When a fellow camper asks you, what are you toading, they’re not referring to your children’s pet frog. In the RV community, when a motorhome tows a passenger vehicle, it’s referred to as a “toad” or a “dinghy.”
Technically, this can refer to any style of towing, but usually, it’s related to flat towing instead of using a trailer. Throughout the years, car manufacturers have offered this ability on their vehicles. Many motorhome RVers prefer it because it gives them a better overall tow experience than trailer towing.
If you need to bring a vehicle with you, we’ll show you what cars can be flat towed behind an RV. You’ll learn about what 2020 vehicles have the ability to flat tow, how to hitch them up correctly, and alternatives if you can’t flat tow.
The best cars to tow behind motorhomes are rear-wheel drive manual or automatic transmission vehicles. The other ideal vehicle is a four-wheel drive with a neutral setting. Installing a driveshaft decoupler and lubrication pump avoids complications. The vehicle’s owner’s manual will clearly state if it’s possible and what steps you need to take to activate the flat tow feature.
Preparing Your Vehicle to Tow
People ask us all the time is flat towing bad for your car? When performed correctly, it’s perfectly fine. When you’re traveling, your toad vehicle stays lined up better than trailer towing since all four wheels are on the road. The tow bars keep the vehicle aligned correctly so you won’t have too much side-to-side fishtailing. You’ll also have better braking control.
Flat Towing Properly
When you’re flat towing your vehicle, there are two major components you have to be aware of: the driveshaft and the transmission. On rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the driveshaft is a rod-like device that transfers power to the rear wheels. The transmission uses various size gears to give your vehicle the right kind of power at certain speeds.
To work efficiently, the driveshaft and transmission have to stay lubricated. While the engine is running, injectors are constantly supplying fluid into the driveshaft to keep them working efficiently. The transmission fluid circulates between the transmission and radiator to keep it from overheating and prevent the gears from seizing up.
When the toad vehicle is being flat-towed, the driveshaft and the transmission’s drive gear are constantly spinning. The drive gear isn’t locked into any of the other gears (since the car is in neutral), but the injectors aren’t circulating cooling/lubricating fluids.
To prevent drying out and any damage, you’ll want to pull over every 200 miles to start the vehicle up. Giving it a few minutes to get the fluids to circulate again will lubricate and cool everything down. It’s also a great time to stretch your legs and walk around.
Bypassing the 200 Mile Requirement
Your RV dealer has two parts that can help you with the flat-towing experience. They can install a driveshaft decoupler and a lubrication pump. Auto shops and dealers don’t do this kind of work. Dealers have access to the parts and know how to install them on virtually every eligible flat-towable vehicle on the market.
The decoupler disengages your driveshaft so your rear wheels spin free without activating your it. The lubrication pump uses the electricity from the umbilical cord that comes from your RV to keep your transmission fluid circulating.
This way your transmission stays cool and lubricated. Your driveshaft won’t run dry since it’s not in use. The work usually takes a couple of hours. Expect to pay between $700- $1,000 depending on the parts and the type of vehicle you have.
43 of the 50 states in the U.S. require electronic braking systems (EBS) on RV tow vehicles. All of them require active DOT lights to work as well. You can use separate lights that connect magnetically to your vehicle’s trunk, but the brakes still need to work.
This law boils down to safety. If your passenger vehicle isn’t using its own brakes to stop itself, then the motorhome will have to stop it’s own weight and the weight of the dinghy. This can cause the tow vehicle to fishtail out of control and/or your RV’s brakes to fail due to the stress.
If your tow vehicle doesn’t have EBS, there are supplemental braking devices you purchase to compensate. These brake systems for towed vehicles detect your RVs braking motion or sync with it so your tow vehicle will slow down with you. It will keep you safe on the road and make you compliant with the law.
To toad your vehicle your car must have a tow package pre-installed. The factory installs the wiring and mechanical requirements on the rear and front of the vehicle that your RV dealer needs to hook everything up.
Common Maintenance Steps
There are a few preventive maintenance tips you should always take before you hit the road. If you’re headed out for a long journey, this is especially important to minimize the chance of any mechanical issues down the road. After you check your passenger vehicle, make sure you don’t neglect your RV’s vitals.
- Fluid Change: This is a great time for an oil change and to have all of your various fluids topped off. For flat towing, transmission fluid is critical since it lubricates and transfers heat away from your transmission.
- Tire Pressure: The tires on your toad vehicle determine how well the towing experience will be. If they become low, you may feel a wobble and see some unusual side-to-side fishtailing. Checking them every now and again or using a wireless tire pressure monitoring system.
