Very close to buying a trailer but can we tow it??? Need towing capacity help.

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Jul 12, 2006
For starters, we are a family of seven and this will be our first trailer purchase.? We are looking at the Zeppelin Z303 with a dry weight of 4800 pounds and the Outback 29BHS with a dry weight of 5250 pounds.? These are not heavy trailers as you can see but based on some messages we have read on this forum, we now have concerns about being able to tow them with our 2001 Chevy Express 1/2 Ton Van (2WD, 5.7 liter V8 Engine).? This is a 7 passenger van that has a 7100 lb. GVW Rating and Rear Axle - 3.73 Ratio.?

My husband used your towing capacity calculations to the best of his ability and this is what he came up with.

Tow Vehicle:
Curb Weight - 5142 lbs.
7 people - 682 lbs.
Fuel - in curb weight, I think
Trailer tongue weight - est. 636 lbs. for Z303
Total laden weight - 6460 lbs. which is less than 7100 lbs.

Dry weight - 4800 lbs.
Appliances, etc. - 500 lbs.
Water - 0 - plan to camp with water availability
Propane - 67 pounds
Stuff - 700 lbs.
Total weight of trailer - 6067 lbs. for Z303
Total for Outback is 6517 lbs.

Gross Combined Weight - 6460 + 6067 - 636 = 11,891 for the Z303
We don't know how to determine the GCWR for our van to know if the above number is okay.? Our van came with a trailering package but we cannot find anything giving a GCWR.

Other Numbers for our Vehicle:
GVWR? 7100 lbs.
GAWR FRT 3600 lbs.
GAWR RR 3968 lbs.
Max Trailer Wt.:? 6600 lbs.

So, what do you think?? Would we do okay with either the heavier Outback or the Zeppelin?? Would we put too much strain on our Chevy Express Van?

Also, would we need stabilizer bars with a Heddon hitch?? The dealer said we would not.? He also feels we could pull the Outback without a problem.

We would greatly appreciate some wisdom!?

Thank you!


I responded to your question in another topic, which see.  In my opinion, your van was underrated for the Zeppelin in question.  You would be considerably underrated with the current larger trailer.  In towing with an underrated vehicle, the issue is not only strain on the van, it is also safety.  Braking ability is also a factor in tow ratings.  Don't believe it, go see the little video attached to the The Why of Tow Ratings topic at the top of this section.

Also, would we need stabilizer bars with a Heddon hitch?  The dealer said we would not.  He also feels we could pull the Outback without a problem.

If by "Heddon hitch", you were refering to a weight distributing hitch system, then your dealer was lying like a cheap rug.  You will need a weight distributing hitch and some short of anti-sway system as a matter of basic safety.

I guess I'm not following this correctly.  When I ran all the calculations (in my above message), the final numbers say I should be able to pull the Zeppelin but the Outback might be at the limit.  Why run the numbers if they don't give me an accurate answer?

I'm not planning to fill the trailer to carrying capacity.  I estimated what I thought might have been an overestimate for the weight for appliances and our stuff.  Also, it's doubtful we would have both propane tanks full.  I tried to be conservative just to be sure.

Obviously, I'm missing why my calculations did not tell the full picture.  If you wouldn't mind guiding this newbie along a bit, I would appreciate it.

I'm trying to understand this but based on your answer, we are looking at not being able to buy a trailer to fit our family of seven unless we go with a tent or expandable type trailer, which we do not want to do.  Buying a more powerful towing vehicle is not an option unless we forget about buying a trailer.  Can't have both for several years for sure.

This is a big disappointment.
If you have sway between the van and the trailer, you have a very good chance of losing it. I saw this happen to a faimily who were towing a 26' trailer with a van. The trailer flipped and quickly scattered all their belongings all over a 4 lane road, while turning in to kindling wood. Luckly the van didn't flip, but did go down in a ditch. There were 6 scared people, who walked away and the tears were already flowing by the time we got there.  And we saw it happen.

