By on December 23, 2013

To The Best & Brightest,

I need advice on my next used car purchase.

99% of the time the vehicle will be a daily commuter (rural highway and very little city traffic / 26 miles round trip). But during the winter when salt keeps my classic pickup off the roads I need the ability to tow my boat and trailer (combined weight of 4500 lbs.)

The towing distance is only 13 miles and the vehicle must either be front wheel drive or AWD/4WD to get the boat out of the water. The ramps are fairly steep on the lower Niagara river and for obvious reasons can be icy in the winter time. Normally just me in the car but have a wife and two teenagers who come along boating occasionally. A three seat pickup would work but most I have seen are too expensive. It’s either by two vehicles or one if it offers the right combination of capabilities and economy. I would like to keep it under 12 grand but would go as high as 15 for a great vehicle. If it won’t get a t least 20 mpg I would likely go the two vehicle route. I have a neighbor who is a great independent mechanic and for reasonable prices will help me keep an older vehicle on the road.

Lastly, is it worth the cost and hassle to travel to a non snow state to find a rust free vehicle to avoid the rust belt effect of vehicles here in the Buffalo area? I thought a used Grand Caravan would be perfect but those are evidently only rated to tow 3500 lbs. Thanks.

Steve Says:

The good news is that you’re hitting the prime part of the used car market as it pertains to value.

There are a ton of older minivans and SUV’s, hundreds of thousands of them, that are molderizing in wholesale auction heaven as we speak. Unpopular vehicles. Orphan brands. You could pretty much start at the near beginning of the alphabet with the Buick Rainier, and work your way nearly all the way down to the Volvo XC90. Both of those vehicles, coincidentally, would easily hit your price quotient and may have older owners who took proper care of those rides.

This brings me to what I think is going to be the big issue with you, the prior owner. You’re not buying a used vehicle these days as much as a prior owner who may or may not have done the right thing. I would keep your list fairly open and wide while attempting to snag that ride that can handle all of your hauling days.

Would I encourage you to buy it outside of the rust-o-sphere that is northern New York? Hell yes. Not only due to the rust, but the fact that the suburbs surrounding the tri-state area are swarming with used SUV’s (and minivans to a lesser extent) that have been garage kept and dealer maintained. I may sound like a complete snob for saying this. But I would prioritize a vehicle that was dealer maintained over one from the rougher parts of town that was not. I used to liquidate vehicles for an auto finance company and  at the time, I visited quite a few wholesale auctions that had more heavy haulers than they knew what to do with. The difference between a well-kept one and an abused one was quite vast.

If you’re asking for that one vehicle, well, I have a bit of a shocker for you. My choice would be the last year of a good generation from an unpopular automaker. A 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited 4WD with all the options. I would definitely opt for the 3.5 Liter with the touring package. As for fuel economy, if you drive with a lighter foot, you’re likely to get about 16 mpg, which is less than the 20 mpg you mentioned. But if you’re only driving it part of the time, say maybe 8,000 miles a year,  you are only looking at a few hundred dollar difference in gas. To me, a better tool for the job and a lower purchase price will more than make up for that cost differential.

If you drive a LOT, then get whatever car interests you for daily commutes… and then get the Montero anyway. The only hauling vehicle with a serious fuel economy edge would be a Touareg TDI, and they are hysterically overpriced. So is the Toyota Highlander.  There is also the SAAB 9-7x with the 5.3 Liter V8.  But most people don’t have the guts to buy an orphan brand. Even though that particular vehicle is composed of the most common of GM engines and the most common of GM platforms, nobody wants em’.

That’s what I recommend. Hit em’ where they ain’t. Opt for a loaded orphaned or unpopular vehicle that was built in the last year of it’s production run.

Good luck!


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23 Comments on “New or Used: Should I Beat My Hauler? Or Haul My Beater?...”

  • avatar

    Front wheel drive on a steep wet boat ramp doesn’t always work out so well in my personal experience.
    How long is the boat? At 4500 pounds, might be looking at a full-sized truck.

