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Update: Tow Vehicle Shopping the Old-fashioned Way

There must be people out there who are ten times better than me at internet searching. I don't even like buying things on the internet, other than music. 

Today I dropped in on the local car dealer in Gunnison CO just to kick some tires. I was suspicious that my internet searches were at a dead end. As luck would have it, this dealer had recent models of all the categories I polemicized about, last post. It was uncanny.

What an amazing difference there is between seeing something real and merely reading about it. Just think how good those reviewers made the Dodge Durango and Chevy Traverse sound. One glance at them and I chopped them off the list. They had those annoyingly-low, plastic, front-bumper skirts (air dams) that hang down to about 4 inches from the ground. Ridiculous! You couldn't even get close to a concrete curbstone with one of those suburban mommie-mobiles.

The Subaru Outback had a high and clean undercarriage, but it didn't look like a real hitch could be attached anywhere. The Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Xterra impressed me the most.

Perhaps I should start using to do searches, and actually ask questions in the search. But does this search engine actually look at the logical thought-content of your question, or does it just pick off keywords? If the latter, the question-like approach is a gimmick to differentiate it in the marketplace.

Today was a powerful example of the internet's limitations. It is fully justified to roll your eyes or sigh in resignation when you ask a human being just about any question these days, and their pat answer is, 'Oh just google it. It's on the internet somewhere.'


A good primer on four-wheeling at jalopnik.


A good article on why Ford hasn't gone the Direct Injection route, as GM has. 

Another skeptical article about Direct Injection. 

One of the commenters suggested that getting bicycles in and out of the back of an SUV would get old, fast. Today I went back to the dealer and got permission to slide my mountain bike into the back of a Toyota 4Runner, and then stand it upright, inside.  It wasn't even close to succeeding, except by lowering the saddle. The 4Runner was long enough for the mountain bike. (Obviously the front wheel was removed.) 

Lowering the saddle each time the bike goes into the vehicle, eh? Not sure I could get used to that.  Presumably the same thing happens with pickup trucks, unless the cap flares upward towards the stern.

I was no fool to have bought a cargo van as my first tow vehicle!


It is unusual for me to flail away so ineffectively over practical details. Shame on me. When I started RVing, I had the satisfaction of buying an extremely useful tow vehicle at a good price. It enabled me to live a more interesting life, and to live like I wanted to live. I felt like I was beating the system.

(If the cargo van was such a brilliant idea, why doesn't everyone get one? You know why: the Little Woman won't stand for it.)

Naturally  I would like to pull off a stunt like that again. But it just seems like there aren't as many options as there used to be. Every vehicle is loaded with crap. They are too expensive and complicated. Ultimately it is the debt culture that allows this to get worse every year. And every year government regulations force the auto industry down a narrower and narrower path.

How do you "win" when your options wither away every year?


Unknown said…
I would consider a classic 80 series land cruiser - 1993-1997 or an early 100 series if you want comfort - 98-99. My '93 land cruiser is a pile of crap but it will never die. I am so impressed with it's engineering.

I know you said you love the 6 cylinder, but with all the mountains you travel around in I think you would save a lot of gas money if you managed to get an 8 cylinder. My inline 6 on my land cruiser gets only 15 on the highway because it has to work so hard.

If money was no object I would think you would want a diesel 1500 series of something - doesn't Ford make a diesel f150 now?

Curious to see what you end up with!
Brent, I might be able to keep an open-mind about older vehicles if I could find one with low mileage. But that won't be easy.

And there are some real improvements in automotive engineering the last 20 years that I would like to enjoy: anti-lock brakes, traction control, 4 valves per cylinder, camshafts that phase-shift with engine RPM (variable valve timing), and 6 speed automatic transmissions. The modern V6s have the power and torque output of small V8s of ten years ago.

What I dislike wasting money on are stereos and speakers, infotainment consoles, 16 air bags per vehicle, power doors/seats/windows/mirrors, and all the other bell and whistles that are intended to make drivers feel like they are in a living room instead of a motor vehicle.
Unknown said…
Well I can't wait to see what you end up with. Seems to be almost impossible to find a utilitarian 4x4 / suv anymore. The FJ series was the last of base model vehicles I have seen and Toyota is cutting it due to lack of sales. Can't wait to see pictures of your entire rig when it's all put together!
Anonymous said…
Hitches for the outback are likely not a problem. Just look around at So you may prefer other vehicles, but the Subaru won't be out because of not hitching up.
Anonymous said…
Just a couple of observations.

Short wheel base is probably going to be more suitable for off-road than long wheel base. But long wheel base will track easier when towing a trailer down the road.

