Deciding to tow a car behind your motorhome is a big–and confusing–decision.
If we do tow, should we get a tow dolly or tow four wheels down? If we tow four wheels down, what kind of tow package should we get? What’s least expensive? What’s safest? Should I tow a car behind my RV at all?
We are asked this question all the time. Ultimately, the past two years has been an extensive testing ground for both scenarios — towing and not towing.
Recently, we found what we believe is the best setup for our ideal form of travel: towing our Honda CR-V (automatic transmission) behind our Winnebago Brave “flat” or “four-on-the-floor.”
Here is a scenic view of our current setup:
Before you make a decision on whether you should or shouldn’t tow, I wanted to share a few of our towing experiences from the past two years.
Driving Without a Tow Vehicle or “Toad”
Our first year RVing, we drove our 1994 Class C motorhome to 48 states without a tow vehicle. This meant Heath drove our rig through cities like Austin, Los Angeles, New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, and many others.
What We Liked About NOT Having a Tow Car:
- We saved a couple thousand dollars by not having to buy a tow package or tow dolly.
- Driving without a tow car was one less stress factor as a new RVer.
- We saved a few minutes of time when leaving campgrounds and arriving by not having to hook up a tow car.
- Better gas mileage.
- Able to visit more places. For example, if we towed a car, we wouldn’t have been able to take the Pacific Coast Highway all the way from LA to Portland because of the 30-foot limit.
The Downside of Not Towing a Car:
- If we wanted to visit major cities, we had to drive our RV into downtown areas (like the photo above in Seattle).
- Trying to find a 29 foot parking spot was always stressful.
- Our RV was our only vehicle for errands. If we wanted to make a quick run to the grocery store, we had to pack everything up and move.
Conclusion: Driving a 29-foot RV through big cities is not fun.
Overall, the experience of driving our RV without a tow car was incredibly inconvenient. While it gave us one less thing to do when packing up our RV to leave a campsite, it also caused a lot of stress and limitations when we wanted do simple things like run to grocery store because we ran out of milk.
Plus, if there were vehicle limitations for roads, we had to avoid those areas all together. For example, during our first trip to Glacier National Park we missed driving the famed Going to the Sun Road because there is a 24-foot limit. And in Big Bend, we couldn’t camp at most of campgrounds because of another 24-foot limit.
Driving Our RV With a Tow Dolly
A tow dolly is a trailer that allows you to tow with your front two wheels or all four wheels on top of a trailer. We used a tow dolly for only one day before we abandoned it in west Texas (long story), but we tried again a year later with slightly better luck.
This blog post is an excerpt from our free guide, Everything You Need to Know Before You Start RVing. Download your free copy:
What We Liked About the Tow Dolly:
- We finally had a vehicle to explore local areas, without having to bring the RV along.
- The tow dolly was free, since we were borrowing it from a family member. Tow dollies are quite expensive if you buy one new (and likely more expensive than a tow kit).
What We Didn’t Like About the Tow Dolly:
- The straps on the tow dolly were a point of constant stress. They had to constantly be adjusted and would come loose during travel.
- It took a lot of time to hook up the car to the dolly.
- Driving the car onto the tow dolly trailer was a little unnerving. I never drove it off the front, but it’s something we’ve seen many people accidentally do while using a tow dolly and it always terrified me.
- I was constantly worried about the car falling off the tow dolly.
- It was difficult to find a place to store the dolly if we stayed at a campground for more than a week.
Conclusion: Great having an extra vehicle, but more stress than it was worth.
Overall, the largest benefit to having the tow dolly was having access to our car. However, the stress caused by the difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the dolly was not worth it. If it hadn’t been completely free to use, I wouldn’t personally recommend one.
Towing Flat Behind Our Brave
I recently installed a Blue Ox Base Plate and Blue Ox Tow Bar so that we could tow our 2002 Honda CR-V behind our Brave. Instead of dealing with the stress of driving our RV through big cities or worry about messing around with a tow dolly, we have the comfort of towing our CR-V with four wheels down.
