To Tow or Not to Tow

Heath and Alyssa Padgett Heath and Alyssa Padgett  |  09.13.2016

Before we hit the road in 2014, we had several freak out moments. However, our biggest anxiety point was whether or not we should tow a car behind our RV.

If we do tow, should we get a tow dolly or tow four wheels down? If we tow four wheels down, what kind of tow package should we get? We had so many questions.

Ultimately, the past two years has been an extensive testing ground for both scenarios — towing and not towing.

Recently, we found what we believe is the best setup for our ideal form of travel for us, which is flat towing our Honda CR-V behind our Winnebago Brave. Before you make a decision on whether you should or shouldn’t tow, I wanted to share a few of our towing experiences from the past two years.

img_3314-jpgA scenic view of our current set-up.

Driving Without a Tow Vehicle or “Toad”

fullsizerender-5Our first year RVing we drove our 1994 Class C motorhome to 48 states without having any kind of tow vehicle. This meant I drove our RV through cities like Austin, Los Angeles (multiple times), New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, and many others.

What We Liked About NOT Having a Tow Car

  • We saved a couple thousand dollars by not having to buy a tow package or tow dolly.
  • Driving without a tow car was one less stress factor as a new RVer. There was already a learning curve while driving a large RV cross-country, to throw in a tow-vehicle on top of that would have been an added stress point for us.
  • We saved a few minutes of time when leaving campgrounds and arriving, by not having to hook up a tow car.

The Downside of Not Towing a car

  • If we wanted to visit major cities, we had to drive our RV into downtown areas (like the photo above in Seattle).
  • Trying to find a 29 foot parking spot was always stressful.
  • Our RV was our only vehicle for errands. If we wanted to make a quick run to the grocery store, we had to pack everything up and move.

Conclusion: Driving a 29 foot RV through big cities is not fun.

Overall, the experience of driving our RV without a tow car was significantly more stressful. While it gave us one less thing to do when packing up our RV to leave a campsite, it also caused a lot of stress and limitations when we wanted to visit certain attractions that required a smaller vehicle.

For example, during our first trip to Glacier National Park we missed driving the Going to the Sun Road because we were too long. We also had to skip out visiting several major cities because we didn’t want to deal with the stress of driving the RV.

Driving Our RV With a Tow Dolly

img_5769-1A tow dolly is where you tow with your front two wheels on top of a trailer. We used a tow dolly for only one day before we abandoned it in west Texas, but we tried again a year later.

What We Liked About the Tow Dolly

  • We finally had a vehicle to explore local areas, without having to bring the RV along.
  • The tow dolly was free, since we were borrowing it from a family member

What We Didn’t Like About the Tow Dolly

  • The straps on the tow dolly were a point of constant stress. They had to constantly be adjusted and would come loose during travel.
  • The amount of time it took to hook up the car to the dolly.
  • Driving the car onto the tow dolly trailer was a little unnerving. I never drove off the front, but it’s something we’ve seen many people accidently do while using a tow dolly.
  • I was constantly worried about the car falling off the tow dolly
  • Having to find a place to store the tow dolly at each new campground.

Conclusion: Great having an extra vehicle, but more stress than it was worth.

Overall, the largest benefit to having the tow dolly was having access to our car. However, the stress caused by the difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the dolly was not worth it. If it hadn’t been completely free to use, I wouldn’t personally recommend one.

Towing Flat Behind Our Brave

img_3324I recently installed a Blue Ox Base Plate and Blue Ox Tow Bar so that we could tow our 2002 Honda CR-V behind our Brave. Instead of having to deal with the the stress of driving our RV through big cities or worry about messing around with a tow dolly, we have the comfort of towing our CR-V with four wheels down.

The past month and a half we’ve covered several thousand miles with our new towing setup. I wish we would have done this from the very beginning. I was worried about the cost and difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the RV. However, it takes just a few minutes to hook up our Honda CR-V behind our Brave.

To better understand how to hook up a tow car behind an RV, you can watch this video from Jason Wynn.

What We Like About Flat Towing

  • It just takes a minute to hook up the car for towing.
  • I can make much better turn radius while flat towing  VS. the wider turns with a dolly.
  • I’m not worried about our car falling off a tow dolly and smashing into someone.
  • If we get stuck and need to reverse, it doesn’t take 30 minutes to move the car off a dolly.

