Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Need a family friendly vehicle with a towing capacity of approx 3000lbs... suggestions?

My family needs to buy a used vehicle that meets the following criteria:

  1. Safe. We have a three year-old. (good crash ratings, car seat anchors, etc.)
  2. Must be able to tow approx. 3000 lbs. (we have a pop-up camper that is ~2700 lbs fully loaded)
  3. 4WD or AWD would be a plus (not an absolute necessity)
  4. decent gas mileage would be a plus (not an absolute necessity)
  5. 3rd row seating would be a plus (not an absolute necessity)

Any suggestions about Make/Model and year?

Thanks in advance!!!

I’d get a copy of the Consumer Reports car buyers guide, that has lots of info. Off the top of my head I’d look at the Honda Pilot, that kind of vehicle.

Both the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna have 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.

I’m one of those people who does not like towing with a fwd vehicle. AWD may be OK…but RWD for towing is better.

I’d stick with a Mid-size SUV (Toyota, Nissan are excellent choices).

This is one of the few times I feel compelled to disagree with my car talk buddies who recommend minivans for anything but very light towing. To safety tow 3K you need something rated for 5K. There are lots of good car based SUVs including the excellent handling Traverse and highly reliable and safe Honda Pilot as well as the new car based Explorer and Durango or Pathfinder.

Friend has a 2wd Tacoma crew cab v6 rated to tow 5k and very comfortably seats 5. Personally, I have used my 04 4runner and it’s very carlike with features which make for safe towing. A well designed tow vehicle with no mare than 6 cyl can be safe indeed and fill your needs.

My goodness, people, we’re talking about a 2,700 pound pop-up trailer, not a 3,800 pound Airstream camper. Pop-ups have a very small aerodynamic profile, a low center of gravity, and fully loaded, this one weighs 800 pounds less than the towing capacity of the Sienna and the Odyssey (the same weight as the gorilla in the room). This represents 71% of the towing capacity of these vehicles!

If you’re worried about the fact that these vehicles are FWD, or if the trailer sways at all, you can get a weight distribution trailer hitch with a sway bar, and viola more of the trailer’s weight will be on the drive wheels.

If we were talking about a 3,200 pound trailer (of the non-pop-up variety), yes, I would want more of a safety margin, but with this set-up, the OP would have a 29% safety margin. Do you really need more than that?

TheRoberts, getting the towing package with an Odyssey or Sienna would be a good idea. These models come with higher capacity transmission coolers and alternators, and will save you the trouble of having a class III trailer hitch installed.

Does your camper trailer have surge brakes or electric brakes? If they are electric brakes, you will probably have to have a brake control unit installed, along with the proper electrical connection, but that shouldn’t cost you too much. The standard hitch probably doesn’t come with the proper electrical connection for a trailer with brakes. For your sake, I hope it has surge brakes so things will be simpler. has lots of good info to look through.

The Sienna is also available in an AWD version, so that’s something to consider for many different reasons:
- Family, 3rd row seating,
- Storage,
- Towing,
- Available entertainment. The kids’ll love it.
- Meets the AWD requirements of whoever said it was the way to go.
- If you’re camping, you’ll be in the dirt. :slight_smile: AWD.

Edit: Sorry, the Sienna isn’t available in this configuration as a used vehicle…well, not yet. The Mazda MPV had 4WD as late as 1998, and then there’s always the Ford Explorer, GMC Yukon, etc.

Something to add to the pile.

Whitey…I hear you. But in towing it’s more than just percentages of over estimated weights. It’s about leverage and the entire length of he vehicle of a fwd works against the traction of a fwd car in an emergency maneuver when making sudden changes of direction. On wet surfaces, the problem is worsened. That’s just physics and regardless of what the motor and transmission are capable w/o failure, I wouldn’t tow with any fwd car/minivan a weight greater than 1500 lbs.

Tow weight ratings are notoriously bias toward bean counter and sales considerations. When they start making commercial tow vehicles with fwd, I 'll change my mind and 2700lbs is too much weight and leverage, regardless of the profile. IMO too, the biggest contributor to transmission problems for these over worked dive trains, is lack of maintenance and towing. I personally would not mind buying a rwd vehicle used for towing but would not touch a minivan used the same way.
We agree to disagree.

dagosa: "It’s about leverage and the entire length of he vehicle of a fwd works against the traction of a fwd car in an emergency maneuver when making sudden changes of direction."

Did I ever tell you the story about making emergency maneuvers while towing an RV with a 2002 Sienna? Perhaps I didn’t, so I shall do so now.