  • avatar

    Bring back “New or Used”

    Rather, bring back either Sajeev or his evil twin, Sanjeev, to “New or Used”

  • avatar

    I would look at a Dodge RAM with the 5.9L Cummins. Crew Cab and 4×4. They stopped making them in 2006 so they’re aging out.The engine is damn near bulletproof so all you need to do is watch for rust in the frame. It’ll do what you need for a while but isn’t the overkill like a newer truck is.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      The truth is no one appreciates the fact that you can do a ton of hauling with a cheap well-equipped older SUV. They all want pickups these days. Just as they used to want SUV’s for family hauling instead of minivans.

      For some reason, 2006 was right around the time when Chrysler inexplicably began to build option combinations in their vehicles that nobody in their right mind wanted to buy.

      By the time many of these vehicles were quickly re-introduced to the wholesale auctions, around the 2007 to 2008 time period, I remember loaded up minivans without power sliding doors. Sporty Sebring coupes with leather, but no roof and steel wheels. For a long time you could even get a full sized short bed pickup with the Hemi engine. But to find one equipped the way you mentioned was tough as hell since Chrysler was opting for the clam shell rear doors instead of a true four door pickup.

      Ebay was a wondeful source to liquidate these odd birds back in the day. I still thank Chrysler for helping me get $2000 licks for low mileage minivans at a time when captive financing was still a bit strong in the marketplace and this segment was nosediving into the netherworld of niche vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Crew cab” and 2006… Dodge stopped making true 4-door crew cabs in 1985. The 2nd-gen (94-01) Rams had only 2-door regular or Club (extended) cabs, with Quad cabs (4-door extended) becoming available in 1998. With the new 2002 models (2003 for HD’s) the Quad Cab was extended/enlarged so it was bigger than Ford or Chevy’s extended cab, but smaller than their crew cabs. It’s not a full-sized crew cab, but because it was the first extended cab to have four rear-opening doors, the average person looks at it and calls it a crew cab. Then there was (is?) the Mega Cab, which was made by taking a Quad Cab/8′ bed frame and putting a 6.5′ bed on it, ending up with a crew cab + 6 inches of space. Disregarding that, Dodge didn’t produce a true four-full-sized-door crew cab until the new model in 2009 (2010 for HD’s).

  • avatar

    How often do you tow the boat during the winter? You can rent a Uhaul pickup with a trailer hitch for $20 a day plus mileage. I see guys in my neighborhood doing this for the spring launch and fall pullout of their boats. Seems to make more sense than buying, insuring, and maintaining a truck for a couple runs a year.

    • 0 avatar

      That is a good option too, but the hassle of going to UHaul is not to be underestimated. My guess is that it would cause him to get a lot less boat time. I vote for two vehicles (comment below).

    • 0 avatar

      I think someone is pulling someones leg, who goes boating on the Niagra River in the winter? Do they plow the boat ramps. Doesn’t the river get a little icy around the edges?

  • avatar

    If the hauler is only needed a tiny percentage of the time – and you have the space – it seems far more rational to get a commuter car and a cheap full-size truck.

    You can get a darned decent older Ford/Chevy truck under $4K, which gives you $8K to get a nice commuter.

    It’s not like you need to be embarrassed about your beater truck because you already have a classic. And this way you can get a commuter car that is fun and comfortable. There is a huge list of commuter options for $8K, from the dull and practical to the fun and less-practical (or reliable).

  • avatar

    I would love me a Buick Rainer (or the like) myself but I’ve got two words for you: used ambulance.

    I knew a wholesaler years back who was also into racing (mostly stock cars, occasionally lemons or demo) and he acquired a ’99 Ford E350 7.3L Powerstroke ambulance for peanuts at one of the auctions to tow his stuff. Why? Ambulances are basically 2wd heavy duty trucks whose resale is only to other companies/owners in need of an ambulance. They are designed to last something like 200K at minimum but much like other service vehicles (ie police cars) better equipped departments/hospitals turn them over every 5-7 years as opposed to riding them out for 15 and a gazillion miles. Check one out, I’m sure Steve Lang could find one for you if you can’t find one on your own.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I *think* the Acadia is rated for a higher towing payload than its platform mates, which is somewhere north of 5,000 lbs. But you could buy one of the GMT3xx BOF SUVs (TrailBlazer, Envoy, Rainier, Ascender, 9-7X, etc…) and have plenty of money to spare.