Diesel engines, though not as powerful as petrol engines, do have more torque, which makes them better for towing and fuel efficiency.

With large commercial trucks, a straight six will provide more use-able power than a V8 of the same horsepower. The reason being that the revs drop away quicker on the straight 6, than with the V8, allowing faster gear changes. I don't know if that applies to the size vehicles that you are looking at though.
Yes indeed, SUVs are overpriced because they are tricked out with every creature comfort and entertainment wizzmo that the wife and kiddies "need."

Can't wait to see a picture? Hah! It won't look sexy. It will just look bland and utilitarian to most eyeballs. And plain vanilla. That's just the way I want it.
Yes, is a good place to go. They DID have class 3 hitches for a Subaru Outback, but I sure didn't see where to mount it. But I only inspected it for a few seconds. Still, I must say the back end of the Subaru looked as light-duty as a passenger car.
Good advice nomadicista. The diesel option might be better for big-boy fifth wheel trailers that weight 10,000 pounds plus.

My main hangup with diesels is that I don't know if they can be repaired in Dry-Bones, New Mexico. or BadWater, Arizona. I don't want to be repairable only at large metropolitan hellholes.
Anonymous said…
Diesels can be a positive joy to tow with compared to gas, and can be maintained nearly anywhere that brand has a dealership. But when push comes to shove and something needs actual repair, finding a dealer - especially in the Southwest - that has invested in training and equipment can be a serious issue. In my case, most Ford dealers are out of the running, and the remaining few are badly backlogged. But if it doesn't involve the twin turbos, I have a fighting chance at any semi-truck repair place with Navistar experience, which is a lot. Because of this facility issue and the expense of any repair, this kinda makes the recommended maintenance schedule of one's diesel powertrain assume an importance second only to eating daily. If you're not going to be working it hard a lot of the time, and aren't bothered by the busy thrashing of a gas engine struggling in hilly country, I'd stick with gas. Mind you, I loves my diesel, yessir, but I'll likely sing a different tune when the time finally comes to watch them detach and hoist the entire cab clear just to get access to the offending engine system. It's incredibly crowded in there.
brokeboater said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brokeboater and DougB, remember that the theme here isn't "gas versus diesel". That argument is best left to, where guys with 14000 pound fifth wheels argue (ad infinitum) about whose truuuuuuck is ruffer and tuffer. I have no interest in any of that.

The theme of this post is finding a small, lightweight, and economical tow vehicle for a 3000 pound trailer. I appreciate you reading my blog and taking the time to comment, but you are way off-topic. Forgive me..
John V said…
With all due respect to your automotive engineering past, maybe it is the wise choice to avoid GM products. They've recalled almost 30 million vehicles so far this year. Something's not right with that company at this point in time.
There are indeed a couple reasons for avoiding GM. It's hard to know how solid those reasons are, or whether you are just giving in to prejudice.

But we are on more solid ground to be skeptical of direct injectors in their new truck engines. I have spent over $1000 on getting the fuel pump replaced, TWICE, on my Ford Econoline. It is my only really complaint. Remember, that is low pressure, old-fashioned port injectors.

Now imagine fuel pressures going up so high that it takes two fuel pumps to raise the pressure that high. That is the case with GM's new engines. How long will those fuel pumps last? What will they cost once the warranty runs out?

What about the direct injectors themselves: the severe heat that they see.

This brings up a larger issue: although the EPA fuel economy numbers look pretty enticing (low 20s) on the new trucks, look at the complicated steps they had to take to get that fuel economy. For somebody who keeps his truck for 10-20 years, will he just be cost-shifting from the fuel pump to the repair shop? I am suspicious that that is EXACTLY what we are in for.

Perhaps the wisest course is to settle for mediocre (19 mpg) fuel economy with 2010--2014 engines, the last generation of non-turbo-charged, non-direct-fuel-injected engines.
John V said…
I'm not prejudiced against GM other than the facts seem to point to something not being right with the company. You have to take notice when a company covers up product flaws that get people killed and recalls 30 million vehicles in seven months. Add to the fact that their entire sales model is dependent upon channel stuffing and subprime auto loans, and I wouldn't want to own their stock or one of their vehicles. There are just too many other options. I'm also surprised at how low the MPGs are in your reasearch. Even my 2012 diesel F350 DRW monster truck gets 20 MPG when not towing. I would think you're going to find something with a much much higher MPG considering you don't need a lot of towing capacity.
John V said…
How do you "win" when your options wither away every year?
Easy...just redefine the definition of "win" every year. :-)