A tow package, simply described, should be a complete set of everything you will need to tow your load of choice reliably and safely. Tow packages can be completely different in terms of the equipment and hardware they cover.
Most aftermarket tow packages, for example, are designed so that you will have everything you need to upgrade your tow vehicle. A factory tow package, on the other hand, may include the tow vehicle itself as part of a complete set that is designed, built and tested to be a towing setup first and foremost.
The type of tow package you are going to need depends on the tow vehicle you already have (or planning to buy) as well as the type of load you plan to tow.
For the lightest loads, like in cases where you want to carry a bike rack or tow a jet ski around on a lightweight trailer with your truck, you can get by with a basic tow package even if it’s just a receiver hitch set and a few other pieces. Once you begin to get into heavy duty towing, though, then you may start looking into a more complete aftermarket kit – the ones with the huge receivers and weight distribution features.
Of course, your whole towing setup is only as good as its weakest link. You can get an aftermarket tow package with the Class V hitch hardware, but if your truck is only rated for a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, then 2,000 pounds is all you can practically get out of the whole thing.
A factory tow package, on the other hand, gets you a vehicle that is designed from the ground up for heavy duty towing. The car manufacturers, in the case of a tow package vehicle, has considered every component and made sure that they are more than adequate for the extra load that a trailer imposes on them.
With a factory tow package, you can be confident that every part – the engine, frame, transmission, suspension and cooling system are up to the task for heavy duty towing for years to come. And since you also get a hitch platform with a factory tow package, you also have some measure of assurance from the manufacturer that every piece of gear is perfectly matched to the rest of the set.
A tow package is more than the sum of its parts – every component, ideally, should be something that is included to maximize the towing capabilities of the whole setup.
So it does not necessarily mean that just because a vehicle has a tow hitch included, it already has a tow package. Even factory installed hitches may not be perfectly suited for the vehicle you have, or it may not have all the components you need to have a complete towing solution.
What Is Included In A Towing Package?
Depending on your needs, as well as the types of loads you plan to tow, you may have something as basic as a trailer hitch and the electrical wiring you need to operate your trailer lights. Towing packages will usually come with more than just the hitch components – a complete tow package will usually include a bunch of upgrades to the tow vehicle itself.
The first thing you look for in a towing package is the tow hitch itself, and this is the core of the whole deal. The tow hitch hardware is an important part which directly contributes to the overall towing capacity of your whole setup, plus the type of mounting hardware you have also determine the kind of trailer couplers you can use.
The tow hitch is usually installed directly to the vehicle frame, and depending on the tow mount that comes with your package, you can either have a simple ball, or you can have a receiver hitch that can take all kinds of mounts.
Receiver hitches provide you with a heavy duty square tube, the receiver part, which can accept tow ball mounts, pintle hooks, weight distribution hitches, and all sorts of receiver attachments you can use with your hitch setup.
If you’re planning to pull a trailer, then it’s likely you already know that you need to have a way to link its lighting system to that of the towing vehicle. A complete towing package needs to have the necessary electrical connections to allow you to set up all the wiring your setup needs. You will usually find these electrical components ending in a standard connector, near the hitch receiver, that you can then connect to your trailer wiring.
Plugging in your trailer wiring to these connectors allow you to power up the brake lights, turn signals, reversing lights and license plate lights of your trailer. All these components are usually required by law to be powered appropriately, and any tow package worth the money will have a good wiring setup.
Some of the higher end tow kits may also have heavy duty wiring provided to power the braking system of a trailer, and these additional braking systems can go a long way towards reducing the stress that a towing setup endures during deceleration.
What Upgrades Are Included In Factory Towing Packages?
Tow packages, even the aftermarket kits, will usually include a few upgrades that are meant to be installed to the tow vehicle itself. These components are made to increase the performance of the tow vehicle itself in order to improve its towing capacity, as well as allow it to better stand up to the additional wear and tear that towing brings.
One common upgrade you will find in a tow package is a set of suspension upgrades for your tow vehicle. Since the tow vehicle carries a significant part of the trailer weight, especially with gooseneck and fifth wheel hitch setups, a suspension upgrade is a must to help your car or truck deal with heavy loads.
