Your Honda Pilot can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. Here’s how to prepare your Pilot for maximum towing.
Ever since Honda introduced the Pilot in 2003, when properly equipped, Pilots can tow upwards of 4,500-5,000 pounds. According to your owner’s manual, “Your Honda Pilot can tow a trailer if you carefully observe the load limits, use the proper equipment, and follow the towing guidelines.”
This is important since, ultimately, the Honda Pilot is a unibody vehicle with a 9-speed (or 6) automatic transmission where, if damaged because of improper towing methods, lack of preparation, and little prior maintenance, is more costly to repair than a manual transmission.
For example, did you know if you plan to take two teenagers, for a four total occupants, even if you have the Honda Pilot AWD with ATF cooler, your max towing capacity drops to 4,500 pounds? Or, if you plan to have every seat filled, eight occupants, Honda recommends not towing anything at all?
That being said, if you follow what the owner’s manual says and do your homework, Honda’s engineers made sure your Honda Pilot can tow as much as they say it can.
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What does my owner’s manual say?
Understanding tow weights and considering recommended towing equipment.
You’ll want to familiarize yourself with how much your specific Honda Pilot can handle before you go out and purchase your boat or trailer. Also, prepare to properly weigh your setup so you can shift weights around to stay within your Pilot’s limits.
Here are necessary charts and infographics that show the gist of what you need to know.
Honda only allows you to tow up to 5,000 pounds if you have their Honda Automatic Transmission Cooler installed from the dealership paired to their AWD platform. An ATF Cooler ensures your Pilot’s ATF never gets too hot.
Alternatively, if you find an aftermarket ATF Cooler that’s just as good or outperforms Honda’s OEM unit, you can probably install one but may void your warranty.
Refer to the screenshots above for how much you can tow if you’re 2WD or AWD and if you have an ATF cooler installed.
Additional recommended (mandatory) accessories needed for towing with your Honda Pilot include:
- Electronically actuated trailer brakes – Recommended any time you’re towing over 1,000 pounds. Your Pilot is already pre-wired to accept most aftermarket trailer brakes.
- Trailer lights– Mandatory for night time visibility
- Proper hitches– You can either install a compatible hitch or option out an OEM Trailer hitch from the dealership.
- Safety mirrors– Ensure you can see beyond the back of your trailer, important for lane changes and maneuvering. Every state has different trailer mirror laws. For example, in California, “A motor vehicle towing a vehicle or trailer must be equipped with mirrors on both the left and right side which provide a view of at least 200 feet of the highway.”
- Safety chains
Before towing preparation
Once you understand how much you can tow and what necessary equipment you need, it’s time to prep your Pilot for towing, and that calls for a pre-tow checklist.
Thankfully, Honda has one for you to follow. It’s linked here, but I’m also posting a screenshot below.
Keeping up with ATF maintenance and monitoring temps
Your Honda Pilot automatic will fail while towing for one of two reasons, operating your Pilot past its limits because of letting your ATF run too hot and not keeping up with ATF fluid maintenance.
Thankfully, Honda has built-in fail safes to keep you out of trouble. If your ATF gets way too hot, your Honda Pilot will flash this warning light, posted below, and reduce engine performance so you slow down or stop. Your Honda Pilot ECU may reduce performance even more if it determines you may cause irreparable damage if you continue to drive.
To better monitor ATF temps, consider downloading and installing an engine diagnostic app, like Torque Pro, on your phone. Paired to an OBD 2 scanner, like the one below, you can mount your phone somewhere near your dash to read your ATF temps while you drive.
Another popular option to monitor your engine and transmission are these Scan Gauges. You can mount them near your steering wheel, no smartphone needed.
Keeping your ATF temps between 160-200F (ideally, hovering around 175F) will ensure your Honda ATF is lubricating, transferring power, and keeping your automatic performing at its best.
As far as ATF maintenance is concerned, address maintenance sub items as they pop up on your Honda maintenance Minder. Code 3, or service ATF, pops up around 90,000 miles.
It’s crucial you use Honda Specific ATF. Do not use an off-brand. That means, for 6-speed A/T’s use, Honda ATF DW-1 and, for 9-speed A/Ts, use ATF Type 3.
While it’s recommended to get your ATF drained and refilled at a Honda dealership, it’s possible to do it yourself. Keep in mind, this may affect your warranty.
You can find DIY instructions here.
Tow setup examples
Here are a handful of Honda Pilot/Acura MDX owners sharing their tow setups, including their equipment.
2012 Honda EX-L with AWD– 1,800 mile, 10-day trip towing 3,300 pound Coachman Apex Nano trailer. Equipment included Fastway E2 weight distribution hitch and prodigy P2 brake controller. “We towed only in D3, and cruised at about 60 – 65 on the highways. Closer to 45 or 50 on mountain passes.”
2011 Acura MDX– 6,000 mile trip towing a 25-foot Airstream Safari weighing 5,200 pounds! Equipment included reinforced receiving hitch. MDX had tow package with transmission cooler from the factory.
2009 Honda Pilot– Close to 800 miles of towing a 4,300 pound travel trailer with steep grades. ATF Temps stated between 160-170 and never went above 178.
2019 Honda Pilot EX- 8,300 mile road trip towing a 1500 pound MicroLite trailer. Equipment included dealer installed tow package & Scan Gauge II. Temps hovered around 188F but briefly hit 225F.
Towing with the Honda J-Series engine
Since 2003, Honda Pilots use a variation of the J35 SOHC V6 VTEC engine. This latest Honda Pilot uses a J35Y6 with 280 HP at 6,000 RPM and 262 lb-ft at 4,700 RPM with a 6,800 RPM redline. VTEC engages at 5,350 RPM.
Below is a power graph of the J35Y6,
Note how peak torque and HP are in the upper rev range. To maximize its full potential, your automatic transmission will downshift to stay in that power-making sweet spot. In other words your Honda Pilot’s engine WILL REV HIGH!
Don’t worry, these Honda V6s were made to rev and produce power in that upper rev range all day long.Embed from Getty Images
To get an idea how high your Pilot may rev towing, you really should watch TFL Truck tow close to 5,000 pounds up a steep grade in Colorado.
If you prep your Pilot, stay within your tow ratings, and drive cautiously, you should be able to tow, no problem.
Have anything to add to this quick and dirty guide? Let me know in the comments below.