What Can I Tow Behind My Motorhome?
Traditionally, the best flat tow vehicles are rear wheel drive with manual transmission, or a four-wheel drive with a manual transfer case that can be placed in neutral. Although most vehicles can be towed it’s important to refer to the owner’s manual to determine if it can be flat towed with a tow bar or if you need to use a trailer or dolly, as well as any towing restrictions. See Table 1 at the end of this article for the most popular tow vehicles rated by “Roadmaster Inc. Top Bracket” sales and compatibility. Some automatic transmission vehicles are towable but compared to standard transmission vehicles the percentage is quite small, and again your owner’s manual is the best resource for your vehicles towability. Why do you have to worry about what the manual says? What harm can it do to tow my car anyway? Lot’s, and especially to the transmission, which is expensive to rebuild or replace. The transmission is the most critical component because not all transmissions are properly lubricated without the vehicle running. A vehicle that does not lubricate the transmission will require a lube pump to be installed prior to towing, which generally requires a professional and is expensive. Again, tow dollies and trailers are options for vehicles that cannot be flat towed, but they both add a piece of equipment that must be stored when you reach your destination. This equipment also adds weight to your overall combined vehicle weight rating. These factors coupled with the ease of use make the tow bar the most popular towing accessory. For the motorhome that is doing the towing, refer to the motorhome manufacturer's designated tow rating (see below).
You could find yourself in a situation that will void your warranty. Read up on the laws of the states you will be traveling in as well. Almost all states have rules about overall length and the need for supplemental braking for the towed car.
A motorhome of any size or class can be one of the best ways to explore the highways of America and Canada, but the byways become a little tricky. Driving a 30’ motorhome down the road and pulling into a campground is far less intimidating than trying to take it through the drive thru window or navigating the narrow city streets found in countless small towns. This is when that tow car comes into play. It is much easier to do short day trips or even go to the grocery store in your “Dinghy” than it is to pack up camp only to return later that day to reestablish base camp.
For the majority of vehicles on the road today that answer is yes with an asterisk. The asterisk is related to how the vehicle is towed, which is related to the transmission, which determines your vehicles towability. Feels kind of like we are chasing the asterisk in circles, right? Knowing where to start can be the key to reaching your destination, so in Guaranty RV’s estimation, the very first thing you need to tow is advice. To find out if your vehicle can be towed, Guaranty RV Service Advisor Dan Edgecombe says, "The only source you should completely trust is your vehicle's owner's manual.” Manuals starting in the year 2000 list how the vehicle has been approved to tow. Please see the images below for examples:
So your manual says your vehicle is capable of being flat towed or towed on all four wheels. That’s good, four-wheel flat towing with a tow bar is the most widely used because it is by far the easiest to hook up and unhook and the lightest way to travel, only adding around 100 to 150 pounds to your total weight (total weight is considered the combined motorhome weight, passenger weight, and weight of cargo including water and propane). Once familiar with the procedure it can be done in less than five minutes by one person. The one negative is manufacturers advise that you don't back up with your “Dinghy” attached, or run the risk of bending or binding the tow bar. Some good rules of thumb are to check your set up every time you stop for proper attachment and any signs of fatigue or failure. Also perform the installation and removal of your tow bar in the same order each time you hook up and unhook, to ensure you don’t forget or overlook an important step in the process.
The tow bar gets all the glory, but it’s the baseplate or vehicle bracket that does all the hard work (a baseplate and bracket are accepted industry terms for the same piece of equipment). The tow bar is only as good as the connection points on the motorhome and on the towed vehicle, so secure attachment points are critical. Most motorhomes come from the factory with a class III receiver hitch or better already installed as well as a factory wired tow plug. These hitches have a towing capacity that range from 5,000 pounds to 20,000 pounds on the largest diesel pusher motorhomes. Since your manual says your vehicle can be flat towed there will be a vehicle-specific baseplate that is bolted to the frame. Installation of the tow bar requires the removal of the bumper and sometimes the front grill and can take up to six hours at a shop.
The bracket and the motorhome’s receiver hitch give you solid connection points for the tow bar on the towed car and the motorhome. Coach-mounted receivers are the most common but there are several types of tow bars: self-aligning coach-mounted receivers or towed vehicle-mounted receivers that fold and stay on the vehicle or RV, or rigid/solid A-frame tow bars. The Guaranty RV Travel Center carries a variety of Roadmaster tow bars that are MotorHome Magazine Readers' Choice Award winners.
Not all vehicles can be flat towed including many automatics and even some manual transmissions. When a vehicle is being towed with all four wheels on the ground, the transaxle or driveline is turning. This then turns the output shaft of the vehicle's transmission or transfer case. Many gearboxes do not have an internal lubrication system that is driven by the output shaft. Therefore, when towing this type of vehicle, the transmission or transfer case is not being lubricated and you won't make it 50 miles before damage is done. For some vehicles, there are aftermarket lube pumps or driveline disconnects that can be installed on the “Dinghy”. This can add thousands of dollars to the price of your tow set-up. "I always tell customer to think long and hard before spending this money. You can buy a good used vehicle that is flat towable for not much more, and a whole lot less hassle," says Edgecombe. See Figure 3 below for an example of an Owner’s Manual instruction that limits how the vehicle should be towed.
