7 Tips for Buying a New Tow Vehicle

Our new tow vehicle is perfect for our family!

When we bought our Pathfinder, we noticed that it had a towing package and toyed with the idea of a small camper.  After owning Peggy Sue for a few years, we decided was time for an upgrade.  Our family is quickly outgrowing our pop up, and this means a bigger camper and tow vehicle.  There was a lot of learning ahead before making this purchase.   Today, I'm sharing what we learned and our tips for scoring a better tow vehicle.

Large purchases, like this, require a strategic plan.  We considered family needs as well as what we would need for a bigger camper.  This should be your starting point.  Create a list of wants and needs for your new towing purchase.  This list will help you to stay focused and keep you from being overwhelmed.  

Take your list and rate each item according to importance.  Have your deal breakers at the top of the list.  As you shop, your list of wants may change.  Non-negotiables like tow weight requirements or even a budget should stay at the top.  Finding a great deal or a sweet ride won't do much good if it doesn't check the most important boxes.

Know Your Camper Tow Weight

It may seem counter-intuitive to pick out a camper before your tow vehicle, but you need to know how much weight you plan to tow.  Even if you don't buy the camper first, at least shop and have models, size and weight in mind.  We know that we are going to purchase a smaller camper that weighs around 3,200 pounds when we upgrade.  We have basically picked out what we are getting.  While we can still change our mind, we have decided where we feel comfortable in the size of what we will be towing.

If it is a possibility that you are going to walk away with a fifth wheel, keep this in mind.  You know what kind of shopper you are, don't lie to yourself here.  I know that some shoppers may think they should stick to something smaller but want the big rig.  If you think you can be swayed in that direction, plan ahead for that possibility.

Talk to Your Friends and Family that Are Knowledgable

If you have friends or family that already know about towing vehicles, talk to them.  We had several friends that we polled.  Every vehicle I considered was sent to our friend Josh to look over because they have a large camper and know much more about towing that we do.  I also have a friend who has towed both campers and horse trailers that gave us valuable advice.  My friend Christy was helpful in talking to me about practicality, insurance costs and more.  Some of the most helpful advice was:
  • Consider a V8 engine and higher towing package because too light of a towing package and engine would wear out the transmission quickly.
  • Ford trucks with a V6 3.5 engine and Eco-Boost could handle as well (or better) than a V8.  
  • Purchase a towing vehicle with well over the weight of the camper - at least 2,000 to 3,000 pounds more than the weight of the camper alone.  You have to consider the cargo weight of what you will pack into the camper on top of the weight of the camper alone.
  • Trailer brakes are a really great feature, and it is best to shop for something that already has these if you can.  They can be added later, but it is nice to already have it.
We can tow 7,300 pounds with our new truck.  We don't do anything that gave us the need for a 4WD.  It was a suggested option that would be nice but not necessary.  So, we knew that we could get by with a 2 wheel drive.

Use Apps and Websites to Get the Best Deal

I used Car Guru to help me as I shopped.  I was able to search for the features we wanted and see if the vehicle was a good deal or not.  Car Guru will rate vehicles based on the market value to determine if it is a Great Deal, Good Deal, Fair Price and so on.  You can also contact dealers directly through the website as well as read reviews of the dealership before you shop.  The site reveals accident reports and more.

Gieco also has True Car shopping under the Perks section of their app.  You can search for cars in your area and filter for the features and models you want.  There are also some dealers that offer additional savings for using their listing through the app.  

One thing that I have noticed with both apps is that some vehicles will appear "local" because the dealership is willing to deliver to you in your area.  If you know what you want and are a risk taker, this could be some of the best deals on the market depending on where you are located geographically.  We just didn't feel good about it and chose not to go this route.

This 150 is roomy both in the front and back seats with plenty of leg room.

Certified Pre-Owned vs. Traditional Used

We have never owned a brand new vehicle and always buy used cars.  However, not all used cars are the same.  Buying a certified pre-owned vehicle can come with a huge warranty package, better inspection before the purchase and just more peace of mind.  

Our new truck has a 125K mile warranty that came with our Certified Pre-Owned purchase.  We can take our truck to any certified Ford dealer for warranty work.  This is a big deal.  It's like buying a new vehicle but without the sticker shock and price.  It is worth considering this when looking at vehicles.  Depending on how long you plan to keep your vehicle this may or may not be worth it.

