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Video | Towing with a Honda Odyssey: Can a Minivan Replace Your Truck?

Ever since I got my 2007 Honda Odyssey about a year ago, I’ve been using it like a truck more often than I expected to. I’ve used it for hauling branches to the dump, moving furniture and on one occasion, pulling a trailer. You might not see minivans towing or hauling very often, since most Americans just buy a pickup truck if they anticipate needing to use a trailer hitch at least once a year, but tow packages on more efficient, more family-friendly minivans are fairly common.

But does a minivan have enough grunt to really do the work of a pickup truck? Obviously, nobody is doing heavy-duty work with a minivan, like pulling out stumps, but what if you just occasionally need to pull a small trailer? In one of the most challenging things I’ve asked my Odyssey to do, I pulled a trailer on a round trip of almost 400 miles in which I was able to find the answer to the question of whether a minivan can replace your truck.

Before I answer that, let’s get into the details of what I was hauling. It was a fairly small trailer that was empty for the first half of my trip and hauling a motorcycle for the second half. Why didn’t I just ride the motorcycle, you ask? Great question. It’s because it’s an electric Zero DSR (which is awesome, by the way) and it only has an all-electric range of about 100 miles in mixed riding. Unless I stopped about halfway home to plug in somewhere and wait around for a couple hours, a trailer was my only option for getting it home.

My estimate for the total weight of the trailer with the motorcycle loaded up is around 1,200 pounds, which was well within my Odyssey’s claimed towing capacity of 3,500 pounds from its 3.5-liter V6 engine. It’s worth noting that the 3,500-lb towing capacity includes the weight of the passengers and cargo inside the van. If there are 500 pounds of people in the van, then it can only tow another 3,000 pounds behind it.

What I found out after a couple hundred miles of pulling a trailer with the Honda Odyssey was that it could handle it … okay. I was actually kind of surprised by how hard it seemed to be working to pull a load that’s only about half of its towing capacity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a tow mode, and the automatic transmission was shifting weirdly often at highway speeds.

My fuel economy took a massive hit by hauling this trailer, dropping down into the mid-teens on the highway. The Odyssey’s EPA fuel economy rating is 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, and I’m usually able to get right around that highway rating, but I wasn’t even close to it when trailering. My van has cylinder deactivation that’s usually on during highway cruising, even when the fan is full of my family of four, but that little "ECO" light in the dash didn’t turn on at all on my trip with the trailer. I think part of the reason for my lousy fuel economy on this trip was that all six cylinders were working all the time, which isn’t normally the case.

So, overall, I would describe my minivan’s towing capabilities as "adequate." At the end of the day, it got the job done and nothing broke — it just wasn’t quite as pleasant of an experience as I hoped for. When you tow a trailer as rarely as I do (maybe once a year), a minivan like my Odyssey is still an excellent family vehicle despite its sub-par towing performance. But if you’re planning on doing a lot of towing and also have a family to haul around, then you’re going to want a real truck with four doors or a proper SUV.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This article has misleading facts. The tow rating of 3500 pounds does not include passengers or cargo in the van. The cargo carrying capacity for the van will have its own number, something like 1200 pounds (which includes the tounge weight). Then it can tow a 3500 pound trailer. But be careful because every vehicle has a combined carrying capacity. If you minus the vehicle weight from the combined cargo carrying capacity, then minus the amount of weight added in the van (people and cargo) and the result is less than 3500, then that new number is your max towing capacity. If you don’t plan on loading up the van to the max you’ll more than likely be safe with the 3500 pounds. I point this out because it’s a common misconception that the tow rating includes tow vehicle cargo weight. That’s simply not true. There are plenty of ratings to take into consideration. 

  2. The takeaway then is, a thing not designed to tow stuff doesn’t do it quite as well as a thing that is, but it does it well enough if you only need it periodically.

    Good to know. 
    I kid – more people need to recognize this. As long as you keep it within the limits of the vehicle it’s fine. Anything that encourages even more people to realize they don’t really have a need for the giant, truck or truck-based SUV is good. Shoot, I have a small 5×8 trailer to tow behind the wife’s Yaris for those rare trips to get lumber or mulch.
  3. You weren’t pulling a trailer , you were pulling a sail boat with the sails at right angles . Lose the racks !! You wouldn’t have known that you were towing

    • What if he was pulling a small u haul it camper.  It would have 4 sides, of us the fact that there are slats making it harder?

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More
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