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Towing a camper with a smaller vehicle

Sue R

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Ed and I are seriously looking at a couple of options, primarily popups. We found a very good deal on a new camper (2005, full warrantee, brand new) but are concerned about towing with our Subaru Outback (5 speed manual).


Our car is rated at a tow capacity of 1000# without brakes, 2400# with brakes, and tongue weight of 200#. The tongue weight is where we run into the problem - while we've found several campers well within our towing weight range, getting one with a listed tongue weight of under 200# is the problem.


The "good deal" we've located has a dry unit weight of 1486#, a GVWR of 2329#, and a tongue weight of 239#. The next size down has a dry unit weight of 1353#, GVWR of 2278#, and a tongue weight of 178#.


I wonder if our car can handle the larger camper or if going much more conservatively on the tongue weight would be significantly better. If that tongue weight is for an empty, no options model, it would definitely be too much with any options or any gear in it. I usually travel pretty light by myself, with just a dog or two.


We've also found a good deal on a new teardrop (Thor T@:rolleyes: that's well within the weight limits but it's quite a bit pricier (even heavily discounted), although it seems to be much nicer quality and would be fine for me (although a bit cramped for company, like hubby or a friend). However, with dogs in crates under the awning, two could share if they don't mind being cozy.


Any thoughts from those of you who pull a camper/popup? Getting a bigger towing vehicle is not an option right now. I used to enjoy camping in my Ford Aerostar van with the fold-down bed in back, but a too-close encounter with a deer at 70 mph in heavy highway traffic cost me my "freedom" vehicle. With gas prices what they are, we opted for something smaller and more efficient.

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I am not the technical person in my household, but I will tell you I've spent a lot of time pulling a trailer, and I would not like having to do it with a stick, particularly on hilly roads.


Also, on some roads, you really need the weight of the hauling vehicle to help you brake the trailer.


Maybe this isn't an issue with an empty pop-up, though, so I don't know.


Just some food for thought, fwiw.

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Sue, I know and love you to death. I'd be nervous towing much with a light vehicle like the Outback, especially through hilly terrain or on the highway at higher speeds, up or down. The very light teardrops, like we see Arne and Bev in would be my limit. Why not consider a very nice tent? With a cot to get you off the ground, you'd be better off than you've been sleeping in the car (been there, done that myself). I'm having the same issue myself lately, can't afford much camper, can't afford the gas difference towing much, so you weigh out where you want to spend the $--tent, motel, camper? I'm still looking for a decent pop-up, but with the truck (moderately expensive to feed) at least I don't sweat the towing safety issues.

I'd take Tony's advice and get up with a good towing equipment specialist and see what you can do.

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Thanks to all for the thoughtful advice. I waver between "it can be done" and "what am I thinking of?".


Tony - We did have a Subaru towing "package" (and I put that in quotes because I'm going to have to check this week on just what it included - it was done not at Subaru but where we get work like that done but folks who knew we'd be pulling a brakeless farm trailer with 1000# of feed or so at a time).


Deb - Well, I just know and love you to death, too, but don't get much chance to talk with you. I do have a tent that's an adequate size but I'm not much of a tenter and am quite concerned about using it in rainy weather. What I've done before is set up the tent for all my stuff, and then sleep in the car. That's still doable but I have been "warned" that a tent is fair game for every male dog around (and have the recipient of their attentions once or twice).


I've just been hoping to "move up" in comfort (place to cook, heater, comfy bed, privacy to clean up and change, more security) and to be able to avoid motels when I could. And, I had been hoping for something that a friend could enjoy so we could both save and enjoy.


I don't do a lot but partly that's because, since I lost the van (big deer + 70 mph + heavy traffic = no van anymore), it's not so easy/enjoyable to camp at trials. I'm looking mainly for something I can stay in at the Bluegrass, this year's Nationals, clinics, and an occasional trial.


Maybe I'm just shooting for the moon...

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Have you looked into car tents? Here is one link that will get you off the ground to sleep




There is also the version that attaches to the back




I have long thought it would be nice to have this option so that the humans can be off the ground, and the dogs are set too.



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Julie - I have to admit that the car tent was interesting but I don't think it would be what I'd like. I sure wouldn't have to worry about any dogs peeing on the tent. Only the soft-sided (tent material) ones would do on my car rack.


