I took the Toadmobile over to the local Toyota dealer for a service and bumped into the guy that sold us the minivan some eleven years ago. He'd long retired, too, but he was back ferrying cars around the lot. Being a good salesman he remembered me, and that we used the Sienna to tow our Airstream, so he asked about how we'd fared over the last decade or so.
It prompted me to jot down some thoughts about using what, by many people's standards, was an unsuitable tow vehicle.
Of course I didn't simply bolt a hitch receiver on and drive off the lot; the Toadmobile was prepared by CanAm RV in London Ontario and I drove off the lot with a strengthened hitch receiver, properly set up and tuned hitch, weight distribution, and anti-sway. As my man reminded me today, the second transmission cooler they installed was also key to the future success of the Sienna.
Having trusted the set up to a professional who had impeccable references, I was surprised at the backlash whenever I told anyone about the Sienna as I thought people might be a bit more open minded, but doom and destruction were always forecast. Doom and destruction, I'm pleased to say, that never actually happened.
Eleven years on and both Sienna and Airstream are still going strong. The minivan has been serviced according to its schedule, by our local Toyota dealer. It's up to 186,000 Kms now, which isn't huge for an eleven-year-old vehicle, and I've spent very little on her beyond the servicing costs and consumables like tires and brake pads. The only item that springs to mind is the replacement front suspension strut about 12 months ago. We've put around 26,500 towing kilometres on her, which again is fairy light use, but then we were always going to be weekenders rather than epic journey people.
When we tow we do travel quite lightly, just lawn chairs and a box or two of camping gear. The Airstream has pretty much all we need onboard anyway, so we haven't added greatly to the existing load.
Actually driving with the Airstream attached isn't too much of a chore. She's slow to get going, needs a bit of thought about braking and she uses about twice the amount of gas that she does when not towing. She'll cruise on the highway at 105km/hr with no issues, although better fuel economy is achieved at around 95-100 Km/hr, and she's never given us a moment's concern. No loss of control incidents, and no breakdowns so far. She's even pulled us out of what could have been sticky situations in wet and boggy conditions, with the front wheel drive and fairly sophisticated six-speed transmission never allowing us to be caught out where rear wheel drive trucks have struggled.
Of course there have been compromises. Steep uphill sections of road and we are not the fastest, although still manage to pass semi-trailers on the hilly sections of Interstates. Steep downhill sections have to be treated with care so as to prevent brake overheating; I tend to drive like a trucker by selecting the gear and the speed I want to go down the hill before I start to go down it. Curiously, it's been weather that's been the hardest to deal with, especially wind. Even with the aerodynamic shape and minimal frontal area, driving into a strong headwind for hours at a time will make the engine temperature go up and the fuel consumption go down. I suspect a bigger tow vehicle might deal with that situation a little more easily, although not without the same issues that we have.
Eleven years in and I don't regret getting the Sienna as our tow vehicle. Even now, with all that real-world experience I can offer, a lot of trailer folk still tell me that I'm going to crash and burn. That's clearly nonsense, and I've learned to take it more in my stride now, even those lovely people who still tell me "it can't be done" when they're looking at the trailer and TV sat right in front of them. Yes, this form of towing isn't for everyone, but it's certainly worked for us.
Mr Toad - Airstreamer
The Old Blog