Dear Tom and Ray: We do a lot of city driving, but in the summer months we tow a couple of Jet Skis around behind our older Nissan Murano, and it has seemed to do the job just fine. The total weight of the Jet Skis and trailer is about 2,100 pounds. We are considering replacing the Murano with a 2013 Ford Escape with the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. The 2013 Escape claims a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, which is the same as our Murano. We like the idea of a smaller engine (better gas mileage) for when we are not pulling a trailer, but we are concerned about the strain on a smaller engine when we do. Would you recommend the new Escape for our needs, or should we look at something with a six-cylinder engine or larger towing capacity? We live in Minnesota and appreciate the four-wheel drive, too. If not the Escape, do you have other suggestions for us? Thank you. — Dave
Ray: Get the Escape. Its towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, and you need to tow 2,100.
Tom: Your strategy is correct. You want a vehicle that meets your needs for the vast majority of your driving, not a vehicle that will handle every exception. And if you live in the city, a smaller vehicle with better gas mileage certainly makes sense.
Ray: You're right to be concerned about the towing. Adding 2,100 pounds of weight to any non-behemoth vehicle makes everything work harder — the engine, the transmission, the suspension, the brakes. But the same was true of your Murano, and it's done fine.
Tom: You never want to run a vehicle at or near its limit, certainly not on a regular basis. So if you were planning to tow 3,400 pounds on summer weekends, we'd advise you to get some more wiggle room. But 2,100 pounds is well within the capacity of the 2013 Escape.
Ray: You can protect your investment by taking some reasonable precautions. First, drive more slowly when you're towing. The more gently you accelerate, the less strain you put on the engine and the entire drive train.
Tom: Similarly, by driving at 60 or 65 instead of 80, you reduce the wind resistance significantly, and reduce the engine's workload, allowing it to run cooler.
Ray: And by changing the oil before and after your summer towing season, you'll make sure you're getting the best possible lubrication while your engine is working the hardest, and then you'll drain out any oil that may have been subject to more heat and disintegration because of that towing.
Tom: Other than that, following the owner's manual's maintenance instructions for heavier-duty-type of driving (that includes more-frequent scheduled maintenance for people who drive in extreme hot weather, tow things or deliver pizza), switch to a synthetic oil if your car doesn't come with synthetic, and enjoy your new car and the better mileage.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)