What It Was Like Towing a Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer With the 2020 Jeep Gladiator

Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

When Jeep first showed the 2020 Jeep Gladiator to the public at the 2018 LA Auto Show, it proudly displayed a photo of the new mid-size truck yanking a pristine, classic Jeep Grand Wagoneer down a highway. That picture came to mind as I found myself inadvertently recreating it in some slightly more real-world conditions, with a rented U-Haul trailer hauling a somewhat less-pristine, free Jeep Grand Wagoneer 250 miles from Dayton, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan.

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(Full Disclosure: I asked Jeep if I could borrow a Gladiator to tow a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and they obliged. They dropped off in my driveway a red Sport S with a full tank of gas.)

“I still have the wagoneer if you want it it’s FREE!,” read the email from Jalopnik reader Tammy—the same Ohio-based rally fan who had sold me my beloved 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle back in early 2018.

This put me in a tough spot. I had just sold my decrepit 1995 Jeep Cherokee (Project Swiss Cheese), and I’d even gotten rid of the 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (Project Redwood) that I’d fallen in love with during an awesome road trip from Michigan to Utah and back. I was making progress whittling down my overwhelming fleet of nine cars, and the prospect of getting out from under the enormous pile of Jeep projects weighing my life down seemed more hopeful than ever.

Prior to my road trip, I got the Gladiator stuck in my backyard, as has now become tradition with my press vehicles. I was able to rock the car out, though I did have to fight its intrusive ABS system.
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I had even written an article asking readers to help me find a sensible, reliable winter vehicle to replace that dreadful ’95 Cherokee, and to act as a rock-solid machine that would let me focus on repairing vehicles that I wasn’t relying on to get around. Add the fact that my boss, Patrick, has been pushing for me to buy a non-Jeep (specifically a Mazda RX-7) for years, with hopes that it would diversify my skillset outside of just Willys and AMC-era Jeeps, and it was apparent to me that a rotted-out 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer was a step in the wrong direction.

It’s for this reason that I’d been resisting the allure of Tammy’s Wagoneer for well over a year. I knew it was there, just sitting in her yard, and that she was just trying to get rid of it. But despite many nights of dreams filled with wood vinyl, AMC 360 V8s, and overstuffed bucket seats, I resisted.

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But of course, it didn’t last, because I am but a mere mortal, and no healthy human is capable of resisting the lure of a free example of one of the most soulful SUVs ever made. So on Saturday, I drove my 2020 Jeep Gladiator press vehicle from Troy, Michigan 250 miles to a town just outside of Dayton, Ohio to indulge an addiction that has clearly spiraled out of control.

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My two friends Derek and Chris, the same young engineers who enabled my 1991 Jeep Cherokee purchase back in the fall of last year, agreed to join me on the adventure. Prior to picking them up, I had to snag a U-Haul trailer, but I ran into a small issue. Despite the gladiator having a 7,650 pound tow rating, U-Haul did not recommend my tow vehicle/vehicle-being-towed combination. I later called the company and learned that there’s a lot that goes into this, but I think what might have done me in was U-Haul’s advisement that the tow vehicle “must equal or exceed 80% of the combined weight of the trailer (2,210 lbs.) and the vehicle being towed.”

Unfortunately, as overweight as the 4,672 pound Gladiator is compared to its mid-size truck rivals, it only represents 70 percent of the weight of a 2,210 pound trailer topped with a 4,500 pound SJ-platform Jeep. (Confusingly, according to its website, U-Haul would approve of me using the Gladiator to tow my similarly-heavy 1979 Jeep Cherokee, which is essentially structurally and mechanically the same as a Wagoneer).

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Anyway, I wasn’t too concerned about this, and I felt that it represented what most ordinary people would do in my situation. That said, it’s not something I would recommend, whether or not Jeep literally advertises the Gladiator towing a Grand Wagoneer. Anyway, this is all something to keep in mind when towing with mid-size trucks, which are receiving ever-higher tow ratings, but that still tend to be lighter than their full-size counterparts.

