This report examines whether the Hyundai Santa Fe can cope with the demands of towing in Australia.
Santa Fe (auto) will tow up to two tonnes - that's (ball-park) its own weight. A significant task. And yet other vehicles (such as utes and rugged 4X4s) will tow as much as 3.5 tonnes. Where does Santa Fe actually sit on towing?
Hell is a place where you drive everywhere towing a caravan. At least it is for me. And yet, perversely, for others, towing a van is paradise. (When you think about it, this must make administration in the afterlife very confusing for Allah, and his customer support team.)
Still, what are the rules and regulations about doing some medium-heavy towing? A question just like that rolled into my inbox the other day, from a bloke named Brendan on the cusp of ditching an ageing Ford Territory and acquiring a new Hyundai Santa Fe.
Question from Brendan:
"I have a 2004 TS Ford Territory I need to trade for a Santa Fe Highlander. I need to tow with the Santa Fe but am concerned about the tow ball weight. I see Hyundai has an upgrade kit but only brings it to 150kg ball weight.
"I have a single axle caravan that is at best 150kg ball weight and more like 1600kg total weight. I have priced a Hayman-Reese towbars for Hyundai Santa Fe that have a 200kg ball weight and 2000kg capacity. What's your view on Hyundai specs for ball weight. Is it for their bar only? Should I look at something that has better factory specs for ball weight? Any info you can give me would be appreciated."
So, Brendan is ditching the ageing Ford Territory and buying a Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander - a good move. There’s a 1600kg caravan in play, and he wants to get the details right. Details like towball download, genuine or aftermarket components.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a very good medium-to-heavy tow vehicle. But if you already own a van, that’s where you need to start. You need the facts on the van - before you buy the Santa Fe, or anything else. So load the van up exactly as you would if you were driving off into paradise right now. Take it, fully loaded, to the local weighbridge, un-hitch the van and measure the van's total, stand-alone weight. (This is called the 'gross vehicle mass' or 'aggregate trailer mass' - same thing.) Then, hitch the van back up and drive just the van onto the weighbridge - leave it hitched to the vehicle - and drive the vehicle just off the weighbridge.
This second measurement will tell you the weight of the trailer minus the load being carried, via the towball, by the vehicle. Subtract that second measured weight from the first (the total weight) and that’ll give you the towball download.
As it rolls off the production line, the Hyundai Santa Fe has a standard towball download limit of 100kg. If you fit the Hyundai Genuine Load Assist Kit (basically a new set of variable-rate rear springs) that ups the capacity to 150kg. (Interestingly, Kia used to offer the same kind of kit on Sorento. It has since been discontinued, giving Santa Fe a real edge on the heavier end of the towing spectrum.)
Above: Manufacturer tow specification limits and (far right) details on the genuine tow accessories (click to enlarge)
If you end up doing this exercise, maybe while you’re there getting the download measured, it might be possible to re-position some movable items (ie your stuff) inside the van to tweak the download to 150 kilos or less. That’s what you want. Move your stuff rearwards, if possible, to reduce downnload. It's like balancing a see-saw.
The point is: you’ll never know if you don’t measure it, and guessing is just crazy.
Load limits for the vehicle are set by the carmaker. I’d be steering clear of any crackpot aftermarket equipment manufacturer claims that you can increase the towball download to 200kg with a towbar from Hayman-Reese or whoever else. Anyone who says you can do that is simply bullshitting you. They’re setting you up for a significant fall if anything goes wrong. Obviously the towbar itself has limits, and it's great if these are equal to, or greater than, the manufacturer's limits for the vehicle. However, jumping to the conclusion that the greater limit of the aftermarket towbar 'magically' confers an upgrade on the vehicle's limits is nuts.
If you overload the vehicle, you are a) courting disaster, and b) putting your warranty in jeopardy. It's that simple.
These manufacturer-specified towing load limits are ‘static’ loads. They’re used for specifications because they’re easy to measure. In reality they relate to ‘dynamic’ loads imposed while you’re actually driving. To put this in perspective, you might go over a dip and the van rotates, and at the same time the Hyundai Santa Fe decelerates because you hit the brakes, or something. You’ve got loads moving, accelerating, rotating. The dynamic movement of all that mass might impose, momentarily, several hundred kilos of vertical download on the towball. That’s going to pitch the nose up, reducing the grip of the front wheels, which is bad, if you’re also trying to steer.
Conservative static load limits are imposed on vehicles so that things don’t get unglued in the dynamic domain. It’s not much fun if the wrong combination of bumps and curves jams you into the path on an oncoming B-double.
The Hyundai Santa Fe’s absolute towing limit is 2000kg. That’s the total loaded weight of the van, also called the GVM. That’s for automatic versions of the Hyundai Santa Fe. Something about the auto transmission made the engineers reduce the load limit by half a tonne. Obviously this is done so that transmission durability is not compromised.
