By on December 3, 2019

2018 Ford Super Duty, Image: Ford

Depending on your lifestyle, hanging something off the rear bumper of your car, SUV, or pickup might be a regular occurence. Maybe you’re a member of the horsey set, hauling thoroughbreds to and from the tonier enclaves of Southern California or Kentucky. Perhaps you’re a road trip buff with a family to lug around. It could be that boats and ATVs consume every minute of your waking thoughts, and the contents of your garage show it.

Or, just maybe, you’re the owner of an old Mazda B-Series who searches in vain every week for just enough scrap metal to keep the lights on at home.

At some point in your towing experience, did something go terribly awry?

Your author has no such tale to tell, as compact, manual-transmission cars are not the best way to lug heavy objects over great distances. My urban lifestyle has no need for a traditional hitch or fifth wheel, though a friend recently bought a mint 2004 Toyota 4Runner in order to haul a dilapidated 1980s trailer up to a secluded spot near a creek. I’m envious of the 4Runner, the trailer, and the creek, and I want everyone to know that.

A story passed down to me from my late father does involve towing, however, and it’s one that feels like it should have taken place in Britain, possibly as the plot of a comedy show. It involves a British car, you see. One that tackled a great challenge and lost.

Well, sort of.

Back in the early ’60s, my grandfather (who once worked at Ford’s Chicago Assembly but never seemed to take a shine to the brand) purchased a family car. It’s important to note that at the height of the Baby Boom, British imports were still going strong in Canada. Tempted by a low price, granddad bought a Morris Minor 1000 to haul around his family of five… as well as a trailer meant to house that family when they visited their camp spot at a lake 2 hours distant.

While dad’s story doesn’t specify whether the Minor 1000 carried Morris’ 948cc or 1098cc inline-four, it’s probably safe to point to the larger of the two mills (which set up shop in the model in 1962). This powerhouse cranked out 48 horsepower and 60 lb-ft of torque — a far cry from the previous 37 hp/50 lb-ft.

Car, family, and trailer made it to the lake. They made it back, too, but not before the little Morris broke two connecting rods and nearly deafened its occupants with pinging as those now freewheelin’ rods attempted to claw their way to freedom. And they almost did.

Wouldn’t you know it, granddad managed to pilot the suddenly vastly overloaded vehicle back to the city on two sluggish cylinders, eventually performing an engine overhaul in his shed that amazed the local British import dealer. The Minor’s mini mill topped factory specs after that.

It’s not boats-passing-drivers-on-the-highway kind of stuff, but it’s an amusing tale nonetheless.

What’s yours?

[Image: Ford]

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24 Comments on “QOTD: Towing Trouble?...”

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    My wife’s Toyota Sienna was good enough to tow and launch my boat- with a good ramp. But one time, the boat popped a coolant hose, in the dark, way up the river about 15 miles from my launch point. I was able to paddle to shore and a local gave me a ride back to the van, where I launched. I came back with the empty trailer and used his ramp to extract the boat, but it was way too steep and paved with random loose bricks. The Sienna could not get enough grip to yank the boat out of the water.
    Fortunately, the local hooked his F-250 die-smell with a tow strap and of course, the van and boat came out no problem.
    I immediately went to a liquor store and bought him a case of his favorite beer.

  • avatar

    Last October, my wife and I took our horses down to Southeastern Ohio for a week of trail riding. My old ’99 F350 made the 170-mile trip down with no problems other than maneuvering my 16k lb, 41′ horse trailer around the narrow and winding roads to arrive at the horse camp which was located pretty far from modern civilization. Two days before we were due to leave, my wife got knocked off her horse and badly injured her leg (found to be broken a week or so later) thus requiring that we leave early for home. Hooked the trailer back up, my wife nested on the floor of the living quarters on top of several blankets (yeah, I know, illegal to occupy a trailer when being towed) and we started home up the very narrow county road toward Rio Grande, Ohio, around 50 miles away to catch the 4-lane west toward home. Around 1500′ from the camp ground one of the trailer wheels collapsed (rim bent in, tire deflated loudly) on this lane-and-half ratty road. No problem, I thought – I had one of those ramp-style jacks aboard and a good spare. All I needed to do was go about a mile and a half to a local church and do the tire change. At the church I had everything but…my 1″ deep socket to remove the wheel lugs – I’d used it a few weeks before in the barn and totally forgot to put it back in the trailer. Thus began the two and a half hour journey at 20 to 25 mph max down a twisty, narrow, and hilly road toward Rio Grande and civilization where the spare might be installed. Cell phone, you say? Yep we finally got cell phone service about a quarter mile from Rio Grande where I summoned AAA to bail me out. The 170-mile trip home ended up taking around 11 hours start to finish. And my wife? She slept through the whole thing.

