Project MKVI Golf TDI: Let's Tow!

by Jeff Naeyaert

One of the things we noticed on our two trips to Europe in the last few years is that there are NO pickup trucks on the roads like you see all over here in the United States.  There are some luxury type SUV’s running around but much more common are “estates” or what we call station wagons and lots of little cars—our Golf being a popular choice.  So how do people haul around all their crap?  Trailers!  We don’t want to say most, but there are a lot more cars in Europe with trailer hitches and pulling all sorts of trailers of all different sizes around.  It makes sense though, how often do most pickup truck users USE their truck for hauling stuff around?  Probably not every day for most people.  So why not have a car when you want a car that gets good fuel economy, carries around people comfortably and can fit into tight parking spaces most of the time, and then when you want it to be a pickup truck, hook up a little trailer!  Well that’s what we aim to do with our Golf. 


Europeans don't need no stinkin' pickup truck!  The Euro version of our Golf TDI has won best towcar of the year in the under 1425kg weight class every year from 2009 to 2013!  (image stolen from trucktrend.com)

In Europe the Golf TDI has a tow capacity of a little over 3,000lbs!  The tongue weight rating probably isn’t that high, but that’s OK.  In the United States the Golf has a tow rating of Zero pounds because it’s "not recommended for towing."  These numbers are not set by the government but arbitrarily by the manufacturers.  We’ve heard speculation as to why but what seemed to make the most sense to us is the warranty issue.  In the US our cars tend to have a longer warranty period and more is covered than vehicles in Europe.  So manufacturers try to mitigate risk and lower claims by not recommending towing which can be tough on drivetrains and brake systems.  That’s speculation, but it sounds pretty believable to us!  Let's not forget that American's have grown very fond of suing anyone they can for anything, so that could be contributing to manufacturer reluctance as well.  


Americans have been marketed into thinking they NEED the biggest baddest new full size truck to haul wood chips back from Home Depot.  (image stolen from The Economist)

Anyways, we’ve already proven we don’t care too much about the warranty with our exhaust and computer modifications so who cares if we add a trailer hitch!  

There are trailer hitches from very reputable companies available in the US but from an aesthetic and functional standpoint none of them are as nice as the European offerings.  The problem with the US hitches is that they have the standard square receiver just below the bumper line, which on our lowered Golf is probably less than ideal—even if we used an offset hitch because of a lack of ground clearance of the receiver.  They also don’t mount to the chassis as solidly as their Euro counterparts.


A US style receiver.  Notice how the receiver is below even the muffler of this Golf at stock ride height!  That would be a problem on our lowered car. (image stolen from etrailer.com)
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:32 AM
Actually the reason most cars have a trailer hitch in Europe is not to tow, but to prevent other people from tailgating or parking "by sound" .

Parking by sound means to stop going forward only when you hear your car colliding with the one in the front (or in the rear).

Most of them never tow, because we don't have room to store trailers, we can't fabricate trailers as they need a certification, and unless it is a small trailer we need a driving licence for them.

When people need to move things, europeans prefer to just rent a small truck that can be driver with a normal car driving licence.
Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 4:49 AM
where in Europe are you from? maybe i should have been more specific.. we saw all this in Germany. They got nothing but space out there to store stuff and I didn't notice anyone parking "by sound". Maybe the Germans are just more civilized? ;) lol
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 5:32 AM
Parking by sound/feel is an acceptable driving method in the UK from what I have seen.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 6:10 AM
I am from France, and have seen it here, in spain and uk. I went in germany too but that was quite some time ago so can't say.

The problem europeans have storing a truck is exactly the same problem they have storing a car + trailer; both take a lot of room, and parking spaces (or closed garage) are usually built to house a range rover at best. In cities, parking space is scarce.

Most people living in cities use the tow hook to park; people living outside have more room and really can use their hook to tow, but i usually see way more people not towing and still having the hook (which is supposed to be illegal as it can lead to serious injuries and damage when crashes occur but nobody cares)

Overall, Germans are more civilized, and so are Swiss people ... when they drive in their own country. As a pedestrian, cars will stop in Germany to let you cross, they'd even step hard on the brake as long as you respect lights and passages.

You might want to check your health insurance first if you try that in France. We are terrible drivers and basically hate everyone and everything that could make our drive longer (that includes traffic lights, pedestrians, bumps, potholes, bikes, buses, other drivers and so on)

Once germans and swiss are out though, they know they can get away with mostly anything, so they become more ruthless.

this is only based on my observations, so it could be biaised though.

Anyway, your article is good wether people tow or not :)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 6:56 AM
Here is a pretty good article on the tow rating mess in the US.