Here in Australia we have - in my opinion - a mentally retarded attitude to towball download compared with other markets. For some reason, we’ve evolved to expect 10 per cent of the GVM of the van as the towball download. So: 2000kg of van; 200 kilos of download. Many other markets worldwide use five per cent (2000kg of van; 100kg of towball download), which is why so many imported vehicles seem somewhat light-on for towball download.
Obviously a little bit of static download is a good idea, because the last thing you want in motion is the van lifting the rear end of the vehicle not gripping the road effectively. That could be undignified.
Brendan then followed up and asked this:
I do have a public weighbridge near me and will take it over there and get it weighed. Actually I already did your suggested test for the towball weight and found that I was loading things to far forward and it was over the 160kg Limit of my Territory so moved things around and can get it below 150kg.
I'm aware of the maximum load capacity specified by Hyundai being 2000kg and completely agree that it is more than likely a drivetrain limitation, but that's fine by me as I don't plan on towing anything near ' 2000kg.
My main concern is: How close to 150kg ball weight can I go before things get dangerous in terms of insurance, drivability, etc.
The info I got from my local ARB store regarding the Hayman-Reese was, at best, sketchy and I was concerned that they were just reading a spec sheet with no regard to the vehicle itself and telling me it has a load limit of 200/2000kg.
Whats your view of load levelling devices? I use the older torsion bar/chain setup on the Territory on this van and it is very effective and stops the bounce. I had read a test review of the Hyundai Santa Fe in a caravan mag suggesting that load levelling devices NOT be used on the Hyundai. I can't for the life of me figure out why they would say this. Is there any technical, no BS reason they would say this?
Thanks for the info and if you can advise on the two questions being how close can I sail to the 150kg limit on the ball weight and the use of load levelling kits on the Santa Fe it would be most appreciated.
The point about limits is: They’re limits, so don’t exceed them. Engineers go to university for years. They solved differential equations and did multi-variable calculus until their brains bled - just so they could work out those limits. (I know - I was one. It sucked.) So: 149 kilos: OK. 151: not OK. It really is that simple.
The back-story: Limits always come with a significant factor of safety. The factor of safety is proportional to the risk. So, it’s fair to assume the Hyundai Santa Fe doesn’t change channels from The Sound of Music to Reservoir Dogs if you unintentionally deliver 10 kilos of additional towball download. It’s also worth noting that because the limit relates to the loads imposed by dynamic driving - if you drive conservatively that changes the dynamic loads for the better.
(This is not advice to overload the vehicle and then drive gently - it’s the back-story about how the limits are actually determined.) Limits are limits - and they exist for a reason.
On the issue of load levellers and non-genuine towing components more broadly, my strong advice here is do what the manufacturer says, and only use the genuine parts - genuine towbar, genuine load assist kit. Don’t use a load leveller if Hyundai recommends they not be used. If there’s no advice either way, have a look at the load leveller’s operational specs and make sure you conform to them.
Here’s why I’m so keen on the genuine bits: Several years ago I was retained as a consultant by a car company (contractually I can’t name them, but it was not Hyundai or Kia). My mission was to investigate a complaint. This customer had gone off-roading in his SUV, and it got hung up at the rear, on a rock shelf, hanging from the towbar. This incident bent the roof (because, with unitary construction - the body carries the loads because there’s no separate chassis). That’s a very expensive problem to fix, potentially… Anyway, the guy had a non-genuine towbar fitted. The company’s position ultimately was that the vehicle damaged itself by getting hung up on a non-genuine accessory, and as such the company said it wasn’t their problem - even though the non-genuine and genuine towbars were incredibly close, geometrically.
So I’m just overlaying Brendan’s situation on this one. And I’m not saying he might go off-roading and bend the roof. That’s highly unlikely. What I am saying is: if you load up the van and trek across paradise knowingly with a ball weight of 200 kilos and some non-geniune bits installed, and there’s any kind of consequential problem - you’re going to be fighting this massive uphill battle if you want the car company to look after it free of charge. The car company might conceivably claim you misused the vehicle, and (you know what) they’d have a point. An expensive one.
But if you’re operating within the specs and in Brendan’s case using Hyundai’s own approved towing accessories, and not doing anything they specifically said ‘don’t do’, then things are going to go much more smoothly on the problem-resolution front. (And, here’s the other thing: It’s pretty cheap to roll the genuine towbar and load assist kit into the finance. It’s only going to cost you like $5 a week extra...)
So sticking to the specs and conforming to the requirements is about risk-management just as much as it relates to safety. If you’ve got some additional towing advice or experience, I’d appreciate you letting me know. Leave a comment below if you have something relevant to add.