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Buying Used: Tow your toys in style with a compact crossover

2008 Toyota Rav4

Bill Petro

It's been a beautiful summer so far. Before you start thinking about winter, think about enjoying the sun now by buying that sailboat or dirt bikes you've always wanted. Oh, go ahead, you know you want to.

But you'll need something to haul those around, and because those toys don't come for free, maybe you'll want to find a used vehicle that won't break the bank. It should have space for the family, and be good on gas to save money for your new activities.

So why not look at a compact crossover? Not all of them will suit your needs, but a few have bigger engines and a medium towing capacity that will make your journeys with a trailer safer. All-wheel drive will help you stay out of trouble at the boat launch – or give you the option of towing a snowmobile when the snow falls. .

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First, let's go smaller. The Subaru Outback is half wagon, half crossover and has been proven to be both safe and reliable. All-wheel drive is standard, and while it feels like you're driving a car, it has ground clearance comparable with that of your usual crossovers. With the optional 3.0L flat-six, it's rated to tow 2,700 pounds. You'll find 2006-08 models for between ten and twelve grand, but watch the mileage on them, as they vary wildly from just below 100,000 km to double that.

If you prefer a taller field of view, the Ford Escape can be easily found on the used-car market. A popular crossover, you'll find anything from 2008 to 2011 in the same price range. It's a decent vehicle, with reasonably good reliability marred only by some recalls involving a steering torque sensor and a gearbox problem that may result in the car rolling when parked. With the optional 3.0-litre V6, you'll have up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.

Chevrolet's compact SUV is the Equinox. Look for the second generation, which debuted in 2010, as it is a huge improvement over the previous iteration. Electronic stability control became standard with the redesign. Available with AWD, it offers decent cargo and passenger room, an optional 3.0-litre V6 good for 3,500 lbs towing and good safety.

Dodge offered the Nitro with either a base 210-hp, 3.7-litre V6 with all-wheel drive available, or a 260 hp, 4.0-litre V6 on the R/T version. Both engines were good for torque, but acceleration was poor and fuel economy was worse. Plus, it offered a rougher, truck-like ride and it suffered with a litany of recalls in its five-year lifespan (ending in 2012). That torque, however, means a towing capacity of up to 5,000 lbs (with the optional trailer tow package), exceptional for this segment.


The Toyota RAV4 will give you just about everything you're looking for in this segment, provided you find the right model. It was offered in front-wheel drive and with a four-cylinder engine, but look for the AWD model with the 269 hp, 3.5-litre V6, one of the most powerful mills found in a small crossover. That V6 is smooth, gets good fuel economy and lets the RAV4 tow up to 3,500 pounds. You'll find good handling and a comfortable, car-like ride, excellent safety ratings, good cargo room and even the availability of a third-row seat – though there are a few recalls to consider that involve rear suspension failure following improper service, rusting rear tie rods, air bags deploying at the wrong times and that famous recall for floor mats. But get these checked out and the RAV4 (2007 and up in this range) should be your pick for pulling.

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Taking chances or cutting corners when it comes to towing will put you and other people on the road in danger. Most cars can tow a light trailer with a couple of canoes. If you've got a 40-foot boat with dual outboards, you need to bite the bullet and look at a large, diesel-powered truck. Trailers must be registered and licensed, have marker and brake lights and be connected by both a trailer ball and safety chains. Ontario law dictates any trailer over 3,000 pounds must have its own brakes. Staying safe means having more fun at your final destination.

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