The past month and a half we’ve covered several thousand miles with our new towing setup. I wish we would have done this from the very beginning. I was worried about the cost and difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the RV. However, it takes just a few minutes to hook up our Honda CR-V behind our Brave.
To see how to connect a tow car to your RV, you can watch this video from GoneWithTheWynns.
What We Like About Flat Towing
- It just takes a minute to hook up the car for towing (plus a couple minutes of running the engine)
- I have a much better turn radius while flat towing versus the dolly.
- I’m not worried about our car falling off the tow dolly and smashing into someone.
- It’s less stressful knowing we have a Brake Buddy auxiliary braking system that will pump the brakes when we drive downhill and stop the car should it, for whatever reason, detach from the tow bar.
Conclusion: Towing flat behind the RV is our clear winner
Towing our Honda CR-V with four wheels down has turned out to be the best set up. It takes just a few minutes before each drive to set everything up.
The manual in our CR-V gives us a simple set of directions and rules for towing which makes the process easy. (We aren’t allowed to drive over 65 mph and before towing, we have to run the gears through a special sequence to lube the transmission. If we drive for more than eight hours in one day, which we never do, then we need to work through the sequence again.)
How We Picked a Tow Package
Ultimately, there are two main companies who manufacture tow bars, Blue Ox and Roadmaster. After looking through multiple online forums that compared both companies, they both seemed like fairly even products. Some people preferred Blue Ox, some people preferred Roadmaster. There wasn’t a lot of differentiating factors with either tow bar.
We went with Blue OX because we were on a time crunch and we found a local dealer who could get us all the parts in time.
Note: Neither company sells direct. You’ll have to find a local dealer on their website or on Amazon. We chose Amazon because it’s cheaper and we’re all about Prime two-day shipping.
What We Had to Buy for Flat Towing
There were several different components we had to buy before setting up our Honda CR-V for flat towing.
Here’s the list of big items we had to purchase:
This towbar is rated to tow up to 6,500 lbs and inserts into the trailer hitch on our RV. At the time of writing this bar is on Amazon for $543.00, which is $150 less than local dealer prices.
Note: base plates must be ordered specific to your vehicle’s model and year. If you buy on Amazon, they have great filters for this.
We had to find a base plate that specifically fit the specs of Alyssa’s 2002 Honda CR-V. I couldn’t find a seller on Amazon, so I ordered through a local dealer for this part and paid around $320.
Most dealerships charge several hundred dollars for this kind of installation, but luckily I had a friend who was willing to help guide me through the process. We spent three days drilling holes in the frame of our CR-V, removing our front bumper, watching Youtube videos for guidance and attaching the base plate.
Blue OX also sent step by step directions for installing this base plate onto the front of our CR-V which proved incredibly helpful. If you have a few days and don’t mind a bit of manual labor, I recommend doing the install on your own.
Here is a helpful video demonstration from etrailer.com that shows you how to install a baseplate on a Honda CR-V.
I’m sure any light kit would work. Just to make it easy, I ordered the Blue OX light kit to make sure that everything would work properly and it was around $45. I followed this Youtube video for help on the light installation.
An auxiliary braking system is designed to brake your vehicle for you as you tow it. Many states have towing laws that regulate whether or not you need some type of auxiliary braking system. You can find a complete state-by-state list of those regulations here. If you plan on traveling to Canada, it is required by law, hence why we bought one.
Brake Buddy, the most popular auxiliary braking system will run you around $1,000. It is extremely pricey, BUT definitely makes us feel more at peace and safer knowing that if something goes wrong, the Brake Buddy will take control of the car.
Ultimately, the decision to tow is up to each RVer. How fast will you be traveling? Are you going to more cities? How long is your RV? There is no one size fits all solution. (If you haven’t picked which RV is right for you yet, check out this blog where we break down the pros and cons to each.)
If you have any questions about towing, drop them into the comments and I’ll be as helpful as possible!