- Brake Inspection: Have your pads, rotors, and drums inspected. Thin pads result in the vehicle (RV or tow vehicle) not braking correctly. If your dinghy isn’t stopping itself, your motorhome’s brakes could fail if the weight of itself and the toad is too much. It’s dangerous to you and everyone around if you lose control due to your brakes failing.
- DOT Light Check: When you plug in the umbilical electric cord, don’t assume all of your lights work. Have your co-pilot stand behind the tow vehicle while the driver:
- Hits the brakes
- Turns the headlights on
- Turns on both turn signals
- Activates and deactivates the hazard lights
- Puts the RV into reverse and then back to park
If any of these lights are out, this is the quickest way to get a ticket. Stopping at the store to replace them is a lot cheaper than the fine you’ll pay for a burnt-out light.
For those that aren’t plugging in your tow vehicle, you can purchase magnetic DOT tow light kits that plug into the RV’s umbilical. They’re strong magnets that attach to the trunk of your tow car and still cheaper than a ticket fine.
5. Don’t Forget Spares: It’s always a good idea to have spare DOT bulbs, a bottle of auto fluids, and a manual tire gauge in your RV tool kit. Even if you don’t need the transmission fluid for its intended purpose, most motorhome electronic jack systems use transmission fluid for hydraulic purposes.
33 Cars and Trucks That Can Be Flat Towed Behind RV Motorhomes
When you’re all hooked up, the last thing you want to do, if your tow vehicle doesn’t have the driveshaft decoupler and lubrication pump, is to set it to tow mode. For manual transmissions, this means simply putting the shifter out of gear. For four-wheel drives, use the secondary transmission setting (the one that changes it from 2 wheels to 4 wheels) into the neutral setting.
Once the vehicle is in its neutral setting, put the key in the ignition and turn it to the ACC position. This is the position past off, but before you start the engine. Some of the functions will turn on due to the battery. You won’t kill the battery if you have the RV’s umbilical cord plugged in. To help things, make sure you turn the radio, climate control, and everything else off.
The mixture of cars that can be dinghy towed is eclectic. The best vehicles to tow with RVs are either big SUVs or compact. The lightest cars to tow behind motorhomes are very fuel-efficient with some hybrid capabilities. There are a few mid-size sedans and SUVs that balance great MPG and passenger comfort worth checking out.
- Chevrolet Silverado HD 2500/3500 4WD
- Average Curb Weight 6,850 pounds
- Dodge Ram 2500/3500 4WD
- Average Curb Weight 7,400 pounds
- Ford F-250/F-350 4WD
- Average Curb Weight: F-250 6,300 pounds/ F-350 7,500 pounds
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD
- Average Curb Weight: 4,700 pounds
- Dodge Ram 1500 4WD
- Average Curb Weight: 5,100 pounds
- Ford F-150 4WD
- Average Curb Weight: 4,700 pounds
- Chevrolet Suburban
- Average Curb Weight: 5,700 pounds
- Chevrolet Tahoe
- Average Curb Weight: 5,450 pounds
- Ford Expedition
- Average Curb Weight: 5,500 pounds
- Lincoln Navigator
- Average Curb Weight: 5,800 pounds
- Ford Explorer
- Average Curb Weight: 4,500 pounds
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Average Curb Weight: 4,900 pounds
- Ford Edge
- Average Curb Weight: 4,150 pounds
- Jeep Cherokee
- Average Curb Weight: 3,800 pounds
- Jeep Wrangler JK
- Average Curb Weight: 4,250 pounds
- Lincoln MKX
- Average Curb Weight: 4,200 pounds
- Honda HR-V
- Average Curb Weight: 3,000 pounds
- Chevrolet Malibu
- Average Curb Weight: 3,250 pounds
- Ford Fusion Hybrid (& Energi)
- Average Curb Weight: 3,800 pounds
- Lincoln MKT
- Average Curb Weight: 5,036 pounds
- Ford Focus
- Average Curb Weight: 3,150 pounds
- Hyundai Elantra
- Average Curb Weight: 3,000 pounds
- Kia Forte
- Average Curb Weight: 2,800 pounds
- Kia Soul
- Average Curb Weight: 2,900 pounds
- Nissan Sentra
- Average Curb Weight: 3,060 pounds
- Toyota Corolla
- Average Curb Weight: 2,840 pounds
Sub Compact Sedan
- Chevrolet Spark
- Average Curb Weight: 2,275 pounds
- Fiat 500 & 500 Abarth
- Average Curb Weight: 2,400 pounds
- Ford C-Max Hybrid
- Average Curb Weight: 3,640 pounds
- Ford Fiesta
- Average Curb Weight: 2,650 pounds
- Hyundai Accent
- Average Curb Weight: 2,600 pounds
- Kia Rio
- Average Curb Weight: 2,765 pounds
- Toyota Yaris
- Average Curb Weight: 2,325 pounds
To safely tow your passenger vehicle, you’ll need to find a good quality tow bar. This device looks like a wishbone made of steel square tubing. The single section fits the ball mount that connects to your motorhome’s receiver. The two rear arms connect to the front chassis of your passenger vehicle.