If you do take the chance, make sure to thourghly investigate and purchase the best sway bars and don't buy the cheap ones.  A extra few $s to buy some more safety and piece of mind is well spent money.


OK one more time.

Your tow vehicle is a 2001 Chevy Express 1/2 Ton Van (2WD, 5.7 liter V8 Engine).? This is a 7 passenger van that has a 7100 lb. GVW Rating and Rear Axle - 3.73 Ratio.? ? Trailer Life's Tow Ratings Tables for 2001 lists the G1500 Passenger Van with the? 5.7L V-8? at a tow rating of 5,600 lbs with automatic transmission.

Now lets stick with that 5600 lb number for a bit.? ?Around here we generally recommend allowing a safety factor of 10%.? Why?? Well your rig is 5 years old and is going to get older every year.? ?Are you religious about things like state of tune or extreme use maintenance on the transmission?? How are those 5 year old brakes.? ? If you tow in the mountain or Pacific Coast west, we recommend a 20% safety factor for gassers, maybe a bit less for diesels.? ?A normally aspirated engine (not supercharged) loses 3% of rate horsepower for every 1000 feet of elevation.? ?We have a topic about Monarch Pass in Colorado.? Monarch Pass is 11,312.? Pull that bad boy and your van is wheezing up that 9 miles of 6.4% grade with 34% of its power gone.? That is why 20%.

OK so where does that leave us.? If you are towing in the lowlands east of the Rockies you have a van that should pull no more than 5040 lbs..? ? ?If you want to do Colorado, Yellowstone, or the Canyonlands, better keep that trailer to 4480 lbs..?

Now the question comes to pull what?? What weight do you use?? Dry weight is a calculated weight that may or may not included everything on any particular trailer.? ?It certainly does not include water, sewage, groceries, cooking gear, tableware, and clothing, especially for seven.? ?

I feel that the only weight you can trust, other than a weight actually measured on a public scale, is the trailer makers gross vehicle weight rating which is the tare (dry) weight plus the maximum payload (carrying capacity).? ?Using any other number allows a person to play little head games with himself.? ("Gee, I could travel without water, dump all my tanks before taking off, pack really really light, etc. etc..")

Now especially with an van, another number comes into play, the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating.? ?This is the tow rating plus the gross vehicle weight rating of the van itself.? ? That last number can be found on the DOT plate on the van.? ?With your seven passengers you start with a payload of about 1000 lbs.-- a half a ton.? ?Add to that the weight of the van and the tongue weight of the trailer, which for safety's sake should be at least 11% of the trailers actual weight.

Do you own numbers or use mine for a shopping guide.? ? I have laid out my logic.? There is no more to be had.? ?Verify my tow rating number for your van with the 2001 Trailer Life tables on their website.

You have a passenger van with a light engine and a low, 1/2 ton, cargo rating.? ?I used to own a Ford passenger van with a 7.4L V8 with a 1 ton cargo rating.? ?For seven passengers and a good sized trailer, that is the sort of van you need.? ?That sucker could pull a 2-ton 20 foot ocean going boat on a trailer, 6 passengers,? a Labrador retriever and all their baggage up the Grapevine Pass at 55 mph with the A/C running in 3rd gear -- with throttle to spare.? ? It also got 8 gallons per mile - towing or not.

Keep your van and get a light trailer or start considering a heavier more powerful fan.? Browse the Trailer Life tables.

I guess I'm not following this correctly.  When I ran all the calculations (in my above message), the final numbers say I should be able to pull the Zeppelin but the Outback might be at the limit.  Why run the numbers if they don't give me an accurate answer?

The numbers say something different to me.

The GCWR of your van should be available in the Chevrolet Towing Guide but the guide for 2001 may be hard to locate. Using the 2006 Express Van numbers as an approximation  2006 Chevy Express Van Specs  , it appears that you have a GCWR of about 12,000 lbs and a max tow capacity of about 6100-6300 lbs (the extended van is less than a regular length).  That's consistent with the numbers you stated, since the curb weight plus the towing capacity + 154 lb (for the driver) should equal the GCWR.  By the way, curb weight icnludes all fluids and a full tank of fuel but not the driver.

