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Old 10-26-2012
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Lightbulb Good small tow vehicles

Hello all;

We need to get a another vehicle soon and want one that can pull a boat. The max. boat and trailer gross weight will be about 3,500 lbs. (Our catamaran weighs only a few hundred pounds and the "trailer sailer" weighs about 2,000 lbs.) The boat(s) will be ramp launched and recovered once or twice a week.

I hope to get a vehicle that gets fairly good gas mileage when NOT pulling the boat, which will be most of the time. Most trips while pulling the trailer (from the storage location to the ramp) will be short. However, we may occasionally make a road trip with the boat.

Apparently, I should get rear-wheel drive, which rules out another minivan. Will a small pickup truck work, or do I need a full size? I don't really like most SUVs, but will get one if I must. We always buy used vehicles (about 5 yrs old), so I am looking for a 2007± model.

What do you suggest?

Thanks, Richard
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Old 10-27-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

It really does not take a tremendous amount of horsepower to do what you want to do. What it DOES require is traction and a low gears when there isn't a lot of horsepower. For instance, a Jeep can do pretty well pulling a boat this size out because it has 4-wheel drive. If you want a pickup with 4-wheel drive in a small size, it's a fairly pricey upgrade as I'm sure you already know.

I know you said you don't want an SUV, but a Ford Escape gets as good of gas mileage as most sedans do.

You ought to be able to find a decent Tacoma or Frontier to fulfill your needs. I'd take 4 wheel drive over a big motor any day for what you want to do. You only need to engage it to pull the boat up the ramp. You don't need a bunch of motor to pull the boat down the road.

I used to laugh so hard watching my brother pull big, jacked up trucks out of the sand with his little Toyota FourRunner. He would put it in 4-wheel drive and then pull them out in Reverse. (puts the engine weight on the wheels, and Reverse is geared lower.)
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Old 10-27-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

I would say a Toyota type pu (mid size),auto trans, 4wd, good mpg. 02
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Old 10-27-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

LOOK AT THE TOW RATINGS and remember all the things like the weight of your passengers COME off the top

IF you really 3,500 lbs you your certainly cutting out a lot of mid-size stuff it would seem to me you may be a bit lighter than that ?

How far are you towing ?

I can say with certainty a J24 or your average 20' Stern drive powerboat gives a full size Silverado a good workout and you sure DO NOT regret it when STOP time comes and are Equinox is NOT up to job
1970 Cal 29 Sea Fever

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If a dirty bottom slows you down what do you think it does to your boat
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Old 10-27-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

3500 is towards the upper end of what you can tow without a pickup truck or a bigger SUV with a pickup like frame but there are some options. You should be looking at GCWR and subtracting the curb weight of the vehicles plus the weight of occupants and gear to get the weight that it can tow. You should also make sure that you are within your gross axle ratings and gross vehicle weight rating but given the relatively small size of the trailer and likely small amount of tongue weight, you are unlikely to have problems with these ratings. Manufacturers tow ratings are very misleading as they assume that there is almost no weight in the vehicle which is usually unrealistic.

Regarding front wheel drive versus rear wheel drive versus 4 wheel drive, depending on what you are trying to do, any of them can work. The reasons that front wheel drive is not ideal for towing is that you tend to have more weight on the back end when towing and doing both the power and steering with the same wheels makes the traction less. Rear wheel drive works great for towing but is hopeless when you are unloaded and in a poor traction situation. Most 4wd vehicles have all the advantages of rear wheel drive but also have the advantages of front wheel drive too. AWD is awesome but you don't tend to find it on bigger vehicles and your mileage suffers a bit because of it. I don't see any reason why front wheel drive couldn't be used to tow a trailer that is 3500 lbs but this is towards the upper end. If you use a lot of slimy boat ramps, you may be stuck getting a 4wd vehicle or spending a lot of time winching/getting towed back up ramps.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you want to keep the hitch as close to the rear axle as possible, there are some vehicles where the rear wheels are quite far forward and this is not good. With a 3500 lb trailer, you likely have 400 lbs or so of tongue weight and you really don't want to put that way behind the rear axle. Also, when you take a turn, the rear end of your vehicle actually moves the other way at first and the trailer can really push you around if this happens too much. There is a reason why big rigs and larger pickup towed rigs have the hitch directly over the axle(s).