Also, my Fit has a tow hitch! I haven't needed to use it yet but the previous owner said it worked great with a small flat trailer.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 7:56 AM
I've driven through about 3/4 of France including the heart of Paris. Driving through Paris is definitely not for the timid... I do not believe most Americans could handle it. I've driven through the western half of Germany and a little bit of Swizterland too. In Germany, the going was pretty easy and everyone behaved well.

I noticed the trailers in eastern/north eastern France (was working near and staying in Epinal) as I was there in July/August during summer vacation season. 4 people crammed in the hatchback (Renault Clio, Citreon C3, etc), and a trailer on the back.

My old roommate has a Honda Fit. Had a hitch and trailer he used to take his motorcycle to track days.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 10:06 AM
When you look at this as a light truck alternative, that's what makes it impressive. You can haul like a light truck and have fun the rest of the time when you don't need it. Great fuel economy too and Jeff drives like a douche and it still does well. The folk in Europe are onto something.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 11:19 AM
I was going to hit on the safety point of keeping the hitch on. Crousti mentioned it already, but... Leaving the hitch on bypasses the high density foam that you went to the trouble of keeping, making it less safe for you to get rear ended in. You're already making it a touch less safe by removing the factory bumper which is no doubt build to crumple on impact and replacing it with a hitch that is not. But it's also going to be worse for anyone who hits you, not that you necessarily care, but people who might rear-end you in an accident don't always deserve it.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 11:25 AM
I can see it being very useful though if you don't want to own multiple vehicles and have to maintain them, or keep a truck around if you don't need or want it. Although, for a lot of people it's a decision of storing a truck vs storing a trailer, and it comes out about even.

People always underestimate what you can tow with a smaller vehicle in the US. People used to be really surprised that I towed my race-car and trailer with my 6-cylinder GMC Envoy. But it did pretty well, though not nearly as well as my 1-ton diesel truck does now (it was a steal of a deal).
Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 12:16 PM
Yeah I'm not in the NTSB but I doubt my little swan hitch is going to severely effect the safety of the vehicle in a collision of any consequence. The car being lower than factory ride height should be a greater concern. As for the other driver.. Kojima has rear ended the Golf twice already in the driveway and he seems fine.

re: trailer vs truck storage--here's how I store the trailer:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 1:02 PM
@Jeff - LOL at Kojima being fine after rear ending the car.
Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 1:07 PM
relatively speaking of course..
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:35 PM
That's a pretty good solution for storage if you have the option.

I'm also not in the NHTSB, and I'm not telling you how to live your life. But I definitely think your little hitch could affect the safety of the car in a crash faster than the couple miles per hour that Kojima allegedly hit your car. The fact that you replaced your actual bumper with a different part is probly more of a concern for your personal safety as the actual ball, but the ball could definitely punch through a bumper that wasn't intended to stop such a small object from punching through and affecting it's ability to protect the other car and it's occupants.

Your car being lowered might be more of a concern for you, but I wouldn't dismiss the safety concerns of the hitch outright. If it takes so little time to remove an reinstall it why not just do it?

Again, I like the hitch and your article. The trailer seems to be a good solution for you, and I'm sure a lot of other people. It's just a little nit pick.
Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 6:08 PM
i leave it on cuz i street park at the bar i work at in a busy area of LA with drunk people that park like europeans :)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 7:21 PM
Hey Jeff,

I didn't noctice anywhere in your article about wiring for the lights. Were you able to find a "plug-n-play" method to do it? If so, mind sharing?

I've got a lowered '10 TDI (DPF deleted like yours), and would love to do this too. Great article! Dang, now you got me distracted and I won't stop thinking of doing this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 8:32 PM
You've never visited Scandinavia, have you? Hit up Gatebil sometime. The number of 1/2, 3/4, and 1 ton pickups rolling around the event, and even just driving around anywhere up there would amaze you. Those crazy bastards love them some American full-size action.

I would argue that the popularity of the full-size pickup in America has nothing to do with towing. It may come up on occasion when comparing automotive penis sizes, but when it comes down to it, no one REALLY cares about what a Colorado can tow compared to a Duramax. People who have a genuine need to haul stuff, and don't haul stuff professionally, are going to buy what they like and make it work. I can safely say I've never met one person (myself included) who genuinely stopped to think about gcwr before hooking up a trailer or loading down their bed. The only exception would be the growing idea in this country that its not just enough for your vehicle to have the ability to tow, it has to tow while passing anything and everything at 85 mph. People aren't willing to accept that they cant haul a load and haul ass.

I've had my 22 year old 1/2 ton grossing 10,000 lbs more times that I can count with nothing but new tires, the cheapest airbags I could find, and fresh brakes. Could it break the speed limit? No. Was it legal? Not a chance in hell.

American attraction to full-size pickups comes down to style.

