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All About Towed Vehicles

Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
September 15, 2020

Considering an RV? Factor in lifestyle, motorhome size, and the option to tow a smaller vehicle ("toad") for easier local travel. Research, choose the right car, and equip for towing. Safety and convenience are key!

All About Towed Vehicles

When planning to purchase an RV, there are so many important factors to consider. One must first consider what type of RV is best for them and their lifestyle (see this handy guide for all the necessary considerations to make your choice). For many people, the best RV choice is a motorhome. However, the large size of many motorhomes sometimes deters people, as they may not wish to drive something so large to every destination. Still, with a motorhome, it is entirely possible to tow a separate vehicle with you, allowing you the ability to set up your motorhome at your campsite and cruise around town in your smaller vehicle. The towed vehicle (often called a “toad”) has many benefits, and yet, there are many factors to consider when choosing a toad for your motorhome. Continue on to learn all about towed vehicles and the many methods for towing a vehicle behind your motorhome. See this handy guide to towing terms for any other terms that you are unsure of here.

Why should I tow a car behind my motorhome?

Have we convinced you of the benefits of towing a separate vehicle behind your motorhome? For some folks, traveling in a motorhome without a toad may work best for them, but having a toad is very beneficial for most RVers. Below we have listed the reasons, in case you have not yet been convinced.

1. Gas Mileage

Let’s face it! Driving a motorhome can be quite costly. However, it is actually cheaper in the long run to keep a separate vehicle to drive to the grocery store, out on day trips, and for any other errands. Why, you may ask? By driving a toad around, you are actually saving gas, since it allows you to leave the gas-guzzling motorhome behind. To save on fuel costs, consider towing a vehicle and allowing the motorhome to take you from one campsite to another, while you use the car to navigate everywhere else. Your bank account will thank you!

2. Breaking Camp

If you are to choose to drive your motorhome everywhere, you will need to be prepared to break camp every time you need to go to the store, visit a restaurant, or leave your campsite for any other reason. This will require you to pack up the interior of your RV and disconnect your utilities each time you need to leave. This adds a ton of time and additional frustration to your day. Towing a vehicle for trips around town will keep you from having to break camp anytime you need to leave, eliminating unnecessary stress and hassle from your life.

3. Mobility

Motorhomes can be quite large, and even the smallest ones are typically less navigable than an average vehicle. In fact, many roads even have size and weight restrictions, barring those who are driving motorhomes from certain activities. In addition, parking options can be quite limiting for larger motorhomes, making this much more of a challenge. Simply driving a smaller vehicle around can increase your ease of travel and mobility, making this lifestyle much easier on you.

How to choose the right car

Now that we have hopefully convinced you of the benefits of driving a toad, we need to choose the best toad for you. This will depend on a variety of factors, including what vehicle(s) you already have, your motorhome’s capacity for towing, your budget for towing supplies, the types of things you want to be doing with your towed vehicle, and the towing method which you are most comfortable with. Here, we have outlined each of these factors and what vehicles they best align with.

1. What vehicle(s) do you already have, and would you want to tow this vehicle behind your RV?

Adding a towed vehicle to your RV’s entourage can be quite simple if you already have one that will work. There are several methods for towing that work best with certain vehicles, but it is quite possible that the vehicle you already have can easily be towed behind your motorhome. Read on to figure out if this will work for you.

2. What is your motorhome’s capacity for towing?

Each motorhome has a set towing capacity, which will determine the weight of the vehicle that it has the capacity to tow. Some can tow up to 5,000 pounds or more, while others may only be able to tow 1,000-2,000 pounds. This number will greatly affect your choice in toads, so be sure to consult your manual to obtain this figure.

3. What is your budget for towing supplies?

Towing supplies can be rather expensive, and  the towing method you choose to use greatly impacts the total cost. Different vehicles require different towing methods, so these all play into each other. However, your budget for towing supplies will ultimately help to determine which towing method you end up choosing.

4. What types of driving do you want to do with your towed vehicle?

When you are driving around in your towed vehicle, what type of driving do you want to be doing? Are you planning to mainly stay on paved roads and highways, or do you want to go off road and explore dirt paths and 4x4 trails? If you are wanting to occasionally travel off-road with your toad, you will want to consider a 4x4 capacity vehicle with high clearance. However, if this is not on your radar, then any standard vehicle will do.

5. What towing method(s) are you most comfortable with?

Lastly, you will want to consider what type of towing you are most comfortable with. You may not know which type is best for you, but you should certainly be aware that different types of towing are completely different from each other. Flat towing has its advantages and disadvantages, as do two-wheel towing and four-wheel towing. Each of these will require some practice, and certain types may be overwhelming to someone who is new to the world of towing. However, you will want to make sure you avoid any types of towing that you are not comfortable with. This may also mean that you avoid certain vehicles, which may have a fixed method of possible towing.

Supplies Needed for all Towing Types

No matter which method of towing you decide to try, you will first need to acquire a few basic tools. The first two are essential for all towing set-ups, while the third is optional.

