Towing a vehicle behind an RV can be a fairly complex undertaking, which is not always apparent at the outset. In the early days of dinghy towing, things were much simpler; tow dollies were more common, tow bars were basic welded A-frames, and supplemental braking requirements and systems were unheard of. Motorhomes were much smaller and tended to be both underpowered as well as under-designed, and diesels were rare, so towing was not common. I remember occasionally seeing a motorhome towing a Volkswagen beetle or similarly small vehicle with one of the aforementioned tow bars. Times have changed, and instead of simply bolting a tow bar to the front of a vehicle and removing the driveshaft, many things have to be taken into consideration before a “toad” is ready for the road, including the method of towing.
Flat towing is by far the most convenient and common method of towing. This involves installing a base-plate onto the towed vehicle, which is used to attach a tow bar. The toad must also be wired for lights, and most states and provinces require towed vehicles to have supplemental braking systems. Regardless of these additional requirements, flat towing is preferred due to its simplicity. Modern tow bars come in many styles, including those that are installed in the towing vehicle hitch receiver and can be folded against the vehicle bumper when not in use. The downside of flat towing is that only certain vehicles can be towed “four down”. Some RV trade magazines annually publish a list of vehicles that can be flat towed. This information is also available from vehicle manufacturers. It is important to note that even vehicles that can be flat towed sometimes require additional modifications such as lube pumps or driveshaft disconnects.
If you have a front-wheel drive vehicle that can’t be flat towed, it can generally be loaded onto a dolly. I drive a Prius, which can’t be flat towed, therefore I use a dolly. For dolly towing, the toad is driven onto the dolly using ramps, then secured using chains and straps. Lights are generally required on dollied vehicles, even though the dolly itself is so equipped. If your dolly is not equipped with brakes, a supplemental braking system for the towed vehicle is required.
If your vehicle is not a front-wheel drive, or can’t be towed on a dolly, a trailer is required. Vehicle trailers are generally very heavy and difficult to maneuver and store. Lights and brakes are required on a trailer, so are not needed on the vehicle itself. One benefit to trailers is that any type of vehicle can be loaded and no additional modifications are required.
Although the specific vehicle you tow is likely to dictate the method of towing, there are additional pros and cons to each towing system. These should be carefully researched and considered before purchasing and implementing your chosen technique.
Whether you are flat, dolly, or trailer towing a vehicle behind your motorhome, be sure you familiarize yourself with the laws of all states and provinces you will be travelling through. There are many different laws regarding licensing, lights, and brakes on towed vehicles, so it is important that you conform to wherever you are visiting.
About the Author:
Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.