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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep. 28, 2001
    Location
    Kentucky
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    4,373

    Default What to look for in a used tow vehicle?

    My mechanic suggested I don't fix my truck due to rust. So I am combing the sales listings for another tow vehicle. I want something safe and need something affordable. I have always bought tow vehicles new and so I don't really know what to look for when looking at used trucks. I would love some suggestions on what needs to be included to make it safe!

    I have a 2700 lb bumper pull trailer and usually only have one horse in it. Thanks for any insights you can provide!



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun. 15, 2008
    Posts
    739

    Default

    NUMBER ONE: Maint records

    Beyond that, what make/model/price range are we talking about? Every manuf has better and worse years out there.
    Disclaimer;
    Nearly all of what I post will be controversial to someone. Believe nothing you read on a chat room, research for yourself and LEARN.
    Not in the 42% or the 96%



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov. 4, 2003
    Location
    Sanger, TX, USA
    Posts
    4,975

    Default

    What's your budget? Gas or diesel? Maintenance records are sometimes hard to come by from a dealer...at least in Texas, dealers aren't supposed to pass them along to sellers due to privacy laws. However, Carfax will often have
    maintenance info with it though not all repair shops report to Carfax. AutoCheck does not. If buying a Ford from a Ford dealer, you can ask for an Oasis report which is a central data base for the manufacturer of all warrenty work. I think each company does that....Dodge does also.

    Carfax has a wealth of info--how many owners, what type of owners, reported accidents, how many miles per year each owner put on it, etc. and so forth.
    They even point out if a vehicle was registered in a hurricane or flood area during the time of the event. Just read to beware of that as hundreds of thousands of vehicles were flooded with Irene and will be hitting the market in the not too distant future. They also show what states it has been registered in--good for avoiding vehicles from the "salt" belt.

    Even if you're not buying diesel, google Bill Hewitt. He's a desiel guru in GA with a website and has posted from videos of what to look for when buying a new truck. Each is about 8 minutes long...very interesting and things I would never thing to check. If you mechanic is a trusted one, talk to him about what you find. Or call a service advisor of the nearest dealer of the brand of truck...they
    are a wealth of knowledge.


    Many sales sites will have a click on button for the Carfax and you can get it for free. If they don't, call and request. Or if you are nearby, swing by to look for the vehicle and ask for one. Take time to study it and/or show to a mechanic friend or advisor.



  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep. 28, 2001
    Location
    Kentucky
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    4,373

    Default

    Thanks! I don't have a specific make/model that I am looking for. I am replacing a Chevy Silverado with a 5.7 V8 engine.



  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug. 25, 2007
    Posts
    9,434

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by caryledee View Post
    Thanks! I don't have a specific make/model that I am looking for. I am replacing a Chevy Silverado with a 5.7 V8 engine.
    How much money you got?!?!?!?!

    Budget will be a major driver in your decision.

    Lower milage is better than higher milage. Mainenance records (as noted) are a must. Measure tire tread.

    Minimum towing capacity for you will be 5000 lbs. (trailer plus two horses plus minimal gear). Better would be 6000-7500 so you have some "J" factor.

    Carfax (or equivalent).

    Line up a mech to look at the truck if you're not qualified to analyze what you see. Have money in your budget to pay the mech.

    Late model used trucks (particularly 2008-2010) are at a premium as not so many were made as the economy fell.

    G.



  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep. 28, 2001
    Location
    Kentucky
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    4,373

    Default

    I'm very limited on what I can spend. I hadn't planned on having to replace the truck at this point in my life.

    How do I know if the vehicle has the heavy duty transmission and proper gear ratio? I've always just ordered that on the vehicles I bought in the past.



  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec. 12, 2004
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    7,134

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by caryledee View Post
    I'm very limited on what I can spend. I hadn't planned on having to replace the truck at this point in my life.

    How do I know if the vehicle has the heavy duty transmission and proper gear ratio? I've always just ordered that on the vehicles I bought in the past.
    Oof. Any chance that you have someone reputable/knowledgeable that can help you look?

    My main thing when looking at used trucks is to find one that hasn't been used for plowing. Not much is harder on a truck than plowing.



  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug. 25, 2007
    Posts
    9,434

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by caryledee View Post
    I'm very limited on what I can spend. I hadn't planned on having to replace the truck at this point in my life.

    How do I know if the vehicle has the heavy duty transmission and proper gear ratio? I've always just ordered that on the vehicles I bought in the past.
    IIRC some information like this is contained in the VIN. I found this http://www.decodethis.com/ Don't know if it's any good or not.

