Everything You Need to Know About Tow Haul Mode

Vehicles come with a wide array of amazing features. Some of them might be obvious, while others might be a bit more difficult to understand how to use.

One feature of many towing-capable vehicles is a specific tow haul mode.

Tow haul mode is a popular feature on many trucks and large SUVs. It changes some of your vehicle’s actions, protects vital components, provides an enhanced acceleration, and helps keep everything under control while braking.

When To Use Tow Haul Mode

This article covers everything you need to know about using tow haul mode. We’ll discuss ways that it changes the behavior of your vehicle when it is best to use, and other crucial things about tow-haul function. After reading this, you’ll be able to confidently and safely use tow-haul mode on your car, truck, or SUV.

What Does Tow Haul Mode Do?

Let’s start with the basics. The purpose of tow-haul mode is to help your vehicle handle heavy loads, steep hills, and towing without damaging the engine, transmission, or brakes.

When you’re towing something significant, have a heavy load inside of your vehicle, or are driving on exceptionally steep hills, you want to engage in tow-haul mode.

For most vehicles, the tow-haul mode works by changing the shifting pattern of your transmission in two ways.

First, it allows for higher RPMs before shifting, decreasing the stress on your transmission. It also might increase the shift speed between gears.

And second, the tow-haul mode also uses more engine braking as you decrease speed. This keeps your brakes cooler and ensures they will not fail, even while driving with a heavy load or on steep hills.

Towing without using tow-haul mode means that your vehicle will shift as usual. This might cause additional stress on your engine and transmission during acceleration and also cause excessive brake usage or even failure when decelerating.

Does Tow Haul Mode Increase Towing Capacity?

Tow haul mode does not increase the towing capacity of your vehicle. Towing capacity is determined by the manufacturer, using factors including suspension, frame design, and other safety considerations.

Engaging tow mode does not change these factors, and as a result, it does not increase towing capacity. It allows you to tow with more control while avoiding excessive damage to crucial components like your transmission.

Does Tow Haul Mode Save Gas?

Tow haul mode does not save gas. It changes your transmission shifting pattern, protecting your transmission against damage caused by towing heavy loads or driving in hilly areas.

Since tow-haul mode almost always delays shifting to higher RPMs, your vehicle might use slightly more fuel.

However, this change in fuel usage is well worth the price since it is doing so to protect the expensive transmission, engine, and brake repairs.

Would you rather spend a little bit more to tow safely? Or would you rather drive more dangerously and potentially need to replace your transmission much sooner? Protecting your transmission and safe driving is worth the relatively small cost of fuel consumption.

When To Use Tow Haul Mode?

As the name implies, the tow-haul mode is for towing. But that’s not the only time it is appropriate. You do not need to have something hooked up to the tow hitch to use it.

Tow haul mode also helps protect your vehicle and keep it under control when hauling heavy loads.

For example, if you have a truck bed with a heavy load inside of it, like a bunch of gravel or concrete bags, engaging in tow-haul mode can be helpful.

Another time tow-haul mode is worth engaging is during steep, hilly drives, even if you aren’t carrying a heavy load or towing. On roads like this, the transmission and brakes benefit when the tow-haul mode is engaged.

The transmission will delay the shifting, saving excessive wear and tear. The increased engine braking will allow you to lay off the brakes while coming down steep hills. If you don’t use this, brakes can overheat and fail.

If you have something hooked up to the hitch, the tow-haul mode is appropriate. The only exception might be for exceptionally light loads that don’t strain your vehicle.

For example, towing a lightweight and empty trailer weighing fewer than 500 pounds, the tow-haul mode might not be necessary. At that weight, it is similar to having additional people inside the car, and the usual transmission shifting pattern should work perfectly well.

The other time you want to avoid using tow-haul mode is under snowy or icy conditions – this is an important exception and holds for most vehicles with tow-haul functions.

Since tow-haul mode increases engine braking, this could cause you to lose control. When it’s snowy or icy out, it’s best to control braking on your own without tow-haul mode engaged.

When To Use Tow Haul Mode

How Does Tow Haul Mode Work?

The way to activate tow-haul mode depends on the make and model of your vehicle.

Many manufacturers place a specific button labeled “Tow Haul” somewhere in the center console, often near the area where the four-wheel-drive functions are when equipped.

Other manufacturers, especially models with column shifters, place a button at the end of the shift lever.