1. Lighting

The first important component is trailer lighting. Because you will be towing your vehicle behind you like a trailer, you will need to have its lights wired like a trailer's. This allows all the signals from your RV lights, such as brake lights, reverse lights, turn signals, and hazards, to also show on your vehicle and/or trailer, depending on how you are towing. This is the only legal and safe way to tow, so it’s essential to make sure you have this set up before you hit the road.  Motorhomes typically come with a six or seven-pin connection somewhere near the hitch, and this will be where you plug in your trailer lighting. However, setting up the lighting system on your vehicle and/or trailer can be trickier, although most trailers will already have this set up for you. On the vehicle or trailer, you will need a wiring harness and a four-way plug in order to make this happen.You will also need a plug to connect the vehicle or trailer lighting to the RV. There are tons of how-to videos out there for those who like to set things up themselves, but this can be a bit of a difficult job. Most RV mechanics will set up your lighting for you if you are having trouble.

2. Hitch

You will also need a hitch set-up of some sort. Many motorhomes already come with a hitch installed, and these are typically rated for different classes of towing. However, you will need to have a hitch installed if your RV does not already have one, or you may need to upgrade your RV’s hitch if it is not rated for your vehicle. Furthermore, there are many types of hitches out there, but they essentially have the same components: a receiver and a ball hitch. Be sure to do your proper research and consult a professional before installing a hitch and all of its components.

3. Mud flaps/tow guards (optional)

When a vehicle is towed closely behind your RV, it often catches the brunt of the pebbles, gravel, mud, ice, and anything else kicked up behind your RV. This can result in potential dings and dirt. To protect your vehicle, you may wish to install mud flaps, and/or tow guards. These sit behind the wheels of your RV, essentially providing a type of curtain to shield the towed vehicle. This set-up can work with any type of towing, but it is especially pertinent with flat towing, as the ground-level vehicle is most susceptible to backsplash, as opposed to trailered vehicles, which sit further off the ground. As with all other components, be sure to purchase the correct size flaps for your RV, and follow the exact instructions for installation, hiring a professional if need be.With your trailer lighting, hitch, and optional mud flaps set up properly, we are ready to choose a towing method.

Methods for towing a vehicle

Once you have determined which towed vehicle is best for you, depending on the factors listed above, you will want to decide which towing method is best suited for your vehicle, your motorhome, and your abilities. Continue on to learn all about the types of towing, what they require, and which vehicles they work best with.

1. Flat Towing (Four Down Towing)

Flat towing refers to the act of towing a vehicle that has all four wheels on the ground. This is also called four down towing, and it uses only a small tow bar to pull the vehicle. Because no trailer dolly or trailer is required, this is often considered the simplest method of towing. However, only certain types of vehicles are able to be flat towed because many types of transmissions will not allow flat towing. See this handy list to determine if flat towing is an option for the vehicle you already have.Likewise, if you have not yet purchased a vehicle but would like to flat tow one behind your RV, be sure to choose one that allows it. The most common cars seen being flat towed are often Jeeps, trucks, and other types of SUVs. In some cases, certain vehicles can be modified to allow them to be flat towed, but this is often rather pricey and must be performed by a professional.

Things you will need

If your vehicle is able to be flat towed, you will need some equipment to make this happen. These items can be rather pricey, and most vehicles require items that are specific to their vehicle. Always be sure to consult the manufacturer and/or an RV towing professional to be sure that you are purchasing the correct equipment for your set-up.

1. Tow Bar

A tow bar connects to your vehicle and then attaches to the ball hitch on your RV. There are many types of tow bars on the market, but RoadMaster and BlueOx are the most popular manufacturers. You must be sure to buy the correct one for both your hitch class and vehicle. Again, always consult a professional before making a choice. Keep in mind that these vary in price, and the best models can be a bit costly.

2. Baseplate

A baseplate is installed on the towed vehicle, allowing for it to be safely connected to the tow bar. Again, different types of base plates are available for different types of vehicles, so it is essential that you purchase the correct one. In addition to the baseplate, you will also need connection pins and clips, which secure the tow bar to the baseplate.

3. Supplemental Braking System

When towing, because your tow vehicle will not be on, it will not be braking itself when you are towing. Therefore, it is essential that you utilize a supplemental braking system in your tow vehicle. Like every other towing component, there are many types of braking systems, so be sure to do the proper research to choose the best one for you. Likewise, be sure to purchase the correct wiring kits to connect it to your RV.

4. Wiring kit

This is what connects your vehicle’s lights to your RV’s electrical lighting system, as mentioned above. You will need to have the tow lighting installed on your vehicle, and you will also need a plug or a connector to connect the two systems together.

5. Safety cables

Safety cables connect to both your RV and your towed vehicle to keep the vehicle attached to your RV, in case the tow bar, baseplate or other towing component(s) fail. It is unlikely that these will ever be used, but they are an essential towing failsafe.