  • avatar

    Definitely read the phrase Horsey Set in Mr. Burns voice, if that was your intent.

  • avatar

    Some decades ago, when I was racing cars and motorcycles, I towed a race car out to test it. On the way out of the test area, on a bumpy dirt road, I noticed, in the mirror, that the trailer was moving around more than usual. A lot more. Soon it was fairly obvious that the usual connection between the trailer and the van was NFG. Fortunately there was a breakaway cable that applied the trailer brakes and with a little drama I stopped everything.
    Inspection revealed that the hitch ball was still hooked to the trailer tongue, but not to the van. The large nut that would secure the ball to the drawbar was missing. Searching for a gray nut on a gray gravel road took some time. Finally found it and reattached everything. I noticed that the nut went on to the ball stud threads only about 1.5 turns. Not good. I knew it was not that way originally as I had installed the hitch on the van.
    Later I found out someone had “borrowed” the hitch ball and switched it with theirs. The stud was too short for the draw bar. I let them know, in a very unsubtle way, that this was not going to happen again.

  • avatar

    Nothing too bad. My travel trailer was still fairly new to me when on its third trip home from camping, at night, on a 4-lane undivided state highway I crested a slight rise that was hiding a “road gator” from my headlights in the middle of the right hand lane. I was able to floor the gas and swerve to the left very hard without upsetting the trailer. Had the road gator been of the regular variety I might have avoided it, but because it was a super-single the rocker panel of my truck rubbed it, tipping it up like a rolling tire, whereupon it smacked into the lower leading edge of my travel trailer. The damage looked worse than it was and I was able to continue camping the rest of the season (without leaks!) before having it repaired. Which is good because the repair ultimately took 2 months of the RV shop ordering and reordering sheet metal to put it together.

    Prior to that I did have a fun experience post college graduation trying to unload a U-Haul 6×12 utility trailer into my storage unit as I was moving myself and my fiancee from three residences in the Mid-Atlantic down to Georgia. Surge brakes backing uphill pose logistical problems when rental trailers are poorly (or at all?) maintained and the lockout pin is MIA.

  • avatar

    Last year, an American automaker sold me a full-size sedan with 270 horsepower and a 2000# tow rating.

    They won’t sell me a hitch, and they wrote in the owner’s manual that using non-OEM trailer towing equipment will void the warranty.

  • avatar

    For Steph, I recommend the Reese Backpacker pup clamshell. It’s light on a compact stick car, weather resistant, and stows away easily when not in use.

    Example here:

    My neighbors have one for the their Smart and Mini. You can pick them up used for a fair price. They can sure come in handy when the interior space doesn’t quite fit the load, or you have to move something messy.

    PS For something slightly bigger and open, LifeTime used to make a very nice light utility trailer too.

  • avatar

    I have a bunch of towing stories ( I ised to work for boat yards and boat dealers back in the day which adds to the material). Some quick highlights

    Breaking down with a Dually and an empty 25′ boat trailer on the lower level of the GW bridge. Lots of colorful NY/NJ language was directed at me by passing traffic. Got towed off at high speed with a 20′ chain tied to a bridge authority truck.

    Towing a 36′ house boat over width over weight and with no trailer brakes with a 15 year old 460 powered f250. Brakes were the biggest problem. Luckily nothing bad happened.

    On a rainy day towing a little 18′ boat with a new 99 3500 ram cummins, broke the rear end loose and power slid thru an intersection laughing my head off until I realized the owner of the boat dealer I worked for was 2 cars behind me…. Doh.

    Used my 2.8 v6 xj to tow a 16 boat up a granite launch ramp and 200 yards of field to a workshop……. without a trailer.

