An Introduction to Towing with an RV
Towing a vehicle behind your motorhome can be a
pleasant experience and allow you the flexibility to enjoy your lifestyle
to its fullest. When it comes to seeing the sights, running to town for
supplies or taking day trips, your towed vehicle will allow you a
three ways to bring your towed car with you and you need to decide which
option best suits your needs.
1) Transport Units /
The first one is using a trailer that allows you to
raise all four wheels of your towed vehicle off of the ground. These are
most commonly used with vehicles like Corvettes, Lexus or classic cars.
Transport Units will vary in price from $1500 to $6000.
The next option is a tow dolly. These get the
front wheels of the towed vehicle off the ground. There are some
advantages to using a dolly:
- By putting a front wheel drive vehicle on a dolly you will not
need a lube pump or other device to make the vehicle towable.
- Tow dollies are useful for vehicles you donâ€™t want to or canâ€™t tow
4 wheels down.
- Dollies are a great option if you intend to use it with multiple
vehicles or want to time-share it with friends.
If braking is a concern, be sure to check if the manufacturer has this
option available for immediate or possible future use.
The final & most popular choice is to tow
all 4 wheels down using a tow bar. The main reason for choosing a tow bar
is convenience. Tow bars give you the least amount of equipment to deal
with to tow your vehicle. The biggest disadvantage with dollies and
trailers is what to do with them when you get to the campground. Many
campgrounds do not have room to let you park a trailer or dolly on your
site along with your motorhome and towed vehicle. In most cases you would
have to unhook the trailer and park it somewhere away from your campsite.
With a tow bar you can unhook and the towing equipment will fold up and
stay with your motorhome or your car and not take up any additional
parking space. A tow bar is also lighter to carry than a dolly or trailer
and prices for a tow bar start out lower than either a dolly or a trailer.
There are three general types of tow bars available:
- Self-Aligning Motorhome Mounted (Blue Ox Avail or Alpha),
- Self-Aligning Car Mounted (Blue Ox Acclaim) and
- Rigid A-Frame (Blue Ox Ambassador).
When choosing a tow bar, dolly or trailer be sure to check on the
support that will be available as you travel across the country. Some
smaller companies do not have the dealer network or ability to help you
after the sale.
Rigid tow bars, as their name
implies, are a solid welded tow bar without any adjustment to give you
help hooking up. When you hookup you must drive the towed vehicle to the
exact spot which will allow you to put the tow barâ€™s coupler on the ball
of the tow vehicle. It is often a two-person job, one driving while the
other holds the tow bar up and guides the driver. Rigid tow bars are the
least expensive and generally some of the lightest tow bars you can buy.
If you are in good health and have a driver you can trust that can help
each time you hook-up this may be an option for you. Also, if you only tow
once or twice a year this may be the type of tow bar for you situation.
Rigid tow bars generally have to be removed from the car and stored when
you are not using them.
Self-aligning tow bars provide you
with the opportunity to hook up by yourself. The self-aligning feature
allows you to drive up close to the motorhome and then let the tow bar
adjust to the vehicleâ€™s position. Then the tow bar will extend out to its
rigid tow position as you pull ahead with the motorhome. Many users have
called these tow bars temper savers and marriage savers. The choice
between car mounted or motorhome mounted is a choice you will need to
Car mounted self-aligning tow bars
were the first folding self-aligning tow bars built. They were the
industry standard for several years. When you are not towing with these
tow bars they will fold and stay on the front of your car. Most models
also have a quick release system so they can be taken off quickly and
easily. This type of tow bar has served people who deliver new motor homes
and trucks or rental trucks very well. Hitting a pole or a wall in parking
lots or other people parking in front of your car are common ways to
damage the tow bar and possibly the bumper of your car. Being with the car
may leave the tow bar in an area where it can be easily stolen off the car
while you are gone. Also, leaving the extra weight of the tow bar on the
front of the car affects the front suspension. Another disadvantage to
this type of tow bar is cosmetics. Most people do not want to strain with
the weight of these tow bars, so they will leave them on the car and this
takes away from the look of your car.
