dodge dakota towing spec miata racecar on trailer

Post 16.5 The Best Budget Tow Vehicle, and why.

Okay, now that we’ve established that you should tow your racecar to the track…we need to figure out which truck is the best for the job. 

What I looked for in a truck:

Trucks are EXPENSIVE. Trucks cost a crazy amount of money new, and hold their value extraordinarily well. Modern trucks are luxury vehicles with incredible bells, whistles, and capability… but they aren’t needed. Especially when you’re on a budget.

When looking for a tow vehicle I considered 5 things:

  • Price
  • Capability
  • Versatility
  • Reliability
  • Comfort    

1) Price:          

Cheap as possible. Not willing to finance so it had to be cheap enough to be bought with cash on hand.

2) Capability:

I needed a tow vehicle with enough tow capacity to tow the trailer, racecar, supplies, and spares. I don’t want to mess with safety, legality, and liability issues being overloaded.

*I live in New Jersey. While I travel all around the northeast, there isn’t much elevation I need to deal with, and the occasional “mountain” isn’t a problem. If you are in the Rocky mountains, sorry… you may need to get a much more serious truck for hauler duty.  

3) Versatility

I wasn’t planning on using my tow vehicle as a Daily Driver. I couldn’t justify paying for a truck, registration, and insurance to sit around unused the other 40 or so weekends of the year. Getting a truck with a bed helped me haul furniture, wood, dirt, mulch, etc. Many people can get away with a SUV, especially if they haul around a big family and/or multiple pets.

4) Reliability

I wanted something reasonably reliable. I wasn’t planning on putting a ton of miles on the truck, but the miles on it wouldn’t be easy. I’ve got plenty of experience working on cars and trucks so I looked for something less than 20 years old with lowish miles (<125k). Stock or close to stock was best, I didn’t want anything custom, lifted, or otherwise screwed with.

5) Comfort

This is last on my list. Pretty much any truck out there would be more comfortable than riding in my racecar. Sure, features like a trailer-hookup camera and heated steering wheel would be awesome… but all I needed was something to haul from point-a to point-b

1997+ Dodge Dakotas seemed to fill my criteria the best.

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Disclosure: I do have an inherited bias for mopar products, my father sells Dodges and we have had plenty of Dodge trucks over the years. But since I already ditched the mopar for my racecar, I was also open to any other tow vehicle that met my criteria…. The answer was still Dakota.

I ended up with a 2000 Dakota: V8, Auto, 4door “Quad cab”, 4×4, with a factory tow package. It had about 120k miles

The Dakota checked all my boxes:

    • Price – I got a screaming deal on mine… like if I said that I paid a couple thousand for it, I would have been rounding up. Even at full price, Dakotas are by far the cheapest of capable, midsize trucks.          
    • Capability – Even as a Midsize truck, it had a tow rating anywhere between 5900 and 7200lbs (nailing down an exact tow cap number seems to be pure voodoo). Many Midsize trucks and SUV’s have a tow rating of 5000 lbs which was a bit too close to my estimated weight for my liking. Chevy Colorado (up until the latest gen) were comically low. Some Ford Rangers have surprisingly big numbers, but were just too small for me to be comfortable with. Nissan Frontiers and Toyota Tacomas both had great capability but were WAY too expensive. I know Toyotas have a great reputation for reliability, but when a Tacoma with similar options/age/mile is 2-3x the cost of a Dakota, I’ll roll the dice with Dodge.
    • Versatility  The Dakota’s 5’6” bed seemed like a big compromise at first, but I’ve never had a load that didn’t “fit” in it. (even 12’ boards are fine if you strap them down and hang a flag). A 4-door 6-seater truck gives up a lot of bed pace, but added a ton of overall versatility. The truck sat 6 adults on more than one occasion. The secure, out-of-the-elements back seat storage is very helpful at the track. It even worked as dry (albeit cramped) sleeping spot on a few cold, wet nights at the track.

    • Reliability – Dodge has a bad rep for reliability. My truck certainly had its share of issues, it also spent the first 16 years and 130,000 of its life less than a mile from the salty mass known as the Atlantic Ocean. However, minus a blown brake line none of the issues that came up were super serious or expensive. (Bad AC compressor, leaf spring issues, heater core break, broken window regulator, etc)
    • Comfort – The seats were soft, the radio worked, it had power steering. Sometimes the AC worked, It got me where I needed to go.
    • Fuel Economy. I wasn’t expecting this and it wasn’t on my initial list. I was pleasantly surprised averaging 17mph in the Dakota. Certainly not 4cyl economy car numbers, but way better than the 10-12mph I got when I drove a ram 1500 for a bit. Towing it got 12-13mpg, pretty good again. 


In Short: My Dodge Dakota was perfectly capable at a fraction of the cost of full size or import trucks. It served me fine for 3 years of towing, home improvement, and occasional daily driving. I bought it VERY cheap, maintained it well while I owned it, and sold it without losing a penny.

Late 2018 Update: After a couple years of service, I replaced my 2000 Dakota with a 2007. The new Dakota is 7 years younger, has much fewer miles, and is less rusty but otherwise identical. This truck was not as cheap, but was still way cheaper than similar full size or import trucks, and will now serve as my daily driver for a while. The 2000 served valiantly, it had it’s creaks and rattles but never left me stranded. 



Early 2021 Update: That didn’t go to plan: The goal of the newer truck was to spend some more money at the start and get a trouble free daily driver/hauler. I may have been too optimistic. In reality, the newer truck was way easier to work on (With no rust but on the rear quarter arches, and uh… brake lines) but ended up needing a TON of work, every weekend there was some issue. It had some telltale signs of an abusive previous owner that I mostly ignored (whoops) in my excitement of finding “exactly what I wanted for the right price”. I ultimately sold the truck at a slight loss. For now, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to “share” a newer full size Ram with my father. I’ve been taking care of some regular maintenance in exchange for borrowing it for the occasional track weekend.

As for my next hauler, we’ll see… I’ve got a bunch of exciting ideas.


Don’t worry, this is not the last you’ll hear about tow vehicles. Next I’ll give some more opinions on what the “right” truck is. 



3 thoughts on “Post 16.5 The Best Budget Tow Vehicle, and why.

  1. My buddy ran a V8 Dodge Dakota pickup as his tow vehicle. Once I joined the tow ranks, I bought a new ’16 Chevy Colorado. My buddy noticed my truck pulled as well as his, if not better, up hills, and got better gas mileage with its 3.6 V6. 2 years later and he’s showing me his gently used ’16 GMC Canyon (he’s a bargain seeker, too) that replaced his Dakota. He’s been extremely happy with the swap and has a much better towing experience.

    1. The modern V6’s are really nice (The Colorado 3.6 has only a bit less torque than the Dakota’s 4.7). I also looked into the Colorado/Canyon myself, but the newer truck just didn’t fit in my budget. I also came very close to a Jeep Grand Cherokee (also with a 3.6 v6) to run dual racecar/family hauling duties, but ended up not finding one I liked.
      I’m very happy to see what looks like Automakers returning to the capable midsize truck market as it seemed like there was a real lull for a while.

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