TOWING A VEHICLE BEHIND AN RV
One of the challenges of owning and driving a large RV is trying to maneuver a motorhome in town, or wanting to take a quick trip away from the RV park. That’s why so many people tow a vehicle behind their Class A’s and even some of the bigger Class C’s. There’s a lot to learn about and think about before you decide to tow with your RV, and most of those considerations are for your safety and the safety of others on the road with you.
The primary concern is to not exceed the towing capacity of your motorhome. On top of that, you’ll need to become familiar with terms that include tow bars, base plates, supplemental brakes and turn signals. You will also want to check into your local towing laws, the laws of areas you plan to visit, and make sure your RV has the right insurance for towing.
This article will give you an overall look at towing a vehicle behind an RV (often referred to as a “toad” – a play on the word towed) but, because there are so many variations of motorhomes, you’ll have to do specific research for your RV.
What Kind Of Vehicle Can I Tow?
You may be surprised to know that not all vehicles can be towed behind a motorhome in the way you imagine. For example, there are many vehicles that can’t be towed safely with all four wheels on the pavement. Those vehicles would require the use of an RV towing car dolly or, at the extreme, a full trailer that the towed vehicle would sit on.
Towing a vehicle behind an RV with all four wheels on the road is the preferred method largely due to convenience. Separating the towed vehicle from the RV is quick and simple, and you can drive away immediately. On the other hand, towing dollies for cars (and trailers) require more work to attach and detach the vehicle, and you’ll also have to find a place to store the trailer when not in use. This can be a challenge as most RV parks have sites just big enough to fit the length of your motorhome and, perhaps, your toad.
You should also check the owner’s manual of any vehicle you intend to tow behind a motorhome to see if any special steps are needed. For example, most four-wheel-drive vehicles have a method to let the wheels spin “free” so that the transmission isn’t engaged and putting wear and tear on parts (even in neutral). In some cases, you’ll also need to know if a supplemental brake system can be installed. This probably won’t be covered in the manual, but you can get the answer from a dealership or competent mechanic.
How Much Can My RV Tow?
Just because your RV has a big motorhome engine and a heavy-duty suspension, doesn’t mean you can towed unlimited weights and sizes of tow vehicles. That engine is big because you RV is big and most of the power is needed to move its own weight.
The safe overall load and towing rates – as recommended by your motorhome’s manufacturer – are usually listed in the manual and on a sticker on the RV itself, often on the driver’s door frame. To learn what you can safely tow, you’ll need to the GAWR (gross axle weight rating) and the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating). Remember that the GVWR is not typically how much your RV weighs… it’s how much it can carry and/or haul in total. If the sticker for your motorhome includes curb weight, that’s most likely the weight with no cargo, water, sewage, passengers, or fuel.
The most accurate way to get weight is to visit a local scale weigh your RV, on its own, with fully loaded tanks, all your trip luggage, and a full load of people, but without your tow vehicle. Then weigh it again with the toad attached. If your local scale allows you to measure individual axle loads, take advantage of it to ensure your RV is evenly loaded.
But we’ve gotten a little ahead of ourselves. Before you hook anything up, you’ll need to now the specific towing capacity of your motorhome and the hitch limitations.
The basic connection between your motorhome and towed vehicle is a tow arm – either a fixed length model, or a telescoping tow arm. The fixed length tow arms are simple in construction, making them very long lasting and almost maintenance free. The simple construction also makes them the more inexpensive option. Telescoping tow arms need a little more maintenance, can sometimes where out faster than the fixed model, and cost much more – but the big advantage is that it can retract or fold to a compact size and remain on the RV or towed vehicle (depending on the model).
To keep towing safe, and to keep your towed vehicle from climbing up the back of your RV or shooting underneath it, the tow bar needs to be installed as close to horizontal as possible. There is some give and take (usually small) and the specific tow bars will list their required specifications and often come with adapters to make up for height differences.
Different two bars will have different methods of connecting to the RV itself but, typically, the RV end will slip into your hitch receptacle (the empty square hole at the back of your RV) and the vehicle end will connect to a pair of base plates, often with a combination of linchpins and cotter pins.
Supplemental Brakes for RV Vehicle Towing
There’s some debate on whether supplemental brakes are needed when towing a vehicle behind an RV. Some motorhome owners will say their RV and car are well-below the rated weight capabilities of their unit, so the supplemental brakes aren’t needed. On the other hand, can you really be too safe when hauling a vehicle? As well, there are a number of states and provinces with their own laws and guidelines – and it’s better to be over-equipped for some areas than to be turned around at a border.
There are a lot of different supplemental brake systems to choose from, and the ideal choice will vary greatly depending on the size of your RV and the car being towed, and the type of terrain you plan on traveling through. A good plan of action would be to check out the brands and models available in your area, and then research them online. By reading the features and benefits, and getting feedback from actual users, you’ll learn far more than you could from one article like this one.
Lights for RV Vehicle Towing
Just like any boat trailer, utility trailer, or camper, the vehicle you’re towing behind your motor home needs brake lights, running (or parking) lights, and turn signals. Most RV’s are already equipped with a connection for those lights, but you have a couple of options for the lights themselves.
First of all, you can get temporary lights that you put on the towed vehicle when towing, and then remove when you’re driving it. Most of these come with magnetic mounts, but other options include suction cups, and sometimes a bracket that fits between the trunk lid seam. I’ve also seen a custom bracket that slipped into the receiver of the toad’s own hitch.
If you buy the turn signal, brake lights, and running lights as a kit, they’ll probably come with a good length of wire and the right connector on the end. If the connector isn’t right, there is usually an adapter available to match whatever combination you have.
If you have to wire the turn signal, brake lights, and running lights from scratch, our personal recommendation is to have an expert do it. The price you pay will probably be far cheaper than the cost of a ticket for faulty lights. That’s not to say you can’t do it on your own, if you have the time to do the research and run the wires.
Driving an RV with a Vehicle in Tow
Most RV owners will tell you that towing a vehicle (with all four wheels on the pavement) behind their RV is really no different than driving without a toad.
You’ll notice a difference in your acceleration – especially going uphill – but if you have a supplemental brake system, your stopping distance should be about the same.
Backing up can be an issue, just like any trailer, so it’s a good idea to practice in a controlled situation (like a large parking lot) when you have lots of time to practice.
Also, like any trailer, when you’re towing a vehicle behind an RV, make sure you inspect everything before you hit the road – especially the tire pressure, brake system, turn signals, and brake lights.