What Is a Tow Package?

by John S. Kepler

When choosing a car or truck to buy, or when considering upgrades, one of the options often presented is a tow package. It is common to think of the tow package as nothing more than a trailer hitch, but there is much more that goes into this valuable addition to your automobile. Simply because a vehicle is equipped with a hitch, even if factory installed, does not mean it has a tow package.

Tow Hitch

Naturally, the hitch is the core of the tow package. This hitch can come in the form of a simple ball, or it can be a receiver hitch, either of which will be bolted directly to frame members. A receiver hitch is a square tube that accepts a ball which is then held in place with a hitch-pin. The size of the ball and receiver will be determined by the kind of loads that will be hauled.

Electrical Connections

A tow package also includes wiring that allows the trailer to be connected to the lighting system of the automobile or truck. This wiring will consist of a connector located close to the hitch and will feed electricity to the brake lights, turn signals, and licence plate light. In some cases, this connector may also include circuits that power a trailer's braking system, taking much stress off the vehicle doing the towing. This option is generally reserved for heavier-duty applications.

Suspension and Brakes

Many heavy-duty tow package applications will include upgrades to the suspension and brakes of the tow vehicle. Suspension upgrades can include heavier springs and more robust shocks that help the tow vehicle control heavy loads. Brake upgrades can include larger discs or drums to increase vehicle safety when towing heavy loads.

Transmission

Surprisingly, the drive train component that takes the most abuse when towing is not the engine or even the brakes. It is the transmission—especially if the vehicle is equipped with an automatic transmission. Automatic transmissions will generate significantly more heat when towing than when in general use so they require additional cooling. While all automatic transmissions have cooling lines that pass through the vehicle radiator, a towing package will include a larger heat exchanger in the radiator to compensate for the heavier-duty use. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a factory-installed tow package and should not be overlooked when simply installing a hitch.

Drivetrain

Since towing heavy loads requires more force to the drive wheels than everyday driving, tow-package-equipped cars and trucks are often geared differently than their non-tow-package cousins. This can include transmission gearing modifications but more commonly will turn up as a higher gear ratio in the differential or rear end. While this higher gear ratio will result in increased torque to the drive wheels and decreased wear and tear on the engine and transmission, it will also result in decreased fuel economy when the vehicle is used in non-towing applications.

What To Look For In a Tow Package

Consider your needs and the kind of loads you expect to be hauling. You may not require a heavy-duty tow package but only a trailer hitch, which will also include the all-important electrical wiring. This will save you from the decreased fuel economy that comes with a tow package. However, if the loads to be hauled are heavy, such as boats, cars, or building materials, and towing will occur often, a tow package will result in extended drive life and better performance.

About the Author

John Kepler has 18 years experience as a rocket scientist and has degrees in physics, aerospace engineering, and atmospheric science. His most valued education though comes from his curiosity which has made him an expert in everything from cabinet making, to soccer, to automotive technology. He is the author of four novels and lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

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