When preparing for a trip, most RVers focus on either their destination or their recreational vehicle. Why wouldn't you? There are tons of steps involved with planning, gassing up and choosing what to bring for the perfect journey. Now, take a deep breath and relax. You can still do all of those important preparations, but after dealing with the star of the show, your rig, it might be time to think about the co-star, your toad.
A “toad” is an affectionate term for the beloved tow car which faithfully tows behind your rig, just waiting for the chance to explore new surroundings. Chances are your RV is just too big to maneuver around crowded cities and tourist destinations. If you are thinking about taking the adventure off-road at some point, your recreational vehicle won't be able to handle the twists and turns of the rough and tumble landscape about to be thrown its way. The simple answer to your day to day needs is choosing the right tow vehicle.
A tow vehicle is a vehicle you already own that you drive on a daily basis or perhaps, have purchased for the purpose of sightseeing after you've set up camp in your RV. This second vehicle could be a city-friendly gas sipper, an off-road-ready SUV or a rugged pickup truck – whatever suits your needs.
If you are considering bringing a tow car with you on your next trip, this article features everything you need to know about these useful vehicles.
Let's Start At The Beginning. There Are Several Ways to Tow.
Before deciding what kind of vehicle is best to tow behind your RV, you need to familiarize yourself with the three types of towing. Each method has its pros and cons, but one is easier overall and preferred by more RVers.
1. Flat Towing is also known as "dinghy towing" and "four down towing" because of how many tires are on the ground. Flat towing your extra vehicle is the most convenient of the towing options. You just hook your RV to the tow car via a tow bar connector, which is sold separately. It's important to connect the two vehicles with an auxiliary brake system, so drivers behind you can see both the turn signals and brake lights of the tow car.
Unfortunately, the vehicle trailing behind your rig will rack up the miles on your tires and suspension. Also, be careful not to back up. If you must reverse, detach the dinghy from the RV first. If you try to reverse, and you have a tow car attached to your RV, you run the risk of damaging the car's alignment or even the entire steering system.
2. A Tow Dolly is higher maintenance, but still a popular towing option. A dolly allows the front two vehicle wheels to be on the dolly, and the back two on the road, hence the name "two down towing. The benefit of using the tow dolly is that you can tow nearly any vehicle behind your RV.
The downsides include the extra effort needed to use the trailer, as well as the additional expense of storing and keeping the trailer. If you plan on using a tow dolly, make sure the combined weight of the dolly and the tow car don't exceed your RV's towing capacity.
While they may be a bit more complicated than flat towing, using a tow dolly for your dinghy does have a few benefits, including:
Tow Dolly's have their own braking system, which saves time and money connecting a new one or hooking up the tow car's brake system to the RV's.
No modifications are required to the tow vehicle, which saves time and money!
Loading and unloading the tow vehicle is pretty easy. You simply drive the car onto the dolly so that the two front wheels are engaged, then lock it in. Once your car is situated, you will attach tow ropes around the wheels to make sure the vehicle is secured.
There are two types of tow dollies on the market, including:
1. Mounted Front Wheel Dolly - This tow dolly moves on a pivot located between the RV's wheels and takes the corners without the tow car moving. The main advantage of this type of dolly is that you avoid your car hitting the back of your RV in a tight turn. A few examples of the mounted front wheel dolly include the Acme Tow Dolly and the Kar Kaddy SS Tow Dolly.
2. Center Pivot Dolly - The wheels on this style of dolly are fixed, and the tow car moves around when taking turns. This option allows the vehicle to turn corners with ease. A few trusted brands of center pivot dollies include models from Stehl, Demco, and Master Tow.
With research, you can find additional custom made tow dollies. These include folding (for storage) and 1/2 and 1/2, which feature both a dolly and a platform so you can also haul a motorcycle.
Your final option is Trailer Towing. Trailer Towing is pulling a flatbed trailer or an enclosed cargo trailer with your vehicles four wheels off the ground. If you must tow a vehicle that cannot be towed with wheels on the road, or if you want to tow more than one vehicle (like a Motorcycle), a trailer may be your best bet. This choice, however, is the most expensive, time-consuming and the heaviest option of the three, and is only recommended for specific situations.
Now that you know the towing options, let's look at the types of vehicles best suited for RV travel.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Will you be going off-road? Then a four-wheel-drive option might be best.
Will it be hot and sunny? A convertible may be appropriate. Much like the RV itself, your tow car will reflect your personality and your needs.
Is the car even towable? Towing a car that wasn't meant to be pulled can void your warranty or may even cause severe damage.
How big a vehicle do I need? Are you off-roading or simply cruising the neighborhood?