Conclusion: Towing flat behind the RV is the clear winner (for us).

Towing our Honda CR-V with four wheels down has turned out to be the best set up. It takes just a few minutes before each drive to set everything up.  To see how to connect an RV to a tow car, you can watch this video from GoneWithTheWynns.

The manual in our CR-V gives us a simple set of directions and rules for towing. We aren’t allowed to drive over 65 mph and before towing, we have to run the gears through a special sequence to lube the transmission. If we drive for more than eight hours in one day, which we rarely do, then we should do the sequence again.

So far, because of having our car alongside us we’ve been able to be a bit more adventurous than normal. Below are a few of the side adventures we’ve been able to go and do in the past month in our Honda CR-V.

alyssa-in-glacierDriving up to Bear Lake near La Veta, CO is a winding dirt road with steep grades, we wouldn’t have been able to make this trip in our 33 foot motorhome.

going-to-the-sun-roadThe Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful drives in America. There is a 21 foot vehicle limit.

honda-in-glacierA result of a glacier-fed lake on the drive between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. While our RV could have made this trip, it was a really cold and rainy day. It was much more ideal to simply drive our car.

How We Picked a Tow Package

Ultimately, there are two main companies who manufacture tow bars, Blue Ox and Roadmaster. After looking through multiple online forums that compared both companies, they both seemed like fairly even products. Some people preferred Blue Ox, some people preferred Roadmaster. There wasn’t a lot of differentiating factors with either tow bar.

We went with Blue OX because we were on a time crunch and we found a local dealer who could get us all the parts in time.

Note: Neither company sells direct. You’ll have to find a local dealer on their website to buy from, unless you can find a seller on Amazon.

What We Had to Buy for Flat Towing

There were several different components we had to buy before setting up our Honda CR-V for flat towing.

Here’s the list of big items we had to purchase:

A Blue Ox Alpha Tow Bar

This tow bar is rated to tow up to 6,500 lbs and inserts into the trailer hitch on our RV. I found this bar on Amazon for $543.00, which was $150 more than we would have paid through a local dealer.

img_3078

A Blue OX Base Plate (Made Specifically for a 2002 Honda CR-V)

We had to find a base plate that specifically fit the specs of Alyssa’s 2002 Honda CR-V. I couldn’t find a seller on Amazon, so I ordered through a local dealer for this part and paid around $320.

Most dealerships would charge several hundred dollars for this kind of installation, but luckily I had a friend who was willing to help guide me through the process. We spent three days drilling holes in the frame of our CR-V, removing our front bumper, watching Youtube videos for guidance and attaching the base plate.

Blue OX also sent a set of step by step directions for installing this base plate onto the front of our CR-V which proved incredibly helpful. If you have a few days and don’t mind a bit of manual labor, I recommend doing the install on your own.

Here is a helpful video demonstration from etrailer.com that shows you how to install a baseplate on a Honda CR-V.

A Blue OX light kit.

I’m sure any light kit would work. Just to make it easy, I ordered the Blue OX light kit to make sure that everything would work properly and it was around $45. I followed this Youtube video for help on the light installation.

A Brake Buddy

Many states have towing laws that regulate whether or not you need some type of auxiliary braking system. An auxiliary braking system is designed to brake your vehicle for you as you tow it. Since we were driving our RV up through Canada, you are required by law to have one.

You can find a complete state-by-state list of those regulations here. Brake Buddy, the most popular auxiliary braking system will run you around $1,000.

After a bit of searching, I found a brand new Brake Buddy on Ebay for just $600.

Questions?

Ultimately, the decision to tow is up to each RVer. How fast will you be traveling? Are you going to more city locations and how long is your RV? There is no one size fits all solution. To learn more about towing, check out this post from Don Cohen.

If you have any questions about towing, drop them into the comments and I’ll try to be as helpful as possible!


