Author Topic: Recommendations for high(er) MPG vehicles with 3,000lbs of towing capacity? (Read 19799 times)

RK1451

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I'm looking for recommendations for a used car (looking to get at least 60,000 reliable miles out of it) that has high MPG and also can tow at least 3,000lbs. AWD/4WD would be preferred (more on that below), but towing capacity and high MPG are the bigger priorities. Most of the stuff that I see seems to be in the small SUV category, but if there are small or medium cars that meet this, I'd love to hear about them!

More details about our situation:

Our 2003 Subaru Outback has enough frame rust that it won't pass inspection next February, so we're in the market for a new (used) vehicle sometime over the next 6 months. The Subaru gets about 20 MPG, and I'm hoping we can do better than that with our replacement.

We're currently a 1 car family - my SO is able to walk to work, and I take the bus 75% of the time for my 14 mile RT commute, and drive the rest of the time. We put most of the milage on the Subaru on weekend trips to see family (150 miles RT), and work trips that are reimbursed at the IRS rate of 56 cents/mile (so higher MPG would allow us to take advantage of that!).

We're building a house nearby over the next two years (doing a lot of the work ourselves), so we will also soon have a lot of construction materials to haul. We inherited a large open topped trailer with a 3,000lb capacity which we could use to haul stuff, so it seems a little silly to buy a pick-up truck, although we are considering the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Tacoma, both with the jump seat options (usually just need to seat 2, but occasionally need to pick friends up from the airport/carpool, etc). The house site has a long steep driveway and we live in the North, so AWD would be really nice for getting up the driveway in the winter (without it we will likely have to park at the bottom and walk sometimes, which will be a pain with construction materials!).

We plan to pay cash, but most of our cash will be tied up with the house construction, so less expensive is better! Could spend up to $15K for something amazing that would last a while, but thinking we'll probably end up spending $5-10K for something decent that will last 3-4 years.

In addition to small pick-up trucks, we've thought about an older Ford Escape, or another Subaru (although we'd like a little more towing capacity) - but what else is out there? Anything with magically good MPG and towing capacity, or are these mutually exclusive?

Thanks for your suggestions!

commodore perry

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Our 2010 tav-4 has AWD and a V-6. I got it because like you I needed to tow a trailer. It's rated to 3500 lbs towing capacity. It's very good in the snow and has power to spare. EPA ratings are 19 city / 26 highway. Not great but would be better than a Tacoma at least. We love it, TONS of space and comfortable even in back seat (I'm 6-1) and when I tow it doesn't struggle at all.

One other thought - if you're willing to live with 2,500 lb towing capacity that opens up more options. If you're fixed on > 3,000 there are fewer options out there and you'll be looking at generally more thirsty vehicles.

GreenPen

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My guess is that you aren't interested in a van.

But a lot of minivans have a 3000+ towing capacity if you install a transmission cooler, and it sounds like this would actually meet a lot of your needs.

Goldielocks

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My guess is that you aren't interested in a van.

But a lot of minivans have a 3000+ towing capacity if you install a transmission cooler, and it sounds like this would actually meet a lot of your needs.

+1 on the lower haul capacity suggestion. Unless it is a mega sized trailer, or heavy trailer, you won't put more than 1500 lbs in it at a time hauling. The exceptions are dirt, bricks, stone,metal I beams, asphalt roof tiles, maybe lots of concrete and sand. New heavy item could be delivered more easily than a trailer, without you needing to load or unload... 3000 lbs is a lot to do by hand.

Minivan or van are awesome cargo haulers, but mpg may not be to your liking.

Milspecstache

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Towing and mpg are mutually exclusive because it has to do with the differential gearing. Gears that produce torque (needed to move heavy loads at low speeds) are going to produce worse mpg. Similarly you can overload an automatic car/van but the automatic tranny will have to slip a lot to produce the torque required. This slip produces heat which will threaten the lifespan if not outright destroy it. I keep hearing that newer cars won't damage this way. Dunno as all of my experience is with older cars.

Have you considered relayrides as a baseline? May be a truck that is rentable near you. Would at least give you a baseline of costs.

I have built a house and wanted my own F-350 2001 diesel with 8' bed. I basically only use it for that and still put around 5k miles a year on it hauling materials. However, it is a maintenance hog and requires a lot of parts to keep going. It has held its value for 6 years now because the plow guys in the North like them so much. Which means you need to carefully check any truck in the North for evidence that it has been used as a plow truck (frame rust, etc). Would never want to use it as our family's own vehicle as sometimes it sits broken until I get money/time to fix it.

Denarius

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you might be able to find a toyota highlander hybrid for under 15k depending on mileage. some can tow up to 3500. I'd also consider just buying a cheap used 4 cylinder ford ranger just for towing and spend the rest on a fuel efficient car.

RK1451

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Thanks, folks! This is helpful - looks like Toyota started making the RAV-4 with a V6 engine and 3,500lbs of towing capacity in 2006, so there should be a decent amount of used inventory for us to look at there - will check those out.

I hadn't even thought about the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It looks huge, and is probably a fancier car than we need, but the higher MPG w/ towing capacity is appealing, so we'll test drive one and see how it feels. Looks like those can tow 3,500lb going back to the 2007 model.

We've considered getting a cheep older truck for towing/construction and a small fuel efficient car for other driving, but are worried about the added costs of owning two vehicles instead of one - (insurance, registration, maintenance on two cars) - but we should really do out the math and make sure that this option would cost more, instead of assuming!

The 3,000lb capacity would be better because we also occasionally tow a small sailboat - but if there was something in the 2,000lb capacity that had especially good MPG, we'd consider it. One of the methods we're using to keep house construction costs down is trolling Craigslist for used materials and fixtures, but those things will likely not be more than 1,000 lbs (refrigerator, bathtub etc.). We'll also likely be hauling compost, slate, tile, and maybe some gravel, which could definitely creep up into the 2,000lb+ category. The point about unloading all that weight is well taken though!



Rural

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The 3,000lb capacity would be better because we also occasionally tow a small sailboat - but if there was something in the 2,000lb capacity that had especially good MPG, we'd consider it. One of the methods we're using to keep house construction costs down is trolling Craigslist for used materials and fixtures, but those things will likely not be more than 1,000 lbs (refrigerator, bathtub etc.). We'll also likely be hauling compost, slate, tile, and maybe some gravel, which could definitely creep up into the 2,000lb+ category. The point about unloading all that weight is well taken though!


I'd rethink hauling your own gravel, unless you just mean buckets full of gravel for container gardening or something like that. Bulk gravel is beyond the capacity of most trailers, and a lot of places won't even load it if you don't have dually axles. Plus, on a trailer, your worry with gravel isn't really pulling it; it's stopping it -- brakes are a limiting factor, and even great brakes aren't going to help on a downslope once the trailer+load weighs more than the tow vehicle.


If you must haul bulk gravel, you need a full-size dually truck for the job, but odds are you'll be much better off getting it delivered the few times you need a load of gravel in a home build. We were, on the house we finished last year, even though we already had the dually. The cost of a larger amount of gravel is often discounted more than the cost of delivery.