The back truck cover was a big plus so that we can use it for cargo.
The spray in bed liner is another excellent feature of this pre-owned truck.

The bed cover also locks for added security.


Make sure that you have a budget established before you start shopping.  A few thousand dollars can make a huge difference in your payment.  We had a number we were not willing to go over for the total purchase price.  Upon arriving at the dealership on the day that we were buying our truck, the salesman asked if I wanted to see other vehicles.  They had some available used trucks that would end up being anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 more.  We were already at the top of our budget with the vehicle we had arrived to see.  So, I was not willing to entertain something that we were not going to be able to afford.

The moon roof is a bonus but not a feature that we needed.  However, we have enjoyed it.  Don't allow yourself to get sidetracked by features you don't need if you are comparing more than one vehicle.

At the same time, you may need to be able to go up on your budget to get what you want or need.  Consider what perks you are getting, and factor this into your budget and price.  We paid a little more for a vehicle with really low miles, that is Certified Pre-Owned, has a bed cover and plenty of room for our family.    The integrated towing brakes were another feature that made this truck worth the money.

Also, factor in the cost of a tag and insurance.  I had been checking out the insurance costs throughout the shopping process.  Our insurance stayed the same with this purchase.  So, our budget was not affected there.  I'm not going to rant about car tags in Mississippi except to say they are HIGH!  Any time we purchase a vehicle, even a used one, plan to have at least one car payment worth of budgeted money ready to buy that big ole tag.  In our home state, our legislature was gracious enough (insert eye rolls and side eye) to pass a tax now that adds $75 to hybrids and $150 to electric car tags to go towards "road and highway improvements".  I'll just stop here, but its a line item that you have to budget for in our state.  (I'm having a quiet Jesus moment in a moment of silence to calm down from my car tag anger.)

Family Needs

What does your family need in a vehicle?  My husband is really tall.  Legroom is a factor for us.  Some crew cabs are not that roomy on the interior.  I took this into consideration.  We have a huge backseat that he can easily ride in.

We don't need a lot of bells and whistles.  I wanted to have running boards to help my short legs get up in a taller vehicle.  Charging ports for our devices are handy but not deal breakers.  We can use portable chargers.  We also wanted a bed liner.

The back seat of this super crew has more than enough room for any member of our family.

The charging ports and electrical plug are big bonuses for me.  I can work on the road without worrying about battery life.

Future Proof Your Purchase

If you think you are going to keep your vehicle for a while or that you may buy a camper or two over that vehicle's life, consider what you might need down the road in terms of size.  You might want to go ahead and get a bigger tow package to cover you for a long haul.  (no pun intended)

And it isn't just about tow weight.  If you have kids, they are growing bodies that are going to take up more space.  Think about the room they will need as they grow and change.  Our son is probably going to be tall like his dad.  I already know he is going to need as much room as daddy to stretch out those long legs soon.  A roomy cab was a must for both men in our family.  

And what if you don't need or want a truck?  No big deal.  There are SUV's out there that can tow as much and more than this truck!  Makes and models are always changing.  We have a Nissan Pathfinder that tows fine for now.  But, its a hybrid and will only tow 3,500 pounds.  A traditional Nissan Pathfinder will tow 5,000.  

SUV's are excellent choices for families especially since larger ones offer a 3rd-row option.  Depending on the size of your family and needed tow weight you could easily select from several different options here.  The Ford Explorer, Nissan Armada, and Chevy Tahoe are just to name a few.  Some of these tows close to 9,000 pounds!  SUV's can work as well as a truck and may be more practical for your family!

I feel like we got the best deal for us!  And you can too if you are a wise shopper.

If you are thinking of buying a new tow vehicle, time could be on your side if you are willing to shop around and consider your options.  We asked lots of questions are did our homework.  We also were willing to drive a couple of hours to get the vehicle we wanted.  While the dealership was willing to deliver the vehicle to use and take our trade, I did not feel good about buying something sight unseen.  

What tow vehicle buying tips would you offer to a new shopper?  Or what have you learned in the process?  I feel like I know more about tow vehicles that I ever thought that I needed and wanted to know.  And full disclosure here, if you only knew how terrible a driver that I actually am, you would find this to be even more comical.

Until next time...

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