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What SUV to pull a camper trailer?

edited May 2011 in General Discussion

Recently acquired a nice 17' camper trailer from the mother in law, not sure what we need to pull it. I tend to stick to smaller cars when possible and I want to avoid over-buying an SUV to pull this thing.

The car will replace a smallish minivan (2001 Mazda MPV) and become my wife's daily driver. Additionally, she works in a place where the parking is tight and the streets narrow. I'd like to stay away from the "Suburban" end of the spectrum if possible.

The trailer is 17', and weighs about 3,500 lbs. empty. With water and sundries we're talking about 4,500 lbs when going out in it. Additionally, it has an electric braking system. I assume that means I could go with a smaller vehicle (less mass) than I might need if it had no stopping power.

Do you think I could stay in the V6 neighborhood? We have 2 kids so a truck isn't practical. Even a larger cab truck isn't feeling right compared to an SUV, but a truck with enough seating could work. I've always liked the look of the Ridgeline, but don't know anything about it. It's probably going to be on the high end of my price range.

My wife likes the appearance of the old Jeep (Grand?) Wagoneers, but I don't know anything about their reliability. She puts down about 80 miles a week in typical driving, so gas isn't a huge concern. Obviously newer is better, but wouldn't mind trading some years for a lower purchase price. I see older 80's era cars that I could buy outright for $2K or so, not sure if I should do that or go up to $5K, which is my pain point.

What'cha think? Any ideas?



  • Avoid old Jeeps, not very reliable. You're looking at 5000 lbs, smaller vehicles can't tow that. And the electric brakes don't really enter into it. Start looking at vehicles rated to tow 5000+ lbs.

    I assume you really want to do this, otherwise sell it and use the money to rent accomodations or an RV when you need it. Much simpler that way.
  • My 4Runner can tow 5K, no problem. It's rated for that, and I've actually pulled slightly heavier, but not far, and it wasn't something I'd want to do very often (it was an emergency pull).

    Unfortunately, if you want a vehicle to tow this thing with, you're looking at a mid-size or larger SUV, or small pickup.

    Good luck,
  • Happiness is a V-8, it's as simple as that..There may be a few V-6 powered SUV's that could do it, but they will be working very hard..

    Ford Explorer V-8 equipped with the factory tow package...
  • V8 or V6 doesn't long as it has enough torque and hp.

    3500 lbs dry then add in all the other weight and it could easily bring you up to 5000lbs. That's a Class III. If you're going to do a LOT of towing then get a vehicle that's Class IV. Otherwise any good Class III rated vehicle will do. When you get into a Class IV rated there are very few if any V6's out there. You'll probably have to go to a V8.

    If in the Class III range vehicle...Any mid-size SUV (RWD) will be fine. 4runner, Pathfinder, Explorer will be fine.

    For Class IV...Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Explorer (with the V8). These vehicles are smaller then the Suburban, but can still tow a LOT.

    One last thing...

    You made the following statement....

    "The trailer is 17', and weighs about 3,500 lbs. empty. With water and sundries we're talking about 4,500 lbs "

    YOU NEVER EVER TOW WITH WATER OR WASTE. Maybe up to 10 gallons would be fine..but NEVER a tank full...You're asking for trouble if you do.

  • Thanks for all the tips so far, I appreciate it.

    Mike, the comment about NOT towing with water/waste, is this for handling/load shifting concerns? Hadn't thought about it, but it makes sense. Should just require a little extra planning to find somewhere to top off the water tank right before getting to my final destination. Or I can bring a small quantity of store-bought drinking water, then use river/lake water for washing and flushing, but not drinking.
  • Most campgrounds have water hookups. Just plug your white hose into their spigot and fill your tank when you get there. Not a bad idea to put a filter in-line - - you never know what minerals or other fun things are in the local water supply.

    oh, and NEVER fill from the dump station, even if there's a spigot there labeled drinking water. When I had an RV, I lost count of how many idiots I saw using the drinking water hose to backflush their sewage tank.
  • It is not a good idea to cut it too close on towing capacity. Remember a too small vehicle will be "pushed" around by a too big trailer. Smaller SUV's mean smaller tires, lessor springs, struts, and sway bars. A larger motor and sturdier transmission will handle the load easier, therefore lasting longer.

    In a Toyota brand a 4 Runner might be OK, but a Sequoia would definately be OK. Newer SUV's have greater towing capacities than 5 to 10 year old models. If you are buying new a 4 Runner is fine. If you are buying used, I'd get a Sequoia. My '01 Sequoia handles a 5,000 lb load just fine.
  • "
    Mike, the comment about NOT towing with water/waste, is this for handling/load shifting concerns? "

    Yes...for shifting...You get even a hundred pounds of shifting water and you'll notice it...That's why I said just a few gallons is probably fine. No way would I fill the tank. That's why camp grounds have areas as you leave the camp ground to empty the water and waste.
  • I have an 03 trailblazer, 6cyl 4.2 engine. Towing capacity 6200 lbs. 16/22 mpg my average. I have been happy with it as a thought. It depends if you are going to be doing mountain roads or not as to engine size imho.
  • edited May 2011
    Found a crude, but usable towing capacity chart at HowStuffWorks. It's nice for doing a super-quick compare between many makes and models.

    It shows some different numbers for the Explorer and Trailblazer that were mentioned here. It lists the Explorer at only 3,500 and the Trailblazer at 5,400, but doesn't have any extra detail about towing packages or different engine sizes.
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