Towing with a Range Rover

Range Rovers as Tow Vehicles
Range Rover Classic
Range Rover P38
Range Rover Mark III/L322
Tow Ratings
Sway Controllers
Load Equalizing Hitches
Tow Vehicle Wiring:
Stop, Turn, Tail and Reversing Lights
Brake Controller and Charge Line



The Range Rover as a Tow Vehicle

The Range Rover was designed with towing in mind, and many early magazine articles about the Classic showed it towing a horse trailer. This fitted perfectly into the Range Rover lifestyle envisaged by the marketing department. All Range Rovers are heavily built and their chassis, axles and drivetrains are well able to withstand the rigors of heavy towing. Indeed, the chassis rails and axle housings on Classic and P38 Range Rovers look like those found on 3/4 ton trucks, and the unibody used on the RR III is even stronger. Less impressive is the available engine power on the first two models at least, but on all models the engine is provided with severe duty components like the oil and transmission coolers which on other vehicles are only available as part of a heavy duty towing package option. As long as you are not in too much of a hurry, the earlier Range Rovers are very fine heavy duty tow vehicles, and the later models have finally restored the power deficit as  well. 


Range Rover Classic

The Classic has a short wheelbase and relatively large rear overhang -- ie the hitch ball is a long way behind the rear wheels relative to the vehicle's short wheelbase. This has two effects when towing -- it accentuates both squat and sway.

Squat: A heavy trailer tongue weight will load down the rear of the vehicle considerably, especially with the Range Rover's soft rear springs. The normal solution for this is a load leveling or load equalizing hitch.  However, Land Rover recommends they not be used on Range Rovers, presumably from concern that these devices might interfere with the special load leveling suspension built into the vehicles. Therefore, make sure your Boge load leveling strut is in tip top shape, so it will help restore normal rear ride height when under way.

Sway: Heavy trailers try to push the rear of the tow vehicle from side to side in crosswinds, when turning, and when hit by the draught from passing vehicles (especially big trucks). On the Classic, this tendency is exaggerated by the short wheelbase and long rear overhang. Towing a 20 foot house trailer with my Classic, I found this effect to be extreme enough to make holding a straight course on the freeway a constant battle. The standard solution is to add a simple friction sway control device to the hitch. The difference is like nght and day -- after installation of this device, our Classic and house trailer combination was as stable as a rock, and driving became a pleasure once again.


Range Rover P38

The P38 has several advantages over the Classic as a tow vehicle. Although no better in terms of pulling power, it is even more heavily built, has a longer wheelbase, shorter rear overhang, and a self-leveling suspension that really works. I currently tow a hyjtravel trailer (nominally 24 ft, actually 26 ft) with a dry weight of 3,500 lbs with my 4.0, and have so far found it quite manageable, even crossing steep mountain passes like the Tioga Pass across the Sierra Nevada (9,945 feet).

 

Squat: This problem is non-existent with the P38, as the self-leveling feature of the electronic air suspension will keep the vehicle perfectly level front-to-rear regardless of the amount of weight the trailer puts on the hitch. Naturally, when you first put the trailer on the hitch (if the engine is not running or a door is open) the rear will sag, but as soon as you start up it will rise to normal height again. The driver's manual recommends keeping the suspension in the standard height mode, with the inhibit switch depressed, while towing. I think this is probably to allow a bit of room for absorbing bumps and shocks without hitting the bump stops.

 

Sway: This is less of a problem on the P38 due to the longer wheelbase and shorter rear overhang. However, a sway control is strongly recommended for safety and driving ease when towing heavy trailers such as house trailers.

