UNBIASED AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALISM SINCE 2001

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Used: Top 5 towing vehicles for under $20,000

[svgallery name="Top 5 Used Tow Vehicles"]

By John LeBlanc

In preparation for the warm-weather recreation season, the need to haul a boat or camper trailer may have you looking for a new-to-you tow vehicle. So here, in ascending order of preference, is my choice of the top five, up-to-10-years-old, $20,000-and under, pre-owned, tow vehicles:

5. 2003-2008 MERCURY GRAND MARQUIS – Before the days where utility vehicles and pickup trucks were ever considered daily transportation, full-size, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame cars, like the Mercury Grand Marquis, were the tow vehicles of choice for many families. With six-passenger bench seating, a huge rear trunk and a 224 hp V8, the Grand Marquis sedan remains one of the last “traditional” American full-size cars you can buy used And, properly equipped, it can tow up to 680 kg (1,500 lbs.) Built in its current version at Ford’s St. Thomas plant — along with the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car — the last Grand Marquis was sold in Canada only two years ago. The big Merc’s smooth, 4.6 L eight-cylinder and four-speed gets the heavy sedan up-to-speed quickly enough and past slower highway traffic without much of a delay. Mid-range response is more sluggish, though, mainly due to its antiquated slushbox that only has four gears. Pricing: With only 20,000 km, the latest ’08 Grand Marquis can be had for under $17,000.

4. 2005–2006 SUBARU OUTBACK – Subaru has had much success with the Outback. It delivers a fine combination of utility-vehicle hauling capabilities with car-like ride, handling and fuel economy. Like the Mercury, the five-passenger Outback can haul up to 680 kg, but with the added practicality of a wagon body and Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system. Interior room is decent. Legroom is fine in front, if a bit tight in the back. But the standard 60/40 split rear seats fold almost flat to provide plenty of cargo space. Outback engine choices include a 168 hp 2.5-litre flat four, a 250 hp turbocharged version of that engine, or the creamier 250 hp 3.0-litre flat-six. Pricing: With up to 100,000 km for ’05 models, Outbacks with the 3.0-litre V6 can be found for just under $20,000.

4. 2003-2004 LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER – If you have to combine towing with the ultimate in automotive luxury and a sense of commanding style, few used vehicles can match Land Rover’s big daddy, Range Rover. A new version in 2003 was the first Range Rover with a unibody chassis. It inherited many of the bits and bolts from BMW’s X5, mainly its 4.4-litre V8, allowing for up to 3,500 kg (7,700 lbs.) of horses or cigarette boats to be hauled around. While cargo volume is relatively small compared to full-size SUVs like the Tahoe below, there’s still plenty of room for you and four of your friends. But towing and hauling is only one of the Rangie’s qualities. It’s first and foremost a luxury car. Among luxury SUVs, it stands out for its balance of on-road manners, off-road ability, and luxury accommodations. Pricing: While new Rangies start at $100,000, early versions of the current BMW-designed model can be had for one-fourth the price. With 140,000 to 120,000 km, examples can be found between $17,000 and under $20,000.

2. 2004-2006 CHEVROLET TAHOE/SUBURBAN – With a maximum towing capacity between 3,990 kg (8,800 lbs.) for the Tahoe, and 4,760 kg (10,500 lbs.) for the longer suburban, Chevrolet’s full-size SUVs are serious haulers. The Tahoe started with a 275 hp 4.8-litre V8, then a 285 hp 5.3-litre version. A 300 hp 6.0-litre V8 was also an option. Unlike the Dodge below, no diesels were offered. However, an automatic transmission with GM’s Tow/Haul mode designed to optimize shift patterns when carrying heavier loads was standard. Even though you could fit up to eight passengers in some models, Suburban still delivered plenty of cargo room aft of its third-row seating. The Tahoe and Suburban (and their GMC Yukon equivalents) don’t corner like cars. But their handling is better than their Ford Expedition rivals. Pricing: ’04 base, 2WD Tahoes with 120,000 km can start at around $11,500, while an ’06 Suburban with 100,000 km can be had for less than $20,000.

1. 2002–2007 DODGE RAM 3500 - If you have to haul around more than the Dodge Ram’s up-to-7,700 kg (16,850 lbs.) tow rating, you probably should be looking at something with 18 wheels and a Peterbilt or Kenworth badge. Obviously, the full-size Dodge pickup is impractical for most urban buyers who don’t own a “back 40.” But if you have to haul and have a budget under $20,000, this is the vehicle to get. While most Rams came with a gasoline V8, Dodge also offered a six-cylinder 5.9-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel engine that made 325 hp and a stump-pulling 610 lb.-ft. of torque. The ultimate used Ram 3500, though, is the ’07 Mega Cab, a 500 mm stretch of the already roomy Quad Cab. With a new 6.7-litre version of the Cummins Turbo diesel, it made an additional 40 horsepower and 40 more lb.-ft. (650 lb.- ft.)s over the 5.9 unit. And unlike the 5.9 with its four-speed automatic, the new 6.7 unit was paired with a six-speed autobox, resulting in the massive 7,700 kg towing capacity rating. Pricing: An ’07 Ram 3500 with the diesel engine and 60,000 km on it can be had for just under $20,000.

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