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Towing A Vehicle
It seems like a re-occurring question that appears on the forum is “What is the best method to tow a vehicle?
I personally have used all three methods of towing a vehicle and so I will attempt to share my knowledge and experience with you, in hopes it will lead you to make an informed decision on the method you choose.
Some folks choose not tow a vehicle, while I can’t imagine going anywhere without ours. We use ours all the time, while traveling and RVing and consider it a must to have a vehicle with us.
A few of the advantages as I see to towing a vehicle (Toad) with you are:
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 convenient option.
There are three ways to bring your towed car with you and you need to decide which option best suits your needs.
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. I have seen vehicles towed both on open flat bed trailers as well as covered trailers.
Dollies are a great option if you intend to use it with multiple vehicles or want to time-share it with friends. All Tow Dollies are not created equal. Some are lighter built than others. Some do not adjust for the larger tow automobiles, or pickups. The cost of a good one is about the same cost as a good open flat bed trailer. Recommend purchasing one with wheel brakes. Many Tow Dollies are not equipped with wheel brakes and thus are less initial cost.
The third and final method of Towing a Vehicle -
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. 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.
Three Different Types:
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 vehicle’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 make.
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 bar’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. If not, and one doesn’t care about the looks of their rig, some folks simply lean them back and fasten them. (Personally – I think it looks like a vehicle with a hay rack on the front). But, to each his own.
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, similar to the rigid “A” frame.
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.
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 GVWR’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 law’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. (This subject is covered in larger detail in a separate topic.
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. (This subject is covered in more detail in a separate topic.
Submitted by Mike Sundberg - 3/28/06
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