Driving Technique: The 1995-98 P38 engine is tuned differently to the 1989-95 Classic 3.9 version. It revs much more freely, and the maximum torque is developed at a higher speed. When accelerating, a powerful surge is felt at 3,000 rpm and above. Conversely, low speed torque is reduced compared with the Classic. When towing heavy trailers, I put the transmission in "Sport" mode, equivalent to the trailer towing mode on some truck and van transmissions, making for earlier downshifts. I also find leaving the shifter in third (which is direct drive -- the 4th gear is a 0.73:1 overdrive) helps a lot, as 4th gear would only be engaged on flats or downslopes anyway. If speed falls much below 50 mph going up a hill, the transmission downshifts to second.  The engine is incredibly smooth and seems quite happy in this mode of operation, not seeming to mind the slightly higher revs needed. Driving control is also much better with the shifter in third, giving some engine braking on downslopes and avoiding hunting between 3rd and 4th on the flat.

 

For the 1999 model year, the engine tuning was again changed to produce more low speed torque at the expense of slightly less high-end power, so if you are towing with a 1999-2001 P38 model, please let me know your experiences.


Range Rover Mark III/L322
The RR Mark III is another excellent tow vehicle -- its additional wheelbase and power suit it for towing larger sized trailers. For full details of RR III towing setup and wiring, ee the separate pages dealing with RR III towing setup, RR III wiring harness installation, and RR III brake controller installation.


Tow Ratings

Range Rover Classic:
Max Trailer Wt:   5,500 lbs (high range, trailers with brakes)
                             6,500 lbs (LWB, high range, trailers with brakes)
Max Tongue Wt: 550 lbs

 

Range Rover P38
Max Trailer Wt:    6,500 lbs (high range, trailers with brakes)
Max Tongue Wt:  550 lbs

Range Rover Mark III/L322
Max Trailer Wt 7,700 lbs
Max Tongue Wt 550 lbs

Sway Controller

The short wheelbase and large rear overhang of the Classic makes a sway controller mandatory; on the P38 the effect is mildly beneficial but not as dramatic. The standard friction type of sway controller is just a telescoping bar with an adjustment to control the amount of friction applied. A special small ball is installed a few inches to the right of the main ball of the hitch on the tow vehicle, to use as an anchoring point for the front of the device. The other end of the sway controller, is anchored to a similar ball located about 2 feet back on the trailer drawbar. The resulting friction resists and dampens turning movements between the trailer and tow vehicle. The effect is quite amazing and highly recommended.

The sway control might need to be removed during tight manoevering to allow enough freedom of movement for the trailer.


Load Equalizing Hitches

Load equalizing hitches use special springs between the tow vehicle hitch and the trailer drawbar. The springs, when tensioned up, apply a torque to the hitch, lifting the rear of the vehicle and transferring some of the hitch load to the front wheels. This has the effect of making the tow vehicle ride more level. Land Rover recommends this type of hitch not be used on Classic and P38 Range Rovers, presumably from concern that it might interfere with the special load leveling suspension built into the vehicles. On the Classic, the Boge self leveling strut is supposed to make up the difference. In practice, it really only provides a partial solution. On the 4.0/4.6, the air suspension really does keep the rear from sagging even a fraction of an inch, and the effect is even better than  a load equalizing hitch.

On the Mk III Range Rover, this prohibition against load levelling hitches was lifted, although there is still no need to use one unless the trailer is very heavy.


Tow Vehicle Wiring:
Stop, Indicator, Running and Reversing Lights

connector for light trailerLight Utility Trailers:
If you are just towing a small utility trailer without brakes, only the basic lights are needed and a small "flat 4" North American spec plug is often used for this. A P38 wiring kit for this purpose is available from Atlantic British, along with illustrated instructions for installation at this link. , showing how to thread the wires up to the trailer harness connector which is located next to the right tail light inside the little compartment door that is placed there for access and for tail light bulb changing. John S from the Rangerovers.net forums suggested an alternative home-grown method by which he wired in a flat four wire trailer connector on his 2000 4.6 HSE. Instead of buying the complete kit of parts from Land Rover, he bought the four wire connector/converter (see picture at right). The Range Rover trailer wiring connector is found behind the door with the gas door release. He found the wire colors at the factory trailer connector to be as follows:

Red- left turn- connects to Yellow on converter
Green- turn signal- connects to Brown on converter
Green/Black-brakes- connects to Red on converter
Red/Black-rt turn- connects to Green on converter
Blue- ground- connects to White on converter.

