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ojannen
ojannen Reader
3/1/22 5:17 p.m.

I am on the hunt for my next tow vehicle.  My wife has decided to start running again in autocross/rallycross/hpde and that means sometimes bringing our kids to the track.  What extra features should I look for in a tow vehicle now that I need to take care of kids?

We currently tow an open trailer that weights about 4500lbs loaded with a Ford Flex.  An average event includes the two of us, a three old, a baby, and a grandparent/friend/babysitter.  It is the six seater version so when we travel together, there isn't much cargo room.  Otherwise, it has been a nearly perfect tow vehicle for the last few years.  It is getting sold in about a year before the PTU and water pump explode at 90K miles.

An RV would be cool but they are pretty expensive.  It is tough to find one with five seatbelts and most of them don't have enough reserve capacity to tow the trailer.  We aren't planning on sleeping overnight in it very often but we like the idea of a living space with a generator, AC, and a fridge.  Toilet breaks without stopping would be nice too. 

An enclosed trailer that converts to basic living space is also an option.  Is there a way to do this cheaply?  Pickups are out because an adult and two kids in the second row doesn't sound fun for anyone.  Does this make sense if I am limited to bumper pull trailers?

What is the difference in livability between the big SUVs (Suburban, Excursion, Expedition), the old style vans (econoline/express) and new style vans (sprinter/transit)?  I like the idea of pulling the seats out of a van to build a play area.  One complaint with our current car is you can't setup a safe space for play inside.

jh36
jh36 Dork
3/1/22 5:25 p.m.

I started out with a Suburban, open trailer and 4 kids.
Then, an F-350 crew cab, enclosed trailer and 5 kids.

Then a Bluebird Wanderlodge and open trailer with 6 kids.

 
I would not rule out a crew cab with a front bench seat with an enclosed trailer. Tons of storage space and a great play area for the kids (and shelter for all)

I love the bus for all the reasons you mentioned, but it is another level of commitment. 

How far do you travel?  How often?  And how central to the family is the sport?

I applaud you doing this as a family unit. If my history is worth anything, it will create amazing memories and maybe your kids might even inherit your passion!

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
3/1/22 5:33 p.m.

I currently have a camper van (1990 E250 Coachman) mine only seats 4 people as well as only sleeping 4 but it works very well for the track. These things aren't cheap. I bought mine years ago so I'm only into for 7K. You can find older ones for between 12-15K

Also consider a full size custom van as those have seats that fold flat as well as room for cargo.

I would also consider revamping your trailer if need be so it will hold the extra's you bring to the track. 

I went from a 70s F350 camper super cab to the van; I ilke the van a lot more becuase it gives us a place ot change and sit and eat lunch.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
3/1/22 6:24 p.m.

The back seat in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup is pretty wide, having an adult back there with two kids would not be the end of the world.  I'm not saying it's a great choice, but if you really want the pickup bed then it's probably doable.

What are you looking for in "basic living space"?  Just somewhere for the kids to hang out and play while at the track, or do you need sleeping/cooking/etc arrangements?  Setting up some camping beds & chairs in an enclosed trailer isn't too hard and you can run an AC on the roof if you bring a generator.  They don't tend to be insulated very well though, so you'd want warm sleeping bags for cold nights.

Bathroom facilities are a bit more invovled, but if you're camping at a track they often have some things of that sort around.

 

wake74
wake74 Reader
3/1/22 7:25 p.m.

When we first went racing years ago, with a 3 year old, we did it low tech with a tent.  Kid thought it was an adventure, and my wife was WAY more understanding back then.  In general, the tracks I visit have respectable bathroom / shower facilities.  In line with what you'd find at an average campground.  We did bring an electric space heater in the cool months. I'm shocked she lasted as long as she did with that arrangement.

Now that I've restarted I go with a Tundra and a 20' enclosed trailer.  I purchased a fairly bare bones 20' vee-nose used, insulated it, epoxy floor, LED lights, lots of 120 VAC outlets, AC / heat on the roof etc.  I did add a small RV window in the side.  It's a bit less coffin like with the window.  Big TV on the wall, and I usually just toss one of those flexible HDTV antennas outside and most tracks will get me a decent selection.  Toss a section of cheap indoor / outdoor carpet down, and an inflatable air mattress and away I go.  I will say, the child has absolutely no interest, and the wife has justly slightly more than zero, so I go solo now.  At VIR they will make a day trip, as it's close by.  The tracks I visit all have power, especially if you paddock early enough to ensure a space with power.  Portable coleman camping grill and a cooler works for food, although most tracks also have a food stand.

