Towing a caravan with an electric car - can it be done? | The Driven
towing with ev
Credit: Tom Hunt

It looked like you needed to spend more than $150,000 if you wanted an electric vehicle that tows! So far, the Tesla Model X is the only full electric available in Australia that actually has any ‘rated towing capacity’.

Australia is a nation that enjoys the outdoors and many drivers couldn’t bear not to be able to tow a boat, box trailer, jet ski, bikes or a caravan.

Thank goodness then that Elon Musk fulfilled his promise that the Model 3 will be endorsed for towing (albeit limited to just under a tonne).

But what about the other EV brands growing in the marketplace? Why can’t you tow with them?

I asked this question seriously of the Hyundai Kona Electric, which for my wife and I looks a more practical car for our purposes, at around the same price as the Model 3.

The salesman told us it was not rated for towing, but we looked further into this.

Hyundai market the Kona Electric as an SUV – a Sports Utility Vehicle. This would imply it should be tough enough to take a little more than the average car. It also implies you can expect to take your sports equipment with you – eg push bikes, kayaks, motorbikes, jet skis.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

So why do Hyundai recommend a zero towing capacity?

The very same Kona with petrol motor, is endorsed by Hyundai to tow up to 1.3 tonnes.

The Electric Kona is 15% heavier than the petrol equivalent, and also more powerful. Clearly, you would think better for towing.

The batteries are located underneath the floor between the front and rear wheels. A very protected and practical place to store that weight. They are miles away from the tow bar mounts and certainly not as dangerous in an accident as a tank full of flammable liquid.

There is nothing mysterious or new about electric vehicles. The technology has been around longer than any other.

The battery chemistry is the only relatively new technology here and even that has been around for many years.

The batteries and drive system are fully protected from overload by the electronics in the car.

Loading the vehicle with a little more weight is not adding significant stress on the drive components, more so to the chassis, suspension and wheels, which are reputedly beefed up from the petrol model.

Selling a long range SUV in Australia, Hyundai can’t expect people not to want to tow with it, so what gives?

I put this case to Hyundai and got the following unofficial response from a key person who should know, but who wishes to remain anonymous:

“Technically there is no mechanical issue in towing with any EV, including the Kona. The potential problem one may encounter, especially in the Kona, is the State of Charge on the battery.

“One may get an inaccurate reading of remaining range or charging rate. eg. when one is towing, especially up hill at both extreme ends of the ambient temperature, the range and charge reading will not be true.

“If towing on a flat surface at constant speed then those readings would more likely reflect the “true” reading. Additionally, it is not recommended that you tow more than 500kg.”

So it appears their only concern is that the ‘fuel gauge’ may not give an accurate reading!

I also confirmed with Hyundai that, based on Australian consumer law, their warranty is not voided by the act of towing with the vehicle, unless they can demonstrate that the failure was caused directly by towing, when they don’t recommend it.

Notably – all the cars manual says is – “we do not recommend this vehicle for trailer towing” – They don’t say “you must not tow with it” – and there is nothing else on the vehicle or in the manual to indicate a maximum towing limit.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

We’ve been driving a Toyota Prius since 2009. Toured extensively with it right around Australia, from Broome to Tasmania, mostly tarmac but quite a few dirt roads.

I converted it to a 7kwh plug-in hybrid and added a towbar (to use our boat and box trailers) and heavy duty rear springs, 4 years ago.  270,000km now. It’s still running it’s original battery pack and has had zero mechanical problems. Note the Prius is not marketed as an SUV and is not rated to tow :).

My point is though – Electric vehicles are not in any way weaker than petrol vehicles.

The issues we considered:

1. Is it safe to tow with an EV?

“Technically there is no mechanical issue in towing with any EV” the engineers tell us, and yes battery’s can burn (if the cooling system and safety circuits all failed together and they overcooked themselves), but they are no more dangerous when towing (and certainly no more dangerous than petrol or diesel tanks).

It would be wise to consider however, that the electronics may not take the extra weight and efficiency of the total vehicle into account when calculating remaining range, or controlling automatic functions.

It may be that regenerative braking has less braking effect when towing, so you may need to rely more on the brake pedal (but this is just as you would do with a petrol vehicle)

2. Does it harm the vehicle in any way?

Yes, there is more stress on a vehicle when it is towing, but there is no more harm to an EV than there would be to an equivalent petrol or diesel vehicle.

3. Is it legal to do so?

Technically – not if the manufacturer has specified the maximum towing capacity as zero. The NSW road rules say:

“The loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed the lesser of:

  • Rated capacity of the towbar and tow coupling.
  • Maximum towing capacity of the vehicle.
  • Maximum carrying capacity of the trailer.
  • Maximum rated carrying capacity of the tyres.”

But they go on to say:

“If the vehicle manufacturer has not specified the maximum towing mass, the maximum towing mass is:

  • One and a half times the unladen mass of the towing vehicle, provided that the trailer is fitted with brakes which are connected and in working order, or
  • The unladen mass of the towing vehicle if the trailer does not require brakes.”

So technically you could be fined for towing more than the deemed maximum towing capacity of the car, just like you can be fined for exceeding the speed limit, or for having insufficient muffling on your motorbike exhaust. Are the police likely to ping you for this? There is no offence for having a towbar fitted at least.

4. Are you insured if you tow more than the rated capacity?

I’ve checked this out with the NRMA and I assume other insurers would be the same. There is no issue with insurance cover, and when you think about it, insurance is all about protecting your pocket even when you do things wrong. And many policies insure the trailer as well as the car.

So, we have bought a Kona Electric and are towing with it.

Hyundai couldn’t bring themselves to fit a towbar for us so we got an off-the-shelf one from an Australian manufacturer (the ones made for the petrol model fit perfectly).

The tow bar is rated for 1.3 tonnes but we only intend to use it for trailers up to 500kg.

We have considered the safety, warranty and legal issues and feel comfortable that there are negligible risks involved. Of course we take precautions and drive carefully when we are towing as anyone should.

The car is just brilliant by the way, and is doing a wonderful job of towing whenever we need to.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt is regional Coordinator, Citizens Climate Lobby Australia, secretary of  Renew Illawarra and coordinator for the Wollongong Climate Action Network

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