Heavy Trailers with Brakes:
Special wiring is needed on the tow vehicle to supply power for the trailer's brakes, running lights, turn signals, brake lights, reversing lights, brakes and battery charging (if applicable). In the US, some new tow vehicles are now supplied with this circuitry in place, at least as an option, but on Range Rovers it mostly has to be installed by the user or by a local shop. If you buy a travel trailer, the vendor will probably refer you to a local truck shop to have this work done -- at a cost of about $600 or so. Or, you can do it yourself for the cost of the parts.

 

This section deals with wiring up the trailer's lights; the brakes and charge line are dealt with in the next section.

 

Classic:
The trailer wiring harness supplied as an official accessory on the Classic is a simple connector that plugs in behind the right rear lights and provides unterminated wires that can be routed to the hitch area with the basic signals needed to run the trailer lights. No connector is supplied at the trailer end, and it is up to the user to supply the needed convertor from the European 4-wire brake and indicator light system to the US 3 wire system used on trailers. These convertors can be purchased inexpensively at any truck or RV supply store.

 

For the hitch end, you need to connect a standard 7-pin Pollack or Bargman plug (for heavy trailers) or a 4 pin flat plug (for light utility trailers) and find a place to mount it (usually on the left side of the hitch). I was able to mount my travel trailer plug on the chassis rail under the bumper without any loss of ground clearance.

 

P38:
Trailer ConnectorThe trailer wiring harness for the Mk II Range Rover originally sold as an official accessory by Land Rover of North America (cost well over $200 even in the days when the US dollar was riding high) used a beautiful European style 7 pin plug that fits neatly into the knockouts in the bumper valence next to the hitch receiver on the 4.0/4.6. Unfortunately this plug is useless in North America. The kit came with an adapter cable for conversion to the flat four pin plug used by many light rental utility trailers, but for serious trailer towing a 7-pin Bargman or Pollack connector is becoming universally used in the US and you had to make your own accommodation for it.

 

The official accessory harness does include a black box for converting the 4-wire brake and indicator signals used on European cars to the 3-wire system used in the US. These adapters are available from any RV parts store,  but I used the factory one in case aftermarket versions might interfere with the Range Rover's BeCM and complex self-diagnostic system for the light bulbs. (As it is, I still get a periodic "left rear brake light bulb" failure signal on the message center, the source of which I have not yet figured out! Kevin Shaw reports he experiences the same problem on his P38 after wiring up his brake controller.) The harness plugs into an unused connector in the access space for the right rear lights, and I bolted the adapter box to the inside of the access cover for a neater installation than provided by zip-tying it to the wiring harness as suggested in the instructions.

 

In order to make the system compatible with US travel trailers, I disconnected the cables from the supplied European 7-pin plug and adapter, and used the same wires to connect to the standard US 7-pin plug. To mount the US plug in the position provided for the European 7-pin plug, I enlarged the holes in the bumper valence and the metal support behind it to fit the slightly larger US version, drilling a couple of holes for the plug's mounting points (see photo above). For the reversing lights, New HarnessI ran a separate line from the left hand rear lights where the auxiliary trailer wiring plug (used in Europe but not in the setup supplied by LRNA), supplies this signal and a 12 volt 10 amp auxiliary circuit. The result is a neat installation that looks almost as if it came that way from the factory.

 

Hopefully one day Land Rover will catch up with other manufacturers and supply a real US trailer wiring kit (many new Chevy Tahoes, for instance, come with all this equipment already installed). In the meantime (2004), they have released an improved kit (Land Rover Part Number YWJ500130) that at least makes the job easier (see photo at left courtesy of British Pacific). The new kit is similar to that available for the RRIII -- see the RR III wiring harness installation page. I found that British Pacific sells it for only $225  (much below dealer cost) and also provides an adapter plug that can be easily wired in to convert this new kit to the US standard for only $10.50 (see this page on their site ). (Photos courtesy of British Pacific).

