Why Electric Cars Are So Bad At Towing

Illustration for article titled Why Electric Cars Are So Bad At Towing
Image: Tesla

Electric cars are undoubtedly the future of the automotive industry. If a manufacturer doesn’t have an EV in its lineup, that manufacturer is behind the times. But EVs also have some hurdles before they are universally accepted, and towing is one of them. Thankfully, Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained is here to give us all the details as to why.


He notes that there are two main problems with EVs (or, in his specific example, Teslas): price and energy density—or, basically, batteries are still really fucking big when compared to the amount of power they produce. It’s the latter that causes the towing problems.

At its most basic, energy is determined by the force it takes to power something (in this case a vehicle) multiplied by how far that object is going. In daily driving scenarios, where you’re just tooling around with yourself and maybe a few other people in your car, things are usually totally fine. You’ll drain your battery, but at a pretty predictable pace. Add any extra weight to the car—like that other car you’re towing in the rear—and that’s where you run into problems.

Right now, EVs are pretty similar to humans. Most able-bodied folk can walk around for a few hours with no problems. But if that person is then forced to carry something on their back that weighs the same as they do, they will get exhausted much quicker.

Now, electric cars are normally really damn efficient with how they use their energy. But just as adding any extra weight ruins your fuel economy with an ICE car, that efficiency drops fast. In most of the situations Fenske describes, electric cars often need more energy to tow something than it will have available. Efficiency no longer matters. The EV just can’t do it—or it’ll be cutting it really damn close to the battery range of the EV itself.

Basically EVs technically can carry stuff, but right now, that’s also like saying I technically can run a half marathon. I am physically capable of making the distance, but I’d also probably be vomiting and unable to walk by the time I crossed the finish line. It’s a start! It’s not great! But it’s still a start!

That is the good news, though: this is only the start for EVs. Battery capacity is destined to improve in the very near future which means towing capacity will exponentially improve. Just because EVs suck at towing now doesn’t mean that they’ll suck forever.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.


the 1969 Dodge Charger Guy

OK, I’ll bite. Why shouldn’t a trailer be self-powered so it hauls its own weight? Batteries in a layer below the floor and the electric motor goes to the trailer’s axle—boom. But here’s the key: the trailer’s electronics would interface to the car’s electronics so the trailer’s motor would be “throttled” by the car’s electronics providing much needed boost hauling itself, but would never be allowed to overpower the car’s speed, causing (I assume) the trailer to jackknife for an accident.  

Where’s the flaw in my proposal? Expensive trailer, yes, but it’s an expensive vehicle so laying out cash for a bigger plunge rather than a big plunge for a man with the electric itch couldn’t be that big of a deal.  I bet he’d cough up the delta no sweat.  Anything else make it a no-go?