One of the most important considerations when choosing a tow car is looking at the transmission. Manual transmission vehicles are the best to tow. If you look around, you may find that many of your RV friends and neighbors tow an older vehicle. The reason? New cars usually feature electronic transmissions, which may make them impossible to flat tow.
So, the best types of cars to flat tow are front-wheel drive cars with manual transmissions and four-wheel drives with manual transfer cases. Also, vehicles with transmissions that need continuous lubrication can be damaged if flat towed. If there's doubt as to the towability of a type of car, check with the manufacturer and they will let you know.
While there are many aftermarket conversion kits for car models that do not recommend towing, these may void your vehicle warranty. Use with caution.
Finding the Right Tow Car
If you're in the market for a new tow car and aren't sure exactly what kind of vehicles will suit your needs, below are some of the best and most common vehicles for the job. This is not an exhaustive list of every towable car, but merely some of the most popular types of vehicles for the job.
Here are the best cars for flat towing:
Jeep Wrangler - This vehicle is perhaps the ultimate tow vehicle, and you see it in every RV park. The rugged Wrangler can be flat towed with both the manual or automatic transmission. It has a hitch receiver making the hookup process easy, and the doors can even be removed, dropping the overall tow weight. The best part? There's no destination off limits to this hearty automobile.
Fiat (Abarth models) - The manual transmission version of these sporty Italian cars are an excellent choice for four-down towing. Their diminutive size makes them the ideal choice for exploring the city once you've set up camp and are ready to hit the town.
Chevy Malibu - These front-wheel drive cars have automatic transmissions, but are built flat tow-ready. If you want to explore the city, but the Fiat is just too small for your family and friends, the Malibu is a great option with a little extra head and leg room.
Ford F-150 and F-150 (4WD) - Want a truck? The automatic transmission version of Ford's classic sturdy pickup truck is not only ready to be flat towed, but like the Wrangler, it's a great extra car to have around when the road gets bumpy. If you need to haul camping gear or a kayak, the F-150 is a useful tow car to have in the Great Outdoors.
Here are the best cars for dolly towing:
Mini Cooper S Convertible- This zippy little car can park anywhere and save you gas on the journey. Not only can the Cooper handle curvy roads, but dropping the top is a must when the sun is out. Coopers are cute and cuddly, but their folding seats make them easy to use.
Ford Escape- This sleek and fuel-efficient (for an SUV) vehicle is a great option for towing with a dolly. Its safety features and off-road capabilities can help take your camping trips to the next level while keeping you and your fellow travelers safe and sound.
PT Cruiser- The four-door version of Chrysler's throwback to the classic wood-paneled vans of the 30s is a great way to get around town without making the passengers feel like they're in a can of sardines. There's also a great deal of flexible cargo space should you opt to spend the day at the river.
After making sure your prospective tow car can, in fact, be towed, double check to see if anything else needs to be done to ensure it stays undamaged, including putting it in neutral, unlocking the steering column and doing anything necessary to keep everyone and everything safe.
Things You'll Need To Tow:
If you've decided to bring a tow car along with you on the road, there are a few things you'll need. Some of them are necessary and will help keep you and your vehicles safe and compliant with any laws. Other accessories are not necessarily required, but will make your towing experience much easier.
Towing Apparatus - Whether you go the dolly route or the flat tow route, there are many apparatus options out there. Opting for the flat tow? Then a non-binding tow bar is a perfect choice. It's a bit pricier than other models, but can be disconnected from the RV quickly and at any angle, which can come in handy in precarious situations.
Rearview Camera - This will help you keep an eye on your tow car without having to go out consistently and check on it.
Supplemental Braking System - Most states require this if you're towing a vehicle and besides being legally necessary, it's also a good backup in case something goes wrong. Insurance companies like to know that you have and use an extra braking system should an accident occur.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System - This unit will monitor both your RV and your tow car tires. Properly inflated tires provide the maximum gas mileage, but a rapid spike in tire temperature can mean your brakes are about to go out.
RV Insurance/Package - Did you know that you can save a bundle by packaging your RV insurance with your tow car and dolly? While many companies insure an RV and car with separate policies, RVInsurance.com offers all in one coverage. In an accident, an all in one policy offers you one simple deductible instead of one for each vehicle, saving you time and money.
As you can see, there are tons of options for tow cars out there, both new and used, that can add an exciting and adventurous dimension to your next RV trip.
The models mentioned above are just some of the most popular options out there. Just make sure that whatever car you choose as your dinghy can be safely towed.
Whether you choose to flat tow, dolly tow or trailer tow, you'll be grateful you brought a vehicle with you to explore the great unknown.