7 pin receptacle

Trailer Plugs


RR Mark III:
A similar kit was introduced in about 2004 for the RR III under part number YWJ500011, later superseded by YWJ50001. This was the first new Range Rover not to come with the usual useless official kit that is only good for European use. Full details of installation appear on the RR III wiring harness installation page.


Tow Vehicle Wiring:
Brake Controller and Charge Line

Brake Controller: Brake Controller
Most travel trailers come with electric brakes, and the tow vehicle needs a compatible electronic brake controller to be installed (the alternative is a hydraulic brake controller, which I have heard are better but are apparently difficult to instal or not compatible at all with the ABS used on most modern vehicles including Range Rovers).

 

On both the Classic and P38, I found installation of these controllers to be a straighforward if tedious procedure, following the manufacturer's instructions. In both cases I was able to mount the controller to the left side of the lower dash panel which goes under the steering wheel (see photo at right brake controller installation in 4.0). The main difference when wiring the 4.0 was that due to its improved waterproofing, it was much harder to find a way to route wires from the engine compartment into the cab. In my Classic, it was easy to find poorly sealed holes in the firewall to poke extra wires through. On the 4.0, I ended up drilling a new hole through the firewall for this purpose, large enough to accommodate the battery supply to the brake controller as well as the charge line. For details of getting wiring through the firewall, see the firewall cabling page.


Charge Line:
On travel trailers, a charge line running directly from the tow vehicle's alternator to the standard 7-pin plug on the trailer hitch is needed to keep the trailer's battery charged. A heavy gauge wire should be used (I use 10 gauge but many recommend 8 gauge). A 30 or 50 amp self-resetting circuit braker should be installed in series with this line.

 

Ideally, an isolator should also be installed to prevent the trailer battery draining the tow vehicle's battery. On my Classic I used an isolator solenoid that was switched by the vehicle's ignition switch so the current path was only active when the engine was running. On my 4.0 I have not yet decided whether to use the same system or a solid state battery isolator -- my charge line is currently not isolated so I have to remember to disconnect the trailer plug when camping to avoid the possibility of tow vehicle battery drain.

 

On my Classic I ran the charge line from the engine compartment underneath the vehicle to the 7-pin hitch connector at the rear. On my 4.0 I managed a neater installation with the charge line going through the firewall to join the line from the brake controller, both being routed inside the vehicle to the auxiliary trailer wiring harness at the left rear tail light, where it joined up with the reversing light line for the rest of its journey to the hitch connector. To route the wires, I covered them in flexible cable sheathing and ran the resulting cable to the rear under the easily removable plastic kick panels and side trim panels where many other harness cables are found.


Preventive Maintenance

Towing places additional demands on certain vehicle systems, so special attention is needed to ensure the trusty Range Rover's job is made as painless as possible.

 

Cooling System:
Obviously, towing a heavy trailer up long hills in summer weather can invite engine overheating. All major components of the cooling system should be checked and replaced if at all suspect. Radiators have a limited service life -- certainly less than 100,000 miles -- before internal sediment build-up has a double whammy effect on cooling efficiency, drastically reducing heat transfer to the copper fins as well as restricting coolant flow.  The Range Rover's viscous cooling fan clutch also seems to have a  limited lifespan; mine was found to be weak at 95,000 miles so I replaced it. You might not notice these effects in normal highway driving, but you will if you are towing or four-wheeling in summer weather.

 

Alternator and Brakes:
Having to charge the trailer battery as well as the vehicle's own battery demands a lot from the alternator, so it needs to be in excellent shape. Naturally, the brakes should also be in good condition as extra demands will be placed on them in spite of the trailer having its own brakes.

More Information

Range Rover III/L322/LM Towing setup
Range Rover III Trailer Wiring Harness Installation
Range Rover III Trailer Brake Controller Installation.

 

 

 

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Page revised February 9, 2012