When towing, can I use cruise control and overdrive?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

When towing a travel trailer, can you use the cruise control? What about an overdrive transmission? These are questions that can puzzle new RVers – and even some veterans.

First, let’s talk about cruise control. Here’s a school of thought where most folks who’ve had cruise control tend to agree: Towing a trailer with cruise control is finewith certain caveats. Towing “on the flat” is a snap, and may save you fuel if your cruise control handles the accelerator. However, if you encounter a situation where your transmission begins to “hunt,” that is, to move from one gear to another and back, then you may need to make a change. Usually, the “hunting” can be stopped by simply slowing down or speeding up just a tad. If this settles the transmission down, well and good. If not, you may be back to “flying manually.”

Cruise on hills can be a different story. We’ve found by our own experience that leaving the cruise control engaged when hill climbing is OK when the grade isn’t real steep. On steeper grades, the cruise will try and maintain speed, downshifting, and eating more fuel. If you have a fuel economy gauge in your rig, try using the cruise control while hill climbing and see what happens to consumption. We often tow up hills with the cruise control “off” and holding the accelerator at a given pointthis means slowing down, of course, and downshifting where needed, but it pays at the pump.


On the downhill side, safety is the chief concern. Cruise control won’t hold your speed from going “over” the set-point, so on a steep downgrade, we feel more comfortable with the cruise off.

Other places to forgo the comfort of cruise control include icy or otherwise slick roads, and in heavy traffic. We’ve found some bridge decks set up an awful “bounce” for our truck and trailer combination that’s enough to rattle your teeth out. Drop off the speed control and slow down to get these nasty bounces under control.

For automatic transmission users, what about overdrive while towing? There were some trucks produced in the past that decidedly recommended against towing in overdrive. This is because by the design of these transmissions, overheating could be a problem. Towing adds a heat load, and to keep the transmission cool fluid is pumped through a radiator-like device to cool it off. In overdrive, some transmissions couldn’t pump it fast enough to handle the added heat load, and the results could be costly.

First rule: Read your rig’s owner’s manual. If the manual rules out towing in overdrive, then lock out the overdrive. If the handbook allows towing in overdrive, you could be conservative and safe by installing a transmission temperature gauge and keeping a close eye on it.

Finally, you may have a rig with a “Tow/Haul” switch. For many transmissions, that switch resets the shift points of your transmission to a selection more appropriate for the extra transmission load. It may also lock up the torque converter (reducing heat buildup), and may even lock out overdrive. Again, check your owner’s manual to be safe.

D√; ##RVT823


8 Thoughts to “When towing, can I use cruise control and overdrive?”

  1. Martha Mary Holmes

    I use cruise control when towing on flat highways. This was a problem, though, when my tire blew out and my rig slowed down as a result. Cruise control tried to keep me at speed, causing a tug-of-war between the two forces.

  2. John Maddox

    Your comment on cruise control downhill is not accurate for every vehicle . My 2012 F150 and 2017 F250 both apply the brakes automatically wen going downhill with cruise

  3. Chuck

    Years ago I had a 1996 1/2 ton pulling a travel trailer on flat ground. Set cruise and direct drive and away I went. Stopped for gas and hit the road but forgot and left it in overdrive. I made it to my destination in second gear. Spent that weekend getting the transmission replaced. Just be careful when using the cruise control. It can get expensive.

  4. Alvin G Walker

    We have a 2013 Ford F350 SRW diesel and use cruise control all the time. Ford tow/haul is designed to maintain speed up and down hills. Had a long talk with dealer owner and shop manager Also did some web research, tow/haul is the cats meow for sure. The older trucks are a different story.

  5. ER

    Last summer, I used cruise control all the time while traveling 7000 miles through the Maritimes with a 20′ RPod. I have a 2017 Jeep Cherokee. It was easy and hauled a lot more smoothly than without cc on. Never had a problem as the car seemed to adjust perfectly to conditions and speed.
    However, I was very careful going downhill. Usually applied brakes which canceled cc. It’s scary to have that thing pushing you downhill! LOL!

  6. Eric Meslin

    I have a 2013 Ford Expedition with a tow package and have found that cruise control will try to maintain the set speed when going downhill. It will downshift whether I’m tin tow/haul or not. It gets to pretty high RPM and I’ve actually had it lock in even if I cancel the cruise control. The only way to shut it down is actually accelerate to get it to upshift. Tow/haul does the same thing, even if not in cruise control. Increasing speed from a coast at the top of a hill will result in the downshift. Sometimes the best thing to do is take it out of automatic and manually set the transmission in 3rd or 2nd.

    I use cruise all the time, even if a little hilly. It works great especially on the flat, but I accelerate prior to an uphill run and hold it steady slowing to the set speed rather than letting it downshift on its own. It seems to react too late when you start climbing and can’t catch up. I grew up driving a VW bug, so I’m used to getting a run up before each hill.

    I usually only set cruise on 55 or 60 (depending on wind) to stay within tire and sway limits. It gives me a little room to increase speed now and then.

  7. Brad Williams

    I took a trip, 3000 miles, with 2010 Tundra pulling TT. Brother in-law was on same trip with 2005 Tundra pulling TT. We would fill tanks and fuel consumption would be the same within a 1/2 gallon. On several legs of the trip I would use CC, brother in-law does not use CC. My fuel consumption each time with CC was several gallons greater than his. CC would shift trans much more frequently. This was a good test, I no longer use CC pulling TT.

  8. Jillie

    2014 Jeep Trail Hawk Cherokee. Wow does it tow nice with a 20 foot swift jayco. The hills are something else. I do remove cc when it tries to accelerate and then when on the down hill go back to cc. Otherwise I kind of knew this but just checked in to make sure.

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