Countless hours of research, thousands of dollars and 20 hours of hard labor. That’s all it took to go from truck to toad. There are many components that had to work together including tow bar, baseplate, supplemental braking and lighting. Let’s look at each.
Any vehicle made can be towed behind a motorhome. Which vehicle you choose will determine which method is used to tow:
- Trailer – the entire vehicle is up on a trailer. You will see some motorhomes towing a 25 foot enclosed trailer and most of those will have a vehicle of some kind and maybe some toys. This is a good option if you have an expensive sports car you want to keep clean.
- Dolly – one axle is on a “half” trailer, or dolly. You usually see this for vehicles that can’t be towed with all four wheels down.
- Dinghy or 4 down – This option is limited to vehicles that can be safely towed with all four wheels on the ground. Always check the vehicle owners manual or with the manufacturer. Most salesmen are not knowledgeable about this and you don’t want to destroy your vehicle only to find out it is not covered by warranty.
Early on I decided that I wanted to tow dinghy style. When I get where I’m going I don’t have to worry about where to park an extra trailer or dolly. And I didn’t want the extra weight. This decision limited my vehicle choice somewhat. I also decided I wanted a mid-sized pickup truck that could be towed flat without any add-ons for a variety of personal reasons. This brought my choices down to one in 2016 when I was ready to buy: the 4×4 version of the Chevy Colorado or it’s twin, the GMC Canyon. I went with the Canyon because I liked the seats and styling better. I ended up with the 2.8 liter diesel without really intending to, but it was a happy accident.
Many 4×4 vehicles have a transfer case that can be shifted into Neutral. Typically, if you have a Neutral you can tow four down without any additional pumps or lubricators but not always. This is why Jeeps are so popular as toads. Once again, check the owners manual or with the manufacturer before you tow.
This is like a hitch but for the front of your tow vehicle, it is what the tow bar will connect to. If you are towing a Jeep Wrangler or such, you probably will have a ton of options. For most others there are two big makers – Blue Ox and Roadmaster. I went with Blue Ox for several reasons:
- The way it attached to the chassis,
- How it looked after installation,
- How the tow bar connectors installed and looked,
- The installation height, and,
- Blue Ox allowed me to keep my recovery hooks.
The Tow Bar
Like the baseplate, there are several manufacturers, but two major players, Blue Ox and Roadmaster. I can’t say that one is far superior to the other. Make sure you get one that works with your application. I chose the Blue Ox so that I could use it out of the box without modification. The Roadmaster model would have worked, but I would have had to buy adapters. I chose the Avail with a 10,000 pound towing because my truck weighs in at almost 5,000 pounds fully outfitted and I like a margin for error.
This was the hardest decision to make as there are a myriad of options and types. If you tow your vehicle flat it is considered a trailer. For most states if your trailer exceeds their weight limits you will need some type of supplemental braking. In Texas, that weight is 4,000 pounds, but in some states it is lower. And you don’t get to tell the nice officer that you live out of state so you are excused. If you are towing in his state, you have to follow that state’s rules. Let’s look at the types first:
- Surge – these are the simplest. They operate when the towed vehicle exerts pressure on the unit as the motorhome is slowing or stopping. The problem with this type of unit is that it could apply the brakes unnecessarily and cause premature brake wear on the towed vehicle.
- Self Contained or Brake in a Box – these are systems that sit on the floorboard and press the brake pedal. They will need a 12v power source and some type of connection to sense a breakaway. They are relatively easy and cheap to install and setup – not so inexpensive to buy. But my truck has to have the ground disconnected from the battery which means I would have to run an extra wiring for the power. Lots of people have used these units with no problem, but lots have had plenty of problems including the box bouncing out of position so that it is unable to apply the brakes, excessive braking or braking unnecessarily.
- Vacuum or air assist units – these are installed in the vehicle and have air lines, vacuum lines, power lines and cables to actuate the brakes. They are probably the more reliable, but more complex option. Most units will use more braking when the RV uses more (proportional) and have ways to set sensitivity.
My choice: The SMI Stay in Play Duo. This system mounts an operating box under the hood and out of the way and a controller under the dash, also out of the way. It uses an air actuated piston to operate the brakes proportional to the stopping of the RV and only works if the brakes are actually being stepped on in the motorhome. This helps prevent premature brake wear that some systems cause. It also hooks directly to the battery so that when I disconnect the ground, it still works. The only thing that connects the brake unit to the motorhome is a standard trailer harness. Other systems need additional power or air lines from the coach. With the Stay in Play Duo I can hook up to any motorhome (or pickup truck for that matter) that has a round 7-pin connector and a hitch without any modification to the tow vehicle.
Even for something as simple as trailer lights there are several choices.
- Independent lights that can be clamped on or attached magnetically. These have their own wiring harness and are simple to install.
- Tap into existing tail lights. Depending on your vehicle you can wire directly into the tail lights. Some applications require diodes, which are like one-way valves for electricity.
- Extra bulb. This was my choice. I drilled a hole in my existing tail light assembly (painful and scary to do) and added a bulb with independent wiring. I have read that diodes sometimes fail and I didn’t want to risk getting a back flow through the vehicle wiring and causing damage to another component.
Whichever options you chose, make sure you shop around if saving money is important. The best deals are rarely found at the manufacturers’ websites or at RV service centers. I ended up buying all my components at RV Upgrade Store. They also had a warehouse locally so shipping was fast. It would have been all free shipping except I forgot to order the 7-pin to round 4-pin adapter. Places like eTrailer or Amazon had as good as prices as RV Upgrade, but not on everything. I just thought it simpler to order everything from one place.
Once you know what you want, feel free to mix and match from different manufacturers and/or different suppliers.