The second item is real interesting and, should I not find a camper suitable that I can afford, my hubby and I think that might be the ticket (along with a section of electronet or something similar to keep the passersby from peeing on the tent - and make a little "yard" for my dogs).


I did forget to mention that staying in a tent is not an option at the Bluegrass, unless I'm willing to stay at KY Horse Park and pay site rental. That's two things I'm wanting to avoid.


Thanks, all, for the input and ideas.

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Sue, I feel your pain (and I said I knew/loved you because that makes for me worrying about you!). I have no doubt you'll find what's right for you and your Subaru.

I still vote for you to spend the bucks on a teardrop, like Arne and SHIRLEY (I messed up earlier on her name!) When they were at the last trial I was, they gave me the grand tour and let me take photos of it, Arne essentially made it himself, and it is just about perfect for a person and a dog or two on cold nights or a spouse if you love them enough to be cozy (theirs is a "queen size"). They have a TV, fan, radio, lights, a kitchen in the back and it's ultra light. They have a shower-tent for clothes changing and toilet in the van (? not sure). Basically, you'd be towing minimal weight, be off the ground and dry and cozy when it mattered. And nothing to do when you set up camp but level it up and chock the wheels. No storms would blow you apart (remember last Bluegrass?). Tim swears he's going to convert my Ebay pop-up to a teardrop ONE DAY.

I'll probably end up sleeping in the truck again this year.

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Well, I have found this very nice teardrop at a hefty discount but it's still more than I'd like to spend, plus there's no room for a friend unless they don't mind sleeping cozy (queen bed). It has an awning that would allow a nice place for dog crates and the little table can go outside. It's got a sink, water tank, stove, fridge, and maybe heater (maybe not, but it's insulated so that wouldn't be the same issue as in a popup). The kitchen's all inside and there's no bathroom, but a person could bring along a portapotty and do a good sponge bath. But, it's still more than I'd like to spend (and I'm not sure I can afford it, although Ed says I can if it's what I'd like).


I've been given advice in both directions from experienced haulers - yes, your car can handle the popup and no your car can't. So, I have to check out some more details. I, personally, would tend towards the smaller of the two popups because of my car (they are under its rating significantly) but Ed's leaning towards the bigger one (that's within the towing weight but a bit over the tongue weight).


I think the teardrop is much nicer built and would last me a lifetime for what I need but, like I said, there's no room for Ed and precious little room to share with a friend like you.


Thanks for the advice. I'm putting lots of thought into this but, if I don't feel comfy or can't afford what I'd like, I still have my tent. Plus, Ed was looking at a tent that would fit (set up after getting there) on our utility trailer - off the ground, plenty of room, and very easy to take in the car, and the trailer hauls easily. It's another thought, kind of like Julie above's second idea of the truck tent, but off the ground.


Lots to consider.

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Thanks, friends, for the links and advice.


Mark - I'm drooling over that one you posted but it's awful tall and a bit heavier than I am hoping for. The dry weight is not too far off my limit and quite a bit over when loaded.


Robin - I've been cruising craigslist for Pittsburgh, DC, and other areas not-too-far. There are few listed in my size range, and I am going to look at one when the weather permits. No one in their right mind wants to haul one out now and put it up.


There is a lot to save with used but I'm also a bit concerned about how it's been maintained, etc. I wouldn't mind a warrantee, as well, but I am serious looking at used also.


Thanks, all, got to run.

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As far as being able to tow with your Subaru, go to a hitch installer, and ask them. They know all there is to know. Actually a smaller place or somebody that deals in horse trailers who also installs hitches might be your best source of information. They can tell you what the consequen ces of overtasking your vehicle will be. Personally, I remember years ago a couple of friends drove from Kentucky to Kingston with a minivan hauling a bit bigger trailer than they should have. The trailer took over going down a hill, and almost whipped them off the road. The minivan ....oloaded up with people and stuff, couldn't handle the weight of the trailer. Everyone had white knuckles after that, and only one person would drive the rig for the rest of the trip. I've also hear of people putting a hitch on the back of a trailer, and hauling a generator along. that was enough to change the balance, and they ended up in the median with an overturned rig. Personally, I have always subscribed to the theory of having a vehicle bigger and more powerful than necessary to do the task. That was both for horse showing, and dog trialing, and I have never been sorry. Be very careful.

