If you’re a solo traveler looking to boondock a few times a year, you might not want to spend lots of money on a huge camper. You might prefer something small that’s easy to tote around on your own. You may also want to save money by using the vehicle you already own. For Toyota Prius owners, is this even possible? Is the Prius towing capacity enough to tow a camper?
Let’s dive in!
Do You Need a Large Truck or SUV to Pull a Camper?
Towing capacity determines whether or not a vehicle can tow a camper. Larger SUVs and trucks have higher towing capabilities. From the brake system to the transmission to the vehicle length, they can safely transport more weight than a vehicle like a sedan.
That said, you don’t have to have a truck or SUV to pull a camper. If the camper is small and lightweight enough, a smaller vehicle could have the towing capacity to pull it safely.
How Heavy Are Camper Trailers?
Camper trailers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. Different construction materials and building methods are used to make some very lightweight campers. Granted, the lighter the camper, the fewer the amenities and features you should expect. The lightest trailers will usually be small teardrop campers, pop-up campers, or trailer tents. Usually, you can’t stand up in these campers, and there are minimal appliances. Some of these campers weigh less than 1,000lbs.
Compare these lightweight RV trailers to the heaviest in the category which can weigh upwards of 26,000 lbs. These premium trailers require one-ton dually trucks or larger to pull.
Can You Tow a Camper With a Toyota Prius?
With a starting price of around $25,000, a Toyota Prius will be much more affordable than a Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Tahoe. There are eight different trims, three of them with all-wheel drive technology. However, Toyota has stated that the Toyota Prius isn’t for towing. The company discourages towing with a Prius. The vehicle doesn’t even come with a trailer hitch.
However, since 2015, Toyota has somewhat gone back on its previous statement. Even though the company still doesn’t suggest towing with a Prius, it lists the towing capacity as anywhere from 1,500 pounds to 1,600 pounds.
Know Before You Go: Make sure you know these 10 Camper Towing Rules You Should Never Break before you hit the road.
Things to Consider About the Prius
As a hybrid, the engine isn’t the strongest suit of a Toyota Prius. Towing capacity isn’t high on the priority list for the manufacturer. But it’s not impossible to tow a very small, lightweight camper with a Prius.
Prius Towing Capacity
Since 2015, the Prius towing capacity has been listed between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds. You could install a bike or cargo rack and stay within that limit. If you’re moving and want to tow a Uhaul cargo trailer, the smallest available size is 4 feet by 8 feet with a loading capacity of up to 1,600 pounds.
This puts you at the very max of your Prius towing capacity. So there won’t be many options for what you can safely tow with that kind of towing capacity.
You’ll have to purchase a trailer hitch and have it installed to tow with a Prius. The accessories and labor should cost less than $1,000. No upgrades or towing packages are available for the Prius like there are with larger vehicles. You get the hitch installed and stay under the towing capacity.
Does a Prius Have a Tow Hitch?
The Prius doesn’t come with a tow hitch. But stores like AutoZone carry tow hitches you can add to a Prius. On their website, you’ll find towing hitches made by Curt, Draw-Tite, and Reese for Prius models that range from $150 to $250. Keep in mind that although these hitches will be rated to carry as much as 6,500 pounds, your Prius towing capacity maxes out at 1,500 pounds to 1,600 pounds.
The fuel efficiency of a Prius makes it one of the most desired models on the market. The hybrid engine means fewer stops at the gas station. Some models can get over 50 mpg. The sculpted exterior also leads to a sleek and stylish aerodynamic vehicle. Towing will reduce this efficiency, but it will still be much higher than other tow vehicles.
The Prius also boasts up to 27 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear and up to 50 cubic feet with the seats down. This storage space provides lots of room to pack camping and hiking gear for weekend trips. The available crossbars you can add to the roof also mean you can take your bicycles with you.
Power for Hills and Mountains
The Prius is a small car, so driving a camper with it through big hills or mountains should be done with care. This will put additional strain on the engine going up and brakes coming down, so take that into consideration while making your camper selection.
Prius models start at around $25,000. The trim level and various options will affect pricing, though. But even the most expensive model, the Prius Limited, starts at about $33,300. This is far below the MSRP of larger vehicles like the Toyota Highlander, which starts at $36,420.
Other comparables to the Highlander, like the Ford Explorer and GMC Acadia, start at $36,700 and $36,500, respectively.
What Kind of Camper Can a Prius Pull?
If you’re looking for a camper and intend to pull it with a Prius, your options will be very limited. But it’s not impossible. You will need to find a camper that weighs less than the towing capacity when it is fully loaded.
The Taxa Outdoors TigerMoth has an unloaded weight of 1,300 pounds, and the nuCamp TAG has a dry weight of under 1,300 pounds. Just be careful loading in up to make sure you don’t exceed limits. So as long as you kept cargo to a minimum, a Prius could technically tow these campers.
The Timberlake Pika is probably one of the safest options at just over 1,000 pounds. Tent trailers are also a great option for those wanting to set up from a traditional tent. These pseudo-trailers weigh less than 800lbs and provide a convenient and more comfortable camping experience.
How To Tell How Much A Camper Weighs
RV dealers and manufacturers can through a lot of numbers at you, but it’s important to know what they mean. RV camper trailers have several weight measurements you should understand. First is GVWR, or gross vehicle weight rating. This is the maximum weight the trailer can weigh when it is fully loaded with water, wastewater, gear, and possessions.
Dry weight is another common measurement provided. This is the empty weight of the camper without anything in it. While a trailer’s dry weight can be under your Prius’ towing capacity, just remember that you’ll add gear, food, drinks, and potentially filling a freshwater tank at 8 lbs/gallon.
These weights can usually be found on the RV manufacturer’s website, the RV brochure, or on the weight sticker inside the RV. We suggest using the GVWR number for the trailer weight just to be safe. You don’t want to accidentally overpack and exceed your weight limits.
Can a Prius Tow a Small Airstream?
The smallest Airstream is the 16ft Basecamp. However, its GVWR is 3,500 pounds, well over the Prius’ towing capacity, so a Prius cannot tow an Airstream. If you’re going to use your Prius to tow a camper, it will have to be much smaller and lighter. The teardrop and overlanding models will be the best options.
How to Prepare Your Prius for Towing
There is no safe way to increase the towing capacity. If you’re near the maximum towing capacity, the only way to increase it is to decrease cargo. You can’t safely transport more than 1,600 pounds. So if your camper is already 1,400 pounds unloaded, you have to pack less stuff. A heavy load increases your chances of ruining the frame, engine, or brakes.
So other than purchasing the correct hitch, installing it, and hooking up the camper, there isn’t much else to do. Just calculate the weight you’re loading into the camper. This is extremely important when you have a small amount of weight to play around with.
Pro Tip: Ready to invest in something with a higher towing capacity than your Prius? Consider buying one of these 11 Best SUVs for Towing RV Campers.
Is the Prius Towing Capacity Safe for Small Campers?
Technically, the Prius towing capacity is safe for small campers. However, Toyota still doesn’t advise it. But if you’re willing to take the risk, according to the specifications, you should be able to tow campers under 1,500 to 1,600 pounds. Remember that you don’t want to approach the maximum towing capacity. Try to stay at an 80/20 ratio of 1,200 to 1,300 pounds to accommodate human error.
Have you ever towed with a Prius? Would you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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