How Far Can You Tow With a Tesla Model Y?

Towing with electric vehicles is a fraught conversation even though only a minority of Americans actually use their vehicles for towing on any regular basis. Regardless, it has become a goalpost for EV acceptance in the market for some people. By now, it shouldn't be news that towing with an EV reduces range, just as it does when towing with a combustion-powered vehicle. It shouldn't surprise you, then, that our new Tesla Model Y doesn't go very far when towing a trailer.

The Setup

Yes, you can get a trailer hitch on your Tesla SUV. The company has offered a tow hitch on the Model X and Model Y for years now, and we made sure to order it on our long-term Model Y. For $1,000, you get a Class II receiver hitch with a standard seven-pin trailer wiring connector all neatly hidden behind a pop-out panel below the rear bumper. Tesla doesn't offer a trailer brake controller, and we didn't buy one separately, so max towing on the Model Y is limited to 3,500 pounds.

The Trailer

For this test, we rented a simple U-Haul 6x12-foot Utility Trailer, an open-top twin-axle trailer that weighs 1,730 pounds empty. For ballast, we added a 50-gallon drum and some extra tires we had laying around, which weigh about 500 pounds combined for a total estimated trailer weight of 2,250 pounds. Barely taller than the top of the trailer, the cargo should not have meaningfully added to the boxy trailer's aerodynamic drag.

The Range Test

To get a baseline, we left the trailer behind and first performed our MotorTrend Road-Trip Range Test, which consists of fully charging the battery then driving a constant 70 mph until 95 percent of the battery power has been used up, leaving 5 percent to find a charger. Official EPA range estimates combine city and highway driving, so this test reflects a real-world road trip that's entirely freeway driving, where EVs are typically least efficient. The result: The Model Y has an MT Road-Trip Range of 229 miles, 101 miles shy of its EPA-estimated 330 miles of range in mixed driving.

Now that we know range is reduced by 31 percent in pure highway driving, we can compare trailering on the highway. U-Haul hitched up, we headed back out on the same highway in the same conditions. As expected, dragging a roughly 2,250-pound brick took a big bite out our range, but we didn't think it would be this big. The highway trailer towing range: 99 miles.

That's less than one-third of its EPA-rated range when not towing and less than half its observed MT Road-Trip Range. Put another way, when towing, the Model Y used 3.3 miles of estimated range for every mile actually traveled. We should of course note driving at lower speeds and in stop-and-go situations would likely increase the trailering range, but an exact number would depend on the route driven and would be unique to each situation.

The good news is that for those 99 miles, the Model Y and its little rental trailer were quite pleasant to drive. Electric motors are excellent for towing, as they produce all their torque instantaneously, so there's no waiting for a downshift or for the revs to come up before the vehicle accelerates. (It's the batteries' low energy density compared to gasoline that isn't up to the task of long-range towing.) Even at nearly two-thirds of its maximum rated towing capacity, the Model Y was quick off the line and responded immediately to accelerator inputs on the highway. Not as quick as unladed, of course, but more than enough to make trailering a breeze. Similarly, the brakes are more than strong enough to handle the extra weight, and the blending of regenerative and mechanical braking is just as well calibrated while towing as it is normally. Other than leaving a greater following distance and making wide turns, you don't need to drive the Model Y much differently when towing. With such a short trailer, we didn't experience any trailer sway, and when bad roads caused the trailer to bob, the Model Y's suspension quickly handled it.

The Charging Test

With the battery thoroughly exhausted, we used the opportunity to also perform our charging speed test. Because we'd recently been driving quite inefficiently and the vehicle's range estimator takes that into account, the estimated mileage gained during the charging test is significantly lower than the EPA-rated range. We charged on a V3 Supercharger with a rated max output of 250 kW, which matches the Model Y's max rated charging speed, though we observed an actual max of 254 kW during our test session.