Additional Things to Consider

One caveat to flat towing is that the motorhome cannot be backed up while towing, as this can damage both the RV and/or the toad. However, if you must back up, quickly disconnecting and reconnecting again is simple. If you have done the research and found that your vehicle cannot be flat towed, then consider one of the next two options for your toad.

2. Tow Dolly (2-Wheel Towing)

With tow dolly towing, also known as “two down towing,” the tow dolly connects to your RV’s tow hitch and lifts two of your toad’s wheels off of the ground. With the front wheels loaded onto the dolly, the back wheels roll on the ground as your motorhome cruises down the road. This method is primarily used for front wheel drive vehicles. It does not require as many supplies as flat towing and is rather simple to set up. The dollies are typically rather straightforward, but, as with all things towing, it is best to consult a professional when setting it up for the first time to ensure that everything is properly connected and loaded.

Things you will need

1. Tow dolly

This is a given, but you will need a tow dolly. There are many options on the market, and certain dollies may work better with your vehicle. Be sure to consider a few options before making your choice.

2. Ratchet straps

Tow dollies attach the vehicle to the dolly using ratchet straps, and it’s essential that you use the proper straps that are rated for your vehicle. Improper attachment can cause severe damages to your vehicle and/or RV, so you must choose the correct straps and set them up correctly.

3. Safety cables

As with flat towing, safety cables are an added protection in case any other components fail. Be sure to choose quality cables for this additional failsafe.

Additional Things to Consider

Similar to flat towing, two-down towing does not allow the motorhome to back up. The vehicle and the dolly must be disconnected in order to back up, and then reconnected again. In addition, you must consider where you will stow your dolly while you are staying in a campground. Many people leave their dollies attached to the RV, simply disconnecting the vehicle when they are stationed at a campground. If you plan to leave the dolly out, consider investing in a locking kit to lock all components and protect against theft. Finally, many states require you to have a license for your dolly, so if you plan to travel to any of the states that require it, you will need to purchase a license and get it set up.

3. Trailered Towing

Finally, if neither of the first two options are possible for your vehicle, then you should consider trailered towing, also known as car hauler towing. This method connects a trailer to your motorhome’s tow hitch, requiring you to drive the vehicle onto the trailer and attach it properly. This is the most common method for towing all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles. With this option, none of the toad’s wheels are on the ground. Trailers used typically have two axles, and some have rails along the sides to further protect the trailered vehicle. Many consider this to be the most expensive towing option.

Things you will need

1. Trailer and ramps

There are many types of trailers available, and the one you choose will depend on the size and length of your vehicle. Be sure to choose a trailer that is rated for your vehicle's weight. You may need to take the weight of each of the vehicle’s axles and the rating for each of the trailer’s axles in mind. In addition, you will need to choose a trailer with ramps to load your vehicle. If your trailer does not have ramps, this will be an additional necessary purchase, and the ramps will need to be properly installed before use.

2. Brake controller

Most trailers have their own braking systems, and many RVs come with a brake controller already installed. However, if your motorhome lacks a brake controller, you will need to purchase one and have it installed to allow your trailer to brake properly.

3. Ratchet straps

Finally, as with two down towing, you will need ratchet straps to safely connect your car to the trailer. Again, be sure to choose quality straps that are rated for the weight of your vehicle.

Additional Things to Consider

Unlike flat towing or tow dolly towing, trailered towing can allow you to back up the motorhome if you must. This will, however, require plenty of practice, but it is possible.Towing with a trailer will also require you to consider where you are stowing the trailer. Many campsites do not have adequate space for a large trailer, so you may need somewhere else to store it. However, many pull-through sites can accommodate a trailer. Finally, this towing option may be pricey and a bit more complicated, but it is also the most protective of your towed vehicle. Lifting it off the ground allows protection from dirt and debris that can get kicked up behind the motorhome. In addition, towing the vehicle on a trailer will provide protection against additional wear and tear on the transmission, tires, and axles. This is a great option for anyone towing newer vehicles longevity whose they are more inclined to protect.

Final Thoughts

The decision to tow a vehicle behind your RV is a big one. There are so many factors and components to consider, and a quality set-up can be a big investment. However, the benefits of towing a vehicle behind your motorhome are unbeatable. Just be sure to do research and consult professionals and manufacturers to ensure that you have all the correct pieces to safely tow your vehicle. Improper towing can cause severe, expensive, and dangerous damages, so it is essential that you are as safe as possible. Once your toad is properly connected, you are ready to hit the road! Be sure to stay tuned for the next installment, where we will discuss tow vehicles, which are used to tow an RV behind them.

Do you tow a vehicle behind your motorhome? What method do you use? Is there anything else you would add to consider? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
Sam is a seasoned traveler and RVer of 4+ years. She loves adventures of all kinds and spends as much time on the road as she can. When not exploring in her RV or writing about her travels, you can find her reading a good book, cooking a delicious meal, caring for her plants, or hiking with her dogs.