What Is The Best RV Tow Bar And RV Tow Dolly For 2017?
Deciding to tow a car worth thousands of dollars behind your motorhome involves many factors for you to consider. You will have to decide if you want to use an RV tow dolly or tow your vehicle with all four tires on the ground (four down) with an RV tow bar.
If you tow with 'four down', what is the best tow bar for flat towing? How expensive is it going to be? Is your vehicle set up for towing or are you going to have to install modifications to be able to do so? Will it be worth the trouble?
Consider how often you will need to tow your vehicle. If you only go camping once or twice a year, it may not make economical sense. If you use a tow dolly, can you store it at the campground? Do you want to be able to back up your RV while towing?
Well, you need to know that you can't back up if you are towing 4 down, or are using certain RV tow dollies. These things and more are what you will have to consider to make your decision. Let's learn more about the ins and outs of towing behind your RV.
RV Tow Bars Compared
RV Tow Bar Reviews
Here you will find our picks for the best RV tow bars that money can buy. We review three Roadmaster 'All-Terrain' tow bars that range in load capability from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds, so choose the weight capacity that fits the vehicle you want to tow.
The reviewed Roadmaster All-Terrain RV tow bars vary in the weight of the tow bar itself, and the weight capacity for the vehicle being towed (see the comparison table above for a quick overview of the differences).
What does 'All-Terrain' mean? Simply that these RV tow bars use Roadmaster's patented non-binding Freedom Latch technology that allows you to unlock the tow bar (when unhitching) with minimal effort no matter what angle your toad is in relationship to your motorhome, and no matter if your motorhome is parked on an incline or decline. Unlike competitors tow bars that tend to bind unless the RV and towed vehicle are perfectly straight while on level ground, with the below reviewed Roadmaster Tow Bars, it doesn't matter. (See the video below the reviews for further explanation of tow bar binding.)
Note: You will notice a lack of Blue Ox Tow Bars in the reviews below. Find out why we don't recommend Blue Ox.
RV Tow Dolly Reviews
RV tow dollies are a good alternative to RV tow bars if you have a vehicle that cannot be flat towed (towed on all four wheels). A tow dolly works best with front wheel drive vehicles since the 'drive' wheels will be off the ground. While it is possible to tow a rear wheel drive vehicle with an RV tow dolly, you would most likely have to get a driveline disconnect kit so that the rear (drive) wheels don't 'turn' the transmission and damage it.
While there are several manufacturers of RV tow dollies, we chose Demco as our top pick. Furthermore, we chose the Demco Kar Kaddy SS (their top of the line tow dolly) as the best RV tow dolly for a couple of reasons.
While you can read more about the Demco Kar Kaddy SS in the below review, we will point out a couple of features that sets this tow dolly apart from the competition. It is able to be folded up to less than half its unfolded length for easier storage both at home and at the campground. Also it offers a steering axle that allows tighter cornering without putting unnecessary stress on your towed vehicle. Read the below review for more tidbits about this great tow dolly.
Your Guide To Pulling A Toad Behind An RV
Let's cover all the bases on the ins and outs of pulling a vehicle behind your RV.
Should I Tow A 'Toad' Or Not?
To tow or not to tow, that's the big question. Having a towed vehicle (often referred to as a 'toad') has its pros and cons. It's up to you to decide if having a toad works for you.
Pros of towing a vehicle behind your RV
- Convenience. You get to camp, set up, relax, and start a fire. Then you realize you forgot the burgers and need to run to the nearest store. You will be much happier if you have a toad to take to town instead of needing to pack everything back up to take the whole RV. This 'pro' should not be underestimated.
- Smaller is better Grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores are not easy to maneuver in a larger RV. It's nice to have the smaller vehicle to run into town so you don't have to break camp and for the simplicity of driving a car versus a motorhome around town. It's less stressful.
- Access to all roads Without a regular sized car, you might miss out on certain drives, such as the incredible Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park. If you have a 40' motorhome, you can't drive it since there is a 21' overall vehicle length limit. Trust us, you don't want to miss the Going To The Sun Road.
- Emergency Vehicle If something happens to your motorhome and you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, or in a scary area, you have an 'escape' vehicle. Now you can get you and your family to a hotel until your RV gets fixed.
- Gas Mileage If you are going to be doing a lot of exploring in an area, chances are that you will have much better gas mileage in a car than in a motorhome.
- Extra Storage Space (Within towing weight limits of your RV) If your RV is full and you need to bring along extra gear, your toad can be the extra storage.
Cons of towing a vehicle behind your RV
- Backing Up You won't be able to back up if you tow with all four wheels 'down' on the ground. You can only if you use an RV tow dolly (though you cannot backup with some tow dollies). You will have to unhitch in order to back up.
