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Smallest Tow Vehicles: Is Towing a Horse Trailer With a Car Safe?

Last updated October 14, 2023 by Brad Heath

Many horsemen wonder if it is possible or even safe to tow a horse trailer with a car or other smaller tow vehicle.  They are looking for ways to avoid buying an enormous truck to tow a 2 horse trailer.  Perhaps this is you?

Are you trying to work with a vehicle you already own?  Or, are you simply attracted to the space-saving and less expensive aspects of a smaller vehicle?  Either way, we are going to take a look at towing trailers with smaller vehicles so you can get an idea of what is possible – and more importantly – what is safe.

Basic Horse Trailer Towing Safety

2 horse trailerMaking sure that your horse trailer and tow vehicle are properly matched is extremely important.  Hauling a load that is too heavy for your vehicle could result in difficult handling on the road, excessive wear on your vehicle, and even a complete hitch failure while driving.

To put it simply, you are setting yourself up for a severe accident if you don’t use a vehicle that is well equipped to handle your trailer’s weight.

Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, helped weigh in on the topic:

“A load is only as strong (and safe) as the weakest link.  Imagine a chain with heavy steel links capable of holding 10,000 lbs.  If all of the links are rated at 10,000 lbs., but one is rated at only 5,000…that’s all that it will hold.”

He explained that towing a horse trailer isn’t any different.  Instead of chain links, you are dealing with the tow capacity of your vehicle, the hitch towing capacity, and the tongue weight capacity of the hitch. 

Let’s imagine that your vehicle is rated to handle 9,200 lbs., but your hitch can only handle 5,000 lbs.  More importantly, your hitch can only handle a tongue weight of 750 lbs.  If you exceed the values on the ‘weakest link’ of that system, you are setting yourself up for trouble.

We’ve written before about how to find the best truck for towing your horse trailer and the things you should check on your tow vehicle to be sure you’re ready to head out on the road.  However, we have not discussed the concept of intentionally using a small tow vehicle to haul your horse trailer.  That’s what we’ll tackle here…

Brad reminded us of the most important thing to remember.  “It’s vital to insure your horse trailer is being towed by an adequately equipped tow vehicle.  Otherwise, it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Can Cars Tow Trailers:  What are the Smallest Tow Vehicles That Can Be Used?

Tow vehicle capacities seem to vary as much as human fingerprints.  That is why it’s important to check the towing recommendations for individual vehicles before assuming they are safe.

To find the smallest tow vehicle that will safely work with your horse trailer, you need to know the weight of your trailer and its tongue weight.  Then, you can match that with a vehicle that will easily handle the combination even when fully loaded with horses and gear.

To provide an example, the lightest horse trailer offered by Double D Trailers is the Townsmand, which weighs 2,500 lbs. and has a tongue weight of 475 lbs. when empty.  After you add one horse at 1,100 lbs., a saddle, water, a bale of hay, and other gear, you’ve easily increased the total weight to almost 4,000 lbs.  Remember, the Townsmand is a two horse trailer, so chances are, you’re looking at a regular weight of closer to 5,500 lbs.   

Most sedan type cars are only rated to tow less than 4,000 lbs.  More importantly, you likely won’t find a sedan that can handle 500-600 lbs. of tongue weight on the back end of the car.  That’s like carrying three adults and a child stuffed in your trunk!

“Sedans are not safe tow vehicles for horse trailers,” Brad concluded.  “Instead, consider a longer wheel base SUV that is rated to haul at least 4,500 lbs. and can carry a tongue weight of 600 lbs.”

What Type of Horse Trailer Works with a Small Tow Vehicle?

one horse trailerThere are a few horse trailer companies that will offer a one horse trailer that weighs closer to 2,100 lbs.  However, these trailers are often what Brad calls “single wall trailers.”  This means they are not insulated on the side walls or the roof and are not anything we’d recommend hauling a horse in. 

These trailers have a weaker structure that won’t stand up well in an accident.  Plus, insulation is important to regulate the interior temperature of your trailer on hot summer days. 

Here at Double D Trailers, we offer a SafeTack One Horse Trailer with a weight of 2,700 lbs. when empty.  Or, we have the shorter length Townsmand two horse trailer that weighs around 2,500 lbs.

When figuring out your trailer weight, remember to account for around 1,100 lbs. per horse along with tack, hay bales, water, and other gear.  That can quickly increase the overall weight of your loaded trailer.

Advantages of Using a Smaller Tow Vehicle

If you can match your horse trailer safely with a smaller tow vehicle like a small truck or SUV, then there may be a few advantages.  For instance, that smaller vehicle may get better gas mileage, cost less, or save some space. 

We can’t emphasize this enough…these advantages are not worth it if your truck is not adequately equipped to safely haul the load.

Problems with Using a Smaller Tow Vehicle

On the flip side, there are several disadvantages to using a smaller tow vehicle to haul your trailer.  The average new car weighs around 3,200 lbs.  (For comparison, a Chevy Suburban truck weighs around 5,500 lbs.)  Asking a 3,200 lb. tow vehicle to tow a 4,000 lb. horse trailer combination is an accident waiting to happen.

The trailer can literally “push” the car all over the road especially if you have to suddenly swerve or break in an emergency situation.

Brad shared, “Having a ‘light weight’ tow vehicle and a ‘light weight’ horse trailer truly aren’t a safe combination.  Many manufacturers and dealers push the term ‘light weight.’  In my opinion, it should read ‘under weighted’ horse trailer and ‘under weighted’ tow vehicle.

A smaller tow vehicle simply won’t do as good of a job hauling your horse trailer as a larger one.  That is why we strongly recommend that you carefully check the tow capacity of your vehicle and hitch before hooking up.  Make sure you know the weight of your horse trailer and tongue weight when fully loaded. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Brad for help. 


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