By Greg Illes
It turns out that “towed” and “toad” are pronounced the same. It also turns out that the RV community, as a whole, has a sardonic sense of humor. Thus it is that towed vehicles in the RV world are almost universally known as toads.
Toads are great! You can leave the big, lumbering RV back in camp and dart about wherever you like. If the RV breaks down, you have an instant “escape” vehicle. You can even use your toad to carry that extra cargo that always seems to crop up.
But choosing a toad is more than just hooking up a tow bar to the family sedan. There are multiple considerations, generally separated into two areas: practical and technical.
Will your toad take you where you want to go? A nice, comfy street machine may be handy on the freeway and in the parking lot of Walmart, but what about that dirt road that goes up the mountain in the national park? If your travels and interests are diverse, you may want to consider an all-wheel-drive (AWD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) steed. Many RVers end up towing Jeep-style vehicles for their versatility.
Can you actually tow it? And how will you do so? A toad can be pulled on a trailer, on a dolly (two wheels up and two down), or “four-down” or “flat-towed” (on its own four wheels) by a tow bar. Note that only a small subset of vehicles can be flat-towed without ruining the transmission – but dollies and trailers add weight and maintenance. (No, most cars will not add miles on their odometers when flat-towed.) With a trailer or dolly, you have no worries about towability of your toad. But you also can’t quickly disconnect and have two independent vehicles.
Will your RV pull the weight? A 4×4 Ford Expedition will take you almost anywhere in grand comfort, but at well over three tons, you may find it uncomfortable or impossible to manage. Climbing and descending hills puts a large burden on engines and brakes; also, some rigs have both towing weight limits and overall (gross combined vehicle weight, or GCVW) weight limits.
Observations: Most folks that we see on the road are pulling four-down. Maybe one in twenty will be using a trailer. If your preferences are flat-towing, you’ll need to take care of the following items to be safe and reliable in your travels:
• Hitch (RV), properly rated and installed
• Tow bar (toad), properly rated and installed
• Supplemental braking system (RV-to-toad) applies toad brakes with RV brakes
• Safety cables/chains (RV-to-toad)
• Electrical cable (RV-to-toad)
• Electrical plug (RV) provides tail/brake lighting to toad
• Electrical plug (toad) receives tail/brake lighting from RV
• Electrical mods (toad) allows RV signals to light toad tail/brake lights
Essentially, this is the same list that anyone deals with when towing anything. As you can see, the devil is in the details. For safe towing, all these items need to be properly attended to. But for the convenience and flexibility of traveling with a toad, most people (80% of motorhome travelers) think it’s worth it.
photo: bradleygee on flickr.com
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.