These suspension upgrades will usually include things like more sturdy shocks or heavier springs that are meant to replace your factory set, so you can still have adequate handling even when towing a heavy trailer. A better suspension, especially near the rear end of the tow vehicle, also helps to keep the whole towing setup horizontally level as well.
Brake upgrades are another common component included with many tow packages. A typical brake upgrade kit may include larger drums or discs, or upgraded materials that give the tow vehicle better stopping power. A tow vehicle with a trailer load is a lot heavier than an unburdened road vehicle, so having a way to shorten the stopping distance of a tow setup will make it much safer to drive around.
A tow vehicle with a heavy trailer load will often need a different gear setup to make the most out of the engine power at your disposal. That’s why many heavy duty tow packages, both factory, and aftermarket, will often include a drivetrain upgrade.
These kits can have transmission gearing modifications designed to deliver more torque to the drive wheels. Many of these upgrades are designed in a way to decrease wear and tear on the transmission and engine. It may also result in a small decrease in fuel economy as well.
Finally, the transmission component of a tow vehicle is probably the part that takes the most wear whenever a trailer load is involved. Vehicles with automatic transmission are especially prone to the extra wear that towing a trailer brings.
Both automatic and manual transmissions will require additional cooling to offset the extra heat generated when towing a trailer. Heavy duty towing packages will often include additional radiator components, such as a larger heat exchanger, to better cool down transmission.
How Much Does It Cost To Add A Tow Package?
To determine the total cost of adding a tow package, it’s usually more accurate to ask for an estimate since installation costs factors so much into it. At the very least, installation cost for a receiver hitch will cost around $50 for an installation that may last up to an hour. Dealerships will generally quote around $1,200 and upwards for an OEM kit that includes the hitch, transmission cooler, wiring, and the labor costs.
How Do I Know If I Have A Tow Package Installed?
It’s easy enough to determine if a truck has a hitch installed – just check the rear. How do you know if you have a complete tow package installed, on the other hand? It’s an important question for owners looking to buy a used truck and knowing whether a truck actually has a tow package installed usually involves a bit of research.
The first step is to check which tow package you are looking for. Your best source of information for this will be the dealer or the manufacturer, or you can also check the brochures for your particular model to check the components of the factory tow packages available for it. Some factory packages may have nothing more beyond a frame-mounted hitch receiver, trailer wiring harness, and connector. Others may include heavy duty upgrades for the tow vehicle itself, especially for tow packages Class III and up.
In any case, you need to check everything that comes with the vehicle you are planning to buy. That means you need to go over the invoice carefully, and compare it with the window sticker and manufacturer information, whether you’re buying a new vehicle or a used one.
You also need to consider the possibility that the owner vehicle has a tow package with a factory hitch, only to have a few components removed and replaced with better aftermarket ones.
A complete heavy duty tow package will usually include things like an auxiliary transmission cooler and heavy duty rear shocks or springs. They may also include brake upgrades, usually in the form of larger drums or brakes. Sometimes, a dealer may even include an extra spare tire with a factory tow package, as well. This spare tire is a full-sized spare, unlike the compact spares that most vehicles come with.
To get a list of components included, you can try to get the VIN of the vehicle and have the brand dealer check it for you. It’s also a good idea to have a technician go over your trailer hitch setup and your tow vehicle just to be extra sure.
Can I Add A Tow Package If I Don’t Have One?
If your tow vehicle doesn’t have a tow package, there’s no need to panic – with a bit of research and some investment, you can still have one installed on your truck or SUV. Your first option is to contact the dealer and get a quote for a tow package for your specific vehicle model.
Another way is to do a bit of research and order the parts you need for yourself. To get the list that you need, first, you need to check the relevant parts included with your standard, non-towing trim. Of course, that includes a suitable receiver hitch, as well as a 7 and 4 pin wiring harness for the trailer electrical components.
After that, it’s on to the tow vehicle upgrades. Many factory tow packages will include a rear load-leveling suspension, if not a full upgrade for both the front and rear suspension.
You may also want to look into heavy duty engine cooling or auxiliary transmission cooling kits for your vehicle, as well. You don’t want to miss an important component for your custom tow package, so it’s always a good idea to get a quote first so you at least have a list of your components for the tow package you plan to install.