RV Towing Guide – Read This Before You Do Anything

RV Owners

It’s important to know a little about RV towing. You’re not going to want to tear down your camp and pack everything up, just to run to the store or out to eat, and then have to come home and set it all back up again. RV car towing might require a little more thought and money at the outset, but it is much more convenient in the end!

NOTE: When renting an RV with RVshare, towing or pushing anything using the RV is prohibited and constitutes a material breach of our rental agreement terms.

Methods of RV towing

There are three basic methods for how to tow a car behind an RV – 4 wheels down towing, 2 wheels down towing, and flatbed car towing. 

4 wheels down towing

If you’re going to tow 4 wheels down, you’ll need a tow bar and base plate. The base plate attaches to the chassis of the vehicle being towed, and the base plate is custom-built for your vehicle. Motorhome-mounted tow bars are better than folding models that are stored on the base plate of the towed vehicle. 

4 wheel towing has very little impact on your gas mileage or on the wear and tear of your RV, and you can quickly detach your vehicle and head on your way when you’re ready. You do need to keep in mind that it’s much easier to tow this way with a car that has a manual transmission. Check your manufacturer’s policy to be sure your vehicle is capable of being towed this way. 

2 wheels down towing

You can also find trailers to transport your vehicle with two wheels off the ground. Tow dollies are universal and can be used by any vehicle. You attach the tow dolly to your trailer or motorhome, drive your vehicle up a ramp, secure its two front wheels and leave the two back wheels to rest on the ground. These trailers can be expensive, most states require a separate license, and you will have to find a place to store your dolly after you set up camp.

Flatbed car towing

Flatbed towing vehicle behind RV can eliminate mileage and transmission damage since the entire vehicle is towed off the ground. It can save wear and tear during RV towing as well. While it can be tricky to back up with a trailer, with some practice it can be done. Also, remember that you’ll have to have a place to store the trailer once you’ve set up camp. 

an RV towing a Jeep on the freeway - Shutterstock

How to tow a car with an RV – things to think about

You’ll need to consider several things if you want to tow a car behind an RV. Make sure you know your rig’s towing capacity, and calculate properly whether the dinghy (or tow vehicle) is appropriate. Don’t forget to add in the passenger weight, as well as any weight you have from a trailer or dolly. 

You’ll also want to consider your budget when shopping for a tow car behind RV. Along with the vehicle itself, you may need (or want!) some after market accessories like an RV underskirt kit to keep debris away from your tow car, or a self-aligning tow bar to make things easier. If you’re using a trailer or dolly, you’ll also need to install a supplemental braking system, so factor that cost in as well. 

Also, check into any special requirements for towing a car behind an RV. Front-wheel drive vehicles with a manual transmission and compact 4WD are the most economic 4 wheel down toads (another word for the towed vehicle). It’s also possible to tow some front-wheel vehicles with automatic transmissions, but some require special procedures. Some vehicles need to be started every 200 miles or so to allow the transmission fluid to circulate. Some require you to keep the keys in the ignition to keep the steering wheel from locking up which causes the battery to drain. Know whether the vehicle you’re considering requires any special consideration like those cases do. 

Know about your hitch receiver

Your hitch receiver needs to be rated for the load you want to tow. You may also need to buy a drop receiver if the height of your hitch receiver doesn’t match the vehicle you’ll be towing. 

Know how much weight for towing with an RV

First, check the RV owner’s manual and then the manufacturer’s recommendations to see what weight they say you’re capable of towing. Weight is measured in several ways:

  • GCWR or Gross Combination Weight Rating – this is the maximum weight for the tow vehicle, cargo, occupants, and trailer. 
  • GAWR or Gross Axle Weight Rating – this is the maximum weight on a single axle, including the weight of the tires, axle, and brakes
  • Maximum Tow Rating – this is the maximum weight for towed loads. 
  • CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity) – this is the GVWR minus the weight of the full water tank, the full propane tanks, and the sleeping capacity. It’s determined by the vehicle’s manufacturer. 

The data plate will list the GVWR and GAWR, and trailers have a weight sticker, an additional sticker that lists UVW (the vehicle’s weight as manufactured), and the GVWR which includes the vehicle loaded with propane and water. You’ll want to refer to the UVW and the CCC when purchasing a trailer. Also, have a good idea of how much cargo you plan to carry when you travel.

Be sure your weight measurements are correct, and that large appliances like air conditioners weren’t added after-market and not factored into the weight. The best way to know what your RV weighs is to load it as though you were heading on a trip, and then weigh it. Get the hitch weight, total weight, and axle weight. If the axle weight is lower than the GAWR, and the hitch weight is lower than the maximum allowed for your tow vehicle, you can then select a car to tow behind RV.

Also, make sure the weight of your tow vehicle is correct. If the engine, transmission, drive system, cab or bed style, or other items have been upgraded, it may affect the weight of the vehicle. If you can’t get an exact number from the dealer, take your vehicle to a weight scale to determine its exact weight. 

Finally, do some online sleuthing and talking to dealers or others with experience before purchasing a tow vehicle. You may have picked a great car for towing behind an RV, only to discover that there’s no hitch available for it. Make sure you have all the necessary parts available, along with checking to see that the car is capable of being towed by your rig. 

Prepping for towing a car behind an RV

Once you’ve chosen the perfect vehicle to tow, you need to get it ready. 

  • Wiring – you’ll need to connect the wiring for brake lights and turn signals. These can vary from car to car. Some use a 4-wire system, where the bulbs for brake lights are supplied with power from the turn signal, while others use a separate system for the two – called a 5-wire system. It’s possible for your dinghy to have a 4-wire system, while your coach has a 5-wire system, in which case you’d need an adapter to match the wiring. You can also use removable towing lights, which are fixed using magnets or suction cups, with a cable fixed to the connector at the hitch receiver. 
  • Braking systems – many (though not all) states require a braking system installed if you’re towing, and even in the states where it’s not required, it’s still a really important safety item. Some braking systems are completely portable, while others are semi-portable and can only be used in other vehicles with exceptions. Some can be permanently installed. 
  • Eliminating sway when towing a car with an RV – the trailer you’re towing can exert lots of pressure on the back of the rig, making you feel like you’re out of control. This is usually caused by sway, or fishtailing, and is the number one cause of accidents with trailers. While there are many devices created to deal with this problem, none will totally eliminate it. Most RVs use a sway-control hitch, which is inexpensive but hinders your ability to turn. They’re also not recommended in wet conditions. New hitches use friction to completely eliminate trailer sway, and products like the PullRite are costly but can help you tow more safely.

Spend some time researching towing with an RV, work out how much weight you can safely tow, and look into some other products that can help you safely tow a vehicle, and you’ll be sure to find the perfect toad vehicle for your adventures!

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