Finances & Money Frugality

Buy a Truck for Towing…Or a Small Car?

Two years ago, in one of my first articles, I claimed that (for me) the Honda Ridgeline was the best truck ever made. It’s spacious, seats 5 very comfortably (no hump in the floor), has a trunk and has easily hauled everything I’ve thrown at it. I don’t need a truck for towing, but the Ridgeline can haul 5,000 lbs behind it if needed.

But almost 2.5 years later, I’m questioning whether I even need a truck. Honestly, I know the answer, but I’m not comfortable giving up the truck because it’s just so convenient to have it there when I do need it. But now I have a few new ideas:

Buying/Using a CAR that can haul

In our case, we already have 3 vehicles. Obviously we won’t use the MINI Cooper for towing (too small), but we do have a paid-off 1997 Pontiac Grand Am SE (4 cylinder). I looked up the specs on the Pontiac and apparently it’s rated to tow up to 1,000 lbs. Now that’s pretty close to the limit on what I’ve hauled in the truck bed before (about 1,200 lbs of bricks).

But here’s the catch. Back to our case, I would guess most people would advise against towing a full 1,000 lbs with a 4 cylinder engine, however punchy it is. Also, our Pontiac’s frame is rusting, so I would worry that any extra strain would wear it down more quickly.

But enough of our situation. Let me explore other options that might pique your interest.

How much do you really need to haul?

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you NEED a truck or just WANT a truck. Generally, this is the guy making the decision (like it was in our case), but eventually the wife learns to like the truck (as Stacie did) given it’s higher ride and that it makes her husband feel like a “real man”. For me, I thought “hey, I’m a new homeowner, have a lot of home projects planned, so of course I should buy a truck” and promptly traded in my sports sedan for one.

But in the first 2 years of owning the truck, I used it for hauling stuff about 8-10 times where I couldn’t have just used one of our cars. Two times were for unbagged mulch, twice for our dining room furniture, twice for tailgating, and then a few random other large, heavy and/or dirty items. I also tried loading up our lawnmower, which was a pain, to transport it. By the way if you’re looking for reliable ramps for stuff like lawnmowers or motorbikes you should check this out. It wasn’t until this past 3 months that I truly needed it for all our home projects. You see, in the first two years, we didn’t have enough money for all those desired projects.

But now, I’ve used the truck about a dozen times for tons of bricks, flooring, hauling trash to the dump (old carpet mostly), plywood, and various other items that wouldn’t have fit in a car. But then again, did I even need the truck these times?

Renting a Hauler/Paying for Delivery

If I would have just planned out and known I needed about 350 bricks (7,700 lbs worth), I could have just paid once to have all of them delivered. Home Depot charges about $100, but I’m not sure if they would have to do one or two loads. Sure, I would have had almost 4 tons of bricks in my driveway so I couldn’t just do the wall at my leisure, but I wouldn’t have had to spend hours going back and forth, loading onto the cart, loading onto the truck, then unloading and carrying to the backyard. But I did develop some nice forearm muscles.

For renting, I spoke with another gentleman one time while getting bricks, and he said he just rents a U-haul box truck that can carry a few tons. For $20/day plus tax and mileage, that’s an even cheaper deal, assuming Home Depot will load the pallet of bricks on with a forklift.

I won’t get into all the options here, but instead of buying a truck, you can rent one, pay for delivery or ask your friendly neighbor to borrow theirs. Fortunately, all but one of my neighbors have trucks or large vans, so I haven’t been tagged yet, even though I’ve offered my hauling services to anyone if needed.

Using Your Car to Tow

Now if you really need more frequent towing capabilities, but you don’t need to haul large weights, then do what many non-American countries have become accustomed to doing: using your car (not truck) to tow. However, you MUST check your owner’s manual or contact your car’s manufacturer to find out its towing capacity! Many small cars aren’t rated to tow, which means you could screw up your car by towing. For instance, Honda doesn’t recommend towing with the Honda Civic, even though I’ve seen a number of Civic with trailers following behind. On the otherhand, the new Corolla is rated at 1,500 lbs and the AWD Subaru Impreza can haul a full ton (2,000 lbs).

Also, I’m learning that people don’t recommend towing if your car uses a turbo because the engine fluids get too overheated between the extra strain and the turbo. But again, contact the manufacturer or dealer to learn more.

Most V6 engines can easily tow a utility trailer or even a small camper, but if you’re looking to convert your daily compact commuter to a part-time workhorse, call around local tow-hitch and trailer providers to find out what hitch fits your car. Most cars will use either a Class I or II hitch, and be sure to understand what that means. If you’re renting a U-haul Class II trailer, but you only have a Class I hitch, try again.


