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Towed Vehicles (Toads).

If you own a motorhome, soon you will be considering whether or not to tow a vehicle (affectionately called a toad; a synonym for Tow'ed).

During my research to outfit my motorhome for a toad, I discovered a tremendous amount of information. I attended RV trade shows, talked to dealers and installers, and tech support departments of the various vehicle towing equipment manufacturers. This page is the result of what I learned in outfitting my motorhome for towing a vehicle.

You have a choice of dinghy towing (also called 4-down, where all 4 wheels are on the ground) or dolly towing (with the front wheels immobilized by a tow dolly). There are pros and cons for each method of towing, and your vehicle may dictate which method is best for you.


Dinghy vs. Dolly Towing

Dinghy Towing
 
Dolly Towing
    Advantages
  • less un-sprung weight.
  • better handling.
  • Easier to hitch-unhitch.
  • lowest tow weight.
    Disadvantages
  • Not all cars can be towed.
  • more difficult installation.
  • more wear and tear on vehicle, especially auto transmissions.
  • Increased maintenance schedule (auto transmission).
  • Voodoo towing prep (auto transmission).
  • vehicle must be modified.
  • Vehicle specific hardware. Added expense when buying new vehicle.
  • Usually more expensive.
 
    Advantages
  • Most FWD cars can be towed.
  • Nothing to install.
  • less wear and tear on vehicle.
    Disadvantages
  • more un-sprung weight.
  • 400~600lb dolly weight, 100lb tongue weight.
  • dolly storage.
  • strap maintenance.
  • 4WD vehicles cannot be towed.
  • Dolly licensing and insurance.
  • Additional spare tire to carry.

The cost of each setup varies, and expect to pay $2~4k for a dolly solution and $3~4k for a dinghy solution (including installation). While a dolly solution is more or less generic, the dinghy solution will be vehicle specific. This may be an issue if more than one vehicle is towed, or whenever you update your towed vehicle.


Vehicle Selection

Not all vehicles can be dinghy or dolly towed. Generally most manual transmission vehicles can be dinghy towed as the transmission can be placed in neutral for towing. However, only a few automatic transmission vehicles can be dinghy towed; most cannot.

Check with the manufacturer for the vehicle you are considering to ensure it can be towed. Often, the owner's manual will provide this information. As well, some manufacturers publish Towing Guides or Service Bulletins that provide information for specific models that can be dinghy towed.

If you cannot find any information for your vehicle, do not assume it can be towed (automatic or manual transmission). Always adopt the notion that the vehicle cannot be towed until you find specific information that it can.

Most front-wheel drive vehicles can be dolly towed, but most 4 wheel, all wheel, or rear wheel drive vehicles cannot. As well, certain years of a specific model vehicle may be able to be towed, while other model years may not. Again, your owner's manual should specify the capabilities of your vehicle - usually under the section "RV", "Recreational Towing" or "Towing with a motorhome".

Certain aftermarket accessories may be added to certain vehicles which will allow towing, including transmission circulation pumps and drive shaft disconnects. These devices are vehicle specific, so check with the device's manufacturer for application.


Vehicle Prep

Tow Bar and Baseplate. Of course, chief to setting up the vehicle for dinghy towing, a tow-bar and Baseplate must be installed. The Baseplate ("tow stubs") is vehicle specific and typically are hidden within the front bumper's fascia whenever the tow-bar is not being used. Tow bars are not usually vehicle specific, but there is sometimes some compatibility issues with certain baseplate/tow bar combinations. Dolly towing does not require such modification.

Brakes. While state laws typically require brakes for vehicles weighing over 3,000lbs (some states 1,500lbs), often the towing vehicle manufacturer requirements dictate the use of trailer brakes for virtually all but the most lightest trailers (typically under 1,000lbs).

Dollys typically have integrated surge brakes which makes this an easy solution.

Dinghy towing typically requires either a portable "brake buddy" that sits on the floor in the driver's compartment when the vehicle is towed, or a permanently installed version so that the brakes are applied whenever the towing vehicle brake lights come on.

Voodoo towing prep. This characteristic has more to do with preparation each time you tow rather than the initial preparation, and is mostly required for automatic transmission vehicles that are dinghy towed. Notice in the owner's manual shown above that a specific sequence of events must often occur each time you tow the vehicle, and these steps are often necessary every 6 hours of towing. Other automatic transmission vehicles however are simpler; you put it into neutral and you are done.

As well, certain fuses must often be pulled to prevent the battery from becoming discharged as the vehicle must typically be left in the accessory position (to unlock the steering). When dinghy towing, you must not lock the steering as the vehicle "steers" itself when going around corners due to the built-in caster angle of the suspension.

You can also outfit most towed vehicles with a battery charger that obtains 12V from the RV (6 and 7 pin tow harnesses typically have this function). This is typically a "trickle" charge, but often enough to keep the battery topped off.

Trailer lights. All towed vehicles require trailer lights to mimic the towing vehicle brake, turn signal, and tail lights. This can be done by several methods;

  • a portable "light bar"
  • dual control of the vehicle tail lights (diode kit)
  • an independant light bulb in the tail light housing.