Some tow bars have telescopic arms to help keep your toad aligned. The bar should come with safety chains or cables that act as secondary connections. If the bar ever disconnects, the chains keep your vehicle from wandering away. When towing your dinghy, it’s required by law that you have these backup connections hooked up.
The tow bars have a towing capacity ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 pounds. When you’re choosing your bar, make sure you include not only the weight of your toad, but the potential cargo weight you have within the vehicle. To help you out, the curb weights above also include a full tank and all of the other fluids your vehicle needs to operate.
If your passenger vehicle can’t be flat towed there are towing alternatives you can use to bring your front-wheel-drive toad. Car towing trailers lift the drive wheels or the whole vehicle off the ground. There are pros and cons to this that we’ll explore.
Using A Car Trailer
Car towing trailers have a number of benefits that are “healthier” for your passenger vehicle. From a transmission point-of-view, the wheels that receive power aren’t spinning. Once you secure the dinghy secured, you place the vehicle’s transmission in park and turn it completely off. You don’t have to worry about lubrication pumps, overheating issues, or any other internal issues that may come up.
There are some by-product issues to keep in mind. Some Campgrounds have limits on what you can keep at your campsite. They allow you to have your RV, your passenger vehicle, and a freestanding tent structure. Those with this restriction require car hauling trailer storage in either guest parking or their storage area for a fee.
Another issue is your passenger vehicle’s suspension. As you’re traveling, your vehicle’s suspension takes more stress than if it was flat towed. When the trailer’s suspension absorbs some type of road irregularity, it’s going to bounce. That kinetic energy transfers to your vehicle’s suspension. The car’s suspension takes the initial bounce and whatever energy the trailer adds.
A good quality trailer is going to dampen a lot of that energy. If you watch your car, it’ll look like your vehicle’s on a trampoline at some points, but the reality is the additional energy it receives is fractional. It’s still recommended that you have your vehicle’s suspension inspected annually since its getting more of a workout than average.
The first car trailer option is two-wheel dollies. They’re the least expensive, easy to store, and usually come with DOT lighting. Better models fold in half when you aren’t using them, so you can store them under your motorhome at the campsite to avoid campground regulations.
Notice the cover over the front end of the car to keep it safe from road debris. To learn more check out our article called How to Protect Your RV Tow Car From Road Debris.
To load your toad vehicle on, you first hitch up the trailer to your RV. Next, you drive your car up onto the trailer using the installed ramps. You want to make sure that the wheels that receive power from the engine are on the trailer. Finally, you store the ramps, strap up your car, and drive away.
Car dolly towing issues have to do with rear bumper clearance and fishtailing. Your toad is going to be on an angle. If it’s a front-wheel-drive sedan, you’ll want to make sure the back end of the car has enough clearance between the back bumper and the road. With road conditions and inclines, you don’t want the bumper scratched up because it’s hitting the road.
Dollies also fishtail a lot. Better quality ones have sway control components and braking systems to minimize this, but physics always wins. Braking systems are either electronic or have surge brakes. A surge brake is a mechanical feature. As you begin to slow down, the hitch arm engages the brakes.
Flat trailers are long enough to pull your vehicle completely on the deck. They come in receiver ball, goose-neck, and fifth wheel hitch connections. You can get them in a single or double axle. They don’t fishtail a lot because of their length and sway control optional features.
While they are more expensive than dollies, when you tow a car on a flatbed trailer, it keeps your vehicle flat, protects it from road debris, and prevents your tires from wearing down unevenly. You won’t have to worry too much about height clearance issues. Sedans and smaller SUVs should still sit lower or even to your motorhome’s rooftop A/Cs. Full-size SUVs like the Ford Expedition would be better off flat-towed than flat trailered due to clearance problems.
Box trailers are the most expensive alternative but have unique benefits. They are mobile garages for your car. The chassis is usually made from powder-coated steel. The sidewalls and roof come in painted aluminum, fiberglass, or wood. They protect your car from road debris and also act as another level of security since they are lockable.