Its style.

All full-size marketing boils down to "tough guys getting work done", but the vast majority of people actually buying the optioned out full size pickups that litter car lots don't do shit. How many King Ranch (or hell, even Lariat) F-2/350s actually wind up in the hands of construction companies or farming operations? Slim to none - but that's all they ever show in commercials. Its a style. Everyone wants to act like hes the guy building bridges and plowing the fields, when in reality, he sits in a frickin cubicle.

Of course there's a thousand other things we could discuss, but when you really boil it down, that's it.

I would never trade my full-size pickup for a Golf. TDI or otherwise. Ever. I have an unhealthy affinity for landscaping. Its an amazing tool I never want to give up, but after driving it every day for 5 years, Id had enough and limited it to hauling duties.

Where I live, driving a Golf (let alone one with a hitch) would get me some genuine sexuality questioning looks. That being said, I cant get enough of this Golf.

...and since I couldn't fit in in anywhere else... Nice nitrile gloves. Spill a lot of oil when installing a hitch?

Sorry, had to do it. ;)
Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Thursday, September 25, 2014 2:03 AM
@tdisrock - crap I didn't get any pics of the wiring but yeah i used an off the shelf wiring box from Curt mfg.. this guy:

since the stock tailights/signals are on a PWM system you need that box and a separate power supply. I just tapped into the +12V switched wire going to the power outlet in the trunk and tapped into one brake wire and each of the turn lamp wires to get the required signal. Only thing is the lights don't work if the key isn't on :)

lol, good points DieselTech! And nope never been to Gatebil... i'm 1/4 Finnish and 1/4 Swedish but I ain't got one drop of Norwegian blood in me! I don't think I've ever worried about my sexuality coming into question in the Golf, but it DOES have this weird effect on everyone who drives it--it makes 'em drive with rage and reckless abandon (eg. Kojima's "douche" comment above). Everyone here in the office that's driven the car has experienced it. We don't know what it is, maybe some Napoleonic thing, but it's REAL!
Thursday, September 25, 2014 3:11 PM
Would this be able to tow a race car? Serious question.
Friday, September 26, 2014 7:45 AM
A very light race car on a very light trailer perhaps, a kart or formula car maybe. But realistically, no, there would be far too much tongue weight and the light car would be tossed around by the trailer if it started to sway or something for any reason. Also, you would definitely get pulled over and it's illegal and not safe (you would by far exceed the GVWR).
Friday, October 10, 2014 11:07 AM


@ DieselTech/Burninator:

1. Martin and co. make fun of me all the damned time for my lectures on tongue weight, GCVW, etc. I might still write an article on that, but I doubt anyone cares... ;-p

2. Door sticker weights and legality are not in any way related. When it comes to the weights our regular cars and trucks (even my mighty Cummins Yodge) can tow/haul, there are 2 important numbers to consider. One is DOT tire weight, and the other is what you're registered to carry. Other than that, you can't exceed more than some crazy number (like 30k) per axle, and you can't be over 65' in overall length in many states. Want your Golf to haul 20k lbs? Throw some 19.5s (or maybe some super singles) on it and write a check to the DMV, door sticker be damned. There is nowhere, repeat, nowhere in the VC that states you must adhere to the door sticker. That would be an enforcement nightmare.

Oh, in CA you will also need a non-commercial Class A if you want to tow a tow-behind trailer over 10k lbs, or a 5th wheel/gooseneck over 15k lbs.

3. Yep, people refuse to slow down when hauling. This is why so many people have problems with ST trailer tires. They're rated for their load at 60mph, not 85mph. Load accordingly.

@ Jeff: Where's the other end of that hitch (that goes into the receiver), or do I not want to know?
Sunday, March 08, 2015 1:56 AM
Here is my TDI Golf tow rig with a Westfallia hitch, 35k great miles and getting ready for a Mallone Stg2.

Jeff Naeyaert
Jeff Naeyaertlink
Sunday, March 08, 2015 2:14 AM
Nice! What's in the trailer? I've got an itch to start a Project Teardrop Trailer build (cuz they're way to expensive to buy)
Sunday, March 08, 2015 2:30 AM
the specific adventure dictates whats in the trailer; the top comes off and it is a standard 4x7 trailer with a tail gate that can take a 10ft stack of yard debris to the dump or a few dirt bikes. The top is on hydraulic lifts and it makes a water tight seal that can be loaded with camping gear, fishing gear, snow boards, skateboards, luggage, whatever I can cram in there.. The roof bars on the trailer is great for bikes and small water craft and the whole trailer can be secured pretty well with padlocks.

The cooler holder bottom doubles as a removable cooking grille and I am thinking of mounting a horizontal propane tank under the bed.


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