It's so much nicer to have a dry / heated / cooled place to hang out between sessions.  Obviously, when it's 70 and sunny, it doesn't really matter, but that's not the reality of most weekends.

In the couple of Vintage weekends that I've been back, not many (any?) kids running around. Heck, I'm nearing 50, and I feel like a kid :-)  There were usually far more of them at a NASA weekend when I did HPDEs.

An RV is definitely the way to go, bu then I'd need to add a second paid storage spot.  Ideal for me would be a small toy hauler, but I'd want a bit more truck.

 

 

 

jfryjfry
jfryjfry SuperDork
3/1/22 10:00 p.m.

Consider the dodge mega cabs as a pickup that would be comfortable for an adult in the back seat. 
 

i use my pickup for all kinds of stuff and a sprinter van might be a good replacement that would still allow the motorcycle and lumber hauling capacity but be more suited to my family joining on trips. 
 

 

ojannen
ojannen Reader
3/1/22 10:02 p.m.

We live in Florida so we only care about AC.  A cool place for the kids when things get hot is the first priority.  Kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping arrangement are secondary.

Average day trips are 2-3 hours one way and we go at least once a month.  We usually do a longer trip once or twice a year with a full days drive.  It takes 3-4 hours to get out of Florida so you can start your drive to the destination.

I was originally planning on going with something like a 15 passenger Chevrolet Express.  It has enough room for the kids to play on the floor and to eat a meal in relative comfort.  The big problem is a portable AC unit requires a big generator and I am not sure how to make it work in a van.

 

ojannen
ojannen Reader
3/1/22 10:06 p.m.

In reply to jfryjfry :

I didn't know the mega cab existed.  That looks roughly perfect.  We rented a Ram 2500 for a trip a few years ago.  It towed great but didn't have quite enough room in the rear.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
3/1/22 11:27 p.m.
ojannen said:

In reply to jfryjfry :

I didn't know the mega cab existed.  That looks roughly perfect.  We rented a Ram 2500 for a trip a few years ago.  It towed great but didn't have quite enough room in the rear.

FWIW, the rear seat in my 2021 F-250 has about 6 inches more leg room than the rear seat in my previous truck did (a 2007 Silverado 2500HD).  Trucks are continuing to get bigger. :)

 

 

SKJSS (formerly Klayfish)
SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) PowerDork
3/2/22 6:19 a.m.

From what I'm hearing you say, 90%+ of what you're doing are day trips, with the very rare weekend trip thrown in.  IMO, you're seriously overthinking it.  Whatever works to fit your family and will tow your trailer should be fine.  Suburban, Armada, Ram, etc...  For that once a year out of state trip, maybe rent an RV?  Or just "make it work" with a Suburban, etc...and stay in a hotel.  If the day trips are 2-3 hours, hopefully you can do that with minimal...if any...bathroom stops.  My vote is to not spend a lot of money to fix a problem you may not really have.   If you don't like your current tow vehicle, fine.  Otherwise, address the PTU and the water pump before they fail instead of spending a E36 M3 ton on a new van.  Any "play area" inside of a van is going to be pretty darn small anyway.  As long as the weather is halfway decent, your parking space will make a better play area...so long as you're diligent in making sure they don't run off.  I have 3 kids, so I do understand where you're coming from.  

Rodan
Rodan SuperDork
3/2/22 7:04 a.m.

Probably not the exact answer for ojannen, but a truck camper has been the perfect solution for us.  Most of the benefits of an RV, without the additional drivetrain/registration/insurance.  You can use it when you want and have a truck when you don't.  Useable for many other non-track adventures.  2 adults and 2 kids would probably be max capacity, though.  Campers are stupid expensive new, but can be found used at pretty reasonable prices.  The other drawback is that you need enough truck.  Our camper, loaded and with full water tank weighs more than double what our NA Miata weighs....

