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Should You Tow a Trailer Using an Automatic?

No matter what logo is on the front of your vehicle, there’s a good chance you want it to last as long as possible. Towing can be incredibly hard on a vehicle, especially the transmission. For years there’s been a debate about whether or not drivers should use automatic transmissions when towing. 

So should you tow a trailer using an automatic transmission? Let’s look and see!

Should You Tow a Trailer Using an Automatic?

Towing a trailer with a modern automatic transmission vehicle is safe. Modern vehicles are much safer and more capable than older generations. Manufacturers have increased safety features that allow vehicles to adjust to the road’s terrain and weather conditions.

In addition, the number of drivers that know how to drive vehicles with manual transmissions is incredibly low. CarScoops estimates that only 66% of drivers can drive manual transmissions. In addition, fewer people are buying manual vehicles. As a result, it’s likely safe to assume that the percentage will continue to drop.

Is It Better to Tow With an Automatic or Manual Transmission?

Manual transmissions were once the go-to transmissions of choice for many drivers. This was mainly because automatic transmissions would constantly shift gears under the increased loads. The results were drivers overheating their transmissions and destroying them. 

Luckily, technologies have advanced, and manufacturers have made adjustments.

Modern automatic transmissions can typically go toe-to-toe with manual transmissions. However, many drivers prefer automatic vehicles for towing because the transmission works for them. They don’t have to worry about switching gears, remembering which gear they’re in, and where they need to go next. 

Automatic transmissions drastically reduce the chances of human error negatively affecting your driving experience.

Pro Tip: Always follow these 10 Unwritten Rules for Towing when on the road.

Fifth wheel RV being towed
RVers typically prefer driving with automatic transmissions.

Does Towing Damage an Automatic Transmission?

As long as you stay within the recommended weight limits of your vehicle, towing shouldn’t damage an automatic transmission. To protect your automatic transmission from damage while towing, you must familiarize yourself with its towing capabilities.

Manufacturers set towing capacities to reflect the capabilities of the vehicle. Exceeding these limits can cause damage to any type of transmission and other essential components in your vehicle. You could cause serious damage to your vehicle and put yourself and other drivers in a dangerous situation.

What Can Damage Your Automatic Transmission?

Pushing your automatic transmission past its limit can damage it in a hurry. While you may not notice it initially, there’s a good chance it will start to run rough, and performance will suffer. The more you continue to stress the automatic transmission, it’s only a matter of time before you have a catastrophic failure.

Another common cause of damage to automatic transmissions is improper maintenance. This includes procrastinating routine maintenance, ignoring problems, and running low or using the wrong transmission fluid. If you want your automatic transmission to last as long as possible, it pays to take care of your vehicle.

How Do I Protect My Transmission When Towing?

The best way to protect your transmission when towing is to know the limits for your vehicle and stick to them. One of the fastest ways to cause permanent damage to your transmission is to push it past its limits. Even if it’s only a short distance, you can cause serious damage when towing a load that’s too heavy.

Even if you’re towing within your limits, there are still some things you should do when towing. While your transmission can handle heavier loads, towing it up a mountain or over steep grades can be very demanding. Watch the temperature gauge and ensure it’s not creeping up on getting too warm.

Transmissions typically operate between 160 and 175 degrees but reach 220 degrees when towing. If you notice the temperature getting close to 220, it’s a good idea to find a place to pull over. Simply parking for a few minutes will give your transmission time to rest and cool down. If this is a frequent occurrence, you can install a cooler for the transmission to help keep the temperature in check.

SUV towing camper
Towing a trailer is stressful enough, automatic vehicles give you less to think about.

Can I Use Cruise Control While Pulling a Trailer?

Much like an automatic transmission, cruise control removes an additional task for drivers. Towing on standard highways is acceptable and won’t cause any damage to your vehicle. However, it’s not a good idea to use cruise control while pulling a trailer through hilly or mountainous areas.

When you drive with cruise control, the vehicle works to maintain a certain speed. Driving up and over hills can cause the RPMs to skyrocket and tax your transmission. You’ll quickly realize your vehicle doesn’t like your decision to use cruise control. It will shift in and out of gears and, if you do nothing about it, can cause serious damage.

Feel free to use cruise control when towing on level surfaces. However, when approaching an incline or decline in the road, simply cancel cruise control and manually take over your vehicle’s speed. 

What Do You Need to Know Before Towing a Trailer?

Towing a trailer can be challenging and stressful, especially if you’re not prepared or are using the wrong equipment. You first need to know your vehicle’s towing capabilities and the weight of the trailer you’re planning to tow. If the trailer’s weight exceeds 80% of the towing capacity of your vehicle, consider getting a different vehicle or trailer.

Once you have the right vehicle for the load, you need to know that you should never try to do anything fast when towing. Whether hitching, driving to your destination, or maneuvering into a spot, doing it slow can help eliminate mistakes. Mistakes while towing can not only be costly but deadly.

When maneuvering your trailer, make sure to take wide turns. You must also account for the tail swing during turns to avoid hitting poles or other nearby obstacles. In addition, backing up a trailer can be challenging because everything you know about backing up a vehicle gets reversed. If you can find a large, empty parking lot to practice, do it. Any practice you can get before hitting the open road will be beneficial.

Pro Tip: We took a closer look to decide Are Automatic Vehicles Less Gas Efficient?

Is It Worth Towing a Trailer With an Automatic?

When it comes to towing a trailer with an automatic, it’s the best choice for most drivers. Allowing the transmission to do all the work for you can save you tremendous physical and mental energy. You don’t have to worry about constantly pressing in the clutch and remembering which gear you’re in and need to shift to next. 

Just do yourself a favor and ensure you stay within your towing capacity to keep you safe and protect your vehicle.

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