So let's take your 6600 lb max tow as being gospel.  That's 6600 lbs behind a tow vehicle that has nothing in it but a 154 lb driver and a full tank of fuel.  But you plan to carry 682 lbs of people (including the 154 lb driver), so 682-154 = 528 lb lbs has to be subtracted from the max possible trailer. You also have to subtract anything else you carry in the van, including the trailer hitch itself.  Let's subtract another 150 lbs for that (though I think that is light), which leaves you a shade over 5900 lbs for a trailer at the absolute max.    6600 - 528-150 = 5922 lbs

Using the weights you calculated, the Z303 exceeds that. However, I'm not clear on the 500 lbs you have included for "Appliances, etc."  Are these appliances you would bring with you as part of your gear or appliances installed in the trailer? Any appliances installed in the trailer as standard equipment (not options) will already be in the trailer curb (dry) weight).  So maybe you have included an extra 500 lbs you don't need to figure in. If so, the Z303 sneaks in under the 5922 limit we calculated above, coming to 5567 instead of 6067.  That's really pushing it, but officially OK.  Carl likes to see a tow vehicle at least 10% under its max, both for safety and adequate performance. He recommends 20% under if towing in mountainous terrain.  I get nervous myself when a light duty vehicle like this is loaded close to its max, so I generally support Carl's 10% rule.  The auto manufacturers, on the other hand, like to publish the largest numbers they can for advertising purposes.  They aren't saying the vehicle will perform or handle well with that weight behind - just that it can be done without breaking down right away. 

But it's your family, so you have to make your own decision as to the risks and the rewards.
Adding in my two cents, having been there quite reciently (see my recient posts regarding 'can I pull this 26' trailer with my 1/2 ton?'). I had a 01 F150 SuperCrew, rated to pull 8,000 lbs. As calculated, my 26' toy hauler, dry at 6,600 lbs, with all my goodies would squeak in at just under the 8,000 lb limit. I made ONE trip from my home in Riverside to the CO river in Blythe (about 320 miles round trip) and resolved to sell my truck and buy a much bigger truck immidiately. Keep in mind, anyone who knows this area, the trip from Riverside to Blythe is a relatively flat shot down the 10 fwy, except for a few hills, but definately no major mountain grades. I was KILLING my truck. Was I within  my legal rated limits? yep. did I have a good sway/weight distribution hitch? yep. I am now a very strong believer in the 10-20% rule these gentlemen mention. I traded up to a F250 V10 gas, rated at 12,500 lbs, and I can now tow that thing up the side of a cliff and not even know it's back there! ;)

Point is, please please reconsider a heavier duty tow vehicle. For many reasons, but no better reason than the safety and comfort of your precious family. You cannot put a price on that. It is understandable with a large family that you are looking for a good size trailer, but please do not skimp on the tow vehicle. Sitting on the side of the road with a smoking transmission is not the way to spend your family outings!!

I'm not a prudish over-cautious old man (these guys arent either, i'm not saying that Carl I swear!!!), I'm 26, race street bikes and jet ski's, i'm anything but cautious when I play, but I'm also not dumb when it comes to safety on the road.

I hope the fine gentlemen here can help you to make a good, educated, safety-minded decision in your trailer and tow vehicle purchase, and I hope your family enjoys your new endevours hassle-free for years to come! Welcome to the home away from home outdoors :)

I'm not a prudish over-cautious old man (these guys arent either, i'm not saying that Carl I swear!!!),

Thats Mister Over Cautious Old Man, kid!? :mad:

Cautious is how the hell you get to be old.  ;D
LOL... touche' Mr. Carl :) Well, I'd love to stay and chat, but I have to go load up my trailer and head up the mountain for the weekend....  Ciao!
We're listening and appreciating the help.  We are now thinking about upgrading our tow vehicle.  More in another post.
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