Using a Mercedes GLK 250 as a tow vehicle

I’ve always tried to make sure I use my vehicles as more than just transportation – making use of the “utility” in “sport utility vehicle” – and that goes for my current vehicle (the Keithmobile-E, a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250) as well.

I somehow imagine that not many people use their Mercedes SUVs for much other than driving around and maybe pulling a boat or something similar – but not me!

I’ve filled the back of my GLK 250 to the roof with bags of mulch and soil (with my cargo protector in place, of course), I’ve carried large items on my roof rack, and of course I’ve towed my fair share of trailers.

The trailers I tow are mainly U-Haul utility/cargo trailers, though I’ve made use of their full capacity – hauling all kinds of things, like mulch, soil, gravel, and other heavy things. I’ve also used some of their bigger enclosed trailers for carrying furniture long distances (enclosed to protect things from the weather). And the biggest thing I towed was a huge platform trailer with a small excavator on it.

All that said, the GLK is not exactly the ideal tow vehicle – although it can pull 3500 pounds, its low tongue weight rating makes it hard sometimes to make use of that full capacity. Because the GLK is a fairly heavy vehicle on its own (around 4200 pounds curb weight), and it doesn’t have heavy-duty suspension, it’s cargo carrying capacity is somewhat limited.

That heavy weight also impacts its braking capacity – the GLK can brake fine on its own, but add a trailer and stopping distances increase quite a bit.

Also, the GLK has a fairly short wheelbase, which isn’t always ideal when towing – especially if the trailer is on the longer side.

Finally, although I have the factory tow package (which includes the 7-pin connector), the GLK is not wired for a brake controller, so adding a hard-wired one would be very involved. (Though these days there are wireless brake controllers, which is a nice compromise – and one I’ll be using with the camper trailer I’m renting this fall.)

Still, despite these shortcomings, the GLK isn’t an awful tow vehicle (it’s actually rated to tow quite a bit more in Europe due to different standards), and all things considered I’m happy to have these limitation for the other benefits it gives me (comfortable ride, small size that fits in my garage, good fuel economy, etc.).

However, the ultimate test will be the roughly 6,000 mile road trip I plan to take this fall while towing a teardrop camping trailer – so once that’s done, I’ll report back as to how the GLK really works (or doesn’t work) as a tow vehicle. Stay tuned!

The Dream Trip

Thinking about my dream trip – a road trip across the USA

Recently my wife and I have started thinking about a trip to Yosemite Park in California for later in the year (along with a few other stops – assuming that Covid will be more under control by then). But with caution still needed, we’re not flying – that’s still completely out of the question – so we’re thinking of driving. And to keep our interactions with people to a minimum, we’re thinking of renting a camper trailer and staying at campgrounds along the way.

Doing a cross-country road trip in my own car has been a dream of mine since pretty much ever since I learned to drive.

But the realities of the trip are, as usual, not as simple as I would like.

Problem 1: Planning a route

First is the simple planning of the trip itself – some 2,700 miles one way. We have to decide where we’ll stop, how long we’ll have to drive each day, and so forth.

In better times we probably would’ve flown out west and rented a car, or failing that, we would’ve stayed in hotels each night as we went along. But in the current environment, that’s not exactly feasible (or wise). So we’ll be staying more or less to ourselves in our camper… which brings us to the next difficulty.

Problem 2: Finding the Right Camper

When it comes to picking a camper trailer, there are a number of constraints on us:

  1. Weight – although the Keithmobile is a diesel with plenty of pulling power, it is still a small-ish SUV with only a Class II hitch (max trailer weight 3,500 pounds) and a maximum tongue weight of 280 pounds.
  2. Amenities – given that we’re trying to limit our interactions with other people, we need to be fairly self-contained… which means we need a camper with a bathroom & shower.
  3. Availability – the type of trailer that meets these constraints isn’t very common around here (ironically, they are much more common out west where we’re headed).

These limitations unfortunately rule out a lot of rather nice trailers. For example, we had started to look at a nice Airstream Basecamp 16′ trailer – very stylish, with everything you’d need for just 2 people and nothing you don’t. However, the tongue weight for this trailer was some 410 pounds (as it turns out, many camper trailers are very forward-heavy and have high tongue weights relative to their overall weight).

However, in the end we did manage to find a nice little “teardrop” style camper trailer that has a combination bathroom/shower. It’s on the bigger end of teardrop style campers, but it’s light enough that my car can pull it without too much trouble (it is well within both the weight limit and the tongue weight limit) while still being comfortable for us both and more than just “a bed on wheels” (as many of the littlest camper trailers are).

So with all that, it looks like we may be heading out for a big road trip in the early fall (again, assuming the Covid situation doesn’t get worse). The Keithmobile will face its biggest challenge – doing something like 6,000 miles of driving in 2 1/2 weeks, all while pulling a trailer. (It’ll be interesting to see what kind of mileage I end up getting!)

Assuming we can go, it should be a very exciting trip!