Toyota specifically says in their owner’s manuals for the new Toyota Prius that they don’t recommend you tow with this hybrid, but, why can you tow up to 1,600 pounds if you’re in Europe?
Disclaimer: I am not an expert, have not towed anything in my life, and you should probably do your homework on how to tow beyond this article!
The 2019 Toyota Prius will probably carry the same tow rating that Toyota gave the last Toyota Prius, a zero pounds tow rating. That means Toyota says, officially, that if you live in the United States, you shouldn’t tow with a Prius. Here’s Toyota’s official statement from the owner’s manual.
Toyota does not recommend towing a trailer with your vehicle.
Toyota also does not recommend the installation of a tow hitch
or the use of a tow hitch carrier for a wheelchair, scooter, bicycle,
etc. Your vehicle is not designed for trailer towing or for the
use of tow hitch mounted carriers.
You can tow 1,600 pounds in Europe with your Prius?
But why does the exact same car in Europe, when properly equipped, specifically 2016 Toyota Prius and newer, have the ability to tow 1,600? There are even official Toyota press photos with the Prius easily towing a teardrop trailer.
If you have a Prius in Europe, according to Car Scoops, “Its new ability has been made possible thanks to heat management measures introduced in its main electric motor-generator and differential.”
Differences between US and European tow ratings
Tow ratings in Europe are actually quite nuanced with manufacturers breaking down specific tow ratings of a vehicle for braked and unbraked trailers, also by engine/transmission etc.
Tow rating in the United States are pretty arbitrary and are advertised as such to discourage towing when it comes to vehicles under 4,000 pounds (e.g. cars, crossovers, and vans) for liability reasons.
So, it’s not a question of capability, really, it’s a question of whether or not Toyota WANTS you, as an American to tow.
Europe and the United States have vastly different driving cultures and standards for towing and is the main reason why you can’t tow with your Prius in the United States.
This post in Oppositetalk does a good breakdown of the main differences between towing in the United States versus towing in Europe and from what I can gather from this article, towing follows a lot stricter rules in Europe.
For example, if you’re going to towing more than 7,700 pounds, your tow vehicle and your trailer combined, you need additional licensing. Regular drivers licenses in Europe means you can tow up to 7,700 pounds. More importantly, European towing guidelines recommend weighing your drawbar nose weight to be around 4-7 percent of your total combined trailer weight which means you can technically load more of your weight towards the rear of your trailer, which is more unstable, but thanks to speed limits, which I’ll get into later, and a more educated driver, most European licensing bodies allow for this leniency, and so do manufacturers, hence Toyota allowing a 1,600 pound tow rating for the Prius.
Towing regulations in the United States vary by state so if you take my home state of California, with a Basic Class C license, and with a vehicle weighing less than 4,000 pounds, which is where a Toyota Prius weighs, I can technically tow up to 6,000 pounds (trailer plus load) more than a Prius in Europe can tow. Also, my combined trailer load must have trailer brakes as per the DMV.
Then, there’s the physics of it all, if you go back to that Oppositetalk article I referenced earlier, you’ll see that there’s actually a reason, because of physics, that Toyota advertises tow ratings for the Prius only for Europe. Towing anything inherently makes driving that much riskier but by and large, if you stay under 65 MPH, it’s statistically safe to handle proper loads on a trailer in various conditions. Here’s the kicker, in Europe, you are only allowed to go 60 MPH towing a small trailer. It’s the law.
But, in the United States, with a federal style of government that allows states to set rules that govern driving, the range of speeds you can tow with can go as low as 55 MPH as per the law in California to as high as 70 MPH in some states. Towing a 1,600-pound trailer at 70 MPH, as allowed in the United States, makes for a dicey situation because of the physics of it all.
Here’s a useful visual display of how a car towing a trailer reacts if the weight is not evenly distributed as per recommendations.
It is simply not in the best interest of Toyota to allow the Prius to tow, at all.
Surprisingly, they let their regular Toyota Corollas tow up to 1,500 pounds probably because Toyota is confident in the power of their 1.8L four cylinder to provide adequate horsepower and torque to pull a trailer reliably at highway speeds if properly weighted on said trailer.
So, can you tow with a newer Prius or what?
Yes, you can probably get away with safely towing a trailer or U-haul with a combined weight of 1,600 pounds or less.
You can even purchase your very own trailer hitch for a Prius here in the United States.
Even if you have an older Prius, if you search on Prius Chat or other similar Prius forums there are people who’ve towed with even a second generation Prius.
Here are my 3 warnings/tips if you DO decide to tow with your Prius.
- Although some people have towed with their Prius cross-country, I would NOT recommend doing that. In fact, unless you are an experienced driver whose trailer’d something before, I would NOT recommend you hop onto the freeway with your Prius and trailer attached. The reason being American freeways are the wild west and people nowadays don’t take to kindly to slow-moving vehicles if you’re not a truck, it’s more for your safety than everyone else. The only type of trailering with a Prius I recommend is if you’re only moving stuff within a city, or at the most, less than an hour away, staying off the highway. Remember, speed exacerbates trailer sway.
- Load your trailer correctly and use as many redundant safety precautions as possible. Do your homework. Know where to attach safety chains and how. Practice driving around in an empty parking lot with said loaded trailer, and, speaking of, watch some videos/read up on how to load said trailer. Even U-Haul has videos for you.
- Finally, know that Toyota wipes its hands clean of ALL liability if you do get into an accident while trailering with a Prius. It says so, black and white, in their manual. If you even attempt to go to court, any lawyer will just point to the manual and you’ll most likely lose, whatever the situation is. Trailering with the Toyota Prius is entirely your responsibility, hence why I only recommend short trailering trips with your Prius.