What Is The Tow/Haul Button Used For?

The tow haul button comes with certain truck and suv models that have an automatic transmission, and it helps them control the shifting cycle of the vehicle to compensate for the extra weight of the trailer. Today’s heavy duty trucks and SUVs come with powerful engines that can deliver the kind of torque that towing a trailer requires, but sometimes, they can use every bit of help.

You may be towing a trailer heavy enough that your setup is already nearing the limits of your vehicle’s capabilities. Or perhaps you are hauling heavy cargo over steep hills, climbs, or any kind of uneven terrain. In these cases, a tow haul assist feature helps automatic transmission trucks deal with the extra load on the engine with a few clever adjustments.

Automatic transmission trucks, especially those that come with tow packages or are designed from the ground up for hauling, will often come with a tow/haul mode. As the driver, you may already be familiar with the tow haul button – it’s that button on the dashboard, console, or near your shift lever that activates the tow haul mode of your truck or SUV. 

The use of the tow haul button differs from one manufacturer to the next, or in some cases, even from one model to another. For some vehicles, the manufacturer will recommend that you push the tow haul button every single time you are supposed to haul a trailer, cargo, boats, livestock, or even another vehicle in a flat tow configuration.

Others recommend that you reserve this tow haul mode only in cases that you need it – in this case, the manufacturer will usually give you an estimate on the type and weight of loads that you should press this button for. 

As always, it’s usually the best idea to check with your owner’s manual on what your tow haul button is for. Your manufacturer or dealer may be able to offer you more information on the tow haul features of your particular vehicle’s make and model, and they may be able to offer you additional tips on how to get the most out of this driving mode as well.

What Does The Tow Haul Button Do?

To put it simply, the tow haul button activates the tow haul mode of your vehicle which essentially put the vehicle in a lower gear, and may even shift earlier, providing a little more torque. This is a simple answer, of course, as most transmissions these days are pretty smart and have other things that go on when this feature is activated but that is basically it in a nutshell.

​The tow haul button, as well as the tow haul mode system itself, is only present on SUVs, trucks, pickups and other vehicles that come with automatic transmission. If you’re driving a manual transmission vehicle, then you won’t have a tow haul button ​equipped.

​When you press the tow haul button, an indicator should light up to let you know that your vehicle’s tow haul mode is active. Some vehicles may have an indicator on the shift lever itself that lights up when the tow haul mode is turned on. Most models will also have an indicator on the instrument dashboard itself, which again lights up when you press your tow haul button. 

When the tow haul mode is already engaged, pressing the tow haul button lets you turn off the mode. When you disengage or turn off your tow haul mode, the light indicator should turn off as well.

To find out how to use your tow haul button or what you need to look out for once you’ve pressed it, it’s always best to check with your owner’s manual. Your owner’s manual should also come with additional information on the other selectable drive modes and traction select systems for your vehicle as well, and how its tow haul mode should work with the other settings available for your truck or SUV.

How Does The Tow Haul Button Work?

The tow haul button activates or deactivates the tow haul mode of your truck or SUV if it comes with one. By pressing the tow haul button, you activate a special mode designed to help the vehicle tow or pull heavier trailers or large loads safely.

Vehicle manufacturers also recommend turning on the tow haul button to help protect the automatic transmission system of the vehicle, as well. The tow haul button, and the tow haul mode that it activates, gives you better control of your towing setup which you can immediately feel if you are driving in areas with steep hills or uneven terrain.

It may also offer you better gas mileage, or help cut down on the extra wear and tear that towing adds to the usual load on your automatic transmission.

It depends on the specific tow haul mode and how it works for your specific model and make. So how does a typical tow haul mode work, and how does it help you tow heavier loads?

How The Tow/Haul Feature Works:

Pressing the tow haul button engages an electrical system that changes the shifting characteristics of your vehicle. This is your tow haul mode, and many manufacturers design theirs to reduce the shift cycles that your automatic transmission makes as you drive along the road. 

Manual transmission drivers may already be familiar with the adjustments you may need to make as you navigate climbs and hills while hauling heavy cargo. Most drivers will try to shift a little bit sooner and this helps to account for the extra weight. Doing this also helps to reduce the wear and tear that accumulates on the engine that comes with the additional load of the trailer.