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20 Comments

  1. Russell Spivey Posted on 12.03.2017

    I’m getting conflicting answers about flat towing my little truck. It’s a 1994 Toyota pickup (NOT a Tacoma)…5 speed manual, rear wheel drive, 22re four cylinder engine. It seems the potential problem is with the rear end, but there is no lube pump, and my local mechanic who I trust says there are “splashers ” in the mechanism that will keep it lubed as it’s pulled, just like they do when it’s being driven. Otherwise it’s perfect for towing, light, useful. Cheap to drive. Please advise. Thanks.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 12.04.2017

      While there may be some GoLife readers who could weigh in on this topic, your best bet is to search around on some other more technical RV forums. http://www.irv2.com/forums/ is a good place to start.

  2. Ron Melvin Posted on 11.30.2017

    I need info on towing two different vehicles with a class A RV. Best way to tow a 2013 Fort Taurus and a 2016 CR-V touring.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 12.02.2017

      The quick thumbnail on towing is that most manual transmission cars can be towed with all the wheels on the ground. A small group of automatic transmission equipped cars can be flat-four towed. And no cars with CVT (continuously variable transmission) can be flat-four towed. This varies by manufacturer, model and year and you need to consult with that particular car company/dealer on a per-model basis.

      With your Ford and Honda the best strategy may be to purchase a tow dolly. The advantage of a tow dolly is that it can be used by almost any type of car. This also eliminates the cost of outfitting each one of your cars with an expensive base-plate for towing (assuming these models are flat four towable, which I don’t know). The biggest downside of a tow dolly is storage when it’s not in use. If that isn’t an issue, this may be the most flexible and cost-effective solution.

  3. Shirley Rumsey Posted on 10.22.2017

    We recently bought a 2016 Chevy Malibu
    The sales person told us it could be flat towed
    But after reading some of these articles I’m wondering if we can? Automatic with front wheel drive

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 10.22.2017

      I always save the annual Motorhome Magazine insert on Dinghy Towing which is probably the most comprehensive multi-brand guide out there.

      The 2017 guide list that there is one Malibu model that can be flat towed. Here’s the special procedures from the guide:

      “Only 1.5 liter models without Active Shutters can be towed. To prevent the battery from draining while the vehicle is being towed, remove fuses F10 and F4 from the instrument panel fuse block.”

  4. Noel Asmar Posted on 09.20.2017

    my concern is when you are turning corners or going around curves in road – wouldn’t Park lock things and make the rear of the car have to “slide” or something like that?

  5. Alex Cavacini Posted on 09.03.2017

    Hello! Weren’t you guys on GoingRV recently? I love that show. I’m interested in a class A, but I’m not 100% if I’m able to tow my 2013 Ford Explorer V6 4WD. Any suggestions?

    Much appreciated!

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 09.04.2017

      Yes, the Padgetts were featured on GoRVing. To find out if your Explorer can be towed, visit this web site to download a definitive guide: https://www.ford.com/towingguides/

  6. Phil Weber Posted on 08.07.2017

    For some lists of cars that can be towed four down see the magazine Motor Home and if you are a member of FMCA, they have lists for every model year at their website. Also check the engine and transmission combo. Some cars, like the Ford Edge, can only be towed 4 down with certaiin engines. I pull a 2010 Chevy HHR and it works great with Roadmaster hitch and Invibrake, and a switch to turn off a fuse.
    Finally if in doubt, READ THE CAR MANUAL. The manufacturer will tell you how to tow your car.

  7. Oren Posted on 07.11.2017

    Hello Heath. I assume that you will be the one to receive this question, and if so, I really hope that you will write back to me to let me know something that I have really been concerned about. Here is my questions.

    We have a Winnebago View (26 foot) and we soon will be leaving South Dakota (where we live part of each year) and traveling to Louisiana (where we spend the rest of each year). This year we plan to stay in Louisiana probably 3 to 4 months since we have our own house down there. So we decided to buy a car dolly from someone at the Air Base here in Rapid City, SD. and we plan to use it to attach our 2016 KIA Optima behind the motorhome. My question is this — once I have the car loaded and strapped down to the car dolly, “Do I put the car in Park or Neutral as I am about ready to hit the road.” I have talked to probably half-dozen folks from Camper Dealers, to friends, to one man who actually had was in a campground and had a car dolly on which he was hauling his car, etc. Some said Park, others Neutral. However, I will say that the man who was in the campground showed me that his dolly “had something which assisted when you were turning curves, etc.”, and I don’t believe my dolly has such, though it is extremely sturdy and well built. So which do you say I do — Put the car in Park or in Neutral once it is on the dolly. The car is front–wheel drive, so no problem with transmission, etc. – Park would be just fine for this vehicle in this regard. But my concern is when you are turning corners or going around curves in road – wouldn’t Park lock things and make the rear of the car have to “slide” or something like that??? Or do I need not worry about that. I sure will appreciate you help….. O. C. Summers