 

ojannen
ojannen Reader
3/2/22 9:49 a.m.

In reply to SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) :

The problem is I lost all the cargo room in the Flex now that we need the third row.  I can't put anything else in the trailer because we are already at the max tow weight.  The transverse ecoboost isn't known for cheap maintenance over 100K miles so I want to get out before the $2500 repair bills start piling up.  I am very aware that our car has 10K miles at the GCVW max and the GVWR max.

I would be pretty happy with any of the standard giant SUVs.  I am trying to solve the additional problem of Florida heat.  About 6 months of the year, the average temperature is 95 degrees with 100% humidity.  The kids slowly overheat in the shade, then we need to run the car for an hour or two while they cool down.  Inside the car, they immediately get bored because there is nowhere to move.  It works but it is stressful for everybody.

trigun7469
trigun7469 UltraDork
3/2/22 9:51 a.m.

In reply to Rodan :

Dream setup, right there.

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
3/2/22 9:56 a.m.

I was looking at 3/4 ton suburbans or excursions before I waffled and just got a quad cab GM (5 passenger). There is plenty of back seat room but if we want to take all 4 kids we split into two cars due to not having a front bench (possible but not in higher trim versions). The back seat is big, but not sure adult in the center and two kids comfy over long trips big. In your case the littlest one in the middle with 3rd adult and boot the older one to the 3rd row.

I like the camper idea, but we use our enclosed trailer and some tents to create some good outdoor area for the kids to hang. Generator and fans go a long way on the rougher days. Possbile to add ac to the trailer but it's $$

RV plus trailer is our next step but hard to justify.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
3/2/22 12:04 p.m.

In reply to ojannen :

A couple of things here:

Portable A/C - my portable generator (2000) can be paired with another generator to get it up to 4000. The generator weighs 45lbs so that would alleviate having to hoist a 100lb generator. I have a small window unit in my van which is why I got the generator.

You need a contained play area with air conditioning; that sounds like an RV to me. I would get the smallest one possible.  This is what I have. I have a pop up awning that I use to create a patio area just outside the double doors. I was in it last night and noticed it actual has 3 seat belts on the bench seat so it would transport 5 people. It will tow 4700lbs. 

 

infernosg
infernosg Reader
3/2/22 12:10 p.m.

I don't have much to add but as another Flex owner I wanted to congratulate you on something I could never do - actively use it as a tow vehicle. I've pulled a handful of cars on dollies but never all four wheels on a full trailer. That 4500 lb limit was just too awkward and the lack of payload space hurt. Ended up buying a 1/2 ton Silverado a few years ago and never looked back. The wife isn't involved in motorsports so all the kids stay home with her. I'm hoping to drag my oldest along one of these years. A 1/2 ton truck track with a double/crew cab offers plenty of space for 6 but it's not really a location to hang out in for extended periods of time.

Also, I had a laugh (and tear) at your Ecoboost comments. Our water pump exploded just before we hit 100k miles. Fortunately we have a later model so all the coolant stayed out of the oil pan but it was still a pricey fix. We're at 110k miles now so I figure I have another 70k or so before I have to worry again. I've been replacing the fluid in the PTO every 40k miles so I'm hoping to dodge that bullet.

Hoondavan
Hoondavan HalfDork
3/2/22 1:14 p.m.

You're very fortunate if you can have the whole family enjoy a hobby like that, especially once the kids are a little older

The GRM staff built-out a full-size van as a tow-pig.  I recall in the magazine articles they ultimately, determined there were too many compromises w/the van platform.  You may want to give it a read for sme additional thoughts/inspiration.

For additional storage, I always recommend buying a used Thule box for your roof...but you're still at Max weight...so that won't help much.  More tow capacity sounds like a priority at this point.

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
3/2/22 1:54 p.m.

Well, my wife has zero interest in going to the track, or driving on the track, so that doesn't matter.  My son (who's 8) kinda likes cars but gets bored within an hour at the track. 

So for me to take him or even think of enticing my wife to the track I'd need some sort of RV that has a kitchen, hvac, a tv/video player, etc, etc, etc. 