Some RVers have taken their box trailers to their local hot rod shop to match up the paint to their motorhome. Some glamp it up with better wheels and rims, LED DOT clearance lighting, or some very awe-inspiring features.
Box trailers are utility trailers. Some have added roof racks, wall clips, and other things to take advantage of the additional storage space. Before you do this, make sure everything is properly secure so it won’t damage your car if you have to stop suddenly.
Hydraulic Cargo Lift
Hydraulic rear cargo lifts are mainly designed for class A diesels. Some bigger class A gassers may have the ability to use them, but definitely consult your RV dealer first. The key issue is your chassis. It must be one solid piece from front-to-back and handle the weight.
Some of these lifts can carry up to a couple of thousand pounds. Most RVers carry their golf carts, ATVs, and motorcycles. Some have the ability to carry Smart Cars (which stopped selling in the U.S. as of 2019) or other lightweight subcompact cars.
When you don’t need them, the lift tray folds up against the rear cap of your RV. The tray leaves enough clearance so it doesn’t scratch the paint and gives your engine enough room to breathe through the rear grill.
Renting Options For Towing Your Vehicle
Many in the RV community don’t always need to tow a vehicle with them. Motorhome enthusiasts drive to their vacation destination and enjoy the campgrounds they stay at. Big resorts have golf carts you can rent on location to help them get from the campsite to all of the fun activities within the property.
Renting a Car Hauler Trailer
Occasionally if you do need to bring your passenger vehicle with you, renting a dolly or flat car trailer is possible. Uhaul, Penske, and Lowes are some of the best companies for car hauler rentals. Expect to pay around $40- $200 depending on if you choose a dolly or flat trailer.
If you’ve ever rented equipment like this before, you know there are extra fees and their inhouse insurance. Most credit cards have comprehensive and collision insurance for rental cars. They may not cover rental equipment or personal injury. Your own auto insurance may have you covered for this rental equipment. Our best advice is to call both your credit card and insurance to find out the details.
Your insurance and/or credit card may not cover penalty fees the rental companies have in the contract. An example would be the loss of day fees. The rental company can charge you for every day the equipment is in the repair shop because it’s not rentable. If they lose four days of rentability, you could end up paying for those lost days.
If you buy the rental company’s protection plan, you’re fully covered by them. In situations like our example, they won’t charge you penalty fees. Make sure you fully understand the rental agreement before you rent. Most big-name rental companies have their rental agreement online, or you can stop by and pick up a copy to read over beforehand.
Check out our Facebook group, RV Camping for Newbies, if you haven’t already. Our own RV community has posted great questions and have helped each other out with their tips and wisdom. We’ve even learned a couple of things ourselves. That’s what’s great about the RV community; you never stop learning about what’s out there.
Some of our reader’s questions and tips have inspired parts of our articles that had answers that were too big for a Facebook post. As a result, we wanted to give a thorough explanation that they and future readers could learn from.
Car rental companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car has locations all across the country. Campgrounds work out special promotions with rental car companies for discounted pricing. They’ll pick you up in your rental car from the campground, take you to the office to complete the transaction, and let you continue to enjoy your vacation with great customer service.
As we mentioned above, be aware of their insurance protection policies. Your credit card and insurance company may cover comprehensive and collision, but there may be additional penalty fees not covered.
Many of these companies have rules that differentiate between debit cards and credit cards. Some will only take credit cards. They won’t accept debit cards if you’re more than 50-100 miles away from your permanent residence. Credit cards offer different protections for them than debit cards.
Ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft have become a new option for many RVers. It’s a less expensive way to get around by people who know the area. If you need to go out once or twice, this option can save you vacation money instead of renting a car outright.
The drivers are always screened and monitored for safety. Many of them know the area, so if you’re looking for the best shopping, dining, or other places, you have the best resource right there. The drivers rely on customer reviews, so they keep their vehicles clean, are very personable, and may offer extras like bottled water.
Hit the Road with Your Car, Jeep or Truck in Tow!
If your RV adventure is going to keep you moving around the area, having a passenger vehicle to get to the various attractions is a smart idea. Remember, this is a vacation. For many, it’s supposed to be a time where the alarm clock and deadlines stay back home.
Make sure you don’t forget to stop and enjoy the peacefulness of a nice campfire, sunset, and good conversation with your fellow campers. Going to places like Disney World, Mount Rushmore, or other once-in-a-lifetime locations are definitely worth it. If you want the full RV experience, the quiet times can be just as enjoyable as Space Mountain. Happy Trails!