    G.



  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar. 1, 2005
    Location
    maryland
    Posts
    5,219

    Default

    I never buy a new truck. Too much depreciation in the first few years. It's really not too hard to buy used. Just go look at a few and see which ones appeal to you. Then you can look online to see the towing capacity. The salespeople or current owner may be helpful, but I would not rely on them for towing numbers.

    For the weight range you're looking at towing, I think you should have alot of choices. Do you have an idea what you'd like to get? another SUV? a pickup?

    Carfax is nice. Word of warning: it doesn't show accidents that did not result in the truck being totaled/ bought by insurance company. But it is a starting point and a way to see mileage, if it's had 20 owners, whatever.

    Maintenance records are wonderful if you can get them, but the vast majority of trucks don't come with any. If you go through a dealer, probably don't expect to get anything.

    Dealers have better selection, better hours, and may be more professional. In my state cars from a dealer must be already inspected. However, the dealers do charge more for the same car than private party. They can also legally not tell you about wrecks the truck was in, as long as they don't know about it (and with trade-ins and the wholesale market, they may not know more than what the Carfax shows).

    Tip: credit is hard to come by right now. I was able to get an awesome deal on my pre-owned chevy pickup by letting the salesman know right away that I can pay in cash. Some of their buyers weren't qualifying for loans or it was taking awhile to creatively finance... so if you walk in with cash or pre-approved from your own bank, you're one step ahead.

    Once you found a truck you like, take it to a trusted local mechanic. Sometimes you can use the list of flaws as a bargaining point, and sometimes it's worth it to find out the truck was wrecked & repaired badly. Make sure he looks carefully underneath for signs of collision & that all airbags are still intact. Your mechanic can help you in double-checking the options on it to be sure you have what you need to tow safely.

    There are pros and cons to have a truck already set up to tow. On one hand, it means no cost of adding a hitch. On the other it means if it's already got a big hitch that the truck had some miles put on it hauling. I would look for a truck with the factory towing package (eg. transmission cooler), even if it doesn't have a hitch.

    And the last step is to haggle a bit. The problem is that there are several price guides out there (eg. Edmunds, NADA, etc). Be sure you check more than one to see if the asking price is in the right ballpark. Sometimes the seller thinks he is clever by looking at all price guides to find which has highest price, then printing only that page out to show buyers. Pretty much everyone expects to be haggled down, so don't feel bad about making a much lower offer & haggling it out.



  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep. 28, 2001
    Location
    Kentucky
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    4,373

    Default

    Guilherme-Thanks for the link! That is very helpful information.

    Thanks for the responses everyone! You've given me a lot of stuff to ponder and ask about. Today I looked at a 2004 F150 with a 5.4 liter engine. I know a lot of people don't agree with towing with a half ton, but I never had an issue with the Chevy. I took my friend's similar F150 on a 5 hour trip a couple of years back and didn't have an issue with it. I use weight distribution/sway bars when I tow.

    Do you think the difference between the 5.4 in the prospective truck and the 5.7 in my current Chevy is going to make a big difference?



  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep. 16, 2010
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    586

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by caryledee View Post
    Guilherme-Thanks for the link! That is very helpful information.

    Thanks for the responses everyone! You've given me a lot of stuff to ponder and ask about. Today I looked at a 2004 F150 with a 5.4 liter engine. I know a lot of people don't agree with towing with a half ton, but I never had an issue with the Chevy. I took my friend's similar F150 on a 5 hour trip a couple of years back and didn't have an issue with it. I use weight distribution/sway bars when I tow.

    Do you think the difference between the 5.4 in the prospective truck and the 5.7 in my current Chevy is going to make a big difference?
    I have an 01 F150 and love it. I don't think the 5.4 vs. the 5.7 will make a difference. I have a 4.6 and it does quite well with my 2 horse BP, so with a 5.4 you should be fine. I'll probably end up replacing it in the next couple of years, and when I do I will either get a newer F150 or an F250.



  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov. 12, 2009
    Location
    Crozier VA
    Posts
    59

    Default 2004 F-150 SC 4X4

    I had one with the towing package.....it was a very nice truck and served its purpose for a two horse bumper pull trailer.....Sold it after two years and it held its value extremely well.
    Berkley



  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep. 27, 2006
    Posts
    108

    Default

    Go with a diesel! You'll get more power, they're still going for cheap because of the cost of fuel, you'll get better mpg, and they are still breaking in at 200,000 miles



  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep. 28, 2001
    Location
    Kentucky
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Philibuster View Post
    Go with a diesel! You'll get more power, they're still going for cheap because of the cost of fuel, you'll get better mpg, and they are still breaking in at 200,000 miles
    I hadn't thought about diesel much; I've never had one. What is the advantage? Any disadvantages? Cost of repairs about the same? Is the higher MPG enough to justify the higher price of diesel?