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After perfectly lining up the U-Haul trailer with my hitch thanks to the Gladiator’s nicely clear backup camera, a U-Haul employee hooked everything up, and then I was on my way to pick up Chris and Derek. Also along for the ride was their friend’s awesome Golden Doodle, Mandy, who needed a bit of help getting through the Gladiator’s narrow rear door opening (which Jeep compromised in order to share a common door as the Jeep Wrangler), thanks in large part to the vehicle’s high ground clearance.

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Once she was in, Mandy seemed comfortable laying down on that rear bench (though the picture above seems to show that she was annoyed at me taking pictures of her). In fact, Derek, Chris and I were all pleased with the Jeep’s overall highway comfort. Sure, there was some wind noise coming from the vehicle’s fairly flat windshield and generally upright and boxy profile, but the ride was nice and smooth, and the seats were great.

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After about four hours of driving through heavy rain with an unladen U-Haul trailer, my friends and I arrived at Tammy’s large, quiet western Ohio property.

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I had told Chris and Derek to expect a total shitshow once we got to Tammy’s house, because the titanic Grand Wagoneer hadn’t run in years, and—even worse—it didn’t even have a functioning key.

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I’d thrown a come-along hand winch and a nylon tow strap under the Gladiator’s rear tonneau cover, and that was the extent of my plan. I was just going to tie the strap around the front axle, then hook up the come-along hand winch to the strap on one end, and to the trailer or the Jeep’s rear tow hook on the other, and just inch the Jeep up with pure arm-strength.

The issue is that I’d tried this before on my $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer a few years back, and it nearly ended poorly when one of the come-alongs broke. The fact that this free Jeep was stuck in park, and that it had been sitting for a while and likely had seized drum brakes, had me deeply worried.

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But all that worrying was for naught, because Tammy’s husband Rodney is an extremely resourceful guy. He grabbed his tractor, shoved one of its forks into the square hitch receiver, and pushed the Jeep onto the trailer.

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Actually, it wasn’t quite as easy as that, because the vehicle’s lack of a key meant the steering was locked, and the wheels weren’t quite pointed perfectly straight. This meant that Rodney had to roll the Jeep up the ramps, then grab the back of the Grand Wagoneer with the tractor and shift it left to get the wheels to point straight. Then, eventually, he had to grab it and shift it back right.

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Another issue was that the fork prong that Rodney was shoving into the square receiver kept sliding out, especially as the receiver’s height changed with the angle of the vehicle as it climbed the ramp. The solution, there, was to use wheel chocks (blocks of wood) and the come-along to prevent the Jeep from rolling backwards so that Rodney could, every now and then, reset the tractor to push against the receiver.

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Luckily, the Jeep’s drum brakes weren’t seized up as they tend to be on vehicles that have sat for a while. And, while I was a bit concerned initially that the vehicle rolled despite being in park, it appears that the transfer case was in neutral, so I think the transmission’s park pawl is in good shape.

With Rodney pushing the Jeep from behind, and me holding the Jeep in place with the come-along and tow strap as he reset his fork prong, we eventually got the Wagoneer onto the trailer. It wasn’t perfect, since the left wheel was rubbing up against the very edge of the trailer thanks to the steering wheel being cocked a bit to the left. Plus, that heavy iron-block AMC 360 V8 definitely weighed the tail-end of the Gladiator down, as you can tell from the angle of the rear axle’s lower control arms in the image below.

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We might have been a little heavy on the tongue weight (Jeep recommends a tongue load of under 765 pounds), but since U-Haul trailers pretty much require wheels to be at the very front of the trailer in order for the included tie-down straps to work, and since there was no way this Grand Wagoneer was going to be loaded backwards, we had to make do with our trailer’s perhaps heavily front-biased weight distribution.

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The first thing I noticed while towing the Grand Wagoneer was that visibility through my drivers-side mirror was limited. There were three things that contributed to this issue: The fact that the large free Jeep was sitting on the very left edge of the trailer, the mud on my mirror that resulted from my attempts to get un-stuck from my backyard a few days prior, and the fact that the mirror is just too damn small.

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A larger tow-mirror is a must when towing something this big, and if I were to own a Gladiator, I’d try to find something from the aftermarket to help in this department.

