New or Used: Replacing The Sentra Support Vehicle

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used replacing the sentra support vehicle

John writes:

I need a different vehicle. I need something that is better suited for towing my racecar than a Sentra. I also need it to be able to hold 4 people comfortably. My kids are getting too big for to be contained in the back of a compact car. So any vehicle I get will probably be a 4door pickup or large SUV. I have thought about a F250, a Navigator, or the compromise between the two: the 80’s Bronco.

My problem is I’ve never owned anything other than compact cars. I’ve never had a reason to own a tow vehicle until now. Can you educate me on requirements of tow vehicles? Is an automatic acceptable? Should I add/upgrade any components like a trans cooler or brakes?

Please hook me up like a tow truck.

Steve Answers:

The first thing I can tell you is that ‘extremism’ sucks gas when it comes to towing. You now need more space and towing capacity. Not 584 pounds of torque and 13 mpg for a 2000 pound vehicle. So why don’t you…

Buy a Panther! This can be the cheap solution if it comes with the right towing package. ‘Stuff’ will have to fit in the trunk. One caveat.. I wouldn’t venture down this path unless your trailer already has brakes.

Buy a Suburban! These are a bit more pricey than the Panthers. You get more ‘stuff’ space and a more maintenance friendly vehicle. All GM and Ford full-sized SUV’s are generally excellent products. Do not buy a Durango. They are cheap for a reason.

Buy an Explorer! Cheaper than the Suburban ilk and arguably all the towing and space you will ever need. But note that a standard Explorer won’t cut it. You need one with a towing package.

Buy a RWD minivan! The Astro, Aerostar and MPV can handle your tow needs. These are cheap but it’s hard to find one that isn’t in a near junk state. In the case of the MPV make sure it had a recent tranny replacement.

Then there’s my favorite… a small truck… but not for you. I would focus on the ‘cheap’ side of it and buy a full-sized American truck. You know. The ones that are paraded as the vehicles to own in the ‘Millionaire Next Door Series’. Coincidentally, these are also quickly becoming the the leading repo vehicle for title pawn companies. Is it a rich man’s ride? Is it a poor man’s ride? Who knows? I would go and buy an older truck with the guidance of either a skilled mechanic or a skilled car buyer and enjoy the ride.

Sajeev Answers:

Here’s the thing, John’s being coy: which won’t work if you are a friend of mine. As the Number 10 on our list of engineering feats it’s clear that this nice guy is slightly mental. Not in a bad way, he merely personifies the sheer stupidity and uncommon excellence found in a LeMons race. And now he’s wised up to the fact that a Nissan Sentra is not a good support vehicle for a race team.

John needs a vehicle that’ll be the most reliable member of his team (sorry, inside joke) a family hauler and transport for his (salvage sale) crotch rocket in a pinch. Steve is on the right track, and I recommend the same: the lightest duty (but full-size) Crew Cab truck you can find with a base V8. Avoid tacky upgrades from Harley-Davidson, King Ranch, Lucchese, etc for obvious reasons. Buy the oldest version of the body style in question, over five years old is a good place to start. Aside from (maybe) a bigger tranny cooler and more aggressive brake pads, these rigs are set up for your level of towing and family needs: beefy automatics, rigid frames, big brakes and a reasonable number of safety/comfort/convenience features compared to your average passenger car. I’m not gonna pick a brand, but GM and Ford still rule the roost in Texas for several good reasons.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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  • Qduffy Qduffy on Nov 05, 2010

    Used Ford Flex? Lots of space, can tow a respectable amount, would still be comfortable as a daily driver, great highway car, and if you get the ecoboost, you could drop that engine into your race car, destroy the field, and then swap the engine back. :)

  • Dasko Dasko on Nov 05, 2010

    Used Touareg V10 TDI. Actually uses less fuel than the VR6 model of the 1st gen and have really come down nicely in price.

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