Because of that track days just involve me.

grpb
grpb Reader
3/2/22 2:51 p.m.

A semi-related observation followed by a rant:  At motorcycle events the amount of young kids around is HUGE as compared to car stuff at the same tracks, whether race or trackday.  As a result it seemed like there was a lot more to keep kids entertained just because there were lots of other kids around. 

Fast forward to having my own. I was inactive when she was really little, and now it just doesn't seem fair to drag her around because she's not into it AT ALL.  As as a result it's just not enjoyable for me.  Would rather do other stuff we can all enjoy.

Now the rant.  At the 'country club' type tracks I've been to I made a point of asking in the office if there was ever any discussion about having a playground or something like that near the concessions/facilities, and every time it was as if I was asking them to convert the back straight into a new housing subdivision.  Responses were usually along the lines of "the track is the playground, hahaha".  I guess if it's basically the same people as a golf club but with cars it makes sense.  I don't have the resources to be a member of anything like that so my voice means nothing, but never the less it doesn't seem like such an oddball request to me.

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
3/2/22 2:52 p.m.

Funny, my wife doesn't mind coming and the 8yo is pretty stoked. The older three not so much, not enough cell service to insta-complain.

ojannen
ojannen Reader
5/19/22 7:26 p.m.

Revisiting this topic as I have just found out about the Roadtrek 190 based on the Chevrolet express from 10-15 years ago.  The Versatile model has 6 seatbelts which is perfect for me even though I don't fit in the bed.  Advertised prices are around $30-35K or roughly as much as a Ram Megacab with a reasonable number of miles.  I did the math on 9200lb vehicle weight, 2Klb payload capacity, and 16K gcvw.  It looks like a 4500lb trailer is towable even with 3 adults and 2 kids in the rv.

I have towed for a few years right up against all the weight, payload, and combined limits of my vehicle without major issues.  I am aware it is better to have some breathing room.  How different is it to be up against those limits on a rv+trailer weighing 16K lbs instead of the Flex+trailer at 10K lbs?

Rodan
Rodan SuperDork
5/19/22 7:31 p.m.
ojannen said:

   How different is it to be up against those limits on a rv+trailer weighing 16K lbs instead of the Flex+trailer at 10K lbs?

More mass going down the road is going to require more time to accelerate and stop, and the higher center of gravity on an RV as opposed to something like a Flex will have a noticeable effect in turns/corners.  That higher profile will also be more affected by winds, whether headwinds or side winds.  16k isn't too bad, you'll just need to be a little more patient and cautious.  The biggest difference is going to be any kind of sudden maneuver... which you'll want to avoid if at all possible.  

nocones
nocones PowerDork
5/19/22 8:23 p.m.

I'm surprised your having trouble finding a RV with 6 seatbelts.  Our 23B Chevy based class C has 4 belts in the Dinette + Driver/passenger.  Ours is a 3500 express workhorse chassis with trh 6.0l with the 16K GVWR, but it's a full Class C.   

If I were looking for a small RV to tow I would get a Ford 450 based class C.  The Ford chassis gives 7500lb towing and usually a higher GCWR then the Chevy.  

I've towed with ours near it's CGWR.   Being a class C RV..  it's not going anywhere fast but with a open trailer it's is as competent as it is just as an RV.  Other then 1MPG drop in mileage you don't really notice the trailer.   If the roadtrek has Single rear wheels I would doubt it's stability towing at full load but it may be fine.    Dual rear wheels really increases stability. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
5/19/22 10:01 p.m.

I will reiterate what nocones said:

My campervan is E250 based; with the trailer and Datsun I'm at just on 10,000 lbs.

On a 300 mile trip it takes me an extra 30-45 minutes to get there. I get some of that back not having to stop for food. Regardless its not that much extra time.

There are some steep grades.that see me down to 45mph.

As for the crosswinds, yes you notice it more but it's not like it's unmanageable.

 

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse PowerDork
5/19/22 10:38 p.m.

On the window ac units, I've read there are some new inverter ac units out now that ramp up the compressor, rather than just kicking it on. So you can get by with a much smaller (and quieter) generator. They even have those nifty units that can fit under a tent wall, if you're "roughing it" in something soft sided. 

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