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In stock form with no trailer, the Jeep Gladiator is hardly quick, sharing the same engine as the significantly lighter Jeep Wrangler. That “Pentastar Upgrade” V6's 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque was tasked with propelling the nearly 4,700 pound Jeep plus ~6,700 pounds worth of trailer up to highway speeds.

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But actually, it wasn’t too bad. Merging wasn’t so slow that it was scary, and though the V6 was fairly loud as it revved to its 6,600 RPM redline, the motor wasn’t coarse, and the whole merging ordeal was undramatic.

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Once we got on the open road, my friends and I were happy with the Gladiator’s ride quality, which didn’t seem to have been too adversely affected by the additional weight out back. (I will note that the tongue weight wasn’t so high that we were ramming against our bump stops. Our jounce bumpers. We weren’t bottomed out is what I’m trying to say.)

The pickup absorbed imperfections on the highway without fuss, and even with a bit of wind noise and the sound of the motor as the trans downshifted up grades, the truck made for a comfortable highway tow rig.

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The weather was not great, conjuring flashbacks from when I took this same trip back in early 2018, except with a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk doing the towing and a 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle on the trailer. That journey was a horrific, icy nightmare that nearly ended in disaster, and it started much like this one: I was driving with two buddies on the interstate in the dark and rainy night.

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But luckily, this time the temperature was above freezing, so the rain didn’t turn to ice. Still, it was pouring buckets to the point that, no matter how fast I set my wiper speed, visibility was terrible.

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As for how the Gladiator handled on the highway with all that weight on the back, I thought it was decent. It did at times feel as though the heavy trailer was moving around a bit, and my friends Chris and Derek later told me that, when they were driving in their own vehicle behind me, they did notice some lateral motion.

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From there it was smooth sailing for the 250 miles back to my house. I could sense that there were loads acting on the rear of the truck that yielded a bit less stability than I’d normally feel without the added weight in tow, but it never felt uncomfortable towing the trailer, even at 65 mph.

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Fuel economy over 252 miles of highway cruising at an average of roughly 65 mph was right around 12.4 MPG according to my own calculations. I don’t really have a great way to put that into context, since I haven’t used another vehicle to yank a similar load under similar conditions. But if you were curious, 12.4 MPG is what my automatic Gladiator Sport S managed while towing a 6,700 pound trailer and hauling three adults, a dog, some tools, and a winch (Yes, Tammy threw in a winch along with the free Grand Wagoneer! I did give her a few hundred bucks, as I felt weird about taking all that free steel) at about 65 mph on flat roads in rainy, 60 degree Fahrenheit weather conditions.

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I dropped Chris, Derek (and Mandy) off at Chris’ house, and while I told my two friends that I could get my new Grand Wagoneer off the trailer by myself, they insisted on coming along to my house, but in their own vehicle so I wouldn’t have to drive them back home. Chris and Derek are enablers of a degenerative automotive addiction, but they’re also heroes.

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After we arrived in my backyard, I sat in the fetid rustbucket on the trailer and managed the (functional!) brakes as Chris and Derek pushed the giant SUV down the ramps and into my swampy backyard, where it now sits.

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Overall, I was happy with how the Gladiator towed. Sure, this was hardly a difficult test, especially compared to the SAE J2807 that Jeep certified this vehicle’s impressive 7,650 pound tow rating to, but it was a realistic one that represents what I bet a lot of folks might use this truck for. And though I definitely felt the trailer out back, and it did sometimes seem to slightly affect the truck’s stability driving down the highway, it wasn’t a huge deal to me, and it is worth mentioning that more strategic trailer loading would likely have improved that situation.

I think if I were to put Jeep’s iconic press photo to the test again, especially for a longer distance trip, I’d probably ditch the U-Haul trailer, find a bigger flatbed, and set the tongue weight properly (and possibly use a weight-distributing hitch) just to see how much better I could get the truck dialed in. Though really, the best option would be to just buy a car that I could, you know, drive home.

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In any case, I thought the Gladiator did pretty well. Power was fine, brakes were okay, ride quality was good, and ultimately, the truck got the job done without a fuss. As for what I’ll do with my free Jeep Grand Wagoneer? I’m not sure yet. It looks nice in the lawn for now, at least.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio