By The Numbers: How To Properly Flat-Tow Your JeepPosted in How To: Body Chassis on May 23, 2017
Getting tired of spending money on hotels when you go to a major Jeep event? Not really into tent camping on the ground any more? Well, here’s our favorite option: tow your Jeep behind a diesel-powered full-size pickup truck with a truck camper atop it and have your cake and eat it too. To prove just how viable this option is, we borrowed the Hellwig project rig “Rule Breaker,” a 2016 Nissan Titan XD that carried a 2017 Lance Camper Model 650 camper and flat-towed a ’13 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited to the 2017 Tierra Del Sol event this year.
Rule BreakerThe 2016 Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab 4x4 came with the sturdy and generously powerful Cummins 5.0L V-8 turbodiesel, providing 310 hp and, better yet, 555 pound-feet of torque (at a very towing-friendly and low 1,600 rpm). With a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 19,450 pounds, a Trailer Towing Capacity of 12,037 pounds, and a Maximum Payload of a ton (2,003 pounds), the Titan XD diesel crew cab 4x4 was a great choice for hauling the Lance Camper Model 650 and flat-towing the Jeep Wrangler JK.
Lance Campers has been building top-notch truck campers (and now light-weight trailers) for many decades, and the Model 650 is a great choice for the off-roader. Weighing in dry (that means with empty water tanks) 1,694 pounds, the Lance 650 is considered a lightweight camper, despite its 6-foot 10-inch floor length. A queen-sized bed in the overhead, convertible dinette that can seat four for dining or sleep two children, 3-cubic-foot three-way-power (AC/DC/propane) refrigerator, stainless steel two-burner stove, roof-mounted air conditioning unit, an 18,000-Btu forced-air furnace, and a stand-up shower/toilet cabinet are just a few of the dozens of features that make the Lance 650 a much better alternative to budget-busting hotels or wind-blown tents.
However, without some upgrades to the truck, carrying even the Lance 650 would make for much less than a perfect road trip. That’s where Hellwig came into the picture. Along with a number of other accessories to make the Lance 650 stay put and create a more off-road-trip-capable Titan XD, Rule Breaker received suspension and load carrying augmentation from Hellwig. The Hellwig Rear Sway Bar (PN 7748), Big Wig Air Springs (PN 6306), and Auto Leveling Compressor/Air Tank (PN 4880) are what really turned the Titan XD into a camper-carrying beast by giving it a superior level of control over the load saddled across its chassis. During the four days and few-hundred miles we had it, the rig remained firmly planted on the road, carried the load without any overt rocking or swaying, and handled 40-plus mph winds without feeling tippy.
Old MathMaximum Payload is just that, the maximum amount of weight a pickup truck can carry on its chassis. Tow Rating (aka: Maximum Trailer Weight Rating, Maximum Towing Capacity, or Gross Trailer Weight Rating) is the maximum weight of a trailer including the weight of the trailer itself, plus fluids and cargo, that can be towed by the vehicle. Gross Combined Weight Rating is the maximum allowable combined weight of the vehicle, the passengers, and cargo in the tow vehicle, plus the weight of the trailer and cargo in or on the trailer. The GCWR is a function of the torque output of the engine, the capacity and ratios of the transmission, the capacity of the driving axles and tires, the capacity of the radiator, and the ability of the chassis to withstand that powertrain torque. However, keep in mind that when you add aftermarket accessories and equipment to a truck, you must subtract that additional weight from the vehicle’s tow rating because its towing capacity is dependent upon the GCWR.
The math is as follows. Cargo weight (such as a truck camper) must be deducted from Tow Rating, again because the Tow Rating is directly related to the GCWR. In our situation, the 1,694-pound Lance 650 dropped our Titan XD’s tow rating to 10,343 pounds. The Base Weight of our ’08 Jeep Wrangler non-Rubicon averages 4,400 pounds. With the aftermarket lift kit, bigger tires and wheels, bumpers, and sliders added in, we figured about 5,500 pounds. While using a trailer to tow the Jeep upon would add even more weight into the equation, flat-towing the Jeep means we could stay well under the Titan XD’s GCWR, allowing plenty of room for cargo, fluids, and passengers.
Towing GearThere are more companies that make towing equipment than you shake a stick at, but we have used and are big fans of Blue Ox. The company offers a full line of gear for trailering just about anything. You will need a tow bar (BX7322 Adventurer Tow Bar), wiring kit (BX8869 Bulb and Socket Tail Light Wiring Kit), and connector (BX88206 7-6 Coiled Electrical Cable) to channel electrical signals from the truck to the Jeep. You will also need some sort of baseplate to hook the tow bar to your Jeep’s front bumper, and while Blue Ox makes a number of baseplates for aftermarket bumpers as well as factory bumpers, you may need to custom make a baseplate.
You may need a supplemental braking system on the flat-towed Jeep, as some states consider it a trailer. Check with your local state motor-vehicle offices. The Blue OX BRK2016 Patriot II Brake System will help reduce braking shock on the towing gear and your Jeep (which can create wear and tear on its chassis, tires, and other components).
You will also need a drawbar and ball that goes into the truck’s receiver. We like (and have owned for years) the Tow & Stow from B&W Trailer Hitches. It offers multiple rotatable ball sizes and can be folded down to tuck the out of the way when not in use without removing it from the vehicle’s receiver hitch.
Flat-Tow SettingsFlat-towing your Jeep eliminates the extra weight of a trailer to carry it on and makes it much easier to turn loose the Jeep once you’re in camp. Sure it puts miles on the rolling gear of the Jeep, but you don’t have extra axles, tires, and brakes (under a trailer) to worry above servicing or repairing when they blow out on the highway.
Regardless of what Jeep you own, the most important key to successful flat towing is to disengage the driveshafts. On a Jeep Wrangler JK that means placing the transfer case in the Neutral (N) position. If your Jeep has a manual transmission, it must be placed in gear (not Neutral); an automatic transmission must be placed in the Park (P) position. The parking brake must be off for towing. However, never allow the Jeep to be left unattached from the tow vehicle unless the parking brake is on. We suggest that you double-check the T-case, trans, and brake settings before you begin to tow and check them again each time you stop during your trip.
With the right equipment, proper procedures, and careful attention to weights (we suggest taking your tow rig and your Jeep to a certified truck scale, as they are loaded for travel, to get exact weights), you can flat-tow your Jeep behind an RV or truck camper and reap the benefits associated with camping, with none of the discomforts associated with sleeping under a piece of nylon or canvas.
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