  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jan. 28, 2003
    Location
    Hollywood, but not the one where they have the Oscars!
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    Default

    If you do not tow a lot, I would skip the diesel option.
    "You can't really debate with someone who has a prescient invisible friend"
    carolprudm



  16. #16
    Join Date
    Dec. 13, 1999
    Location
    Greensboro, NC
    Posts
    36,090

    Default

    Find a good trailer repair place (that also does horse trailers) and that also does things like inspections. They know what it takes to safely pull heavier, live weight, and can make sure the truck is up to it.

    Maintenance records are nice, but not always available. And, it really doesn't matter that you know how often belts were replaced. A really good mechanic can tell you most of everything you need to know, including whether belts/hoses are currently in need of replacing, or not quite but soon, and much more.

    I just had $2k worth of work done on my '88 F250, which included going over it with a fine toothed comb, as far as could be done without, obviously, taking the engine apart Nearly everything that wears out due to age - hoses, belts, some clamps, etc - were replaced. That's on top of having the entire starter system, ignition to batter, replaced over the last year or so as things wore out.
    ______________________________
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET



  17. #17
    Join Date
    Nov. 4, 2003
    Location
    Sanger, TX, USA
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    We just traded our 2006 quad cab 5.7 gas Dodge for a 2007 5.9L mega cab diesel. We got on a good day with a tail wind 17 mpg with the gas truck and 9 towing. Long drive home from dealer and trip computer was indicating 22 mpg
    at 65 mph. We stopped and did some "around town" driving and it dropped to 18 mpg or so on the trip computer.

    Hubby had me figure out cost per mile to operate and even with diesel higher it was 3 cents a mile less to operate the diesel. If our old F250 diesel is any indicator of towing mpg, it should be 4-5 mpg less than non-towing mpg.



  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jan. 21, 2010
    Posts
    2,201

    Default

    With only reading the OP, I personally vote for diesel.

    I ran the numbers, and while I don't haul a lot, it was cheaper for me in the long run to (theoretically) have a truck that would last me longer.

    I also will say that you should take note of whether or not the truck has a brake box installed. When I was searching for my used (diesel) tow truck, I bought one with 89,000mi and no brake box. Meaning it probably never towed anything, and in theory was in better shape. The downside to that is that it was probably owned by some yuppie who gunned it all over the place in his big bad truck, so it actually could be in worse shape.
    I've had it for over 7 years, it's at 152k, and runs like a champ.



  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jan. 27, 2011
    Location
    Columbia, MO
    Posts
    71

    Default

    Diesel fuel is more expensive and depending on where you live the better mpg may not break you even. However, diesel engines are designed to be most efficient on longer distances, the engine works on compression not ignition like a gas engine, so starting a diesel requires more fuel than a comparable gas engine, but it gets better mpg once its started.

    That said, I love my diesel truck. Most truck mechanics can work on a diesel, they are different than gas engines, I don't generally have a problem finding parts or mechanics.

    And just for my two cents when buying a hauling truck I always look for; duals (adds alot of stability to bumper hitch or gooseneck trailers), a manual transmission (an absolute must, if something happens to my brake box I have to be able to control my speed, not to mention the better mpg) and I always add extra exterior lights so I can SEE where I'm backing up, brake lights are not enough to see by!

    Hope this helps,
    A student in all things.



  20. #20
    Join Date
    Apr. 2, 2009
    Location
    North Carolina
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    5,413

    Default

    I'll never go back to towing with gas. But ymmv. There are heaps of them in the SEast and good mechanics just take some asking around to find.

    One warning - Carfax and the like are not end-all anything. A vehicle can have a clean report, but still have been drowned, totalled, rebuilt, etc and just issued a new title. It's not very hard to do, so I don't rely on those.

    I crawl and in around vehicle and use eyes and ears -- look for leaks, rust, details that look like they've been cared for or not. All the doors should make the same sound when slammed, all the lights (even interior) should work properly, etc.

    I want factory tow package, w/ transmission cooler and brake box or a connector for one. I want a well-maintained vehicle. I also won't buy new, terrible investment. I also won't buy anything that's been lifted - it often messes up wiring and hides front end problems.



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