Basics of Towing a Vehicle Behind an RV

Does something strike you as odd in the feature image? I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right? Towing a vehicle behind an RV really boils down to two basic things—preparation and common sense, people. Let’s break down the methods of towing a vehicle, and how to decide what’s best for you.

America’s Favorite Pastime

Hopping in the ol’ RV and hauling the family to the best campgrounds across the country is a growing trend. Rvia.org reported that more than 500,000 RV shipments were made in 2017. That’s a significant increase over the 430,000 shipped the previous year. Seeing more and more RVs filled with happy families motoring along the freeway is a breath of fresh air after many years of postponed travel plans due to the Great Recession.

When pulling up to a stop light or breezing past smiling faces on the highway, most of us see the same set-up. A camper or RV trailer hooked up to the rear of a full-sized pickup truck. But every now and then, we spot a big motorhome towing a car behind it. (Hopefully not as irresponsibly as the one in the picture above.) It can seem a little extra—towing a vehicle behind an RV that already has driving capabilities—but it’s actually quite practical. Running errands, as well as driving and parking downtown, is significantly less stressful when you’re not trying to maneuver a 29-foot beast down an adorably narrow historical cobblestone street in Philly. (What we won’t do for a cheesesteak, right?)

Consider Your Options

Hooking a vehicle up to the rear of an RV can be done in a few different ways. The method mostly depends on the type of vehicle, size of budget, and/or the level of patience an owner possesses. In most cases, any vehicle can be rolled onto a flatbed trailer and then towed around. Similarly, a tow dolly can be used in which the front wheels are rolled up and secured, leaving the back wheels down on the ground. And lastly, depending on design and size, a tow bar can be used which allows a vehicle to tow behind with four wheels flat on the ground.

Option 1 is a pretty easy job. The vehicle is secured to the trailer and then the trailer lights are hooked up along with the braking system (if present). Option 2 is also a fairly simple operation. The front tires are rolled up onto the dolly, secured, and then trailer lights (and/or brakes) are hooked up the same as they would on a flatbed. Unfortunately “simple” doesn’t always mean “hassle-free,” and these two methods can still cause some headaches.

The Drawbacks

Stowing a flatbed trailer or tow dolly at a campsite (or even at home) can be a major pain. Some campsites even charge extra for the use of premium space. And while flatbeds are definitely the safest option, they’re heavy and can be very expensive.

Dollies, on the other hand, are definitely lower in price but require a lot of time to attach and unload. Additionally, towing an all wheel- or four wheel-drive vehicle requires disconnection and removal of the drive shaft to protect the transmission, since the process requires the front wheels to remain locked while the back tires spin freely. What’s more, if you’re the type of driver who always seems to hit a pothole square in the kisser, that dolly can cause some significant damage to your towed vehicle. Just the way you wanted to start your vacation, right?

To add insult to injury, when using a tow dolly, you can’t back up. Okay you *can* but it’s a great way to damage the dolly, the vehicle, and/or the motorhome, void a warranty, cause jackknifing, and become the pariah of the campground. Your kids already hate you for dragging them to a place with no WiFi. Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Four Wheels Down

That’s not to say that Option 3–the tow bar–is perfect either. Also referred to as ‘towing four down’, this method can be a bit more complicated. First, there’s a limited number of vehicles that can be hauled this way (without modifications), mostly because of the transmission system. Second, a little more initial set-up is required. A base plate is installed on the car, a tow bar for the motorhome, and an auxiliary braking system to boot. This isn’t always a DIY-job, and you could be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in parts and installation fees. Wiring will also need to be installed in order to properly operate the lighting.

Four down has its advantages, though. Alignment is easy; and after the initial installation, attaching and unloading a vehicle is a piece of cake. Additionally, turning radius is generally better and tow bars are very easy to stow away when not in use. Unfortunately, if you want to do this process the safest way (and that means investing in a quality braking system) it’s gonna cost ya. Compare that to a flatbed or tow dolly that can be rented, and your wallet may have just decided for you.

Safety First

In any situation, safety chains and security chains are a must. Also, remember to practice smart habits and ensure that everything is in proper operating condition before taking off. Obey towing speeds and always go overkill on safety. That means bringing spare tires for your trailer or dolly, stopping periodically to check on straps, and properly lubing the transmission if needed.

A trailer may have a hard time overturning an RV, but if it becomes unstable it is a serious danger to everyone on the road. Keep that in mind next time you’re cruising down the highway. And finally, practice makes perfect. If you’re new to towing, or just really bad at it, grab a friend for a spotter and practice in a big (preferably empty) parking lot. Better you make a mistake there than at the campground where everyone’s watching…and judging.

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