Is towing with a hybrid, plug-in or electric car possible?
Given the sheer grunt an electric motor provides from the moment you step on the throttle, you'd expect the towing capacity of a hybrid or electric vehicle to be rather impressive. However, using an EV or hybrid car to tow is no different from any other vehicle. It all depends on their design - some will naturally be hardier than others. Battery electric vehicles (BEV) have the capacity to be impressive workers, though they may not be seen as the best towing vehicles overall. In this discussion, we'll break down what the differences are, and tips for correct towing with an EV, hybrid, or plug-in car.
It may seem strange given the torque-rich nature of electric vehicles (EVs), but it's not just a case of fitting a hitch and towing a trailer. Most EVs wouldn't legally be allowed to tow a caravan in the USA. There are three reasons why most EVs don't come with a tow rating in the US.
The motor that drives the wheels in an electric tow vehicle may be small and weigh next to nothing, but the batteries add significant weight. We can compare an electric crossover/SUV with a traditional gas-engined model to understand the weight difference. The perfect comparison comes from Mercedes-Benz. Its EQC EV weighs 5,500 pounds, of which the battery is around 1,500 lbs. It uses the same platform as the GLC, which comes as standard with a turbocharged four-pot engine, weighing a total of under 4,000 lbs. We can even take it a step further and look at the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the GLC. Even its small battery pack adds 675 lbs to the overall weight.
Usually, you subtract a vehicle's curb weight (weight of the car without passengers or cargo) from the gross weight, which is the maximum amount it's legally allowed to carry or tow. The latter figure exists to ensure that a vehicle can still operate without being a hazard. In addition to weight, you need to consider the effect on the electric powertrain. Regenerative braking is pretty much standard in EVs, converting braking power back into electricity to charge the battery. The braking power needed to bring a 5,500-pound car with 4,500 lbs worth of trailer to a complete stop is enormous and may overpower the system. EV manufacturers get around this problem by including a towing mode, which disengages the regenerative braking system. This removes the problem but creates another: with regenerative braking out of the mix, your total range is significantly reduced.
This brings us nicely to the final reason why towing with electric vehicles isn't great - EVs were never designed with towing in mind. The designers instead focused on things like keeping the aerodynamic drag as low as possible. A trailer completely messes with the aerodynamics, further negatively impacting on range.
A plug-in hybrid powertrain is the standard these days, and because it still uses an internal combustion engine (ICE) instead of a floor full of batteries, most of the problems mentioned above have been sorted. Manufacturers are starting to supply ratings for towing with hybrid vehicles, and in most cases, these figures are the same as the standard ICE car.
Having an electric motor to help out, even if just for a short period, is beneficial. It provides epic torque from zero rpm, making light work of a 3,300 lbs trailer or caravan. But, while a plug-in hybrid would likely be a better towing car, it's worth weighing the long-term cost of the fuel-saving over the increased price of the purchase and services further down the road. The battery will also need to be replaced sooner if put under heavy strain.
People in the US are showing a trend towards crossovers and SUVs at the moment, and there are a few that stand out in terms of getting towing jobs done. Unfortunately, the retail price for these is on the high side. Below is a list of SUVs and crossover hybrids that can tow, from the most affordable to the most expensive. If you choose the right setup, you can get quite a stellar towing machine.
Electric vehicles aren't really suited for towing, and for a long time, the Tesla Model X was the only EV with a rating. It's still in the lead with the highest rating and a Trailer Mode that will automatically level the suspension and switch the regenerative braking off.
Hitching your favorite watercraft, motorcycle, or horsebox is a recipe for a great weekend away, sure, but unless you're an experienced tower, it can be a little hair-raising getting things hooked up and safely trundling along behind you. Although we offer a comprehensive guide to towing correct (and safely) here, we offer a brief summary of pertinent points to remember, here:
With the current war on diesel, manufacturers have realized that many shoppers are looking for an alternative-fuel vehicle that can still tow like an oil-burner. It's still early days for EV towing, and there's a lot to figure out. While a few can tow, there isn't a single claimed figure for range when doing so. We suspect it's because that figure would not impress. Plug-in hybrids offer an excellent alternative to diesel. The main reason diesel works so well is the low-down torque, which happens to be one of a hybrid's plus points as well.
Your vehicle will have a tow rating in the owner's manual. This is the maximum amount your car can tow safely without affecting the brakes or the powertrain. If the manufacturer does not supply one, then it's probably best not to try.
Yes. Four Tesla models now have an official tow rating. The Model X can tow 5,000 lbs, while the Model Y can manage 3,500 lbs, and the Model 3 2,000 lbs. The oldest of the bunch, the Model S, also has a tow rating of 2,000 lbs.
The best towing vehicles are purpose-built. A prime example is the Ram 3500, with turbocharged diesel delivering more than 1,000 lb-ft of torque. The rear suspension is also ideally suited to carrying a large load. The result is a maximum towing capacity of 37,100 lbs. SUVs are also ideal - check out our SUV buying guide if you are considering buying a new family hauler that can tow.