You must plan on towing a car (called “dinghy towing” or “toad towing”) behind your motorhome unless you will depend on a bike, motorcycle, or rental car for local transportation when you are stopped somewhere. The best way to tow depends on what kind of car you have.
Initially the thought of towing a car had me pretty worried, but it turns out you really do not even know it is there, which is a good thing. Of course, if you do not have a window in the back of your rig (I do not), and/or a backup camera in the driving compartment (I do), you cannot be sure your dinghy is still there as you are traveling along either, which is not a good thing. And, even if you have a backup mirror and can easily see the dinghy you’re towing, how will you know if you get a flat tire? I have gotten into the habit of checking tires and connections whenever I stop for a break.
My dinghy is a manual transmission Toyota Corolla, and it is towed with all four wheels on the road (also called flat towing). There was a coach mounted, self-aligning towing receiver on the rv when I bought it. The dealer ordered the right kind of equipment for the Corolla and installed it for me. After three years, I am pretty speedy at hooking up and unhooking without problems. The only time I run into trouble is if the rv and the car are not in alignment, so I take some trouble to find a level spot and get the two lined up.
There are safety cables running from the motor home to the towed vehicle. These cables should be criss-crossed under the center of the tow bar. In other words, the cable attached to the driver side of the RV should cross over to attach to the passenger-side of the dinghy, and vice-versa. This means if there's a problem and the dinghy gets unhooked from the tow bar, the crossed cables will help keep the car centered until you get stopped. Otherwise, the dinghy could whip from one side to the other behind the RV.
One thing to keep in mind when towing a car with all four wheels down – you cannot back up. So you really need to think ahead before pulling into a gas station or any area where there may not be enough room for you to turn around and get out again.
Cars with manual transmissions can generally be flat towed. You simply hook it up, put the car in neutral, turn the key to “accessory,” make sure the parking brake is off and go. The smaller, lighter cars like mine work best, as they move along on their own with very little tugging.
You can tow a car with automatic transmission with all four wheels down by putting it in neutral, but it is a good idea to invest in a way to lubricate your transmission on long trips to prevent wear. There are aftermarket components you can purchase to accomplish this.
Before you try dinghy towing with any car, check the information from the manufacturer to make sure you set it up the right way.
A car with standard transmission can generally be flat towed farther than one with automatic. Also, 4WD cars will tend to do better than front or rear-wheel drive vehicles.
Wild Grass at Petrified Forest National Park
If you want to tow a car with automatic transmission and front wheel drive, you can use a tow dolly – a little two-wheeled trailer with ramps so your front tires can drive up and rest in the slots. The tow dolly then attaches to the towing vehicle’s hitch. The two wheels that are riding on the ground will wear down more quickly than the two on the dolly – this is not a big concern for shorter trips, but may cause problems if you tow often, or travel over a long distance.
Tow dolly manufacturers give dire warnings against towing a car
with rear wheels on the dolly and the car facing backwards, which you
might be tempted to do if your car has rear wheel drive. This is because
the dolly is designed to take most of your car’s weight – if you tow it
backwards, most of the weight (the engine) is hanging off the back of
the dolly and the weight distribution can cause the car being towed to
Glacier Lilies at Glacier National Park
So, if your car has rear-wheel, or all-wheel drive, you would need to do pretty serious things (like removing the drive shaft) to your car in order to use a tow dolly. Since this is not a job for amateurs, you would have to add the expense of a professional mechanic to the cost of the dolly.
Your best bet for towing a car then becomes a flatbed trailer, where you drive your car up ramps onto the trailer. No special adjustments need to be made to the car, and since all four wheels are off the ground, and no engine parts are moving, the car is not subject to any wear. However, trailers are heavier which will decrease your gas mileage for the motorhome, and the extra weight of both trailer and car added to the fully loaded weight of your coach may put you over the recommended gross combination weight rating.
If you're doing your own wiring for the hookup of a trailer to a car or your rig, you need to take a look at the ultimate trailer wiring diagram and electrical trouble shooting information provided by one of my readers. In order to tow a trailer in the safest manner, you may need another accessory, so here's everything you didn't even know you wanted to know about brake controllers.
Robert's Highlander on the Trailer
Robert had a flatbed trailer for his all-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander. I can tell you the ramps are very heavy to deal with, and it is no simple thing to secure the car to the trailer – a lot of bending and twisting is involved, so I would not consider it unless you are in very good physical condition.
Whatever car you have or might be considering, check with the dealer and the vehicle owner’s manual to make sure it is towable, and what specific procedures would be required to prevent damage to the transmission, drive system, and so on.
All 50 states and all Canadian provinces require the tail, brake and turn signals on the back of the dinghy to be operational. So, if you will be towing a car by any of the above methods, the wiring of the two vehicles must be connected.
Do you have any questions? Any comments? This is your chance to let me know what you're thinking, so please do. I really enjoy hearing from you.
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