Recently, videos of a Tesla Model Y doing something insane have been popping up on social media. We’ve seen plenty of Teslas, even smaller ones like the Model 3 and Model Y, successfully pull trailers. The torque available from electric motors is obviously plenty to pull many heavy things, but range is often an issue. Larger cargo and camping trailers don’t glide through the air as gracefully as a carefully-planned and sculpted Tesla body.
The other issue is tongue weight. Smaller vehicles can only handle a few hundred pounds resting on the ball of the hitch, and you need to have 10-15% of the weight on the tongue for stability. So, this limits the overall weight that a Tesla can pull.
But, these geniuses in Harligen, Texas managed to come up with a way around the hitch weight problem, even if they’re going to struggle with range.
In this case, they’re pulling the same kind of a trailer that a semi-truck pulls. It’s 53 feet long and even has a “reefer” unit (refrigeration for hauling food and other goods that need to be kept cold).
How did they pull this off? They used the semi-truck equivalent of a tow dolly. Basically, they put a fifth wheel hitch that’s sitting on an axle and then pull that. This means that there’s very little tongue weight, because only the tow bar pulling the axle sits on the hitch.
It also didn’t hurt that the trailer was empty. These can be tens of thousands of pounds loaded, with a fully-loaded semi-truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds (40 tons). But, an empty trailer is probably around 15,000 pounds. That’s still a lot of weight for a Model Y to pull, and it probably puts some serious strain on the drive units and brakes (the trailer doesn’t have working air brakes when hooked up to the Model Y).
The setup is missing one other thing: trailer lights. It doesn’t appear to have any wiring hooked up to power the trailer’s marker lights, turn signals, or anything else. So, it’s illegal to drive in the day, and super easy to get caught with at night. And, that’s exactly what happened.
According both to the video and to Road & Track, Texas State Troopers were not amused by this setup. At all. Not only was it almost impossible for a Tesla to stop at high speeds and steep downhills, but it’s also got no lights on it. It’s way, way over not only the vehicle’s safe towing ability (which is usually higher than conservative tow ratings), but it may even exceed what someone can do with a normal driver’s license.
Not only did Texas DPS have the trailer hauled away, but troopers impounded the Model Y as well.
“When they called us in to dispatch, they told us we needed a heavy wrecker out there, but we need it just for the trailer,” a towing company employee told R&T over the phone. “I said, ‘Well, what about the semi?’ They said, ‘No, it’s a Tesla.’ I asked if it was a Tesla truck and she said, ‘No, a Tesla.’ I thought I wasn’t understanding. But sure enough, they went out there and it was a Tesla car towing that trailer.”
It doesn’t appear that anybody has been able to figure out who the driver was. So, nobody has asked why they did this and what the goal of it was. It’s possible that they were just moving trailers around locally, and they thought it would be cheaper than using big diesel trucks. It also could have been some sort of YouTube stunt gone awry. But, some people are crazy enough to think something like this could work long-term, and a trailer that size could make a hell of a “van life” rig, right?
A Model Y Can Still Tow, If You’re Reasonable
One thing I don’t want to leave readers thinking is that EVs cannot tow. They very, very much can. It’s just that a small crossover simply cannot safely pull something so damned big.
These people in the video above pulled a trailer that weighs in at the tow rating of the Model Y. This made it a bit of a pain for visiting charging stations, but it was very much possible to take a road trip and go camping.
They went 55 MPH (not a bad idea if you’re pulling toward the limit on any vehicle), and this gave them a bit of a range boost compared to pulling along at 70-80 MPH. Energy consumption was higher than a small trailer and definitely higher than driving with no trailer.
If you really want to get reasonable, pull something small and light, like this Aliner trailer. Not only is it well within the vehicles tow rating, but it folds down to make less of a problem pulling through the air. In this case, the driver got around 2 miles per kWh, which still leaves plenty of range for towing from Supercharger station to Supercharger station.
Small cargo trailers are also very efficient. I don’t own a Model Y (I’m not personally a fan of the interiors or the technoprince), but even with my cheap Chevy Bolt EUV, I have very little efficiency loss towing a small trailer. Even loaded, this little 4×8 box is skinny enough to mostly fit behind the car and get 2.2–2.5 miles/kWh. Loaded with camping gear, it’s only about 800 pounds.
In other words, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using an EV to tow. It’s all about being reasonable, and not about what powers the vehicle. A gas crossover the size of a Model Y would be equally ill-equipped to tow a 53′ semi-trailer.
That having been said, EVs are getting more capable. The limited release Tesla Semi is obviously up to the job, as are electric class 7-8 trucks from other manufacturers in various stages of release. Again, not a problem at all. The only thing really holding such big vehicles back from being electric at this point isn’t technology, but the supply chains for batteries (they need a LOT of them) and the availability of megawatt charging stations.
Featured image: a screenshot from the TFL video above.