Truck or Van for Towing?
August 31, 2011 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Wifey and I are talking about buying a used vehicle with some internal storage and/or seating for 4 that can tow a 5x8 trailer. We're looking for recommendations for a vehicle that will do the towing -- with a little more criteria inside...

Reliability is our big concern, which is why these two criteria came into play:

1. a 1500 - 2000 lb 5x8 trailer is 'small', but the people I've known who have pulled a 'small' trailer with a low-weight vehicle like a minivan or bronco, even if it's rated for that size trailer, ended up with transmissions falling apart. I'd like to avoid shredding a transmission by aiming for a vehicle rated for well over 2000lbs.

2. I see Jeep vehicles recommended a few places, but everyone I've known who has owned a Jeep has had repeated, ongoing mechanical problems, so no Jeeps please.

Reliability even trumps gas mileage -- better mileage is a plus, but 15-20mpg doesn't scare us. $15,000 is about the highest sticker price we can afford in a used car (or new, if such a magically-priced creature exists).
posted by AzraelBrown to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Towing capacity on a v6 Rav4 is 3500 pounds. I'm getting better than 20MPG in our V6 Rav, but we aren't towing anything. My research prior to purchase shows that it's safe and reliable. It seats 5 pretty comfortably, has lots of storage room. I think there is an available third row seating but that would be super tiny. New ones are 22-28K, so you should be able to find one used at 15K, I would think.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:18 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

My vote is for a Rav4 or a Tacoma Pickup. You will want the V6 engine, not the I4. The 2011 Tacoma V6, 2-wheel drive, automatic double cab is rated for 6300 lbs. towing. Mileage is listed at 17/21. For $15,000 you'd be looking at one with 60-100K miles and around 5-7 years old. The reason for the high resale cost is that they tend to last forever.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:20 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may or may not directly address your question, but (I come from a farming/horse show background where we towed all sorts of trailers of every description) the easiest way to avoid shredding a transmission whilst towing, on whatever vehicle / engine size you wind up with is have a transmission cooler installed or purchase a vehicle with one installed already.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:31 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a 2007 RAV4 V6. Best vehicle I have ever owned, and I'll third that recommendation.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:44 AM on August 31, 2011

You're going to be looking at a pretty old Tacoma for $15k, especially if you need a double cab. You can probably get a Nissan for less.
Honda Ridgeline might be worth a look, but they hold their value pretty well, too. Ditto the Odyssey, which has a 3500 lb tow rating.
An F150 SuperCrew should do the trick, but you're probably looking at something a tad older for that price range.

Per Consumer Reports in April 2011,
Toyota and Honda models have had the fewest problems overall, especially as they have aged. Among models up to two years old, other automakers, such as Subaru, Nissan, Ford, and Hyundai, are just a step behind, and the field as a whole is tight. The number of problems among older models can vary a lot.
Finally, I was going to say that, while I don't have any particular affinity for Jeeps, everyone knows someone who has had a lemon; every brand has them. (Mine was a Bravada/Jimmy/Blazer.) Then I was going to say that I wouldn't write off Jeeps just because of one person's terrible experience. But you know what? Chrysler is by far the worst on the chart in the CR article cited above, so go right on ahead and disregard all of their products, Jeep or otherwise.
posted by willpie at 9:19 AM on August 31, 2011

Jeeps are an acquired taste, mostly for people who like working on their cars. I have almost always owned a jeep during my life, but I like working on them, and they are fairly easy to work on. So if you want a hassle free ownership experience I would not recommend jeeps.

I would go with a kind cab pickup. Just about any will be able to tow a small trailer and will have accessories available to make towing easier. You definately want to follow lonefrontranger advice and get one with a transmission cooler installed. If you can drive one I would also strongly recommend a manual transmission over an automatic for frequent towing. The manuals seem to stand up to it better. If you do get an automatic just count on changing the fluid much more frequently. The manufacturer will list a heavy duty maintenance schedule and towing anything qualifies for this schedule.

Toyotas, Nissan, the Honda Ridgeline are all solid choices that make a 4 seat version. Get whichever one suits your needs the best and you like the most, I don't think there is much difference in them for daily driving (the technical differences are huge, but you may not care). The Honda will give you the most car like experience. There is a ford called the sporttrac that can seat 4 and seems to be a decent vehicle.

I would also take a look and see what tires are available for you vehicle. Getting a LT rated tire (over a P rated tire) will help your vehicle maintain control and the tires will last longer, negated any increase in cost for the higher rated tire. The big difference on these tires is you can safely inflate them over the normal 35 psi to 50 psi. This lets the tire carry a LOT more weight and really stiffens the sidewall, making the towing vehicle sway less. The other big problem i have seen with tires is people getting cheap passenger car tires on the trailer. This is a bad idea for safety and longegivity of the trailer, they make trailer tires that start of with ST instead of either P or LT, they are worth the extra money.
posted by bartonlong at 11:19 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

2007-2009ish Volvo XC90. The non V-8, non AWD version should be plenty powerful for your needs.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:21 PM on August 31, 2011

I'm pretty happy with our 2004 explorer with tow package. It has 3rd row seating plenty of power. So far we've had few maintenance issues with it. I've towed our fuel trailer with it a few times and a largish box trailer with no problems. We paid less that 14k for ours with 70k miles about a year ago.
posted by jmsta at 6:39 PM on August 31, 2011

If you're serious about towing you want something truck-based, not car-based (sorry RAV4). I'd personally be looking at an F150 or one of the smaller pickups (Ranger is a good option if you don't want to spend on a Tacoma).
posted by 6550 at 8:25 PM on August 31, 2011

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