So in our case, I’ll still investigate downgrading from the Ridgeline to something cheaper and more economical, but since I only owe about $18,000 on the truck, I’m heading into cheapo compact car territory. Do I really want to sacrifice my driving experience and convenience for hauling for such a downgrade? Only time will tell. I have even more information for this discussion, but I’ll save it for another time.

For you, consider whether you really NEED a truck or SUV before considering whether a sedan/wagon will more easily handle your daily duties, and if renting/delivery will take care of the rest.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I have a 2004 Dakota that I probably don’t need. But the convenience of having it is just too great. Several times I have been able to acquire things (pallets, firewood, clean fill, furnature) for free or just about free because I had the truck at that exact moment. Also, since my commute to work is only 4 miles and we use my wife’s honda for long trips, I wouldn’t really benefit from something with better gas milage. Beisdes, I have determined that I will keep this truck forever. No need to go out and buy a new one every five years when this one will still do it’s job for the next 15 – 20.

  • @F2O, You’re right about the free stuff, which is one of those “other” items I alluded to at the end. And I also don’t drive many miles in it. It’s a great road-trip vehicle because it has so much space inside, in the trunk and then in the bed if we absolutely need it. It’s just nice to have, but it’s an extra $450 out of our monthly budget (plus insurance/maintenance) that we could use elsewhere

  • Just to point out the 2004 Taurus Sedan (with the Duratec) is rated to tow 1750lbs, and the wagon can tow 1600lbs. Since everyone and their grandparents had a Taurus at one point they are dirt cheap, comfortable, big enough for most things (but not too huge), parts are everywhere and are fairly reliable.

    If you’re going to be towing near the limits reliably, install a transmission cooler.

  • Be careful about towing.
    The rating includes the weight of passengers, luggage, gasoline, and other options so a 1,000 lb rating doesn’t mean you can actually tow 1,000 lbs. A sure-fire way to ruin your transmission is to tow too much weight. When those ratings are established, the cars or trucks are usually stripped of options and excess weight, then the rating takes place under ideal circumstances (read: flat with no hills or mountains), and the gas tanks are almost dry.

    A good rule of thumb is to use only 75% of the actually rating limit AFTER subtracting the other weight in the vehicle (passengers, luggage, options, gasoline, etc). That significantly reduces the amount of weight you can tow without putting your vehicle at risk.

    Also, check the tongue weight. It should also be subtracted from the towing capacity.

    I’ve ruined a transmission by ignoring these standards but I won’t do it again!

  • It’s $450 a month, and you still think it’s actually worth the money? It looks like you’d have to use it at least twice a week for that to be worthwhile. Mind you, I’m still struggling with the fact that you have 3 vehicles and only 2 drivers in your house.

  • @Plonkee, no it’s not worth the money, but one of the other pieces of info I didn’t add is that we haven’t had the Pontiac in our possession since early May. It’s been in PA getting fixed and we’ll be picking it up this weekend. I couldn’t make a decision on the truck until we knew the car was OK.

    But it’s not just my decision now. My wife is attached to the truck now, and she has seriously interrogated me when I talk about selling the truck. I think we might wait until we finish our exterior home improvements (the big ones) and then sell. But I can go buy the stuff for all that this week or next; I just need to do more planning to accomplish it, which I don’t have the time to do right now.

  • One option similar to your U-Haul, is rent the Home Depot truck. It’s $20 for an hour or so. Yeah it’s more expensive than a U-Haul, but much more convenient.

  • Great post – I don’t think it’s worth it to own a pickup truck unless you have some sort of business use for it.

    We’ve done tons of renos in the past and always rented the Home Depot truck (as Tom suggests) or rented a van from a rental place. Best thing is to get stuff delivered – the money is well worth it.

  • I’m in a similar situation, but with an 04 toyota tundra. I love the truck, but could use the extra 566 a month to pay down debt… I took it to multiple dealers, and put it FSBO, and I couldn’t even get what is owed (~19k). So, I guess I’m stuck with it.

    You may want to check to see if you could even get 18k for your ridgeliner. I’m sure it gets better gas mileage than my gas guzzling tundra, but you never know in today’s market.


  • “but since I only owe about $18,000 on the truck”…Only $18,000! That would do it for me. I’d sell it, drive the Pontiac, save cash and buy an inexpensive truck. I figure if I don’t have a payment on the vehicle, it doesn’t matter much to me how often I use the vehicle for more than daily driving, or what it costs in operating costs monthly because I am not making a payment on top of driving costs. My last truck was a 95 Dakota extended cab that I paid $5000 for. It was in incredible condition, had tons of power, and was great for all of the trips to the home improvement stores. I sold it when my daughter was born, but have plans to buy a used 4 door Dakota in the next 1.5-2 years. I miss having a truck!

  • Good luck selling it. Don’t trust bluebook values. Used truck and SUV prices have plummeted faster than Kelley and Edmunds can keep up.