It is worth doing some research online about the specific model that you narrow in on. One area in particular to look at is the transmission, a lot of them can't take much towing or you need to add a tranny cooler.

Over the years, there have been a few vans that have had decent tow ratings. I know that the Astro's had good ratings and I believe that the Dodge Caravan's did decent as well. Some of the station wagons have okay ratings including the Volvo V70 (unfortunately I would not recommend this car for other reasons). If a pickup truck would fit your needs otherwise, a properly equipped Toyota Tacoma would have ratings that are high enough and they are very good vehicles except that the fuel mileage is kind of disappointing. All of the half tons in just about any form can tow what you are looking at. SUV's are kind of all over the place and some can tow this and others can't.

It really comes down to the ratings because you need to be legal and then you the driver can make it safe. If you have some vehicles in mind that you like, I would suggest searching the internet for their towing capacity, the information is really easy to find. If you give us an idea of what else the vehicle will be used for, that might help narrow things down.

I assume that you know this but you really need trailer brakes for your bigger trailer, especially if you are going to pull it behind a vehicle which is on the smaller side.
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Old 10-27-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

I'd suggest 4WD, which is not the same as AWD no matter what the salesman says. If you don't want to get stuck on a slippery ramp, 4WD. If you have to cheap down to RWD, you want a limited slip or posi rear end, not plain RWD. I wouldn't use FWD simply because it has the least traction on a ramp, even though the drive wheel may be further up (drier) on the ramp. FWD also comes in "one or two" driving wheels, they are not all the same.

And preferably something that had a factory towing package in it, which generally buys you a different radiator and other equipment not just a towing hitch. Of course in a used vehicle with a towing package, you can expect it did some harder use so look at it very carefully.
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Old 10-28-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

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Old 10-28-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

All other things being equal, I don't mind so much pushing the tow rating for very short trips to the ramp (especially with 4x4 and a clean ramp), but like to have a load that's well under 75% of the tow rating for road trips. It's a personal comfort thing, as well as a matter of driving style and stress on the vehicle. Windage of the tow, type of hitch, balance of the load on the trailer, wheelbase length, etc., all make a difference.
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Old 10-28-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

I was just out in OC. Beautiful out there and reminded me of my Hudson Valley, only nicer and more expensive.

I have 25 years of experience towing many different boats. My last powerboat was a 19 foot Chris Craft with a 200 HP V6. I have had a few different pickup trucks, and big cars to tow with.

My best vehicle to date - get ready to laugh - my 2005 FORD FREESTAR. Gets a bad rap, but its 200 HP, gets a real 20 mpg as a DD, has big 4 wheel disk brakes, big tires, and a long heavy chassis. Not as high, so its more stable on the highway too. Its rated to tow 3500 lbs. I bought mine new knowing it would replace my F250 and it did! Not one single problem in 130,000 miles. Towed our Chris Craft up to Lake George many times. Just pulled our Catalina 22 home yesterday. Never failed to pull the boat out. Not once. Not ever.

I never had a problem with mine, but Ford just recalled it and put a brand new Torque Converter in for free! So any used one you find is likely to have a new TC. Rides and handles nice and is super comfy. Everyone loves to hate on them so they are very cheap to buy.

My friends who are partially to heavy pickups mock it, but 200 HP is 200 HP and its also great for vacations and long trips with the family, and can hold A TON of cargo.

Ford Freestar. Laugh if you want - best bang for the buck IMHO.

Last edited by Sal Paradise; 10-28-2012 at 07:31 AM.
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Old 10-28-2012
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Re: Good small tow vehicles

check this site for ford vehicle towing capacity
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