a huge truck is that they “don’t even know the trailer is there”. The Honda is a communicative vehicle at the best of times, and if the trailer is attached, I certainly know it’s there — but not in a bad way. We accelerate smoothly away from a standing start, we have zero trouble keeping up with highway traffic and, once I learned to trust the trailer’s brakes, I also found that even short stopping distances due to suddenly changing lights etc aren’t reason for alarm. With our Prodigy II brake controller dialled in perfectly, car and trailer stop without any drama.

Our Airstream was designed to be towed by passenger sedans from the 1980′s — like this one, with 110hp, drum brakes and three available gears vs. our Honda with 260hp, disk brakes all round and a six gear transmission.

None of the above means that I dislike trucks. As the kids get older we will most probably move to a Ford F150 as a tow vehicle — the Honda works for now, but once there’ll be bikes and canoes to transport, a larger vehicle will be needed. I do covet the Ford Ecoboosts, although they’re not cheap. I am hoping that the upcoming all aluminum model will push the prices of the older used models downwards.

The triple axle models are probably the best towing trailers Airstream has ever produced. They are stable, track like a dream and back up gently and obediently.

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