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 07.12.2017

      Oren,

      I’m jumping in for Heath on this one. The Padgetts two their car with all wheels down (as do I). For a front wheel drive car eTrailer.com recommends putting your car in park and make sure your emergency brake is OFF. Park locks the drive wheels and the others spin freely.

  8. jennay hitesman Posted on 04.19.2017

    I am surprised you did not try Uber. We are from Ohio and last year we took a trip to Venice Beach, Calf. We flew instead of driving our sightseer. We used Uber to go everywhere all week and had no problems. We loved the door to door service. From now on we will use Uber when we take our RV on the road at campgrounds and Uber into town instead of towing a toad.

  9. ERIC RAMSDELL Posted on 03.25.2017

    Newer cars with CVT transmissions cannot be towed four down. Case win point is the CRV. Up until 2014, it had an automatic transmission that could be towed four down utilizing the “shift through gears before towing procedure.” Beginning in 2015, they have the CVT transmission which forbids four down towing. Just do your research if looking for a vehicle to tow.

  10. Frank Quintero Posted on 09.30.2016

    Heath and Alyssa, Thanks for a very informative and in depth review of towing a vehicle behind an RV. We are getting ready to rent our very first RV and are very excited as we eventually want to purchase one for family vacations. I did have a question as there was no mention about it in the review. Does your CR-V have a manual transmission? I have done some research and found out that there are very few cars that have automatic transmissions that are allowed by the manufacturer to be towed on all fours (dinghy towing).

    By the way, did you guys appear in an episode of Going RV?

    Thanks,
    Frank Quintero

  11. Heath Padgett Posted on 09.28.2016

    — Hey Bryan, Great to hear this was helpful. Best of luck on y’alls adventure!

    — Winnebago Wanders, your username is awesome and you’re welcome!

    — Jackie Prizer, thanks for reading. We actually did quite a few rentals during our first year on the road and it worked out okay. Sadly, one of the issues for us was that at 23 years old we were hit with 2x the rental rates for cars. Luckily, we’re past the 25 age limit now and it would be a viable option. We still much prefer to have our own vehicle though as we use it daily :). But to each his/her own!

    — James, haha I love it. Thanks for the great recommendations. We love the Minnie!

  12. JAMES KIBLER Posted on 09.24.2016

    We have flat towed a 2005 Scion XB stick shift with a Swagman hitch mounted dual bike rack on the XB ( also has room inside for a 3 piece snap dual or single kyack with rear seats folded down ), and a Roadmaster towbar, behind our 2005 Winnie Minnie 29B plus an “Invisibrake” for about 20,000mi. This is a fantastic combo!!

    At home I also use the Scion as a daily driver. During normal unhitched driving, I don’t even notice the Invisibrake. I am a very demanding, OCD mechanical person and you can’t believe how this all works. So smooth to tow, unhook, reconnect, and so safe!

  13. Jackie Prizer Posted on 09.22.2016

    Renting a car is another option. Enterprise will come pick you up! We found this option to be the greatest value. No towing packages, no car insurance & extra maintenance, not to mention having to own a smaller car if you already own a full size vehicle, and gas mileage is improved on the RV. and the mechanical strain is lessened. We rented a car in Franklin, NC for less than $150 for a week!

  14. Winnebago Wanders Posted on 09.18.2016

    Thank you for making our decision so much easier! Great read and extremely helpful :)

    Winnebago Wanders

  15. Bryan Posted on 09.18.2016

    Thank you so much for this information.

    We have a 2011 Winnebago Access and a 2000 CRV. After our first camping season this year with the Winnebago, I’m planning to purchase a tow package so we can pull the CRV.

    You’ve been a big help.