The tow haul mode in many automatic transmission trucks also work in a similar way. Turning on the tow haul mode of your vehicle causes your automatic transmission system to shift down just a little bit sooner to compensate for the extra weight.

Your typical tow haul mode will also adjust the shift points to a higher RPM as well. This helps your tow setup stay in the same gear and keep it moving as you drive down the road. Since your tow setup has significantly more momentum than a vehicle with no cargo, this helps save a bit of extra wear on your transmission.

​It Helps On The Down ​Grades Too!

Speaking of momentum, a vehicle with a heavy trailer will also be harder to slow down. Most tow haul modes also help you keep in control of your vehicle in this regard, as well. Since your automatic transmission shifting is downshifting a bit earlier when the tow haul mode is engaged, this also helps you to slow down earlier than usual, as well. 

In certain vehicles that have a particular automatic transmission setup, pressing the tow haul button also engages an engine braking mode. This helps the driver stay in control when driving downhill, or as they try to bring their vehicle to an early stop.

Depending on the model and make of your truck, as well as the engine it comes with, some tow haul mode systems may also boost the torque of your vehicle to adjust for the load you are carrying. This may also have an effect on your fuel efficiency, as well, so it’s best to check your owner’s manual for the specific details.

Many trucks that come with a tow haul button may also have other alternative driving modes, the most common of which is an overdrive mode. The tow haul mode actually works similarly to most overdrive modes in these trucks, in terms of the additional power or torque that they provide you for heavy duty applications. 

Most manufacturers design their tow haul modes in a way that they also disable the overdrive mode of the vehicle if it happens to be active. You will get similar power from turning on the tow haul mode as well, so you will probably not need them to be turned on at the same time.

Since the tow haul mode also alters the shifting timing of your automatic transmission, many manufacturers also make it disable the overdrive mode for another reason – since frequent shifting can cause the overdrive to burn out, it’s usually a good idea to have it disengaged when a tow haul mode is active.


In general, a tow haul button gives you access to a tow haul mode that does several things for your vehicle in heavy duty towing situations. It gives you additional power and torque to help you have a more responsive setup. It adjusts the timing of your transmission so it may downshift sooner or keep the engine at a higher RPM rate as needed, which helps reduce the wear and tear on your engine.

In some models, it may also activate engine braking which, when combined with an earlier downshift, helps you stop your vehicle and its trailer sooner. Finally, it also helps to keep the overdrive from burning out by disabling that feature as needed.

Overall, you will typically get better performance by enabling a tow haul mode whenever you are towing. You may have to get used to the new characteristics of your vehicle when you first push your tow haul button. In the long run, though, the better control and the reduction on engine and transmission wear is usually worth it.

When Should I Use the Tow Haul Button?

The tow haul button is easy to use, and your vehicle’s tow haul mode is always available whenever you feel you need it. Should you use it every time you tow, or are there specific situations where you want to turn it off, even if you are towing a trailer, camper, boat, or another vehicle.

Generally speaking, there are two major considerations on whether you need to use the tow haul button, or if you’re better off using regular driving mode. The weight of your cargo or trailer is one of the factors that go into this. The road conditions and driving situations you may encounter is another.

Heavy duty hauling and towing applications will usually benefit from a tow haul mode. On the other hand, if you’re just carrying a bicycle carrier or luggage, then using your tow haul button may not be worth it. As you continue driving your vehicle with and without cargo, you will soon get a better sense of when the tow haul mode helps and when it does not.

Your tow haul mode will usually be useful for towing and hauling along routes with climbs and dips, so any kind of rural towing will benefit from having this mode turned on. Off road towing, or hauling on uneven roads, will usually call for a tow haul mode as well, since the extra torque will certainly help a lot. Even city driving with heavy cargo can benefit from the tow haul button, since the mode will help you start and stop just a bit earlier.

For towing along the highway at cruising speeds, though, the extra power you may get from the tow haul mode may not be worth the decrease in gas mileage. Also, keep in mind that your tow haul mode is not a fix for not having the appropriate tow setup. Sure a tow haul mode gives you a bit of extra power, but there’s still no substitute for the right equipment.

Last updated on November 5th, 2019 at 01:40 am

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