What Gear Is Best for Towing?

Whether you are towing for the first time or are a seasoned expert, it can be challenging to know the right way to shift gears. Shifting your gears can help you keep your vehicle in good condition, and it could save you from stalling out on steep hills. 

The best gear for towing is downshifting when you go down steep inclines and upshifting when you drive up hills or mountains, especially if your truck has a manual transmission. Shifting gears at the right time can save your vehicle from additional wear to the brake system and the engine system

If you want to learn more about how to change gears while towing, stay tuned. We will be discussing how changing gears can help you safely and efficiently pull heavyweights in both manual and automatic vehicles. We will also teach you more about why changing gears is essential and the factors that affect your gear-changing. 

Do Gears Affect Your Towing Ability?

Gears do affect your vehicle’s ability to tow. Changing gears can help you reduce a heavy trailer’s impact on your truck’s brake system, tires, and engine. When a vehicle is pulling a trailer behind it, it has to compensate for the item’s extra weight by shifting gears.

As you may know, lower gears move a vehicle more slowly but take more torque from the engine. The first gear is perfect for moving uphill since the gear mechanisms are smaller, which focuses more power on the wheels’ revolution. If your vehicle is struggling to pull a heavy trailer, the first gear is your best bet to get the wheels rolling. 

The higher the gear is, the more speed you will get. Still, higher numbered gears will decrease the torque amount that your engine will use to spin your truck’s wheels. Higher gear settings are great at increasing and maintaining speed, although they are not great at increasing a slow-moving vehicle’s momentum. 

When you shift gears, you can help your truck get enough torque to pull a trailer up inclines. If you are towing a heavy item up mountains or steep hills without changing gears, your vehicle may become strained by the weight. 

If you overexert your truck, you could damage your engine and your wheel system, and your vehicle may not be able to keep up speed without being shifted into a higher gear setting. Worst case scenario, the weight of your trailer pulls you and your car back down the hill. To avoid these problems, you can shift into a lower gear setting before you start going up an incline. 

However, if you are pulling a trailer down a hill or mountain, the trailer’s weight will push your truck forward, forcing it to speed up. You may need to apply your brakes to keep your speed down, but doing so can damage your brakes and potentially even cause them to disengage depending on the trailer’s weight. Shifting down a gear or two is a great way to slow down your vehicle without using your brakes too much. 

Many automatic cars have a specific gear setting for towing or an overdrive-off switch. When you are using a vehicle with these settings, the engine will automatically adjust to the terrain and the trailer’s weight.

Using these gear settings can help your car slow down as it is going down steep slopes, and it can also help you keep up speed while driving up hills. 

Other automatic vehicles can automatically adjust to the weight of towing without any specialized settings. These vehicles are usually specifically designed for towing, and they make it as easy as possible for the driver to safely tow heavy trailers. If you have an automatic truck with a computerized transmission, it is best to let the car calculate the gear setting on its own most of the time. 

Older manual trucks, however, require the driver to shift on their own. If you are using an older truck, you will need to change to a lower gear just before you drive down steep inclines, and you will need to shift the gear down as you drive up hills.

When towing with a manual vehicle, the driver will need to pay close attention to the changing terrain so they can shift before hitting a steep spot of road. 

Does the Gear Also Depend on Other Factors?

When towing, different gears are better in certain circumstances. That is why there are multiple gears in the first place. Depending on the type of terrain you are driving on, the incline, the weight of your trailer, and your truck’s specifications, you may need to use a different gear while towing. 

Automatic vs. Manual

Most automatic vehicles can adjust gears without any thought from the driver. Automatic trucks make towing a breeze since the computerized engine will switch gears for you depending on the terrain. Generally, when you are hauling in an automatic vehicle, it is best not to shift and just let the car do what it was designed to do. 

Manual trucks are a little different. When you are towing with a manual vehicle, you will have to make all of the gear adjustments on your own, which means that you will have to pay close attention to what your truck needs depending on where you are driving and the weight of the trailer.

If you are driving in a manual truck, you will need to shift gears to adjust for any inclines before you are on the slope. 