  • avatar

    There is a non-vehicle option: Mooring the boat. You say the distance is 13 miles, so I assume you are going to just body of water. Check the local papers or Craigslist for boathouses or mooring and storage places on there. For the few times you would need to move the boat on land you could use U-Haul. It could be a lot cheaper than buying/insuring/maintaining another vehicle.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the replies. Lie2me, not pulling your leg. The lower Niagara does not freeze over so is a popular fishing hole all year long. Great trout fishing during the winter. Mooring the boat is not an option, the docks get pulled out to avoid ice damage during the winter months. river does not freeze over but large chunks of ice are common. I drive about 15k a year. So getting 16 mpg all the time would be expensive. I like the Trailblazer, Saab twin ideas, any thoughts on their reliability and which models to seek/avoid. If I could pick one up cheap enough I would get one and a decent commuter. I try to get out and fish at least once a week when my schedule and the weather allow. The trailer is duel axel and has surge brakes. My old windstar allowed a heavier weight with a boat than with other trailers, anyone know if modern minivans do this? Had not thought of the uhaul option, have to check prices and see if they are 4WD.

    • 0 avatar

      The GMT360s have differences but are mostly the same. Around here TrailBlazers and Envoys seem to fetch the highest asking prices. I would suggest the Bravada or Rainier. I rarely see a Bravada over $10K (part of that may be that they don’t have a V8 option). I had a friend just sell his one owner 2003 Bravada with 85K miles for under $6000.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I just financed an 07 SAAB 9-7x 5.3i.

      You are more or less getting a midsized SUV with a Silverado transmission, an engine used in the Silverado, a frame (like a Silverado), 4 disc brakes (like a mid-to-high end Silverado), an available tow package (like a Silverado), rather large brake pads (like a Silverado), an air suspension (better than a Silverado), a rear axle made for heavy towing (like a Silverado), a tow bar that can mount to either a bumper mount or the frame (like a Silverado), a long and wide wheelbase (like a Silverado), higher than usual clearance form the ground (like a Silverado), and big/fat tires (like a Silverado).

      Need I say more?

      Well, you will get 15 mpg. I still think an older SUV like a Montero would be a more financially painless way to go. But if you do want to spend $7000 and up, there are worse ways of doing it.

      • 0 avatar

        Would an actual Silverado make more sense vs the Saab?

        • 0 avatar

          i’m a big fan of gm’s 5.3l V8, but 15 mpg would be painful. I’ll try to get a local dealer to let me put a couple hundred miles on one of these with the I6. If it can hit 18-20 mpg driven conservatively on the highway the 6000lb tow rating would be more than enough. I’ll try to arrange a similar test drive of a V8 to see if I can coax more than 15 mpg out of it. Anyone with experience with the Montero care to comment? Don’t see many in my travels anymore.

        • 0 avatar

          Love the silverados but they are very pricey unless you get one that’s really old or loaded with miles. plus most of the ones in my price range still have the 4 speed plus overdrive transmissions. The newer six speeds seem much more fuel efficient but are even more expensive.

  • avatar

    I have spent some time in a 2008 Avalanche with the 5.3L V-8. On a 250 mile trip and return, it gets 20+ MPG over the 500+ miles, driven at 55-60MPH. Trip includes 5 passes of around 2,000 feet.

    Of course, it won’t get those figures pulling a load.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats pretty impressive. Gotta hand to gm, that 5.3L is fairly thrifty. I’ve owned more Fords than anything else but milage has never been their strong suit, especially in large trucks and SUV’s. Of course I don’t expect to get great milage while towing. But that is very little of what I do. If I can get 20 mpg on my commute and still be able to tow the boat it’s a winner. I would prefer one nicer vehicle over two not so nice. Have not priced the Avalanche used. I’ll check them out. Perhaps they use a higher final drive in those vs the silverado/sierra twins.

  • avatar

    I know it’s late to the party, but this advice “A 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited 4WD with all the options” is awful. Those were not of good quality, don’t resist rust well, have poor interior trim, and bad ride and handling. They go through transmissions, engines, and like to throw CEL’s. This is one of the worst recommendations I’ve seen in a while.

    Plus, all of them are getting on in years, and have fallen to -not wealthy, credit poor- third or fourth owners, as nobody keeps a Mitsubishi forever unless it’s a late 80s or early 90s full size Montero.

    So go with one of the GM options as discussed.

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