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Pulling Trailers, Boats, & Bikes with Tesla Model 3

Everyone knows that if you want a trailer/receiver hitch on a Tesla, you have to buy a Model Y or Model X. Not true — you can have a very robust receiver installed by a third party such as U-Haul on a Model 3.

You probably don’t think a Tesla Model 3 sedan is good for much besides transporting one to five people plus luggage, even if it is extremely smooth and efficient at doing that.

Everyone knows that a real man has to have a full-size pickup with a 6-seat 4-door extended cab to haul whoever and whatever crosses his mind. There must be a lot of real men in the US, because full-size pickups outsell every other vehicle model by a huge margin. Although, I have noticed that you also see a lot of women driving full-size pickups in the Walmart parking lot.

We all know that those pickup trucks are used 99% of the time to transport one person from point A to point B. But a real man definitely needs a full-size pickup truck to go to Home Depot to pick up a 12 oz box of finishing nails.

For 99% of the miles driven by our Tesla Model 3, it is also carrying one or two passengers, and often our small dog, from point A to point B. Everyone knows that if you want a trailer/receiver hitch on a Tesla, you have to buy a Model Y or Model X. Not true — you can have a very robust receiver installed by a third party such as U-Haul on a Model 3. Then add a tray-type bike carrier such as Küwat or Saris and you can carry up to two big e-bikes weighing a total of 120 lb. For 20% of the miles we travel with our Tesla Model 3, mostly on long trips, we are also carrying one or two e-bikes. 

We have traveled the 1081 miles from Three Lakes in Northern Wisconsin through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit our daughter and her family. We then drove the 2081 miles cross-country through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado back to our winter home in Lindon, Utah, carrying a big e-bike.

Tesla Model 3 with bike rack on back. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Photo by Fritz Hasler.

In two weeks, we will be headed Westward Ho for the 1196 mile drive from Three Lakes, Wisconsin, to our winter home in Lindon, Utah, carrying my heavy Bulls and Fantic full suspension mid-drive e-bikes along the way. 

For the other 1% of the miles driven by our Tesla Model 3, we perform many of the tasks you might think would require a pickup truck. Add a tow bar with a 6” drop turned upside down and you are ready to pull utility trailers, boat trailers, and popup trailers. Without the 6” rise, it is difficult to attach a trailer because the receiver is so low.

Tesla Model 3 with two-inch receiver with tow bar with 6” drop turned upside down. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Now we need a utility trailer that can carry an electric golf cart, dining room table, load of kayaks, 4’x8’ sheets of plywood/wallboard, even professional 4’x12’ sheets of wallboard or most anything else you can imagine.

Next you to back up to the trailer to attach it. Voila! The Model 3 backup camera and gorgeous touchscreen make pinpoint backing to the trailer and coupling a piece of cake.

Tesla Model 3’s perfect backup camera view of the trailer hitch ball and trailer coupler. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Utility trailer carrying a table. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Utility trailer carrying a load of kayaks. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

We carry those kayaks plus canoes 47 miles north to 20,000 acres of old growth forest and lakes in the marvelous Sylvania Wilderness near Watersmeet in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Grandkids canoeing at Sylvania Wilderness. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Grandkids camping at Sylvania Wilderness. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

What about a muscular task like pulling my 2900 lb. ski boat out of water. Can the Little Engine That Could pull our big ski boat? Well, it turns out that the towing limit on the Model Y is 3500 lb. That leaves a 600 lb margin for the trailer. With a maximum tongue weight of 320 lb, we are probably reasonably under the limits, especially since my trailer has its own brakes. In that case, I don’t see why the Model Y towing specs shouldn’t apply to the Model 3.

Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Smooth as silk, the 3000 lb competition ski boat leaps out of the water at Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

I hook up the boat trailer using the backup camera for pinpoint coupling. I drive to the boat ramp and back the trailer into the water. I drive the boat onto the trailer, attach the hook from the trailer to the boat, move forward slowly until the whole boat rests on the trailer, and then press on the accelerator and the car leaps up the ramp. The twin motors have so much power and torque that I can hardly feel the 3000 lb boat and trailer behind me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since from adding the front and rear motors together, the dual-motor Tesla Model 3 Long Range has a total of 450 hp.

I only need to tow the boat about 1.4 miles from the boat ramp to my garage, so I don’t need to consider the impact of trailering for longer distances. However, in case you want to do long-distance boat trailering with a Model 3, I did a power use check at 60 mph where I got 600Wh/mile, which compares with 200Wh/mile without the trailer.

Tesla Model 3 and Ski Nautique boat trailer. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

I tow the boat from the boat ramp to my driveway, where I change the oil, winterize the motor, and shoehorn the boat into the garage for the winter. Since the Model 3 pulling the 3000 lb ski boat and trailer at 60 mph uses about 600 Wh/mile if the battery size on the Model 3 is 72 kWh, the full range pulling the boat would be about 120 miles. There are some factors that would improve efficiency pulling the boat. The boat would be more aerodynamic with a cover, and the pressure of the trailer tires were low when I was doing the test and should be pumped up for maximum range. One tire was very low and neither tire was near the recommended 55 PSI. Bottom line: it may be possible to get from one Supercharger to the next on a cross-country trip pulling a 2900 lb ski boat, but not at a safe 70 mph on an interstate highway.

It may also be possible to tow a small pop-up travel trailer cross-country. Since you trail a pop-up in the stowed mode as shown below, that would reduce the aerodynamic drag. Unfortunately, I was not able to do a power use test with a popup trailer. I’m guessing that the power use trailing a popup trailer would be greater than for the ski boat. Again, it might be possible to get from one Supercharger to the next, but not at a safe 70 mph.

Nonetheless, note that Jayco popup trailers start at the dry weight of 1,835 lb, with a hitch weight of 140 lb. This should be well within the capability of the Model 3 for short trips.

Jayco pop-up trailer in stowed mode in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Viking pop-up trailer in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

 
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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

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