When you are hauling a trailer, the most critical factor that will affect your gear changes is the terrain. It is a piece of cake to pull items behind you when the road is flat and wide, but steep grades can make towing much more challenging. 

Generally, when you drive an automatic vehicle up an incline, you should only change gears when your vehicle indicates that it cannot pull your trailer’s weight. In manual transmissions, shifting down is essential.

When you are driving, if your car loses momentum and makes a strained, rumbling sound, you might want to shift to a lower gear. Changing the gear setting will increase the amount of torque and safely pull you up the hill. 

When you drive down an incline, you might also want to change the gear to a lower setting. Doing so will slow down your vehicle, allowing you to keep a constant speed. Working at a lower gear setting could also help you save your breaks from additional damage, especially if you are pulling the maximum weight that your car can handle. 

The Size and Weight of the Item You Are Towing

The heavier your trailer is, the more torque you need to haul it. Towing heavier things up steep inclines requires a lot of energy out of your truck. If you are towing a heavy item down a steep slope, you will want to switch to lower gears so that your brakes do not give out under your trailer’s pressure.

Heavier items will require you to shift to more extreme gears than lighter items. The item’s weight requires you to change gears differently because your vehicle will need extra help from its engine to compensate for the trailer’s weight.

Your brakes might also need help from your truck’s engine when you are going down hills since the trailer’s weight will cause the vehicle to accelerate. 

Whether or Not You Have a Twin Axle

Twin axles are a great way to disperse the weight of your trailer. When there are more axles, the heaviness of the item you are towing is spread out more evenly, making it so that your truck requires less torque to move the trailer. When you are pulling heavy trailers, having a twin axle can make the load a lot easier on your vehicle. 

However, most trailers with twin axles are generally heavier. Lighter items do not need more than two wheels since it is easy for a truck to haul them. So, even though twin axles make it easier for you to pull heavy items, they are still ultimately harder to tow and require more manipulation to haul. 

What Gear Is Best for Towing?

Generally, staying out of overdrive or using a towing setting is best for towing with automatic trucks. These settings help keep your engine from overheating when you are driving up steep roads. However, when you are driving on relatively flat roads such as highways, your best bet is to let your vehicle adjust its gear setting on its own. 

In manual transmission vehicles, it is best to start in a low gear to gain momentum and adjust the setting based on the type of terrain you drive on. When you are going up hills, you will want to shift up, but you will want to shift down when you are going down hills so that braking is not as difficult. 

Still, it is essential not to rely on your transmission too much. If you put too much strain on your drive train and do not use your brakes to help it manage your speed, your engine could overheat. To protect your engine and keep your truck running and hauling smoothly, use your brakes to enable your vehicle to transition between gears on inclines. 

Why Is Manual Transmission Best for Towing?

Some people argue that manual transmissions are better for hauling than automatic vehicles. To some degree, this is true, but it takes a lot more focus from the driver. Because manual transmissions do not change gears unless the driver shifts, it is easier to control your truck’s speed and torque. 

Automatic transmissions are more likely to overheat if you are pulling an item near the maximum weight that the engine can handle. Overheating usually happens when the driver does not turn off overdrive or does not engage the towing setting before driving.

Still, automatic transmissions are a lot more likely to give out when hauling heavy items, even if you take all of the right precautions. 

Manual transmission hauling does have its downsides, too. Even though manual cars allow the driver to shift between gears, putting them in complete control of the vehicle’s speed, it takes a lot of focus and maneuvering to keep a constant speed while driving up and down steep grades. 

Naturally, manual towing is also not as smooth as automatic. Since hauling takes many gear shifts depending on the road’s steepness, doing it all by hand can result in a bumpy ride. This bumpiness can be unpleasant for passengers, so practice is vital when hauling with a manual truck. 

Overall, towing with a manual transmission takes a lot of extra skill and attention, although the drive train is less likely to wear out over time. Automatic vehicles do all of the gear-shifting work for you, but if you plan on hauling an item near the truck’s maximum weight limit for an extended period or over steep grades, you might want to use a manual car instead. 

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