It won’t be long before we’re seeing the roads full of vehicles towing boats, jet skis and caravans as summer approaches and Kiwis plan their trips to their favourite holiday destinations.

If you’re thinking of upgrading your tow vehicle or planning to buy a new one, it’s important to take your time as the choice can be more complicated than first anticipated. It’s not as simple as just finding the vehicle that can pull or carry the heaviest load. While you might be after a vehicle that’ll tow your trailer or boat, you also need a practical choice that performs well when you’re doing the school run or other every day errands.

Towing weight

Always keep the weight of the items that you’ll be towing front of mind. The towing weight is unlikely to change dramatically, but extra luggage and additional passengers can make a difference. Choosing a vehicle with a specified towing capacity of about 1600kg braked to tow a boat that is around 1500kg might at first sound like a good option but, once the car is loaded with people and gear, you could end up exceeding the recommend towing capacity.

Exceeding the recommended towing weight is unsafe, but choosing to operate a vehicle at its limits for an extended period of time can also cause premature wear to vehicle components, particularly the clutch and transmission.

With this in mind, we would always recommend you factor in surplus weight, on top of the weight of the item that you’re towing when searching for an appropriate vehicle.

Cost vs convenience

Just like commercial vehicles, cars suitable for towing can be more expensive due to their distinct capabilities. Of course, the obvious starting point is to search the market to find the most appropriate set of wheels for the most reasonable price.

While buying a car that already has the tow bar and wiring fitted is certainly more convenient, it can sometimes drive up the cost. It’s often worth investigating the same vehicle that’s not fitted with a tow bar and researching how much it would cost to have a new tow bar fitted separately. It may mean you have to wait a little longer before you can tow, but it could help you to save some cash in the process.

If you do go down this route and are looking in the used car market, be wary of sellers who may have removed rusty or worn tow bars, to hide a car’s history of excessive use.

Comfort vs practicality

The car needs to be comfortable for all occupants, so what better way to ensure this by taking everyone along for a test drive? While a double-cab ute might seem like a great option for towing the boat or caravan during weekend getaways, if your passengers aren’t comfortable you’re definitely going to hear about if for the whole journey.

We also strongly advise car buyers to test drive the vehicle they are looking to purchase, while actually towing the trailer or boat that they are likely to be taking out. The towing weight may meet the requirements, the price may be right and the car may drive well on its own, but does it maintain its value, performance and comfort when it’s actually doing what you need it to do? If the seller is flexible and lets you do this, take the opportunity to test different road types and at a range of speeds to really get as good an idea as possible.

Balancing practical, everyday needs with your towing requirements means that buying a towing vehicle isn’t going to be as straight forward as purchasing your regular family vehicle. If you tow frequently and the sole need for this vehicle is to help you on that front, then focus on the likely towing weight you’ll be pulling. If towing is secondary to the everyday lifestyle needs, ensure that you’re placing an equal value on comfort.

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