Towing a Trailer with a Nissan Xterra

The internet doesn’t have a lot of information about towing trailers with the Nissan Xterra, especially trailers near the 5,000 lb. weight limit, so I thought I’d pitch in.  Here’s a picture of my Xterra pulling my travel trailer:

This trailer weighs 3,750 lbs. dry and the Xterra pulled it rather well.

This travel trailer weighs 3,750 lbs. dry, and with a few accessories, the Xterra proved to be a worthy tow vehicle.

I used to drive Ford F250 diesel which had 600 lb-ft of torque and it obviously didn’t have any trouble towing this small travel trailer.  But that truck was huge and loud and unwieldy on jeep trails (and got 11 mpg in the city) so I traded it for this Nissan Xterra.  I’m happy with the decision except I was worried about pulling this trailer with it.

The current, second-gen Xterra (2006 and newer) can tow a maximum of 5,000 lbs.  The first-gen Xterra, which I also owned, has the same rating but it feels weaker and I don’t think I’d hitch this trailer to one.  My Xterra is a 2012.

My travel trailer is 19 foot Jayco Jay Flight 19BH which weights 3,750 lbs. dry and probably another 500 pounds or so loaded up.  So it’s roughly a 4,250 lb. trailer which is within the Xterra’s limits.  The trailer’s tongue weighs 435 lbs. which is more than the 400 lb. max for the Xterra but honestly I didn’t worry about that.  It seems fine and an inspection of the hitch after towing revealed no problems.  Also, note that the front of this trailer is huge and flat and resists a lot of air so the Xterra had some work to do.

As you can see from the picture, this is a pretty big trailer for the Xterra.

There are three accessories I consider essential.  They are airbag helper springs, an an equalizer hitch and a trailer brake controller.  Here are links to the products I used:

Air Lift RideControl Airbag Helper Springs
Equal-i-zer Sway Control Hitch (12K Model)
Tekonsha Prodigy P2 Brake Controller and Tekonsha 3050-P Nissan Wiring Adapter

Two of these products prevent the Xterra’s rear from sagging and make the entire rig more stable at speed.  The equalizer hitch causes trailer weight to be distributed evenly to all four of the tow vehicle’s wheels instead of just the rear two.  It also helps prevent sway, also known as switching or fishtailing, which is important considering the Xterra’s short wheelbase.  The airbag helper springs are a sort of pneumatic lift which raises the vehicle’s rear end by inflating bladders to aid the suspension.  This stiffens the back end, preventing bouncing, and also levels the Xterra and the trailer.

Here’s a picture of the Xterra towing the travel trailer with the equalizer hitch in place but without the airbags.

Xterra Towing a Travel Trailer

 

Pretty good, but there’s definite sag in the Xterra’s suspension and the trailer is pointed slightly downward.  I don’t like that.  The airbags fix this problem by making everything ride level.  They also have the added advantage of keeping the suspension from bottoming out.  I run my airbags at 50-60 psi when towing.

The third accessory, a trailer brake controller, is important for obvious reasons.  The brake controller is a little gizmo that activates the trailer’s brakes so you get braking from all the wheels, not just the Xterra’s.  The Xterra’s brakes won’t acceptably stop the trailer by themselves, but with the trailer helping out, braking is smooth and effective.

With these three essential accessories installed the Xterra becomes a capable little tow vehicle.  What is towing like?

Below 45 MPH the Xterra pulls the 4,000+ lb. trailer pretty well, even uphill.  On the interstate, hills and wind become more of a factor.  On the outgoing trip I was driving on the interstate, uphill, into a powerful wind.  I don’t feel comfortable revving the engine past 3,500 RPM for long, mainly because I’m worried about overheating the transmission, so my speed dropped as low as 50 MPH in some spots.  And hey, that’s slow, but it’s acceptable to me.  Gas mileage was predictably abysmal at around 8.5 MPG.  Most of the time, however, I was able to maintain 60-65 MPH without much trouble and without revving up the engine.  On the return trip the wind was in my favor although it wasn’t a strong wind.  This time my mileage was 10.2 MPG and driving 65-70 MPH on flat ground was easy.  Often it was better to turn off overdrive so the transmission wasn’t hunting between gears, but I turned overdrive back on when conditions were favorable so I could take advantage of those lower revs.

Crosswinds are always a little scary and I can definitely feel them when towing with the Xterra.  I never felt unsafe, however, and if things get spooky, slow down.  It’s that easy.  I never felt any frightening sway or bouncing, even in the worst conditions.  Steep downhills were better than I expected, probably because the trailer’s wind resistance prevented the rig from really taking off, and gearing down worked great.  When braking though, the Xterra definitely needed help from the trailer’s brakes.

Keep in mind that the Xterra has a small 18 gallon fuel tank, which means a 180 mile range, at best.  I carry extra fuel and I choose routes that have gas available.

Overall the Xterra towed well, I think.  It’s not a powerhouse and sometimes it lost some speed and had to go slow, but that was expected and acceptable.  I could have really thrashed it and gone faster but I don’t think it’s worth it, both for fuel and wear and tear on the Xterra.  Towing a few hundred miles would be totally fine and I plan to tow my trailer with my Xterra many times in the future.

I’ll probably add a couple other accessories.  I’d like to install a transmission cooler mainly for peace of mind, but also to prevent costly repairs.  Also some mirror extenders would be nice because the stock Xterra’s mirrors are short and I can’t see much that’s going on behind the trailer.

If you tow a trailer with an Xterra I think you’ll have lot of fun, and then you get a fun excursion vehicle to use when you drop the trailer.  If you tow infrequently, like I do, just a few times per summer, I think the NissanXterra does very good work and could easy take on main-tow vehicle status.

I hope what I wrote will give you some worthwhile information.  I’d love to hear about your experience towing with your own so drop me a line.