Motorhome mounted tow bars are
the latest & most popular innovation in tow bars. The main advantage of a
motorhome mounted tow bar is the replacement of the ball coupler with a
swivel joint. This allows the tow bar to be used without a drop ball
mount, which in many cases hangs low enough to drag when a motorhome
drives through a dip or starts up a ramp. The storage of the tow bar on
the motorhome leaves the front of your car look much nicer when you are
not towing. The motorhome is less likely to be left in a place where theft
is a major problem and the tow bar can be locked into the receiver hitch
of the motorhome to deter theft. This type of tow bar is also lighter and
easier to handle than its car mounted counterpart.
When researching a towing system, do
not overlook the baseplate. The baseplate bolts to the frame and is custom
designed for each specific towed vehicle. Different baseplates will show
significantly more than others will and a few require cutting of the
bumper for installation. Some of the newer models have removable
attachment tabs, which allows you to remove all exposed parts from the
front of the vehicle. Baseplates come with all the necessary hardware to
install them and will bolt to a secure place on the towed vehicle. On
occasion you will need to drill holes in the frame to attach the baseplate,
but no special tools are needed.
Blue Ox provides all of the
accessories that you may need or want for towing. For safety purposes,
federal law requires RV activated taillights and safety cables. Also, most
states and Canadian provinces have laws on the books concerning braking
for trailers. Brakes are required on trailers with GVWRâ€™s as low as 1,000
pounds in some states. Enforcement of these laws has not been followed
most places in the United States. Interpretation of the lawâ€™s application
to cars in tow has probably been a big reason why these laws have not been
actively enforced. British Columbia province in Canada has been actively
enforcing this law, stopping people, writing tickets and making them drive
the tow car separately if they do not have the proper equipment. The main
thing to remember with auxiliary braking systems is that they are just
what they state - auxiliary brakes. They are not meant to stop your
motorhome any faster. They are designed to assist in slowing down the
towed vehicle and reduce the stopping distance that was changed due to the
addition of the towed car.
Most front wheel drive manual
transmission cars can be towed with all four wheels on the ground with no
modification. Most front wheel drive automatic transmission vehicles will
need a lube pump or similar device in order to tow it four wheels down.
Rear wheel drive automatics will require a device to disconnect the
driveshaft in order to tow four down. There are some front wheel drive
automatic transmission vehicles that can be towed without modification.
Here are some examples: All Honda and Acura vehicles; All Saturn vehicles;
1995 and newer Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire with 4T40E
transmission; 1997 and newer Chevrolet Malibu and Olds Cutlass with 4T40E
transmission; 1999 and newer Pontiac Grand Am with 4T40E transmission.
Also, some 4 wheel drive vehicles can be towed (both automatic and manual
transmission). Refer to your vehicle's owners manual for specific
instructions and limitations.
Towing Safety Checklist
- Inspect the tow bar, dolly or trailer for loose bolts and worn
- Tighten loose bolts and replace worn parts before hooking up.
- If you have bolts that are consistently coming loose, use Loctite
or put on a double nut to keep them tight.
During Hook Up:
- 1. Hook up on a flat smooth surface.
- 2. If you have a coupler style tow bar; check the fit of the
coupler on the ball. Adjust the coupler if necessary.
- 3. Hook up the tow bar.
- 4. Set up the towed vehicleâ€™s steering and transmission to tow.
- 5. Check your parking brake to ensure it is disengaged.
- 6. Latch the legs on a self-aligning tow bar.
- 7. Attach the safety cables. Cross the cables between the vehicles
and wrap the cables around the tow bar legs to keep them from
- 8. Attach the electrical cable.
- 9. Check the function of all lights on both vehicles.
- 10. Locate your spare key and lock the towed vehicleâ€™s doors.
- 11. Drive with care and remember your vehicle will be about 25
feet longer while towing.
Each time you stop, check the tow bar, base plate and cables to make
sure they are still properly attached. Check the tires of the towed
vehicle to make sure they are not going flat. If you are using a dolly or
trailer, check the wheels to make sure they are not hot to the touch. If
the wheels are hot, it may indicate a brake or bearing problem.
Each day before you start check the lights to make sure they are
Between trips clean the towbar and cables to keep them in good shape.
Also, clean and lubricate the tow bar as recommended by the manufacturerâ€™s