- Expense You will incur fairly high costs of getting a tow bar, the necessary base plate/bracket for your toad, the cables, wiring and supplemental braking system that come with towing with all four down. You're easily looking at $1000 or more for a quality RV tow bar and accessories. A tow dolly could range from $1000 (for used) to $3500, so there's major cost involved either way.
- Takes More Time Hooking up your tow vehicle makes your hitching up and breaking down take a little longer. It could also be a stressful thing for a new RV'er to take on having a tow vehicle behind them.
- Gas Mileage You will save gas money by having a toad to explore with. However, if you don't plan to explore much after arriving at your campsite, towing a vehicle behind your motorhome will cause your motorhome to suffer worse gas mileage.
- Length Limits If you have a short enough RV and wanted to drive, say, the Pacific Coast Highway, you might not be able to if you are towing a car. There are length limits on some scenic roads that would prevent you from having the experience of taking that route if your overall length is too long.
If you are purchasing a vehicle specifically to be your toad, there are factors that will come into play as far as your decision on whether to go all 4 down or to use a dolly. HERE (PDF) is a current list by Motorhome Magazine of sixty five 2017 vehicles that are towable with 4 down.
The Two Main Ways to Tow
You have two options when it comes to towing a car behind your motorhome:
- Flat towing or '4 down'
- Dolly towing or '2 down'
Sure, you could tow your vehicle on a trailer where no wheels are on the ground but most people don't do this because storing the trailer can be an impossibility at an RV park, without reserving a separate site to store it. For this reason, we are only going to cover flat and dolly towing.
Flat Towing or '4 down'
The first thing to know when flat towing is if your vehicle manufacturer approves your model for flat towing. If it does not, you must make modifications to the vehicle to make it so. Be aware, this might void your warranty. Check with your manufacturer for details.
Flat towing or '4 down' involves a tow bar and additional parts. All four tires of your 'toad' remain on the ground.
Flat towing can be an expensive investment. You could be looking at a $2-3K investment. It's a solid choice if you are prepared to make the investment and know that you will be keeping the vehicle as your toad for a long time.
Flat towing with a tow bar is the easiest system to use. Once installed, you connect your car to the tow bar/RV, hook up it's 'umbilical cord' and braking system, make any necessary electrical changes to your toad, and you're off. Disconnecting is very simple as well. There is also the added benefit of not having to deal with storing a heavy dolly at your campsite.
This system has quite a few parts. It includes the towbar (the wishbone part in between the toad and RV), a base plate, a safety cable set, wiring, and a supplemental braking system for your toad. The base plate will be permanently attached to your toad. The tow bar attaches to the base plate when towing. The other end of the tow bar inserts into your RV's receiver (the hitch hole, usually a 2x2 opening). Some car tow bars stay connected to the RV, some stay connected to the tow vehicle. The choice is simply a personal preference, though we only review the style that remains attached to your RV.
Connecting a towed vehicle properly by Gone With the Wynns
Don't forget that some vehicles can be set up to tow or are 'tow ready' and some CANNOT (without expensive modifications). Read your manual to find out if your toad will need modifications or not. You can total your vehicle by doing it wrong. Doing so could destroy your transmission.
Tow Bar Selection: Even though it's more expensive, you'll definitely want to get a tow bar with telescoping arms. This makes hooking up MUCH easier as you don't have to pull up the toad perfectly to get it on. Otherwise, you have to have your toad aligned just perfectly with your RV in order to get it attached properly. Technology has come a long way. Might as well take advantage of it!
Lights and Turn Signals: Your toad MUST have working signals and brake lights and tail lights. For this, you have a couple of options. You can either wire your toad to work with your RV's lights/signals, or you can get add-on accessory lights. The downside to add-on lights is that they can potentially damage your paint. They also cause you that much more of a hassle since you have to set them up and take them down every time you hit the road.
Auxillary Brakes For Your Toad: Most states require you by law to have an auxiliary braking system for your toad. This type of system causes your toad to have brakes of its own while towing. It also will brake the toad if it somehow becomes disconnected from your RV.
Towing without an auxiliary braking system will put undue stress on your motorhome. Stopping distance will suffer. You will likely be able to feel the push from behind. Your motorhome's brakes will be more stressed.
If you get into an accident and your insurance company finds out you were towing without a braking system, they might find you at fault and not cover your losses. In other words, if you are smart, you will get a braking system.
Battery Considerations: This one is vehicle-specific. Some toads require the ignition switch to be in a position that allows the steering column to remain unlocked for flat towing. It also leaves power applied to various electrical circuits. If you are towing for more than a few hours, it can completely kill your battery. Strategies for avoiding this vary by model, but most fixes are to simply pull a fuse from the vehicle's fuse box before towing. This can be another step that you might forget to do.