If you still can’t locate your tow-haul mode button after looking in these places, consult your owner’s manual for more information. Not every vehicle comes with this feature.

Press the button once to engage in tow haul mode. Pushing this usually illuminates a light or dashboard notification showing that it is active. When you depress the button a second time, the light will disappear. Tow-haul mode is disengaged.

When it is activated, the shift points of your transmission will change.

When accelerating, the RPMs will go a bit higher than normal before shifting. When decelerating, the engine slows the vehicle more aggressively, keeping your brakes cool.

The maximum speed for tow-haul depends on the manufacturer and model. Some have no speed restrictions while using the tow-haul mode. Others provide a maximum speed limit. Never use tow-haul mode at a speed above the manufacturer’s specifications.

How To Turn On Tow Haul Mode?

Turn on the tow-haul mode by locating the button for the setting in your vehicle and pressing it. A light on the button or dashboard should illuminate to inform you that the function is engaged.

If you cannot locate the button, check your owner’s manual for more information. You could call a dealership or bring it to a mechanic for more assistance.

Not all vehicles have this function, which is usually an optional feature for vehicles meant to tow regularly.

How To Turn Off Tow Haul Mode?

You can turn off tow-haul mode the same way you turn it on by pressing the button for the setting. You should notice the light or dashboard notification will turn off, letting you know that tow-haul mode is off.

Make sure to disengage tow-haul mode when you are not driving in conditions that warrant its use. Your vehicle is designed with default parameters, and tow-haul mode adjusts those for carrying or towing heavy loads or driving in steep areas.

Can You Switch To Tow Haul Mode While Driving?

Some vehicles might require you to be stopped or in park to engage tow haul mode – this is specific to each model, and you can consult your owner’s manual to verify.

Most of the time, however, vehicles are built, so you can engage in tow-haul mode at any point while driving. But if your vehicle has a maximum speed limit for a tow-haul function, you should not engage it when driving over that limit.

If you can, it’s best to engage in tow-haul mode while at a stop – this will allow your vehicle to make the necessary changes without being in the middle of a shift.

Tips on Towing on a Highway

When towing on a highway, you want to keep some things in mind. First is that your vehicle will drive differently, including slower acceleration due to a heavier load and a longer braking time for the same reason. The steering will also feel different.

To safely drive on a highway while towing, you usually want to engage in tow haul mode. This will allow for a better acceleration feel, plus it will slow your vehicle using engine braking.

By changing these parameters, the transmission stays cooler and shifts more effectively. It will also keep your brakes from overheating, especially on steep hills.

But you’ll also want to drive with more caution and leave more space in front of you for braking. Take turns at a slower speed and watch out for ruts that can catch tires and potentially cause a trailer to have issues.


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about tow haul mode.

Can you drive in tow haul mode all the time?

Most manufacturers do not recommend driving in tow-haul mode all of the time. The tow-haul function changes some of your transmission’s default parameters to compensate for heavy loads, towing, or driving in excessively steep areas.

When you are not doing these things, it is best to use the default functions of your vehicle.

Should you always tow in the tow haul mode?

In most cases, you should engage tow-haul mode when towing anything. The only exception is when towing something so light that it doesn’t change your vehicle’s performance. This weight limit varies based on your model but is often around 300 to 500 pounds.

Does tow haul mode make your truck go faster?

Tow haul mode allows your RPMs to go a bit higher before shifting, and in some cases, it also increases the speed of each shift. This might make it seem like it’s going faster, but the only difference is the change in the shifting pattern.

The speed of your vehicle is better determined by how far you depress the accelerator pedal. If you lightly press on it, your vehicle will accelerate slowly.

If you press it to the floor, it will accelerate as quickly as possible. This holds for having tow-haul mode engaged and disengaged, either way.

Is there a fuse for the tow haul mode button?

Some tow hauls modes might use a fuse dedicated to the function. Others will share a fuse with other transmission-related features. Check your owner’s manual or with a mechanic for fuse information specific to your vehicle.

Is it better to tow with overdrive on or off?

Overdrive usually does the opposite of tow haul mode. It changes your shift points to use the highest gear possible to decrease fuel consumption. When towing, it is best to use the tow-haul function as it changes your shift points and engine braking to protect expensive components, such as the transmission.

It is not worth it to use overdrive to save money because you could be damaging your transmission. Plus, you lose the additional braking power that the tow-haul mode provides.

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