Recommended vehicles for towing boat, camper?

With a new driver in the family, we’re talking about adding a third vehicle – preferably used. Can anyone suggest a moderately priced, fuel efficient vehicle with the power to tow a medium-sized boat or a medium-sized camper? We have a minivan so don’t need another 7-passenger vehicle. My husband has expressed an interest in a Toyota Element.

Need more info.

How do you define a ‘medium’ sized boat and a ‘medium’ sized camper? What weight?

This has a great bearing on the decision.

If you’re thinking of a travel trailer, even a small one, you can forget about getting reasonable mileage.

These campers have a enormous amount of wind drag due to the high/wide front.

I know as I have one. A 21’ I tow with my 2002 Chevy Tahoe.

There is a lot of safety factor to take into consideration when towing.

Plus a different driving attitude which you’ll find if you go towing.

The Element is made by Honda and is no good for what you want to do.

The Element is a 4 banger that supposedly can tow 1500#. Way too small.

Any fullsize longbed that is a standard cab should do. I would not tow with anything smaller even though you could. Any Explorer type vehicle would be better than a small car.

Yikes, I can’t believe I wrote Toyota. I know it’s a Honda. Sorry for that.

I don’t expect good mileage while towing, but since we only tow a small part of the time, I’d like decent mileage the rest of the time. We have a pop-up camper, but I’m not sure of the weight. Probably 2,500 or so. The boat is lighter. We tow the boat much more often than the camper, so I suppose we could still count on the van for that duty.

Maybe look at a V6 equipped Ford Ranger or Mazda B-series truck. They get decent mileage normally, and have been around, it seems, forever. They can be had cheap, and are decently reliable. Other options include a Toyota Tacoma (again, with a V6), a Ford Aerostar or Chevy Astro/GMC Safari (I know they’re vans, but they are widely available and very cheap), a V6 Ford F150, Dodge Ram, or Chevy Silverado would also work well.

2500lbs is a class II. But are you also considering all the other stuff you’ll be towing (camping gear, food…coolers). It could easily bring the weight to over 3000lbs. 3000lbs is still class II, but getting close to class III.

Most midium/small size pickups are rated at Class II or greater. But if you’re going to do a lot of towing I’d consider getting a Class III vehicle.

Also what ever vehicle you get I suggest you still get a Class III hitch. Stronger and can handle adverse conditions better. Plus there are more accessories if you need them.

One more thing…What ever vehicle you get…if it’s an automatic (which I recommend)…get a tranny cooler.

Thanks for these good suggestions. I’ll pass them along to my hubby.

Thanks, Mike – but how do I find out what vehicles are Class II and Class III? Sorry to be so dense.

To find a ‘class 11 or 111’ vehicle (as you call it) you first decide on the gross vehicle combined weight (loaded).

That means the tow vehicle (TV) loaded with all you would normally take including passengers, pets, food, fuel, etc. PLUS the towed vehicle (loaded).

Calculate the gross weight and divide by 12 to 15% and the result will be your total combined (SAFE) weight.

Say the TV is 4000# and the trailer loaded is another 3000#, that equals

Divide by 15% and you have a combined weight of 5950#.

This calculation is a system used in the RV use industry to arrive at a safe towing weight.

Besides the safety factor, this weight saves excess wear and tear on the tow vehicle (TV) plus will save you fuel.

Trying to find a (combination use) vehicle and still save on fuel (when not towing) isn’t an easy task.

Once you know how much the manufacturer says the vehicle of choice will tow, (deduct at least 500# off that quote for reality’s sake) go to a hitch website such as Reese or Draw=Tite for the right hitch for your TV.

As was previously mentioned, (and also a VERY good idea for any vehicle) have an aftermarket tranny cooler installed. Get the largest that will fit.

Heat is the #1 tranny killer.

Have a look at this website for further info on towing:

PS: I used to tow a boat/trailer (2000#) and a pop-up camper that weighed (like yours) 2500# gross weight with my 2000 Olds Silhouette.

I put an aftermarket cooler on and because it has a self-leveling air shock system in it didn’t need to use a weight distribution hitch to eliminate rear sag (which removes the weight off the driving wheels).

I was towing at the max weight though (not wise) but never had any issues.

You’ll need one more thing and that’s a brake controller. Depending on your province/state highway act of course.

The owners manual. If you don’t have access to that try doing a Google search.

Well, here is a tow ratings page that will give you an idea of the rating for any vehicle you happen to look at.

I think the Ford Ranger/Mazda B-series pickup with a V6 is probably about right, but an F-150 might do as well for fuel mileage if it’s a 6 cylinder.

Many helpful and educational responses and I thank you all, but this was most helpful of all. This website is EXACTLY what I needed!

What kind of towing duty, how far, how often, what kind of roads (interstate or secondary, hilly or flat)?

Despite what the manufacturers may say in their owners manuals, most front wheel drive vehicles are ill equipped to handle towing.

For this kind of duty you want a rear wheel drive pickup or truck based SUV as recommended in the previous posts.

A longer wheel base generally means safer towing. However it also usually means lower gas mileage whether you are towing or not. You will have to decide how to evaluate this trade off in your personal situation.

We use the pop-up camper very little but do want to be able to go on weekend trips – generally within 100 miles of home. (Arkansas is the Natural State, you know.) We tow the boat almost every weekend during the boating season – but only about 4 VERY hilly miles to the launch.

Despite what the manufacturers may say in their owners manuals, most front wheel drive vehicles are ill equipped to handle towing.

I concur 100%. FWD is fine if you’re towing under 1000lbs…but anything more then that I would NOT do it. You have little to no control over the rear end of a FWD vehicle…And if the trailer starts to sway…good luck trying to get it under control.

Used Grand Marquis and Crown Victorias can be had for very little money. They will that kind of towing in stride. Best is an HPP (handling and performance package) model. They have better rear gearing, stiffer springs and shocks, bigger antisway bars and rear air suspension. If you don’t get one with rear air suspension, add booster air springs within the coils (not air shocks). Like this:

Note this action by a suspension engineer:

These are good discussions: