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Is It Safe For You to Tow in Overdrive?

Is It Safe for You to Tow in Overdrive?

Overdrive gives the driver the option to “cruise” at a higher gear and increase their gas mileage, but it may not be the best when towing.

Many trucks and motorhomes have optional overdrive gears on their shifters. But beware of using overdrive when towing a large load like a camper, toad, or other cargo on hilly terrain.

Misuse can damage your transmission or bog down your engine at the very least. So, today, we’ll take a look at how overdrive works and the best scenarios to use it in.

Let’s go!

What Does Overdrive Mean?

Using overdrive on a truck or RV increases your fuel efficiency by forcing the vehicle to upshift to the highest gear. This means the engine uses less torque and power, providing less speed but a more effortless drive. You shouldn’t use overdrive on roads that rise and fall when towing. This is because you need more gears and power for hills. Gas mileage will likely decrease. However, you’ll have the strength and power of lower gears to get your cargo to your destination.

Is It Safe to Tow in Overdrive?

It’s not a good idea to tow while in overdrive on any road other than a flat one. The engine will be in a higher gear, providing less torque. The transmission will be overtaxed, using fewer revolutions per minute. As a result, the truck or RV will have more difficulty towing cargo uphill or downshifting to go downhill.

Pro Tip: Before you go, make sure you are ready to tow. Make towing easier by working through The RV Trailer Towing Checklist.

Woman driving truck.
Using overdrive can increase your fuel efficiency, but should not always be used when towing.

Can You Pull Anything While in Overdrive?

Yes, it’s possible to tow using overdrive. However, you need to be on a flat highway at higher speeds with light torque demand. With no hills to climb, your transmission won’t have the stress of looking for lower gears. You can cruise in overdrive while increasing your fuel efficiency. 

Once you encounter varying terrain and slower speeds, take your vehicle out of overdrive. This allows the engine and transmission to take over. They can move to lower gears more quickly and provide torque to pull the load.

Red truck towing RV.
When towing, use overdrive only on flat roads.

What Are the Benefits of Towing in Overdrive?

The biggest benefit of using overdrive while towing is increased gas mileage. You’ll also extend the life of your transmission when you use overdrive correctly. This is because you’ll put less wear and tear on it. Placing less stress on the engine at higher speeds will also reduce maintenance and repair costs in the long run.

Pro Tip: Wear and tear is bound to happen so we spoke to an RV mechanic, these are the RV systems he says will break first.

What Are the Dangers of Towing in Overdrive?

If you’ve ever towed cargo up an incline and heard your vehicle’s engine knock while slowing down, you’ve encountered one of the dangers of overdrive. Because you left your transmission in a higher gear (overdrive), you’ve stressed the engine and transmission. You could bog down or even kill the engine entirely.

Using overdrive on steep terrain can overheat your transmission, as well. And if you leave overdrive on while coasting downhill, the engine might not be able to help you control braking. This puts more stress on your brakes and gives you less control at higher speeds.

Man shifting gears while driving.
Using overdrive when towing on inclines and declines could mean stress on your engine and transmission.

Be Cautious When Using Overdrive

While overdrive offers great advantages, you need to carefully weigh whether to use it. Getting more miles per gallon is always a plus. However, using this high gear while towing on undulating landscapes can wear down your transmission and engine. It may even stop you in your tracks. Have you ever used overdrive while towing? How did it go for you?

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  1. Wolfgang says:

    Unless you have a manual transmission tow vehicle all vehicles shift up and down by themselves so there is no worry about overdrive situations.

  2. Gary says:

    Sorry Wolfgang , not so true with some transmissions, the overdrive in some transmissions will smoke the drive clutches if your towing a trailer even close to your max tow weight. Just drop a gear a make the gears do the work they were designed for.

    Yes it may cost a little in fuel but you might not be broke down in Omaha like I found myself waiting on your rig to get out of the shop.

    After 70 trips back and forth from Florida to Montana I’ve found sometimes trying to save a nickel may cost you a dime.

    In some cases you will find the fuel mileage is about the same in the lower gear anyway.

    With my current Duramax driving in 6th develops extreme exaust temperatures pulling grades if you don’t shift down.

    My 2 cents

  3. Mike K says:

    Most newer tow vehicles have more than one overdrive gear. My F-350 has two. Newer ten speeds have four.
    I will shift out of sixth to fifth which is still a overdrive gear on steeper hills. I do this to keep my diesel in the torque range. My 5th wheel weights 18,500 lbs loaded.

  4. Atticus DelJonson says:

    Overdrive is simply any gear higher than a 1:1 ratio (direct drive), if using a manual trans, you can damage it by being in the wrong gear (overdrive or not), and modern auto transmissions upshift and downshift based off of vehicle speed, and calculated load, so the only real advantages of “turning off overdrive” are slightly less wear on the clutches and brakes from the trans upshifting and downshifting too much, and better engine braking (control of your vehicle when slowing) and that only applies if you are at highway speeds or slightly under, if you want the engine braking assist as you decel, you need to manually select lower gears as you go.

  5. Krauty says:

    There’s a good reason most transmissions sold these days are called automatic.

  6. John McCray says:

    I have a Nissan Pathfinder and tow a 3800 camper. I have the option of turning off overdrive, but also have a button called “tow” When I tow the camper I put on “tow” and leave overdrive alone, however I am in South Ga and North Fl for my towing which is almost as flat as Kansas