A Guide to Model Y and Towing


The Tesla Model Y, which came to the US marketplace in March 2020, is the long-anticipated crossover SUV based on the Tesla Model 3 sedan.  Many Tesla fans eagerly awaited the Model Y’s introduction based on the rumors that the Model Y would include a generous towing package.  Understanding the Tesla Model Y’s capabilities and limitations need a guide to the Model Y and towing.

Towing with an electric vehicle presents certain challenges that the owner of the vehicle must consider.  If you purchase a Tesla Y intending to tow a trailer, be it a camping rig or otherwise, understanding weight loading, tire limitations, and drivability aspects are important.  We’ll explain the ins and outs of the Model Y.

The Tesla Model Y – Lineage and History

The first Tesla Model Y’s began delivery in March 2020.  The Model 3 Sedan gave birth to the Model Y.  The two models of Tesla’s current offerings are estimated to share 75 percent of their parts.  From a consumers’ standpoint, the Model Y fills a niche market around younger Tesla owners who want a sportier and less expensive version of the Model X.

The towing ability was especially exciting for this market segment.  This age group typically are outdoor enthusiasts who often want to tow a small travel trailer or equipment trailer. Rumors about a towing capability came with every new announcement about the Tesla Model Y.

The Bare Bones Facts – The Tesla Y Factory Specifications

Anyone with any experience in towing trailers knows that the bottom line on towing is always about weight.  Every vehicle produced for the US market has a specification plate on the vehicle that provides essential information about its capabilities.  The Tesla Y Model is no exception. 

The vehicle ratings on the Tesla Model Y reveal the bottom line on towing.

Tire Size# of PassengersMaximum Towing CapacityMaximum Tongue Weight
19, 20, and 21 inchesUp to 33,500 pounds (1,588 kg)350 pounds (159 kg)
19 and 21 inches4 or more3,500 pounds (1,588 kg)350 pounds (159 kg)
20 inches4 or more2,300 pounds (1,043 kg)230 pounds (104 kg)

Weight and The Need for Other Considerations

The trailer towing specifications reveal a lot about towing with the Tesla Model Y.  Further reading in the Model Y United States Owner’s Manual tells us even more.

  • The maximum trailer weight includes the trailer’s weight and all cargo and additional equipment you load in the trailer. For example, a Model Y with four passengers and carrying 500 pounds of gear limits the trailer weight to 3,000 lbs.
  • Tesla highly recommends that the trailer have electric trailer brakes and the Model Y have an electric brake controller if the trailer exceeds 1650 pounds.
  • The Tesla Owner’s Manual cautions owners that the Tesla Model Y is primarily a passenger-carrying vehicle. 
  • The additional length and weight of the combined Model Y and a trailer change the vehicle’s driving, handling, and braking characteristics. 

Trailer Towing with a Smart Car

Hooking up your trailer to a Model Y has effects other than the additional weight and changes in driving characteristics.  Tesla incorporates some smart car technology into the Model Y.  When the Model Y Senses the trailer’s electrical system, the car’s control systems switch to trailer mode.  This change to trailer mode causes several adjustments to the Model Y.

  • The Trailer Mode checks the trailer lights for faulty connections and reports on the situation.
  • The autopilot features on the Model 9 are disabled when a trailer is attached, and the car is in Trailer Mode.
  • The rear parking sensor no longer functions in Trailer Mode.
  • The following distance allowed by the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control increases to allow more braking distance.
  • Side-collision warnings remain active in Trailer Mode, but automatic steering intervention no longer works.
  • Braking distances when the Collision Avoidance System activates may increase due to limitations in the amount of brake force the system can apply.

Expectations and Realities – The Electric Vehicle Dilemma

If you expect to attach your chateau on wheels to your new Tesla Model Y and head off to the mountains or the beach, you may be disappointed.  The truth is that the Tesla Model Y is only rated for light-duty towing.  According to the Camper Report, the following is true about travel trailers in the United States.

  • The average weight of camper trailers in the United States is about 5,200 pounds.
  • Most families add 1,500 pounds of gear and cargo to the trailer.
  • In general, figuring 250 pounds of weight per foot of trailer is a good estimation.

Based on these averages, it is easy to understand the limitations you will have towing a trailer with your Tesla Model Y.  However. There are other limitations to consider as well.

Range and Recharge – Where are You Going to Find a Plug in the Woods

The range of the Tesla Model Y all-wheel-drive model comes in around 326 miles.  Of course, you must understand that these ratings are done under optimum conditions to get the largest number possible.  Real-world experience is much different, and several factors will influence the range you get, especially when towing a trailer.

  • Your driving habits affect the range you can expect from your Tesla Model Y
  • The terrain you are driving can lower your expected range.  Long uphill runs with more weight or passengers will reduce the expected range.
  • Drag associated with a trailer will reduce overall mileage considerably. The characteristics of the trailer are the largest influence.  Only real-world experience can tell you how the trailer will affect your range.
  • Many resort destinations don’t have charging stations.  If you prefer to boondock with your trailer, plan on providing your charging arrangements.
  • Adding a trailer and the additional weight increases the wear and tear on your vehicle’s drive train and electrical system.  This additional wear and tear can increase maintenance costs and shorten the batteries’ life that power your Tesla Model Y.

The Biggest Downside We Found

The largest negative we found about the Tesla Model Y and towing a trailer is the cost.  Getting set up to tow a trailer with the Model Y involves a host of often expensive add-ons that must be purchased.

  • Most notably, the Tesla Model Y add-on towing package
  • A trailer brake controller
  • Hitch ball and mount

The Truth as We See it About Towing with a Tesla Model Y

Looking at the Tesla Model Y specifications and reviewing real-world experiences by many drivers and owners, we have concluded the following.

  • The Tesla Model Y is useable as a tow vehicle within some strict guidelines.
  • Long trips and wilderness camping with a trailer are not practical under most circumstances.
  • You must be careful about weights and the way the trailer is loaded to tow safely with the Tesla Model Y
  • Short utility towing jobs are the most practical for the Model Y.
  • Driver experience is important in using the Model Y as a tow vehicle.

On the other hand, The Tesla Model Y has some important virtues when trailering.

  • The instant torque of the drive system makes starts and acceleration easy.
  • The electric drive system provides smooth acceleration throughout the range.
  • The low center of gravity of the Tesla Model Y gives a secure and steady feel when towing a trailer.

Our Conclusion – Trailers and the Model Y

If you want to pull a small utility trailer around town to move small furniture or pick up landscape supplies from the local home improvement center, the Tesla Model Y should perform without problems.  The idea of using a Model Y as the tow vehicle for any longer-range trailer adventures will probably not be successful.  A larger and more powerful vehicle will fit the bill better.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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