I was driving to my grandmother’s funeral in Illinois with my mother, her cousin, and my mother’s dogs in the car, along with cargo, the RV in tow, and the proper weight distribution hitch with a sway control bar in use. We had just crossed from Georgia into Tennessee, I was in the right hand lane approaching an entrance ramp, and there was a little POS Dodge Omni parked on the shoulder with four people sitting in it. As we approached the Omni, without warning, the driver of the Omni pulled out directly in front of me, which to this day, I still don’t understand. The driver had plenty of room to accelerate using the shoulder and the upcoming entrance ramp, so my only theory is that he was trying to kill himself and everyone else in the car deliberately. There was zero room for error. With a car to my left, my only option was to steer the minivan/RV combination onto the shoulder, drive around the Omni, and blare the horn in case anyone was approaching on the entrance ramp, so without jerking the wheel, I swung over to the shoulder and laid on the horn, swinging back into the lane once I was past the Omni. Because I had the proper weight distribution hitch and sway control bar, there was no tail-wagging-the-dog effect, in spite of the fact that I was making emergency maneuvers while traveling 64 MPH.

Yes, we can agree to disagree, but I speak from experience. I’ve seen and heard about plenty of minivans that were wagged into a ditch by a large trailer, but each time I asked, or bothered to look, the towing minivan had no weight distribution trailer hitch and no sway control bar, so it comes as no surprise to me at all that these drivers ended up in a ditch. Also, none of these minivans were towing pop-up campers. In each case, they were pulling full-sized trailers that were taller than the minivans and they had weights that were close to or above the manufacturers’ towing capacities.

You cannot change the laws of physics, but you can, if you are willing to invest in the proper equipment and mind the manufacturers’ weight capacities, use a minivan in the manner for which it was designed, and in a manner in which the engineers at Honda and Toyota say is perfectly safe.

Did I ever tell you the story about when I was driving that same rig, and had a tire blow-out on the trailer? Again, because I was using the proper equipment, there was no tail-wagging-the-dog effect, and the front tires had plenty of traction.

Living in our litigious nanny state, you would think Honda and Toyota would be setting their towing capacities lower than necessary, not the other way around.

Your investment into the proper equipment is to be commended as is your ability and experience in avoiding an unfortunates accident. But , having to use special equipment to make a poor tow vehicle handle weights well within it’s “tow limits” is the exact reason I feel you shouldn’t use a minivan over 1500 lbs. They are a compromise vehicle, where even room is prioritized over handling and performance dynamics let alone towing. The best engineered minivan were the early mid engine Toyotas in terms of performance. Soccer moms voted for room over handling safety and fwd won out. Soccer moms will not dictate the safest tow vehicles…that’s done by physics fortunately and I will continually vote for rwd/awd drive trains. not to say a Vette tows better than a minivan, but at least that aspect works for and not against you.

It isn’t a matter of having to use special equipment to make a poor tow vehicle handle weights within its towing capacity. Weight distribution hitches and sway bars aren’t just for minivans or other FWD vehicles. I’ve seen them used on pick-up trucks too, especially with very large trailers that approach the size of some 5th wheel RVs. Weight distribution hitches have a variety of benefits, not one of which is making an unsafe tow vehicle safe. It’s all about … wait for it … distributing some weight to the front wheels, which has benefits with both FWD and RWD tow vehicles. Had I been towing that same camper trailer with a RWD pick-up truck, its size still would have led to the use of a weight distribution hitch and sway bar.

It happens to be a coincidence that this equipment address the FWD problem, as evidenced by the fact that it has been used since long before FWD became as popular as it is now.

I get that, sarcasm aside…No one, esp. me says that a minivan can’t tow a particular weight in
"relative" safety…but they are no where near as safe, effective nor as
durable as a vehicle rated for 5k which means RWD for nearly all. That
was my original statement for OP who wants to tow with nearly 3k pounds,
and it stands…and load distribution hitches do nothing to raise the tow rating for your van as far as I’m concerned ! They (load distribution hitches) are not miracle workers. It does not address any fwd problem, only weight distribution. It still plows, it still over stresses the drive train components and does not turn a minivan into a safer rwd tow vehicle .

2700 lbs is a substantial weight to tow, substantial enough to keep you from climbing a hill or performing a maneuver with the power on with the same conviction as a comparable rwd vehicle even with special equipment on each. “Need a family friendly vehicle with a towing capacity of approx 3000lbs…”