Motorhomes are awesome: they bring the “home” along with you no matter where you go. But on the other hand, they can be pretty unwieldy for smaller trips — like that moment when you remember you forgot to bring Pringles, and realize that running to the store to get them would mean breaking down camp, packing everything up, and then driving your hulking 40-foot beast to the grocery store.
That’s why many campers rely on towed (also sometimes referred to as “toad”) vehicles: cars they drag behind their motorhomes to allow for easier and more convenient day-to-day travel while camped at your destination. These “escape pods” can make it a whole lot simpler to actually see the place you’re visiting!
While travel trailers require an external tow motor, making for a built-in auxiliary vehicle to explore and run errands in, with motorhomes, you’re pretty much stuck unless you go with a toad. That said, not all vehicles are created equally when it comes to being hauled behind a motorhome!
Here’s how to find an auxiliary car that will go where it’s towed.
What is a Good Vehicle to Tow Behind an RV?
While many different types of vehicles can be towed behind an RV, there’s one important caveat: only certain vehicles can be “flat towed,” or towed with their four wheels on the asphalt. (Almost any vehicle can be towed on a two-wheeled dolly or four-wheeled trailer, but these are large and expensive pieces of equipment that add cost and weight to your setup.)
Flat towing is also known as “dinghy towing” or “four-down towing,” and involves attaching a tow vehicle to an RV using a tow bar so that the vehicle rolls along behind the RV on its own four tires. While almost any manual transmission car can be flat-towed, nowadays, with the advent of the automatic car, advance planning is required when selecting the best vehicle to tow behind an RV.
What Cars and Other Vehicles Can Be Flat Towed Behind an RV?
Generally speaking, any vehicle with a rear-wheel drive and manual transmission, or a four-wheel drive with a manual transfer case that can be put in neutral, can be towed behind an RV. That said, the very best bet for finding a tow vehicle that is safe for four-down towing is to check the owner’s manual, which will clearly state if the vehicle can or cannot be flat towed.
Some of the most popular and best cars to tow behind an RV include Jeep Wranglers, Dodge Rams, and Ford F-150s — though it’s important to keep your RV’s tow capacity in mind. (Yes, your RV has a limited towing capacity, even though it’s a big, hulking beast! Choosing a vehicle that outweighs that capacity could put your setup at risk and waive your insurance coverage.) Also, even the same model of vehicle may vary from year to year on its flat-towing capability, so ask your dealer before you make a buying decision!
Some vehicles require that you stop periodically and run the transmission, so as to lubricate it, or you will risk incurring damage. Some require that you remove certain fuses before you begin towing. Vehicles whose steering locks are triggered by the ignition need to be towed with the keys in them. If the key is placed wrongly, your battery will be completely drained by the time you get to your destination. Again, be sure to consult the owner’s manual for full details on flat-towing compatibility and safety.
What Vehicles Can Be Flat Towed?
Wondering what new vehicles can be flat towed? Websites like Etrailer offer lists of cars that can be towed flat behind motorhomes. However, you can see the best towable vehicles for RVs dating back to the manufacturer year 1990 and ask about brand-new towable cars at your dealership.
Does Towing a Car Behind an RV Put Miles On It?
As we all know, vehicles are depreciating assets, and higher mileage means lower value (and more repair cost). That said, many campers are curious to know whether or not towing a car behind an RV adds miles to the odometer.
Good news: generally, no, towing a car behind an RV does not add mileage. Since most modern vehicles utilize an electric system to register miles on the odometer, a car being towed while the motor is off will not rack up the numbers. And if you did opt to use a tow dolly on a vehicle with front-wheel drive, keeping the front two wheels (or all four wheels) off the pavement, your car won’t register any additional miles (though it may still experience some wear and tear, especially if the rear two wheels are on the road).
However, vehicles older than 30 years may rack up miles from being towed, since the odometers generally operate on a mechanical basis. Once again, consult your owner’s manual or dealer for full details, as well as to determine whether or not you need to leave the keys in the ignition while towing to avoid damaging your transmission.
Does Towing a Car Behind an RV Damage It?
Although your car won’t accumulate miles from being properly towed, it does still see the wear and tear of those miles, particularly if some (or all) of its tires are on the asphalt. Improper towing can lead to massive damages to major systems including the transmission. For instance, on a four-wheel or rear-wheel drive system, the moving parts and spinning wheels will put the power train in motion… but without the engine on, oil and transmission fluid won’t be properly routed to your vehicle’s parts to keep them lubricated and happy.
RV Towing Guide: Tips and Tricks
So now that you’ve got the basics of RV towing, what else do you need to know?
Shop around when considering your tow vehicle. Do not rush when deciding on your tow car. Your RV lifestyle determines what kind of car you should be looking at but so does your RV’s maximum tow weight.
For example, if you are a boondocking off-roader, you probably will want to have a rugged 4×4 ready to hit the dirt. (Though again, you’ll need to ensure the car is actually flat-towing compatible, or utilize a tow dolly or trailer.) On the other hand, if you decide on a luxury SUV or a flashy sports car, you will most likely be safer sticking to the main roads.
How to Tow a Vehicle Behind Your RV
To attach your vehicle to your RV, you’ll likely need a dinghy tow bar. A dinghy tow bar looks like an A. It can either be attached to the bumper, or attached with a special addition, known as a breastplate. Each RV is designed to handle a certain weight, and manufacturers specify exactly how much weight can be towed. These numbers are not suggestions but set limits. Adhere to them, or you will probably damage either (or both) your vehicles, and may even risk getting into an accident. The tow bar itself will also have a tow capacity weight limit, so it’s important to keep that number in mind while shopping for your tow vehicle as well.
Just because you find an older model of a car can be towed, don’t assume that’s the case with the newer version. Vehicles are often reconfigured between manufacturer years, and may not be flat-tow compatible with their new setup even if they were before.
Backing Up Your RV With a Towed Vehicle
Exercise extreme caution when backing up with a towed vehicle attached! In fact, many campers make a rule simply to not back up when their toad is attached at all. That’s because the front two wheels of your car or truck can quickly turn full-tilt left or right, which can jam up the tow bar and cause permanent damage. If you do need to back up, be sure not to turn your motorhome’s wheels at all… but it’s best to avoid the scenario altogether.
Everything you need to know about towing your particular vehicle can be found in your owner’s manual. If you do not have one, look online, and you are bound to find it there.
For more tips on towing a vehicle behind your RV, check out these posts:
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