Good vehicle for everyday use and occassional trailer towing?
October 22, 2008 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy an "around town" truck or SUV that can also occasionally tow a small travel trailer for camping. Is there an economically- and environmentally responsible vehicle that can do both?

I will be buying a new travel trailer for camping. Something simple, small and light that can sleep two and which has -- as a luxury -- a small toilet and shower. We like the simplicity and frill-less-ness of an Airstream Sport (just not the expense). We're also looking at trailers like the Dutchmen T@DA or Coachmen Shasta, which seem to have the right features and aesthetic. The smallest of these weighs in at around 3500 pounds (real world), for anywhere from 12 to 17 feet. For a little more room we would be looking at another 1000+ pounds.

The problem is that I don't have the room (or the pocketbook) to own a towing vehicle AND an everyday vehicle. However I'm having trouble finding a single vehicle which balances "moderate" towing capacity (5- to 6000 pounds) with everyday fuel efficiency (30+ miles per gallon). My dream vehicle would have a "golf cart" mode for fetching groceries and an "18 wheeler" mode for the weekends. But I can't wait forever. :) Or even another 5 years.

Owning a gas-guzzler right now just makes me cringe. From anybody who has tackled this problem before, I'd really appreciate your advice.
posted by phoeniciansailor to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to suggest a Subaru, but all of them seem to max out at around 2000lbs.

I think that you're definitely going to need more torque than that to move 5-6k.

I'd suggest that you look at turbo-diesel pickup trucks. You might find a light-duty diesel with some sort of reasonable fuel economy.

BTW, don't do the SUV thing. While they may look like trucks, half the time they're based on a car's chassis. You don't really want to deal with that when you're towing.
posted by Netzapper at 3:42 PM on October 22, 2008

30 mpg and 6000 pounds of towing? I don't know that such a vehicle exists.

You can probably afford two cheap, crappy old cars, one for towing and one for day-to-day driving. Say, an F-150 and a Corolla, though those are just examples. Of course, you'll still have to park them both somewhere.
posted by box at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2008

Check out Car Zen.
posted by tristero at 3:49 PM on October 22, 2008

Toyota Highlander Hybrid. 31 MPG City/27 Highway, 5000 lb towing capacity.
posted by unexpected at 3:50 PM on October 22, 2008

I have a Nissan XTerra (manual 5speed, 4WD) with a towing package; the XTerra is built on the Frontier pick-up chassis. It is rated to tow 5000 pounds, but the tongue/hitch weight is only 500 pounds - that limits somewhat what can be pulled, but it would pull the equivalent of an Airstream Bambi without much trouble.

Unfortunately, it gets 15-17 mpg. (Good thing I drive about 300 miles a month.)
posted by catlet at 3:52 PM on October 22, 2008

I've got a Highlander Hybrid. There are many great things about it, including that it gets better mileage in town than my Subaru outback. I've never come close to 31MPG in the city. More like 22-25. We keep it in econ mode all the time, usually drive with a light foot on both break and accelerator, and don't haul more than 2 people around a lot of the time. The major strikes against our mileage is that the AC is usually on to keep the car from fogging up, and we deal with Seattle hills. Of course, most vehicles are going to get less than their rated mileage, but if you are looking for real-world 30+ MPG in the city, I don't think the HiHy is going to work for you.

Oh, also, I think the HiHy has a 3500lb towing capacity. 5000lb is the max towing capacity for the non-hybrid.
posted by Good Brain at 4:02 PM on October 22, 2008

Yeah, and the EPA city mileage for the HiHy is 27, not 31.
posted by Good Brain at 4:06 PM on October 22, 2008

Depends on where you live (and the number of passengers you need to cart), but could you get by, even a few days a week, on a scooter? A vespa or other modern scooter will get you between 60-80 mpg, will go on the highway, can be used to pick up some small groceries, is great "around town" (especially because parking becomes such a freaking joy), and generally is awesome. If you rode the scooter 3 days per week, but needed the monster for a trip to target and to take friends out for dinner 2 days per week, your average fuel economy will still be near 30 mpg (or even higher). Besides, you can put the scooter on the back of the trailer and then use it in the mountains and stuff too.
posted by zpousman at 4:16 PM on October 22, 2008

If you're ok with diesel prices, look into late 90's Dodge Ram 2500s. As a bonus, they run biodiesel well. They're not especially small, but they get 20+ MPG (on diesel, though, so not directly comparable to petrol). They're also surprisingly durable, and can certainly handle your towing reqs.
posted by devilsbrigade at 5:03 PM on October 22, 2008

catlet writes "It is rated to tow 5000 pounds, but the tongue/hitch weight is only 500 pounds - that limits somewhat what can be pulled,"

Tongue weights are generally 10% of total capacity so 500lbs is normal.
posted by Mitheral at 5:50 PM on October 22, 2008

You might find this article interesting: 2009 EPA Fuel Economy Guide. It was just released today, and it lists the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD as the most environmentally friendly SUV at 34/31mpg city/highway.
posted by halogen at 5:54 PM on October 22, 2008

I'm currently driving a Chevy Colorado 5 cylinder crew cab truck that gets 20 MPG highway (unloaded) and has a 5500 pound towing capacity.
posted by rfs at 7:54 PM on October 22, 2008

Also, our travel trailer is a 21 foot ultra-light that has a rated weight of 3500 pounds. For several years we towed it with Chevy minivans - first a Venture, then an Uplander. They have a towing package rated for 3500 pounds (you could also get the hitch and trans oil cooler lines aftermarket). This was a little slow, but worked fine. Unloaded we would get typical minivan mileage - 22 or so MPG.
posted by rfs at 8:08 PM on October 22, 2008

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