I’m All Hooked Up

This blog article about towing comes via a request for more details on this subject from my friend and colleague from Fidelity, Mark Wissmann.  Mark writes:

I am really enjoying reading and "experiencing" your RV trip. Your blogs make me feel like I’m right there with you. My wife and I have always dreamed about doing what you are doing right now.

So I had a question about how you tow your car with the RV. Could you share more details about how that is done? Do you have to lock the steering wheel? Do you have the turn signals and brake lights hooked up through the car as well? Are there things you have to take into consideration when towing your car that us non RVers wouldn’t think about?

I wish you and the dogs well and look forward to your many adventures to come. I really admire your approach to this trip and how you handle everything that is thrown at you (good and bad).  Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

Mark, I’d say the fact that you AND your wife share this dream is a big step in someday finding yourself on the road in your own RV, kicking around the country.  Timm and I glance over at each other at least once a day and comment on how lucky we are that we both wanted to do this trip.  It took our cumulative courage and effort to turn this from an idea and a dream into a reality.

On to your question about how one goes about towing a car behind an RV. The towed vehicle (the car being towed behind the RV) is often called a toad. Get it? Cute, huh? It’s also called a dinghy in some literature.

In order to tow a vehicle behind an RV, one has to first decide on the towing method.  There are 4 ways you can tow a car behind an RV, listed in order of most to least frequently used.  For more details, Hitches and Towing 101 is a good resource for information on towing.

1. Four Down – This is the most common method and the method we chose.  Four down means all 4 wheels of the toad are on the ground.   This method requires a tow bar on the RV and a base plate on the toad.  I’ll detail our configuration below with words and pictures.  The main advantage of this method is there is no additional tow dolly to deal with, as in the other 3 methods. It’s also one of the most simple to hook and unhook the car, taking about 4 minutes.  It’s also one of the least expensive options. Another advantage is this method adds very little additional weight to the toad.  The major disadvantage is that some automatic transmission cars can not be towed four down.  Some automatics can be towed with the addition of a lube pump installed in the car (which is what our Toyota Rav4 Automatic AWD required). The purpose of a lube pump is to keep the towed vehicle’s automatic transmission lubricated and cool. TowingWorld.com has a really helpful guide to which cars can be towed, which need lube pumps and the different tow bar and base plate configurations.  One final disadvantage is that the odometer in some cars will increase as the car is towed four down.  In the case of our Rav4, the odometer does not count towed miles.


Copyright ©Towing 101 - Towing a car on a dolly.

2. Two Up – This means that the two front tires of the toad are up on a dolly.  The advantage of this method is that most non-AWD or 4WD cars can be towed this way.  In addition, most cars will not clock the towed miles on the odometer.  The disadvantage is that getting the car up on the dolly can be time consuming and tricky.  In addition, the dolly has to be stored somewhere after the car is unhooked from it.  In many campgrounds, this can be a problem in tight spaces.

3. Four Up – This means all four tires are off the ground. The car is driven up on a flat bed car carrier.  The advantage of this method is that any car can be towed this way.  The disadvantage is again, dealing with storing the flat bed carrier after the car is driven off of it.  Flat bed carriers are also heavy, adding to the overall weight of the toad which reduces the RV gas mileage.

4. Four Up Enclosed – In this configuration, the car is enclosed in a car carrier that is basically a box.  This is the most expensive option and the heaviest.  The advantage is that any car that can fit into the carrier can be towed and the car is 100% protected in the enclosure.

As I mentioned earlier, we chose the four down method to tow our 2008 Toyota Rav4.  We had Arbogast install a Blue Ox tow package which included a tow bar, based plate, and lube pump.


The riser hitch

The tow bar (the piece under the vinyl cover) is connected to the RV via a hitch (the black bars that extend beyond the RV bumper).  In our specific situation, we had to buy a hitch riser because our car is taller than the RV hitch connection and you want a flat connection between the car and the tow bar.


The Blue Ox tow bar

The Blue Ox Avante LX tow bar shown here is connected to the RV via the hitch. It has a ball in socket design and flexible length arms. It’s a Class IV tow bar which is used to tow vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, plenty strong enough to tow our 3,500 pound Rav4.


Theresa connects the base plate pins to the car

The base plate is behind the grill of the car so we can’t see it in this picture.  I’m connecting the two base plate pins to the car.


The base plate pin

Here is a close up of the base plate pin.


Theresa extends the tow bar arms

Now, we extend the arms of the tow bar and stretch them out to reach the car.


The tow bar arms are now connected to the base plate pins on the car

The tow bar is now connected to the base plate pins.


Don't forget the safety cables in case all else fails...

Next, we connect the two safety cables, one end to the car and the other end to the RV.  The two cables cross each other, forming an X.  The safety cables keep the car connected to the RV in the event that the tow bar fails.


The red cable is the electrical cable

Then, we connect the red electrical cable to the car.  There is a similar connection to the RV.  This is how the RV turns on and off the brake lights, running lights and turn signals on the car.


The lube pump must be turned on prior to towing the RAV4

But wait!  There are still several very important steps remaining.  The car must be in the “on” position by turning the key to the position just before starting it.  The car gear must be in neutral and the parking break must NOT be engaged.  The steering wheel is therefore not locked so the tires can move freely to track behind the RV.  In addition, the lube pump must be turned on via the switch located under the dash in the RV, as shown above. 


The Protect-A-Tow keeps debris from flying off the tires of the RV and hitting the car

The last step is to connect the Protect-A-Tow, which protects the car from flying rocks and debris kicked up from the RV.  There are many other ways of guarding the car from flying debris but this is the one we chose.  In the above picture, I’m connecting the Protect-A-Tow to the rear bumper of the RV.  It requires connecting the Protect-A-Tow to 4 eyelets on the RV and 2 on the car.  Simple to hook up.


All hooked and ready to roll

Voilà!  All hooked up in about 4 minutes and ready to roll.


The RV is ready to tow the car

And away we go, the car securely in tow behind the RV.

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