Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Gloucester, MA
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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.