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Marilyn - Thanks for the words of warning!


I am going to see the dealer again today - I've already told him that I'm not interested in the "good deal" that is too big for my car, period. I am going to relook at one (Flagstaff 176LTD) that is rated within my car's limits but which I don't think I will choose. It's tow weight dry is too close to my car's limit.


What I am going to relook at is a T@B teardrop that is well within my limits for both dry weight and dry hitch weight, and also talk about an Aliner that is also in that same weight range. I'm talking 110# dry hitch/1360# dry weight for the T@B and 135# hitch/under 1200# dry weight (with options) for the Aliner.


I wouldn't buy either without some good, hard thought, a test drive, checked weights on tongue and total, etc.


I have also been in touch with a popup board and gotten lots of good (but conflicting) advice. What I'm looking at now seems to be well within limits.


Thank you all for your help and advice (and concern)! I really appreciate it.

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I've been following this thread as well since I have a Ford Focus station wagon (4 speed manual) and have been trying to figure out whether I could possibly tow something small. I do have a hitch for my utility trailer but I need to check my towing capacity as well.

In any event, it's great to see the other options that are there. I really like that tent attachment for the back of the car!

Thanks for asking the question, Sue :rolleyes:

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Originally posted by KrisK:

I've been following this thread as well since I have a Ford Focus station wagon (4 speed manual) and have been trying to figure out



I just bought a Ford Focus wagon too -- I love it! Don't know what you are using for crates, but the Kennel Aire Commander Series crates, both the 34" and 36" long are only 20" and two will fit side by side in the back.


My concern with that tent that fits on the back is whether you can turn the hatch light off when the hatch is open.


I just bought a cargo bag from Lakeland to go on the top of my car. Once you?ve got two or three crates in the car, you don?t have much room for anything else. Lakeland sells a waterproof sleeve to go inside the bag to keep everything dry.


Has anyone devised any form of ?fencing? to go around your tent to keep it from becoming a marking zone? I didn?t think of that until I read this topic. Electronet would be great, but it is sort of expensive to buy a roll of Electronet for just this purpose. I know someone who may have some damaged Electronet that I may be able to buy cheap.


Can anyone recommend a good cot?


I think I?m going to go with this tent. I believe my main use for a tent will be for shade, which this one is excellent for, but you can also sleep in it. It does not have a floor, which to me is an advantage because it?s easier to keep clean. You can always put a tarp down.






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My concern with that tent that fits on the back is whether you can turn the hatch light off when the hatch is open.
I can turn the cargo light off in mine (it's a 2000 model) so that shouldn't be a problem for you.
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Well, I made the commitment for the little teardrop and want to thank everyone for their advice!


I'm pleased in that the dry hitch weight is only 135# (my car's rated for 200#) and the actual unit weight (without added cargo but with all equipment that comes with it) is 1445# (and my car's rated for 2400# as the camper has brakes).


SO, I'm well under weight at both hitch and total weight, gave it a test drive and it pulls very easily, and even managed a creditable job of backing it up, although I'll have to polish my skills.


It's an easy set-up no matter what the weather (two jacks to crank in back and one in front). It's cozy but has an awning so there's room for dog crates outside and sheltered.


Julie - I did get to see a couple of Aliners, absolutely loved them, and would have sprung for the smaller standard-sized one except for price. The deal I got on this T@B was real good as it is a 2004 and they wanted to get rid of it. I got it for significantly less than the blue book value of a 2006 used, and they threw in the portapotty (cheap, anyway) and the adaptor for my trailer electrical connection.


If I am able to trade up some day, I will definitely look at the Aliners because they are nice.


Michelle - I can fit two MidWest Ultima triple-door wire crates in my Subaru with the back seats down, a 36" and a 30", which I got through KV Vet Supply for about $75 and $65 (which included shipping), which was by far the cheapest alternative I could find for a nice wire crate that was adaptable (love those triple gates with the end gates that swing in or out).


Got to run - Megan's got a class tonight. Since she doesn't get stockdog lessons, she's enjoying agility.


Thanks again, all! I LOVE this community!

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