Ask: What’s Better When Towing? Heavy Truck or a Light Crossover?

Subaru Outback towing a camping trailer rv cross country
Subaru Outback towing a camper trailer (photo: Tony W.)

When you think of towing a trailer – most of us default to thinking about a pickup truck. What if you don’t have access to a heavy truck or a full-size SUV? Is it all lost? Do you call your buddy with a truck or … ? Can a car tow a smaller RV trailer just as well as a truck?

Many cars on the market are more than capable of pulling trailers, and a reader letter sent in to Ask TFL ( has our interest piqued, so we thought we would ask the same question to all of you.

Here is Tony’s story – towing a camper across the country with a 2017 Subaru Outback.

(photo: Tony W.)

My name is Tony W. and I live in Colorado Springs. As a result of my father passing in Feb. 2018 I inherited his 2017 Subaru Outback. When he was well and set to retire, he dreamed of renting a RV to visit parts of the country that he had never been to. Unfortunately, he never got to retire and his dream was unrealized because of an unexpected brain tumor.
After his passing I decided that I wanted to buy a camper. I didn’t want to trade in his car for a truck or an SUV because it has sentimental value, so I went on a mission to find one light enough for it to pull. I found one up in Montreal, Canada from a company that makes ultra-light campers. It’s a 16-ft camper that sleeps 5, has a kitchen, toilet and shower. It weighs 1,900 lbs dry and probably 2,200 lbs with all of our junk. Since June we have traveled from Montreal, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, the Midwest, back home to Colorado, over the 11,000 ft Monarch Pass, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, back down along the West Coast, then to Las Vegas, NV where I’m writing you from.
(photo: Tony W.)
The point of this message is to give you my thoughts on towing with a car that’s not really meant to tow in this way. Before purchasing the camper I thoroughly read through forums and people doubting that the Outback can tow, especially with a CVT, and the most limiting factor – the tongue weight max of 200 lbs. Weight distribution is key!! I took all of this into consideration and bought the camper anyway. I wanted to live out my dad’s dream, long-term, and working with what I have. I’m happy to say that almost 6 months into it I have had no problems other than draining the battery on Hwy-1 in California. I can think of a thousand other places to be stranded that wouldn’t be as nice. It’s slow, yes. But, I’m as slow as an SUV or truck towing a 30-ft behemoth trailer. I get the car serviced every 5,000 miles or sooner to check out the transmission, rotate tires, and change oil. Engine temp has always been good, coolant temp has never budged (even when going west of Yuma, AZ in 107 degree temps up another pass), and the transmission temp stays within an acceptable range. I always use the paddle shifters to have better control over the transmission. It’s been a total dream. From coast to coast I get befuddling looks and many questions about the Outback/camper combo.
I’m quite surprised with how well it is actually handling: no sway, and no being “sucked in” by a passing tractor trailer. For me, this is a win!!

We are glad to see that Tony thought about weight distribution and side mirror extensions for seeing around the trailer. It appears that the Subaru still exhibits suspension sag under the added weight of the trailer.

This story is an example that downsizing the trailer can be a viable cross-country travel solution.