    Drag racing 99 power stroke vs a 99 ram cummins with 30′ travel trailers behind both (decided saftey was an issue around 90)

    And my personal favorite as it relates to the picture above of an F350 hauling a boat on a hydraulic trailer. Picked up a boat a few towns from the boat yard with the hydraulic trailer (look up you-tube vids on the subject they lift boats out of the water and place on stands). The boat had been rotting in a backyard and I couldn’t get the trailer quite far enough under. So I loaded it anyways and bleed down the front hydraulics to put all the load on the rear wheels. Which gave it a few hundred pounds tongue weight (normal would be closer to 1000 lbs with this trailer boat combo). As I drove back to the yard I noticed it getting a little squirrely on me but I kept driving. As I pulled into the yard I heard a large bang and the back end of the truck flew up. I got out found the trailer with the tongue in the air just the chain holding it to the truck and the truck rear wheels barley touching the ground. Seems the trailer had an equalization valve between the front and rear cylinders that slowly bled down moving the load balance point rear ward. When I hit the hump in the yard the newly loaded front wheel hit the incline first and shifted the weight enough to pop the (well worn) hitch. Since it happened at the yard no harm no foul grabbed the front loader pushed down the trailer, pulled the truck away and dragged the boat the rest of the way with a Kubota tractor.

    • 0 avatar

      I was with my dad once when we did the sliding in the rain thing thru an intersection with our 18 foot bass boat. We didn’t do it on purpose but once the weight came around we had to ride it out. Being a teenager at the time I thought it was great fun, my father’s heart rate however was likely at call 911 levels.

  • avatar

    Grandpa was definitely an outlier…working in a UAW plant and driving an import, even if it was from England.
    My experience at GM was that roughly 97% of UAW members drove UAW built cars and trucks, although more Fords and Chryslers than GMs.

  • avatar

    My dad had me take the old 12-foot grain drill with the similarly-old Farmall 544 to go plant soybeans in the low spots that had been too wet for the big planter to go through. I went over a bumpy spot on the road, and unbeknownst to me the hitch pin worked its way up and out of the hole. When I finally looked back, there was the drill, with its hitch clevis nosed into the gravel road… and my dad in his pickup behind it.

  • avatar

    In a past life I often drove a variety of DRW F-350s with 4-spd and tool bodies pulling a Case 580 backhoe on a trailer. The trucks generally did OK until you had to stop on an upward incline. Getting moving again was challenging with 1st gear good for a walking pace with the engine at valve float, then slamming the left pedal while forcing the reluctant trans into second with all your strength before you stalled out. I’ve exclusively driven manual-equipped cars for over 30 years but you couldn’t give me a truck with one.

  • avatar

    Well, I’m not really sure this is a towing story. It’s more of a boat ramp fail story, but something was being towed so here goes:

    My 2002 CVPI was plenty capable of towing my 16′ aluminium boat. It had RWD, BOF construction and a 3.55 rear end. It had plenty of power to tow a 1500# boat, plus the wheelbase made it plenty stable.

    So one Saturday morning in late June 2011, me and my 3 year old son set off for the local lake. We’re backing down the boat ramp and I’m getting close to having the rear wheels of the trailer in the water. At this point, I pause to make sure the docking line is clear of the wheels. (Since I’m by myself, it’s a bit tricky.)

    I keep backing down the ramp until the rear wheels of the CVPI get very close to the water’s edge. At that time of year, that part of the boat ramp was covered in a slippery algae. Since the boat was still not coming off the trailer, I let the car go a little more down the ramp.

    This is where things start to go pear-shaped. I went a little too far and lost traction because the drive wheels contacted the algae surface. I then attempt to drive up the ramp, but the wheels are now just spinning, and now the wheels start to float. The CVPI has a low fuel tank and it was full, and waves were starting to rock it. It was the Archimedes principle in action.

    So I start panicking a little because the rear of the car is floating and at a certain point I must have put it in neutral and not had my foot on the brake. Did I mention that I was fairly new to boat ramp launching?

    So this is where disaster struck. The car just keeps going down the ramp into the water. Even in park, the front wheels are slipping down the ramp.