Base Plates: Many base plates have to be custom ordered to fit your toad. Most of the other parts of your tow bar can be made to fit universally, but not the tow bar base plate. Installing a tow bar base plate is a difficult process and will likely take a professional to install unless you are extremely handy.
- No trailer or dolly to have to store at home or campground
- Easier to hitch up than using a trailer or tow dolly
- Better turning radius than you would have if you used an RV tow dolly
- No worries about car coming off of the tow dolly
- Expensive to get the entire system
- Causes the most wear and tear on your toad
- Cannot back up while toad is connected
- More wear on your towed vehicle's front tires
For some RV'ers, towing using a dolly is the better choice. It works by carrying your car by its front tires only. You drive the car up onto the RV tow dolly, secure the tires down using the straps, and attach the 'umbilical cord'.
A dolly is an extra hassle in that now you have another set of tires to maintain and another piece of equipment to maintain. You also have to store it at the campground or at home.
They aren't the lightest things in the world, and if the ground is wet, it's even harder to maneuver at a campground. A tow dolly works best with front-wheel drive vehicles. If you have a rear wheel or sometimes an all-wheel drive you may have to get it modified. Again, this is an extra cost.
It's nice that there are usually limited or no modifications necessary with a dolly. If you change vehicles, you can simply drive the new vehicle up onto the dolly. You cannot do that with a tow bar unless the new-to-be-towed vehicle already has a base plate attached that fits your tow bar.
Getting the car onto the dolly can be intimidating and stressful. Drivers have definitely driven TOO far onto a dolly and gotten the car stuck on top of the dolly. Also, as tight as you get the wheel straps, they tend to come loose. You should stop every 100 miles or so to check them.
If your car's lights aren't connected to the motorhome, you will need to get that set up, or get an accessory tail light to attach to the back of your vehicle. It's against the law to tow a vehicle without brake lights, parking lights and turn signals.
Before You Go: Tow Checklist
- Be sure your hitch rating is not lower than what you are towing
- Double check that everything is connected properly before takeoff
- Make sure your hitch height is correct
- Check your lights and turn signals before departure
- Check tire pressure on all of your tires
- Double check that any fuses that should be disconnected are properly disconnected
- Make sure any other modifications you need to do to your toad have been done such as turning the key to the accessory position, steering unlocked, etc.
Many RV tow dollies come with their own brake system. This saves you from having to purchase an auxiliary braking system if so. A tow dolly will also save wear and tear on your front wheels and suspension.
If you tow dolly has fixed wheels instead of swiveling wheels, you CAN back up with your toad attached. You cannot do this with 4 down. However, if your wheels swivel, you are out of luck.
- May not need a braking system
- Saves wear and tear on your vehicle
- Can back up if you have fixed wheels on the tow dolly
- Less expensive than installing a heavy duty tow bar system
- Don't have to modify anything if you have a front wheel drive toad
- Dolly must be stored, which can be a pain
- Hooking up can be a pain in the neck
- Still need an auxiliary braking system if dolly doesn't come with one equipped
- May have to stop frequently to check straps holding toad
- More equipment to take care of/two more sets of tires to maintain/repair
- Dolly might put your towing weight over limit
How to load your toad onto a dolly
Your rig has a towing weight limit. If you exceed it, you may not have handling problems (but you could), but you could break your hitch and your heavy duty tow bar. Your stopping distance will be greater, your brakes will wear faster (and possibly fail coming down a mountain pass), and your ability to control the rig in a fast stop will be compromised. These are very good reasons to know your motorhome's towing capacity and to keep your weight under that limit.
The weight rating of the motorhome’s hitch receiver is another concern. Most receivers are adequate, but if necessary, you can upgrade your receiver. Keep in mind, however, that an upgraded hitch receiver cannot increase the specified weight limit set by the chassis manufacturer.
RV Hitch Receivers
You must know your motorhome's hitch receiver rating to make sure it is suited for the load you are looking to put on it. The most problematic part of your hitch receiver may be that the height may not match up with your chosen toad. In such a case, you would need a drop-receiver to allow the tow bar to ride level. You can get them anywhere from 2 to 10 inch variations.
By now you should easily understand that the choice on whether to tow 4 down or on an RV tow dolly depends on your RVing style and needs. It's up to you to review the pros and cons of each and come up with your own conclusion.
If you're still unsure, start with a tow dolly. This would give you a feel of whether it works for you or not. If not, you can always sell the dolly and get an RV towbar setup. This way you aren't wasting 2-3 thousand dollars only to find that you want a tow dolly instead. Whichever you choose, have a ball camping out there!
Camp on, Addicts!