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7 Best Towing SUVs for $20,000

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author photo by Jeffrey Archer September 2012

You don't need to spend upwards of $40,000 on a brand new SUV if you're interested in towing. Whether you're looking to tow a small Jet Ski or a camping trailer, we've found several used SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe that make quick work of pulling a trailer, and all are available for an affordable $20,000 or less. We've also listed the weight of several items that are commonly towed to help give a point of reference for shoppers who aren't sure what their trailer weighs.

Boat trailer: 500-1,500 pounds (empty weight)

Jet Ski with trailer: 700-900 pounds

Two jet skis with trailer: 1,100-1,500 pounds

Small tent camper: 1,100-1,600 pounds

Car hauler trailer: 1,500-2,000 pounds (empty weight)

Camping trailer: 2,800-6,400 pounds

2007 Chevrolet Tahoe

Completely redesigned for the 2007 model year, Chevrolet's full-size Tahoe is one of today's top SUVs for towing just about anything. While it came standard in 2-wheel drive LS form with a 4.8-liter V8, the Tahoe works best as a tow vehicle when equipped with its upgraded 320-horsepower 5.3-liter V8. That engine, which was standard on all models except the LS, boasts a whopping 8,500-pound towing capacity--enough to pull many campers and nearly any boat or car. It's also easy to find a 2007 Tahoe for under $20,000, with more than 650 different examples currently listed on AutoTrader.com within our budget.

2008 Dodge Durango

While the Durango isn't as big as full-size rivals like the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada, Dodge's largest SUV still offers impressive passenger room, and, with its available Hemi V8, robust towing capacity. According to Dodge, Durango models equipped with the Hemi V8 can pull nearly 9,000 pounds--a tremendous tow capacity that puts it ahead of many larger SUVs. But that figure seems reasonable considering the Hemi's impressive numbers, which total 335 horsepower and an impressive 370 lb-ft of torque. It will also be a breeze to find a 2008 Durango within our price range, as there are nearly 250 examples currently available for around $20,000 or less on AutoTrader.com--a figure that expands to an impressive 600 different models once the mechanically identical 2007 Durango is also included.

2005 Ford Excursion

Although its fuel economy figures left something to be desired, Ford's full-size Excursion is the undisputed king of heavy-duty SUV towing. Last sold in 2005, the Excursion was based on Ford's F-Series Super Duty pickups and offered three engines: a standard 5.4-liter V8, an optional 6.8-liter V10 and a tremendously capable turbodiesel V8 that boasted a whopping 560 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. That's the engine we recommend for towing thanks to a monstrous 11,000-pound towing capacity. And with nearly 150 different 2005 Excursion models available on AutoTrader.com for under $20,000, it's likely that more than a few are available with just that powerplant.

2007 Ford Expedition

Ford's slightly smaller full-size SUV is the Expedition, which slots between the midsize Explorer and the now defunct Excursion in its lineup. Offered as a direct competitor to Chevrolet's full-size Tahoe, the Expedition offers three-row seating, available 4-wheel drive and a standard 5.4-liter V8 that produces 300 horsepower and up to 365 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to that powerplant and the SUV's robust 4-speed automatic transmission, the Expedition can tow around 8,500 pounds--a competitive figure in its large SUV segment. It's also easy to find a 2007 Expedition for around $20,000 or less, with nearly 600 different 2007 or later models currently listed on AutoTrader.com. Best of all, since the Expedition received updates to its front and rear fascia for 2007 that remain current today, your neighbors and friends don't have to know that you bought your Expedition for under $20,000.

2006 GMC Yukon XL

While most SUV buyers can make do with the regular-length GMC Yukon and its Tahoe twin from fellow General Motors brand Chevrolet, the Yukon XL offers an alternative for shoppers who need more room. Although its extended-length body style isn't obvious from the outside, the Yukon XL--and the mechanically identical Chevrolet Suburban--offers far more space for gear on the inside. The Yukon XL can also tow up to 8,500 pounds in its regular duty configuration, which is more than most shoppers are likely to need. But for those buyers who need to pull an even larger trailer, GMC also offers a rare heavy-duty Yukon XL 2500 that can pull a whopping 12,000 pounds thanks to an available 8.1-liter V8 with 447 lb-ft of torque. And although you'll have to resort to a 2005 or 2006 model and the SUV's prior body style to get either Yukon XL variant for $20,000 or less, both regular duty and heavy-duty 2500 models are easily available on AutoTrader.com within our budget.

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2007 Nissan Armada

Shoppers who like the bold styling of Nissan's full-size Armada will be happy to learn that the SUV offers a brawny powerplant to back up its robust design. Indeed, the Armada boasts a standard 5.6-liter V8 that produces nearly 320 horsepower and a whopping 385 lb-ft of torque--enough to pull up to 9,000 pounds, according to the automaker. And while most shoppers will be less than thrilled with fuel economy ratings of 13 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, the Armada's standard equipment--which includes an in-dash six-disc CD changer, front and rear air conditioning and automatic headlights--will make up for it in the eyes of many buyers. It's also easy to find an Armada for less than $20,000, with more than 600 different 2005 or later models currently listed on AutoTrader.com within our budget.

2007 Toyota Sequoia

While the Sequoia isn't as capable off the pavement as Toyota's go-anywhere Land Cruiser, it offers a more usable third-row seat for SUV shoppers with kids. It also boasts a standard 4.7-liter V8 that produces 273 horsepower and up to 314 lb-ft of torque. That engine, which is mated to a standard 5-speed automatic transmission, is strong enough to pull up to 6,500 pounds in the full-size Sequoia, enough to carry recreational toys like motorcycles, jet skis, vintage cars and even many campers. The Sequoia is also easy to find within our budget, as more than 600 different 2005 or later models are currently offered on AutoTrader.com for around $20,000 or less.

What it means to you: Shoppers interested in towing don't need to buy a brand-new, full-size SUV to get the job done.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
7 Best Towing SUVs for $20,000 - Autotrader