Buying A Second-Hand Tow Vehicle

$35,000 - 45,000 AUD


So it's come time to replace the old tug, and you're thinking that a 4WD is the way to go. Problem is that most of the brand new ones come with a stratospheric price tag that can be hard to justify. So, maybe a used vehicle is the way to go. The idea is a vehicle that is a few years old will have experienced most of its depreciation, but still has plenty of life left in it. In other words, it's better value.


In this article we look at some of the more common wagon-style 4WDs that you may be considering, to see what you can expect to get for an outlay of $35k to $40k. While this might sound expensive for a used vehicle, new 4WDs can cost more than double this.


Obviously there is a huge market of used 4WDs out there, with a confusing number of makes and models. To make things a bit easier, we decided to restrict ourselves to just eight vehicles across four of the most common brands. However, this doesn't mean that we don't regard other makes and models as suitable tow vehicles.




Why are we looking only at 4WDs? The main reason is that 4WDs are generally sturdier built vehicles with higher towing limits compared to normal sedans and wagons. Most are also heavier, meaning the caravan will have less effect on the tow vehicle, with all other things being equal. This is reflected in their higher maximum towing mass rating.


Also, on most 4WD wagons the distance between the rear axle and the towball (rear overhang) is relatively short. This means that they are less affected by the weight pressing down on the towball – this is reflected in their higher maximum towball weight.


Finally, the engines and transmissions found in 4WDs are generally more suitable for continuous, heavy slogging work that is often encountered when towing. The side effect of this is 4WD engines and transmissions tend to last a lot longer than those in normal sedans or wagons. Lifetimes of 300,000km to 500,000km are often achieved without requiring a major rebuild.




A quick browse of some used vehicle websites revealed that there is plenty to choose from in the $35k to $40k price range, with some bargains to be had, like a 2004 3L turbo diesel Nissan Patrol with manual transmission for $36k that had only done 65,000km. We would have expected a vehicle of this age to have done closer to 150,000km, so this vehicle could be a real bargain.


Compare this to a 2004 4.2L turbo diesel Patrol with manual transmission for $40k that had travelled 175,000km. That's $4k more for a vehicle that has travelled an extra 110,000km.


The second Patrol has a bigger and perhaps more reliable engine, but which is better value? That's not a simple question to answer, because it depends not only on what you're looking for but also on the condition of the vehicles, which requires a physical inspection.


Toyota LandCruiser and Prado are popular tow vehicles and hold their value well.






1. Before selecting a vehicle, do your research to establish what is generally available.


2. Always physically view the vehicle, preferably in daylight hours as it's easier to see any damage.


3. Check for large gouges on bash plates or a newly painted underbody. These are sure signs of extensive off-road work, which could indicate that suspension or transmission components require replacement or repair.


4. Ensure that any vehicle you are considering has more than enough towing capacity to handle your van's ATM and towball weight.


5. Check for accessories, such as a towbar, electric brake controller, auto transmission cooler, Anderson plug and UHF radio.


6. Have a comprehensive pre-purchase inspection performed by your state motoring organisation like NRMA, RACV, SAA.


7. Check that the vehicle is not encumbered in any way, such as it been a stolen, re-birthed or has money owned on it. This can be done through REVS (www. in NSW, ACT, NT, QLD, VIC, and SA.


8. If buying a late model used 4WD privately, check if the new vehicle warranty is transferrable.


9. If buying through a dealer, check if the dealer is prepared to offer any warranty above what is mandatory. In NSW, all passenger vehicles under 10 years old with less than 160,000km travelled are covered by a three-month or 5000km warranty from date of purchase. This warranty will cover most items on a car relating to safety, reliability and roadworthiness.


10. When negotiating price, take into account the condition of the tyres and how much registration is remaining.




In our price range, expect to find vehicles that have travelled well over 100,000km. The petrol models have heaps of towing power but use a lot of fuel in the process. While the diesel models have less power they have adequate torque for the job and are much more fuel efficient.


If you're not looking to tow a heavy van, then maybe you should consider a 2.5L turbo diesel Nissan Pathfinder or Mitsubishi Challenger. With $35k to $40k to spend you can lay your hands on late models of both these vehicles without too much difficulty.






As previously mentioned, most 4WDs can tow heavy loads. The ones we looked at were capable of towing from 2500kg to 3500kg.




Toyota 120 Series Prado 2500 160 2004-06 Mitsubishi NP/NS Pajero 2500 115 2005-07 Mitsubishi PB Challenger 2500 20 2010-11 Nissan R51 Pathfinder 3000 45 2007-10 Toyota 100 Series Land- Cruiser 3500 130 2003-06 Nissan GU Patrol 3500 110 2004-09 Land Rover 110/130 Defender 3500 100 2005-07 Land Rover Discovery 3 3500 115 2005-06



Please note that current prices may vary from this review. Please confirm with the manufacturer.