While the independant light bulb is a simple option, some of today's modern LED based tail lights do not have any spare room to mount a light bulb into the housing.

For the portable solutions (light bar, etc), a relatively new technique are wireless versions whereby the lights attach via magnets to the rear of the vehicle and controlled by a wireless transmitter plugged into the wiring harness at the motorhome. They are typically battery powered with flashlight batteries, so you may have to replace batteries every few hours.

Diode kits tap into the rear lights so that either the RV or towed vehicle can control the lights. This method is becoming less popular though as many vehicles today have LED lighting, and may even use a digital signal to command the lights rather than a voltage.

One other caution is when using portable brake systems and a "diode" kit for the tail lights is the interaction of the brake lights. Some vehicle's brake lights are still active when using a braking system. This sets up a scenario that if a turn-signal is flashing (sourced from the RV), then when the brakes are applied, the vehicle suppresses the turn-signal. This results in a confusing light pattern whereas the RV will have it's turn signal on, while the towed vehicle will have it's brake light on (non flashing).

Fortunately, there is a solution to this, but requires a brake light relay kit to allow the motorhome turn signal to over-ride the towed vehicle brake signal. On the other hand, running independant lights will alleviate this condition.









Statistics

On a recent trip from my home inn Michigan to Florida - a 3,000 mile round trip, we made it a point to observe Class A and Class C motorhomes, what they were pulling, and how they were pulling them. This occured in the mid March timeframe, so many of the rigs were undoubtedly snow-birds returning to the north after winter. While this is an unscientific poll, the results were interesting.

Just about every kind of vehicle was towed, and in various configurations.

Of the 427 motorhomes we spotted, 319 (75%) were Class A and 108 (25%) were Class C. Of these, 62% (199) of all Class A motorhomes were towing a vehicle, while 22% (24) of all Class C motorhomes were towing a vehicle.

Of the 223 towed vehicles, 82% were dinghy towed (4 down) while 12% were dolly towed and 5% were trailer towed. There were a wide range of towed vehicles, from massive Chevrolet Suburbans to little Smart Cars. Other towed vehicles included motorcycles (on trailers) and boats.

The number one towed vehicle was the Jeep Wrangler (12%) closely followed by the Honda CRV (10%) and the Jeep Liberty (6%).

Another interesting twist I observed were towing methods not normally recommended by "experts"; including backwards towing of rear drive vehicles on a dolly, and towing sports cars on a dolly (which is not recommended due to low chassis clearance).

Another observation we made was that virtually all motorhomes towing vehicles exceeded the recommended 55mph maximum tow speed. However, this can be dangerous, not only to your safety, but some automatic transmission vehicles (those that can be towed) may have a speed limit as to how fast they can be towed without damaging the transmission.

Otherwise, this probably is a fairly close representation of the types and methods of vehicles towed.


Which is the best solution?

Proponents of dinghy towing point out that dinghy towing alleviates the need to find a storage location for a dolly, and it is a lot easier and quicker to connect/disconnect a dinghy towed vehicle. While the overwhelming majority of towing is done dinghy tow, not all vehicles can be towed this way. The solution you adopt is going to be primarily determined by your vehicle.

Deluxe dollys, such as the Demco Kar Kaddy SS shown at the right can alleviate the storage requirement by means of a swing-away tongue. The collapsed length of this dolly is 67in. With a retail price of around $3k, this is all you need (except for a towing light bar or modification of the vehicle's tail-lights).

This dolly features galvanized steel construction, an integrated surge brake system with disk brakes, and radial tires with chrome wheels.

This can be the solution for those that cannot tow their vehicle via dinghy tow, or those that do not want to modify their vehicles.

In conclusion, there is no best between dinghy and dolly towing. The best solution depends on what works for you.


Towing alternatives.

In reality, if you are constantly on the move with your motorhome, you will not likely need to tow a vehicle. However, if you are a "snow-birder"; a person living in the northern climates that spends 3 months in Florida in the winter months, having a second vehicle when you are at a RV park long-term can be an asset.

Scope out your destination prior to arrival if you can. In some locales, there is adequate public transportation so that you do not need your own vehicle. And if you need a vehicle, consider renting a vehicle. Often you may only need to travel for one or two weeks during your stay, so you can potentially rent a vehicle for a few days or a week.

Rates can vary from $100 to $400 per week, and especially in resort areas (near Disney in Orlando for example), rates can be quite high. Rental companies such as Enterprise will even deliver the vehicle to you (within the local area), so this might be an attractive solution.

A low cost motor scooter such as a Honda Silver Wing is highway rated, so it can be licensed for the road. Special brackets exist that allow scooters and even some motorcycles to be mounted to the rear of the RV so you don't even need a trailer.

And for the most simple solution, even a bicycle might be enough to get you around. Depending on your physical abilities, a bicycle should easily give you a 2~3 mile range of travel from your campsite.

 


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