    I am interested in selling both of my full-sized trucks. Not because of gas prices, but just because I don’t use them and they are taking up space in my driveway.

    A year ago one of them was worth about $16,000. From looking at actual *sales* of used trucks, I’m guessing that one is now worth about $11,000. The other was worth about $4500, and I’m guessing it might be worth $3500 now.

    There is a huge glut of used trucks on the market, and dealers are selling new ones at firesale prices.

  • Since you most likely won’t cover your loan by selling, use it and take care of it! We drove a Toyota into the ground (it was about 15 years old when it gave up) but it took a lot of convincing of dh not to buy another. If you hadn’t a truck, I’m pretty sure delivery or rental is cheaper in the long run, since you wouldn’t have the loan (and its ding on your credit score), insurance, fees of owning.

  • @jay, since we do have the option of using our third vehicle (which would be our 2nd vehicle if we sold the truck) and just renting/getting delivery when we need it, keeping the truck payment when we don’t need the vehicle is actually pretty foolish. But this is also an emotional decision and I’ve been known to be foolish.

    But anonymous is right that I might have a hard time getting a good price for the truck. Really, I only owe about $16,500 since I can get a full refund on the extended warranty, but the loan is about $18,000 and unless I cash out now, I will have to pay the difference on the loan to satisfy it fully.

  • Maybe you could swing by the dealer and see what you could sell it for at this time, as well as looking in the classfieds. Then you’d have some concrete data to work with. Certainly having more vehicles than you need is always foolish. There’s really no upside to it.

  • When I did one project for a client, and so happens my own truck failed on me, I just went for the Home Depot truck. Not bad it only cost me $20/hour. But if you’re going to tow often, you better buy one to save cost.

  • Don’t underestimate the MINI. 😉 I’ve seen them towing some pretty cute little trailers behind them… I also know one or two guys that have tiny trailers for their Miata’s, just to haul tires and other track paraphernalia around.

    Now, this doesn’t mean it’s practical for most towing instances, but it has been done before. (And they look rather cute doing it, IMHO.) After all, I’ve seen Corvettes and plenty of motorcycles with their driver’s belongings in tow as well. (While the Vette is torque-y, it’s not torque meant for work in quite that way… Though I bet it’s not half bad.)

    At any rate, my husband and I own two two-seater sports cars. We’ve depended on delivery and family help to bring home anything we’ve needed that hasn’t fit into either car… And, to be honest, that’s only been three times in the past year and some. (Once moving in, once getting furniture delivered and once for our 120 gallon fish tank.)

  • I’ve got a Subaru Forester, 8 yrs old with 112,000 miles on it…. you’d be surprised what you can fit in one of those things! I have hauled a LOT of firewood in it, and moved 4 times (closeby) I had friends or family with pickups move the bigger stuff.

    But, inside that mini SUV you can haul something 6 ft long and 4 ft wide… and if the something is long and skinny, like lumber or trim, it can be 8 ft long. Plus it has the roof rack that something like plywood or a single bed can be hauled on.

    But, once I made this final move, to my permanent home (altho still a remodel construction zone), and am relying on wood for primary heat, I find that the car is just getting really really dirty with all the firewood I am hauling in it. So I bought an OLD 1974 Datsun pickup for $400….. that’s what I take now to the dump and after firewood…. insurance is about $10/month, and for me that is worth the convenience of having the little truck.

    Maybe you can just get a little old junker truck? Nice thing about the ’74 is that there are NO computer anythings in it, and the repair books are available online.

    But yes, sometimes I wish I were sitting up a LOT higher than I am in the little Datsun or my Forester.

  • @Marci, actually, the Forester is on my short-list of vehicles that I would actually trust as a truck replacement. You nailed it when you said it fits a lot of stuff (it’s basically a box on wheels), and it can tow too. The newer models ride even higher than the older ones and the newest model year is quite a big longer than even last year’s. I know women drivers love it because it gives them more confidence as it rides higher than a car and it has amazing visibility all around.

  • My Forester is a 2001. It has been very reliable and problem free. At 112,000, with regular oil changes etc, it has only had one wheel bearing go out at 75,000 miles, which apparently, was a problem with that year. It has made several hunting/camping trips – loaded with camping gear, it still brought home two mule deer in the back end this last fall, 425 miles with no problems, up hill and down 🙂

    I bought it for 200,000 miles or 10 years…..I said which ever came first, but I am thinking it will be whichever one comes last now as I am almost to 8 years. I plan on just running it as long as it will make it down the road. Mine gets 25 mpg which I find acceptable for what I can do with it, and for it’s versatility.

  • If you are serious about possibly purchasing your own truck, whether it is for a small business or other, may I suggest checking out that Uhaul has to offer. They sell out their old uhaul trucks for pretty inexpensive and most of them are in pretty good running condition! check out their website if you’d like to find out what they have to offer!

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