How Tow/Haul Mode Changes Your Truck and When You Should Use It

This feature can reduce stress on you and your equipment.

Austin Lott | Capital One

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Towing can put your vehicle's powertrain and braking system through a serious workout, as the additional weight of a trailer or a heavy load in the cargo hold requires the engine, transmission, and brakes to work harder. Fortunately, many modern vehicles come with a helpful feature called Tow/Haul mode to ease this strain and make towing less stressful for the driver in the process.

What Does Tow/Haul Mode Do?

Available only in automatic-transmission vehicles (i.e., the vast majority of SUVs and pickups on the market), Tow/Haul mode performs two primary functions. First, it will cause the gearbox to upshift later and downshift earlier than usual, keeping the engine in its power band. This makes it easier for the vehicle to tow or haul whatever is in the back, albeit at the expense of some fuel economy. On downhills, Tow/Haul mode selects a lower gear for a stronger engine-braking effect. This reduces the demands on the brakes, which reduces the odds of the brake pads or fluid overheating.

Second, the gearbox won’t shift as much as it would regularly, which helps keep transmission temperatures at a safe level. Some Tow/Haul applications even lock out the top gears for similar heat-management reasons. The specifics for your truck can be found in your owner’s manual, or by talking with your dealer or the vehicle manufacturer.

When Should I Use Tow/Haul Mode?

In general, you should engage Tow/Haul mode whenever you’re towing a large trailer or hauling a heavy load. It’s not strictly necessary for transporting cargo such as mountain bikes or a small utility trailer, but you may wish to use it in those light-load situations when you’re dealing with hilly terrain. Towing or hauling anything over a road that regularly climbs and falls will demand more of your vehicle, and Tow/Haul can help optimize transmission shifting under these more challenging circumstances. Though, some manufacturers do warn against using tow/haul mode in icy or slippery conditions, since the increase in engine braking may cause the vehicle to lose traction at the rear wheels and allow it to slide unexpectedly.

Can I Engage Tow/Haul Mode While Driving?

Yes. You can activate this feature at any time with a simple button-press and turn it off the same way. This easy process is particularly useful when towing or hauling loads on roads that include both flat stretches (where Tow/Haul may not be needed) and hilly or mountainous sections (where it can provide a benefit).

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.