    At this point I realize there’s nothing I can do and I know I have to get my son out of the backseat. I open the back door as the rear seats are filling up with water, unbuckle him, and basically swim out of the car with him in my arms. By this point the car is mostly submerged, the boat is slowly floating away and we’re trying to get to shore without drowning.

    I get my son and myself to shore as a guy runs up. As soon as we establish that everyone is ok, I look out and see the headlights of my car poking up from about 10′ of water.

    I retrieved my boat, and stood on the (submerged hood) of the car to warn boaters. Eventually a guy arrived with a beat-up looking old 4-banger Dodge pickup, and I swam under water and attached steel hooks to the front bumper. That old 4-banger Dodge actually managed to drag my car and trailer out of the water and I’m sure the driver is still dining on that story!

    The car was totaled of course, but I made it home alive with my son. I attempted to turn the engine over the next day, but it was only able to issue a death gurgle. And after a few days in the hot MS sun, it smelled like A$$. I got $400 from the wreckers though.

    Eventually, I got another CVPI and had 10 trouble free years of towing the same boat with it.

    • 0 avatar

      I find this story very well-written – and absolutely terrifying.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve personally seen this happen 3 or 4 times now to people. It occurs in slow motion, you know the rig is going in the drink but you are just helpless. Terrible feeling. Never seen it happen with a kid in the vehicle however – that is the thing of nightmares!

      Once my truck wasn’t really coming back up the ramp that well (tires spinning a bit) and some guys just jumped into the bed to add weight. I didn’t even have to ask, they just knew the sooner I got my trailer out of the way the sooner they could launch theirs to start an afternoon of drinking and bikini watching.

      I’ve also seen people launch a boat and forget the deck line, the boat just floats away. A quick swim retrieves it so no real harm.

      Now I once forgot to put the bilge plug in, thankfully I noticed it almost immediately and was just barely able to reach the location on the transom to correct the situation or else my boat would have sunk right then and there. When I flipped the pump on about 20 gallons came out.

      Boat ramps are always entertaining. I could write a book about the things I’ve seen. Including a guy towing a 30 foot center console fishing boat with an old Toyota Supra. I wanted so bad to see how that adventure ended but the ramp was super busy so I just drove away before the fireworks started.

  • avatar

    Last summer I jackknifed our SUV/trailer while trying to pull a U-turn to get out of an impossibly small parking lot at a liquor store and dented the trailer. Kensington , Prince Edward Island draws tons of tourists so why not make the liquor store parking lot RV friendly? For that matter, there was NO parking anywhere near the place for RVs.

    My wife offered constructive criticism and recommended that I didn’t need to drink while camping. Have you ever heard something so absurd?

    I’ll aim to dent the other side on our trip there next summer.

  • avatar

    Not so much of a scary incident as it was a pain in the @ss, but some family friends of ours once bought a boat and trailer combo that when loaded, weighed just under 7000 lbs. The day he was to go pick it up, his VW Touareg (diesel with 4×4 and 7700 lb rating I believe) broke down. He needed to pick up the boat that day and the Jetta the dealership gave him as a loaner wasn’t helping. His only resort was to borrow his father’s vehicle, a 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood that just so happened to have a factory 7000 lb towing package.

    Amazingly, everything went fine until they were about 1/2 an hour away from home. They got pulled over by a cop that tried to ticket them for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. It took TWO HOURS of back and forth bickering and phone calling before they proved that yes, this vehicle was legally allowed to tow that much before and he let them continue. To be fair, he was apparently wasn’t being an @sshole about anything and actually towed an airstream travel trailer himself. He was just concerned with seeing a very large boat behind a much smaller car going down a rain slicked highway, and didn’t believe them when told the Cadillac was technically still under it’s towing limit.

  • avatar

    GREAT stories ! .

    I remember all those 1950’s & 1960’s pickups parking on the boat ramp with the rear wheels under water, park brake firmly set, engine idling in neutral, eventually the wet brakes failed and the beautiful old truck granpa had given then rolled slowly past and submerged….

    The good thing was : those oldies were dead simple to dry out and make run again, all you really had to show was the gauges in the dash all discolored from the lake water….


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