If your vehicle is not flat towable you could consider a tow dolly. A dolly allows a front wheel drive vehicle to be towed by supporting the drive axle on the dolly while the rear wheels spin freely. No tow dolly manufacture endorses backing a rear wheel drive vehicle onto their dolly. Tow dolly’s come with or without brakes, but remember those without brakes may not meet the requirements of all states and are not as safe as dolly’s with brakes. Many models have electric brakes and you can have a brake controller installed in your RV relatively easily. The more expensive models have surge brakes. Both electric and hydraulic brakes will meet most states supplemental braking requirements as well as Canada’s. A dolly will add 800 to 1,000 pounds to your total weight and, as we mentioned before, once you've arrived at your destination you need to store the dolly somewhere. Some campgrounds charge a third vehicle fee for the dolly. It may also take practice before you may feel comfortable driving the vehicle onto the tow dolly. And let’s face it, at some point you will be kneeling in a puddle trying to strap the tow cars muddy tires to the dolly.
If your car doesn't fall into the categories above, you likely have a rear wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle. In this case, you'll need to have a flatbed or enclosed trailer unless you disconnect the drive line. However, disconnecting the drive line requires technical know-how and could void your warranty. This is also not a viable option if you have disconnect and reconnect the drive line mechanically more than once or twice since it’s time consuming and a hassle. There are driveline disconnects that are built “inline” so you can connect and disconnect as needed from the interior of the vehicle, but much like the previously mentioned lube pump the cost of equipment and labor to have a professional install it can be thousands of dollars. That is money that may be more wisely spent on a vehicle that can be towed without restriction, or on a trailer. Trailers are heavy – over 1,000 pounds – but they can preserve a high-end car. They provide security, privacy and protection from the elements and are easy to hook up while you stay clean. Again the concern will be where to store it at the campground or at home.
I have heard of vitamin supplements, but what is a supplemental braking system? A supplemental braking system is an electronic controller mounted in the cab of your motorhome that will apply the brakes to the towed car when the brakes in the motorhome are applied. In the event that the towed car becomes disconnected it will apply the brake-away brakes to the towed car. Most states have a law that requires a towed vehicle to have a supplemental braking system, with various overall length, weight, or stopping distance parameters. Word is Canada will turn you around at the border if your towed car does not have a supplemental braking system. They come in two basic formats, portable or installed. With anything there are pros and cons. In the case of supplemental braking the installed versions are easier to use, simply flip a switch in some applications, but the portables are less expensive.
Before you head out on the highway, make sure your RV and vehicle are in road-ready shape. Paul Forte, Guaranty Chevrolet Service Manager advises, "Before towing make sure that all the gear box oils are full, tires are aired up to proper pressure and the front end is aligned to factory specs. Check to make sure all the lights work correctly. Make sure your braking system works correctly and is properly set to your vehicle. Check the hitch set up and brake-away system. Most importantly, be safe and have fun!" If you are not capable of doing these checks yourself, or simply don’t have the time Guaranty can help. Please make a service appointment well in advance of your vacation; the busy season can last all year long these days.
For any type of towing situation, there is additional equipment you need to be legal and safe. Wiring kits make sure both vehicles lights work as one. In certain vehicles there are fuses that need to be removed while towing. Make sure you know which ones so you don't lose critical exterior lights or power. There is also a way to install a switch that will disable the circuit without having to crawl under the dash to remove a fuse. It is the Fusemaster line, from Roadmaster, and they offer a handful of options that are somewhat vehicle specific. The law requires you have safety cables/chains that connect both vehicles together in case a mechanism fails and the units become separated. Depending on the clearance of either rig, you might need a drop hitch so your tow bar is level and doesn't bind.
Anti-sway bars and stabilizers (springs) can be upgraded or added to most motorhome chassis to increase stability and decrease driver fatigue. And then there's protection: locks, tow bar covers, splash guards and rock shields keep the dust out, can prevent damage to expensive headlights, and save the paint job on your car and RV.
This is just enough information to introduce you to towing and get you thinking about your next steps. Because so much of the equipment involved in towing a “Dinghy” is vehicle specific, and each vehicle has its own set of idiosyncrasies it can be easy get information overload. No matter where you are in the process Guaranty and other qualified RV Dealerships can help. Take a little extra time to get advice from an expert before taking your maiden voyage or after making a change to your towing setup. You’ll be happy you did.
The chart below lists vehicles by Make, Model, and which year the Roadmaster Bracket Item Number fits. The Item Number is the part number for the bracket (or baseplate). The two to three digit number that follows the Item Number is the type of bracket, which are designated as follows:
XL = Removable arms (pull pin to remove)
EZ = Removable arms (twist to remove)
EZ2 = Removable arms (twist to remove)
EZ4 = Removable arms (twist to remove)
EZ5 = Removable arms (twist to remove)
MX = Removable arms (pull pin to remove, no crossbar needed)
MS = Non Removable arms (no crossbar needed)
MX and MS brackets are only for use with motorhome mounted tow bars. They eliminate the need for the included QD crossbar. The MX and MS brackets will not work with a car mounted tow bar like the STOWMASTER, nor will they work with the Easy Hook Safety Cables, Guardian or any accessory that requires a Roadmaster QD crossbar.
Table 1: Roadmaster Inc. Top Brackets