To get a vehicle with meaningful (as opposed to a theoretical) towing ability of 2.5 tonnes, you really need to shop for a relatively late-model dual-cab 4X4 ute. The reason for that is that many vehicles that claim a 2.5-tonne limit in the brochure fail to explain that there’s also a Gross Vehicle Combination Mass in play and, by the time you’ve added passengers, gear and a full tank of fuel to the towing vehicle, there might not be much of that GCM to devote to a towed load.
Going for a vehicle with 3000kg or even 35000kg towing capacity in the first place is a good way to ensure you do accidentally start driving around in an overloaded vehicle with all the legal and insurance connotations that involves.
A lot of the current shape dual-cab utes fall within your budget on a second-hand basis, but there are caveats. Make sure you only buy a ute with a full service history. Some of these vehicles were worked hard by their original owners, so be very careful before handing over the cash. Avoid ex-mine fleet vehicles and don’t be afraid to buy a base-model vehicle if it offers better value. Even a single-cab version of these utes will be a lot cheaper than the dual-cab and, if you don’t need the rear seat, are often a more practical solution. Makes and models include the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Mazda BT50, Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max. For real value for money, vehicles like the Ssangyong Musso can tow 3.5 tonnes, are well equipped and can be had for less than $35,000 drive-away, brand-new. That also gets you a seven-year factory warranty. All of these options are available with the automatic transmission you want and, indeed, this is the best option for a tow vehicle.