Charging from 5 percent to 80 percent state of charge took 32 minutes. As expected, charging speed slowed significantly above 80 percent to protect the battery, and reaching 100 percent took another 38 minutes. Charging from 5 percent to 100 percent took a total of 1 hour and 10 minutes (which is one of the top reasons why charging to 100 percent isn't recommended, especially on a road trip where time matters).

Starting with such a depleted battery—which was preconditioned for faster charging en route to the charger—the Model Y was able to add 118 miles of estimated range in the first 15 minutes. After 30 minutes, the car had taken on a total of 176 miles of range and was nearing 80 percent state of charge. From there, charging slowed significantly, and after 45 minutes the car had added a total of 210 miles of range. After an hour of charging, the car had taken on a cumulative 224 miles of range. An additional 10 minutes were required to reach 100 percent.

The Complications

Range isn't the only issue that crops up when trailering with an EV. Precious few DC fast chargers, be they Tesla Superchargers or built by a competitor like Electrify America or EVgo, are installed in a way that allows for a vehicle towing a trailer. Tesla Superchargers almost always require the owner to back up to the charger, and neither the charging cables nor the parking spaces are anywhere near long enough to allow for a trailer.

In order to charge our Model Y after the trailer test, we had to unhitch the trailer and leave it elsewhere in the parking lot before charging, then reconnect after. We've had this same problem in the past towing with other EVs, and while dropping and hooking up a trailer doesn't take long for someone with experience, it's still massively inconvenient in the middle of a trip and requires you to leave your trailer unprotected.

Just getting a ball hitch installed before you even back up to the trailer is also needlessly difficult. Tesla hides the trailer hitch behind the rear fascia for a clean look, but getting to it means prying off a decorative cover. There's no indent or indication where you should pry from, and the gap between the cover and the surrounding panel is very narrow, so you need something like a putty knife to slip in there and pry it out. Go slow and work your way around the whole cover methodically to avoid gouging the cover or the surrounding panel. There are 15 clips holding it in (even though it's less than a foot square) so it takes some patience to get all of them loose. Putting it back after is straightforward, though we can't get one corner to fit flush again no matter how much we mess with it.

The cover for the seven-pin connector is also a bit of a pain to deal with. It hinges at the bottom and is held closed by a spring, so you need a decent grip on the tab to pull it open. Because of the shape and size of the opening in the fascia and the position of the connector, it's difficult to get your finger on the tab. We found going at it from the side works best, as there simply isn't room for your finger and the cover to swing open together if you come at it from the top.

The Verdict

The Model Y is a surprisingly good tow rig, so long as you don't need to tow more than 100 miles. Everything about the way it pulls a trailer met with our approval. Our issues with it center almost entirely around its trailering range and the fact Superchargers have not been built to accommodate trailers, severely limiting its appeal as a long-range tow rig. If most (or all) of your towing is in town or just to the next town or county over, it'll do the job fine. If you're planning to tow cross-country on your next vacation, though, consider renting a more appropriate vehicle, at least until they start installing trailer-friendly Superchargers. Or consider towing a trailer that doubles as an EV charger.

For More On Our Long-Term 2023 Tesla Model Y Long Range:

MotorTrend's 2023 Tesla Model Y Long Range
Service Life 4 mo/6,862 mi
Base/as Tested Price $51,580/$71,630
Options "Full Self-Driving Capability" ($15,000: computer and hardware necessary for eventual autonomous driving capability); seven-seat interior ($2,500: third row); tow hitch ($1,000: Class 3 receiver hitch); Deep Blue Metallic paint ($1,000)
EPA CTY/HWY/CMB FUEL ECON; CMB RANGE 127/117/122 mpg-e; 330 miles
Average Miles/KWH 2.8 mi
Energy Cost Per Mile $0.13
Maintenance and Wear $0.00
Damage $0.00
Days Out of Service/Without Loaner None
Delights Most EVs aren't calibrated this well for one-pedal driving, and it's a delight.
Annoyances Hope you don't left-foot brake, because the tiniest amount of pedal overlap will trigger a temporary loss of power and blaring warnings in the cabin.
Recalls Autosteer Susceptibility To Misuse (Not Yet Performed)


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