Hauling a U-Haul Trailer With a Compact Car

elantra towing uhaul trailer

Anyone who has moved across the country knows that a long distance move is extremely expensive. Often it will cost more to move than the value of all of your possessions put together. Hiring movers to pack up and move all your junk can easily cost in the 10s of thousands of dollars.

Even the DIY route of renting a truck and doing all the packing and moving yourself is prohibitively expensive. To rent U-Haul’s smallest truck, which realistically can only hold a small 1-bedroom apartment’s worth of stuff, a move from Los Angeles to Chicago would cost well over $2000. That’s not even including the other expenses you’ll have to make for hotels and gas.

If you’re looking to haul a Uhaul trailer with a compact car, you’re limited to using either of the smallest trailers available:

The 5×8 trailer from U-Haul can fit a Queen size mattress and has nearly as much room as the truck in the above example. The same move with this trailer would cost a more reasonable $465.


But what if you don’t have a big truck or SUV to tow with? What if you only have a compact car with a little 4-cylinder engine? I would like to point out that when I was researching on the internet if my ’10 Hyundai Elantra could tow a U-Haul trailer, I couldn’t find a lot of hard evidence. In fact, most places said it was a terrible idea that wouldn’t work at all and I would probably die in the process. I learned that was not entirely correct.

My first task in my towing adventure was to install a hitch on the Elantra. I was able to order all the parts compatible with my car I needed off of Amazon. I needed a class I frame, a drawbar, a 2” ball (2 inch is compatible with U-Haul trailers), and the electrical hookups. It was all about $150. You can have U-Haul install it for you but it’s really not that difficult to do yourself. You can find information on how to install each part on the internet or YouTube specifically for your car. If you have an automatic transmission you should look into getting a transmission cooler.

It’s very unlikely your compact car meets the towing specifications to tow a 1,100lb(empty) trailer. My Elantra is rated to tow 750lbs. In the end I was probably towing over twice that amount. Thankfully, I never had any trouble with U-Haul and they never checked my car’s specifications.

I was concerned about brake fade while towing that much weight so I did pre-emptively change out all the brakes on my car. I did this myself and replaced the rotors with fancy drilled/slotted ones which are supposed to help keep the brakes from overheating. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much but my wheels do look a little cooler now.

When I hooked up the trailer and took it for a drive the first time there are a few things I noticed.

  1. Acceleration was a lot worse. My unweighted car can do 0-60 in less than 10 seconds. With the trailer it was probably closer to 25 or 30 seconds.
  2. Braking distance was much longer. I needed to keep a lot more space between my car and the one in front.
  3. It was really noisy and jerky. The unloaded trailer was actually worse for making noise. Accelerating, breaking, and bumpy roads would make the hitch rattle around like crazy. Acceleration and breaking was also uneven since you can feel the trailer pushing/pulling the car.
  4. I couldn’t accelerate past 65mph. My little car was really struggling with the wind resistance.
  5. I took the hills slowly. I stuck with the semi-trucks during any periods of steep ascent.
  6. Fuel efficiency dropped to about 20mpg.
  7. My car has a manual transmission and I think that really made it easier for towing. I could pick the correct gear for every situation and didn’t have to worry about any overheating. An automatic should also be able to do it if you drive smart.

And that was it! I was able to tow a loaded up trailer with my 2.0L Elantra about 400 miles. I felt like I could have gone a lot further since freeway driving wasn’t difficult at all. It’s just a matter of keeping your speeds lower and your braking distance longer. Drive like you have the capabilities of a Semi-truck, because that’s basically true.

As a warning: don’t take this as legal advice that anyone can safely tow a trailer with a car that isn’t rated to do so. If you try to do what I did, then that’s your responsibility and you should know the risks.