Select your towed vehicle for all-around fun and utility

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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.

Practical

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.

Technical

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.

Happy towing!

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.

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A. W. Walker
30 days ago

I’ve equipped my toads with trailer hitches for the flexibility that if I have to abandon the motorhome for any reason (such as a serious breakdown), I not only have an escape vehicle, but then I can rent a trailer to offload crucial and important items from the motorhome and carry on with ‘Plan B’.

Jim Collins
1 month ago

Most front wheel drive newer cars are not suitable for towing 4 down, especially hybrids, would have to trailer or dolly most of them because of keyless ignition and auto transmission and locking steering wheels.

Joe
1 month ago

2016 Jeep Patriot for us, non 4 wheel drive, 5 speed manual transmission, non locking steering wheel, light weight, good passenger and cargo capacity, very easy to tow 4 down. The 4 wheel drive model is an automatic and not capable of towing 4 down

BadWolfe
1 month ago

Very happy with towing our Toad. We took a 10 year old Toyota 4Runner, added an after market “driveline disconnect” and had everything professionally installed for safe towing. This allows us multiple benefits including; emergency vehicle, extra storage, vehicle to tour around the places we are camping.

Mark O.
1 month ago

Our Honda Fit saved us last week when our alternator fried itself just outside Brattleboro, VT. We just managed to get to the local Chevrolet dealer (we have a C5500 Kodiak based Jayco super C) before it completely packed it in. Talked to the service manager, arranging the repair and then we un-hooked the Fit, loaded the pups plus a cooler with all the perishables from the fridge and freezer and drove the remaining 120 miles home. When we got the call 3 days later that the repair was done we just went back up, re-hitched the Fit and drove home. You cannot beat having that 4 wheel insurance policy along with you!

Walker
1 month ago

My toad started out as a dinghy a few years ago.

Tom
1 month ago

Forgot emergency towd brake activation if towd breaks free. Required in many States.

Ron
1 month ago

I dispute the 80% figure. I have travelled pretty much coast to coast in Canada. And much of the eastern United States and I would say motorhomes with toads would be less than 50%.