CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Towing vehicles

I will be needing a vehicle that can tow 3 - 4,000 pounds, I am looking for something that is comfortable, fuel efficient, low maintenance, can be repaired almost anywhere in the US, and has some (doesn’t need to be a lot) of cargo space. Any recommendations?

There are many vehicles that will tow your weight and that are comfortable, but non will be fuel-efficient. Our neighbors bought a Honda Pilot with which they tow their camper, after burning out the transmission on their Honda Odessey.

You’ll want a rear drive based vehicle which means either a Pickup truck, a Crossover or an SUV. My choice would be a Toyota Highlander which is a roomy and rugged vehicle. Its fuel economy is reasonable as well.

An explorer tows 5,000 max, and meets your other criteria (except perhaps fuel economy…but, relative to a full-size SUV or pickup, it saves quite a bit on gas.)


So, either that or similar-sized competing CUV.

Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot are good options.

Toyota tacoma with crew or access cab with tow package…rated for 6500lbs. Not an econo car but you will get in the low twenties highway when not towing. You will have a 2500 lb buffer which is much better then a rated 5000 lb. at 1000 lb. It is reasonably comfortable for a truck. Otherwise, full size trucks start getting into behemoth category and are harder to maneuver.

What kind of towing? Mountain towing is much harder.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far, they are a good starting point for my research. I am seriously thinking about living full time as a nomad in a camper, but, having never camped in a camper, it’s all new to me. I’m trying to figure out the cost of living that way, how often do you have to move, how often do you stay where there are fees as opposed to boondocking, what is a typical months cost for gas and so on, a lot to learn!

@Nancy K, your plan is admirable. Given you will be carrying everything to live, I’d suggest you go with the truck with a cap to an SUV with an additional 1000 capacity for a total of 5000lbs. It will give you a bit of a margin. You will be surprised at how much all your stuff weighs. I’d look for a big V6 or a small V8 in the smaller trucks like a Toyota Tacoma or the new Chevy Colorado.

How much are you willing to spend? If it has to be used, that might limit your choices.

I think going with something that can tow 5000 is right, not that I have a lot of “stuff”, but having a bit of a cushion is always good. I’m looking at the Escape 17B camper, around $19K, perhaps I could find one used but not sure. I have a 2005 Subaru Forester with 132K miles, so won’t get a lot for that, which means that my finances will only stretch to a used tow vehicle unless I want to go into debt, which I don’t. I am going to travel all over the US and Canada so yes, hills.

In that case I would go with something like a Ford F150 V8 with a cap on the bed for storage in back. There are tons of used F150s on the market for reasonable prices and they can be fixed anywhere. And the V8 power will be useful in the mountains.

But you might also want to look at a camper van instead. That way you don’t have to buy two different vehicles (camper and tow vehicle) and your rig will be much shorter. You may find out you don’t like towing a 5000 lb camper behind a pickup truck all over the country. Driving a camper van is MUCH easier for a beginner. And if you are looking at boondocking, a smaller rig will be able to fit into smaller spaces and give you more options.

You should be able to find a decent used camper van for $10k or so. Here’s an example for sale near me:

http://boston.craigslist.org/bmw/rvs/4739421441.html

If you want a sedan, a Crown Victoria might work for you…The cop car version (P71) is perfectly equipped for towing…

If security is an issue, the RV route is worth looking at. You can likely get something newer if you are willing to spend up to $19,000. Large means lower gas mileage, too. If you don’t mind a pickup, a camper insert might work too. The URL below shows examples of what is available. You can take the insert off any time, though it is more difficult that disconnecting a trailer.

I recommend a motor home if you can afford one. I think @jtsanders already alluded to that but an RV can be a motor home or a travel trailer. I did the “nomad” lifestyle for about 6 months but my wife hated it and I loved it. My wife won of course. Another possibility is to become a resident manager or shift manager at a KOA or Good Sam campground facility. You can stay as long as the season lasts and you get paid. You might want to think about that if you have the time. These campgrounds are all over the U.S. and they need people especially if it’s a busy area.

The Crown Victoria with the p71 package is tow rated anywhere from 2000 to 5000 lbs depending upon the year. This is probably because the package was not specifically made for towing but for the use police give them…which hardly ever is towing. In general, sedans have been replaced by SUVs when good towing capacity and a sedan’s seating capacity is combined. There is really no advantage to using a sedan over an SUV designed specifically for towing this weight. There are plenty of disadvantages using sedans, namely low ground clearance and only 2 wd, where in some conditions, 4 wd excels in towing. Crew cabs in both full size and compact pick ups now seem to be taking hold as the tow vehicle of choice offering both seating and full ladder frame with specific tow packages.

I really was thinking about an integrated RV as @missileman‌ suggests, and a Class C RV at that. But it might be a little large and expensive. If the difference in gas mileage between competing Class B and Class C motor homes is not significant, you might prefer the Class C for the extra room.

You may want to consider a diesel if you are going to be towing any amount, your wallet will thank you in the mileage they deliver. I had a 1995 Tahoe 4X4 with a 6.5 turbo diesel and it towed effortlessly while delivering 20mpg plus. Rolled up 350,000 miles on it with normal upkeep. I also still have a 6.2 diesel Suburban which will tow anything and gets around the same mileage as the Tahoe did. Just some thoughts.

I appreciate all the advice, thanks. Although driving and parking are more clunky in a towed camper I like the flexibility of being able to leave the camper and then have a normal sized vehicle to drive. Ideally I’d like to buy some land to have as a home base where I can set up the camper as a home between jaunts. A sedan wouldn’t work for what I need, I want to be able to use the towing vehicle to store things I might need but don’t want to clutter my small living space with. I don’t like trucks with cabs, there not readily accessible, is there a small van type of vehicle that could tow 5000 lbs. ?

No small vans that I would recommend . Chevy express van and comparable GMC and Fords perhaps. But, these are built on truck frames and finished off inside with tow packages can be quite expensive and thirsty. If you want a Stella tow vehicle that is economic to run with all the access of a minivan, there is none. When you ask a vehicle to tow 4000lbs, you move into truck based vehicle territory. That means larger SUVs or trucks or truck based Vans.

You can’t ask a small vehicle with an econo minded motor to safely tow anything substantial. You need a buffer tow rating of at least 1000 to 2000 lbs over the 4k to be safe. Sorry…,that means trucks or SUVs and Vans based on trucks. The alternative I have mentioned twice is a compact truck like a Tacoma crew cab or Honda Ridgeline which you don’t seem to like, will get you to get some semblance of Eco operation. Best of luck in your continued search.

I don’t think a Tacoma has enough grunt for OP’s purposes