By Jared Montgomery
If you intend to travel in a motorhome, think seriously about towing a transportation vehicle.
Motorhomes are a great way to ride the highways of America. Everyone sits in the comfort of a living room while moving from one destination to the next. Motorhomes also provide great living quarters, whether parked in a spartan campground or a luxurious RV resort.
However, breaking camp every time you want to go to a store, restaurant or tourist attraction is a great deal of bother. The parking accommodations in the scenic overlooks of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon are rarely designed for RVs. And motorhomes are not the vehicle of choice when it comes to negotiating the steep, winding roads in some of our national parks or the narrow, congested streets of a big city.
No getting around it, towing a dinghy (transportation vehicle) maximizes the freedom and convenience of traveling in a motorhome.
There are three ways to tow a car with a motorhome: four wheels on the ground, a tow dolly and a car trailer.
Consider how often you will be towing and how frequently you’ll be hitching up and unhitching the car.
Towing a car with all four wheels on the ground is probably the easiest and most convenient method. It also appears to be the most popular. This might be your best choice if you’re going to tow often and unhitch frequently.
First, be sure you check with the manufacturer of your car to determine if it is designed to be towed with all four wheels on the ground.
The transmissions of most vehicles equipped with front-wheel-drive and/or automatic transmissions can be damaged if they are towed with the drive wheels on the ground.
If that is the case with your car, aftermarket products are available that allow vehicles with front-wheel-drive and/or automatic transmissions to be towed without affecting the transmission.
Transmission lubrication pumps are available that will lubricate the transmission while the vehicle is being towed.
Lockout devices may be added to the drive wheels of some front-wheel drive vehicles allowing them to free-wheel.
Transmission “uncouplers” can be installed on rear-wheel drive vehicles to separate the drive wheels from the transmission.
Our rear-wheel drive car is equipped with a transmission “uncoupler”. Moving a lever in the driver’s compartment disconnects the driveshaft from the automatic transmission before we tow. A quick move of the lever reconnects the two when we arrive at our destination. We have towed the car more than a hundred thousand miles and driven it an additional ninety thousand. The disconnect mechanism has performed flawlessly.
Have a professional hitch shop mount a baseplate for the tow bar on the front of the car. The same shop should also be able to wire the car’s brake and taillights so they will operate in sync with the motorhome’s lights.
Detachable light bars (with brake and taillights) can be used if you don’t want to mess with the car’s wiring. They’re not as convenient but they’ll do the job.
Check with the manufacturer of your motorhome to determine if its brakes are adequate to stop the additional weight of your towed vehicle. If not, you should consider one of the many products that will activate your car’s brakes when you apply the motorhome’s brakes.
The hitching procedure is usually pretty simple. Aligning the car’s tow bar with the motorhome’s hitch ball usually involves one person directing while another drives the car. However, with a little practice, a person can learn to accomplish this task alone. Telescoping and self-adjusting tow bars are also available to make this an easy one-person operation.
Once the car is hooked up, the ignition key is turned to a position that releases the steering wheel lock. This allows the car’s front wheels to turn left or right while going around corners.
It should be noted that you shouldn’t back up when towing a car with all four wheels on the ground. The car’s front wheels will cramp to the left or right. This could damage the car’s steering and alignment mechanisms.
Towing a car with a dolly has a couple of advantages. The car itself requires no special equipment and the dolly may come equipped with its own brakes.
The hitching procedure with a dolly can be a little more involved and time-consuming than the “four wheels on the ground” method. First, the dolly has to be hitched to the motorhome, the drive wheels of the car are driven up on the dolly and the car secured to the dolly.
A light bar with brake and taillights is then mounted on the car. If the car is a front-wheel-drive model and you don’t want to bother with a light bar, the car’s lights can be wired to operate in sync with the motorhome’s.
Keep in mind that the dolly will add to the gross combined weight of the motorhome and that most dollies are not designed to be backed with a car on board.
There is also the minor consideration of what to do with the dolly at the campground.
Towing a car on a trailer offers the advantages of having brakes on the trailer and the ability to back the trailer. If the trailer is enclosed, the car can be protected from dirt and the elements.
It’s a bit of a bother, however, as to what to do with the trailer once you’ve reached your destination. Not many campsites are large enough to accommodate a motorhome, a trailer and a car.
Be sure the hitch weight of the trailer doesn’t exceed the motorhome’s limitations. Don’t forget to add the trailer’s hitch weight to the motorhome’s gross vehicle weight; and keep in mind the trailer will add to the gross combined weight of the towing combination.
If you’re considering buying a vehicle that you intend to tow behind a motorhome, I’d recommend you look for one whose transmission is compatible with towing, whose front end will easily accept a tow bar’s baseplate, and whose brake and taillight wiring can be easily connected to your motorhome’s when towing.