Things to Know Before You Tow (a car)

If you have a larger Class A or Class C motorhome, a dinghy vehicle is practically a necessity. The sheer size of a motorhome, while comfortable, doesn’t exactly lend itself to transportability, especially on narrow country roads or times when you need to make a quick trip to the store. Towing a dinghy behind your rig makes life on the trail much easier, but it comes with its own set of considerations.

Make Sure Your Vehicle is Approved for Flat Towing

The most important thing to do when choosing a dinghy vehicle is to make sure the car or truck is manufacturer approved for flat towing. To do this, first figure out your motorhome’s maximum towing limit, then determine which vehicles fall into that limit (this isn’t the only thing to consider, but it will help narrow down the list). Don’t forget to keep in mind the weight rating of your motorhome’s trailer hitch receiver. Most motorhomes can tow anything from a four-passenger compact car to a medium to large SUV or sport truck.

The good news about most flat-towed dinghies is for the most part they track so well many drivers don’t even realize they’re there. This is especially true with manual, front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicles and most manual 4WD vehicles, which have the added bonus of being among the lightest vehicles.

Certain precautions need to be taken when towing some vehicles. For instance, many times you’ll need to start the engine every 200 miles to circulate the transmission fluid to prevent drivetrain damage. You may also need to leave the ignition switch in a position that unlocks the steering column. Needless to say, this can drain your battery significantly after a full day of towing. Fortunately, this can be prevented with most cars by simply unplugging one or more fuses from the vehicle’s fuse box before towing.

Make Sure You Have the Proper Linkage Equipment

One of the most important components of your towing system is having a solid, properly designed and installed link between your motorhome and your tow vehicle. The most important pieces of linkage equipment are your hitch receivers, tow bars and baseplates.

Hitch Receivers

Look at the rating of your hitch receiver to make sure it’s rated for the heaviest load you intend to pull. Also keep in mind the height of your motorhome will rarely match up with the height of your chosen tow vehicle, so you may have to use an adjustable height drop receiver to allow the tow bar to ride level. Receivers should be bolted in place as opposed to welded, using at least Grade 5 bolts and lock washers as well as locking nuts and thread-locking sealer.

Tow Bars

There are two types of tow bars available – A-frame and self-aligning. A-frame tow bars (also called “solid” or “folding”) are the most economical but are designed to fit a limited number of baseplates (the folding A-frames fit more than the solid one).

Self-aligning tow bars are available in two styles: dinghy-mounted and coach mounted. In general, coach-mounted units are better because there is less chance of damage when they are not in use.


The most critical piece of any motorhome/dinghy system is the baseplate. While tow bars and hitch receivers are intended to fit many different vehicles, baseplates are specific to certain makes, models and years of cars and trucks, so special equipment and installation techniques must be used. Be sure to follow the specific instructions for your baseplate, and remember to use properly rated safety cables and/or chains to keep the dinghy from separating from the motorhome if the tow bar or ball fails. Make sure you connect the chains and cables securely to the dinghy and cross them under the tow bar, then secure them to the hitch receiver. There should be enough slack on them to allow full turning without binding, but not enough to drag on the ground.

Before You Tow Checklist

Make sure your equipment is rated for the dinghy’s weight and you are not exceeding your motorhome’s gross combination weight rating (GCWR).

  • Confirm hitch height is correct.
  • Confirm all hitch bolts and tow-bar and baseplate fasteners are securely tightened.
  • Confirm all hitch and wiring connections are engaged and secure, all safety chains or cables are attached and all locking pins are properly installed.
  • Connect brake system and breakaway device.
  • Check motorhome and dinghy for proper function of taillights, brake lights and turn signals.
  • Check tire pressure of all tires on motorhome and dinghy — including spare tires.
  • Make sure the dinghy is set up for towing:
  • Steering unlocked; hand brake off; gear selector in the position specified by manufacturer; ignition in proper position; lube-pump switch, driveshaft coupler, 4WD transfer case and hubs (if applicable) in proper position.

As You Go Checklist

  • Observe the speed limit for towing in each state or province you traverse.
  • Maintain adequate stopping distance from the vehicle in front of you. A minimum five second interval is recommended.
  • Avoid towing in snowy or icy conditions.
  • Pay particular attention to traffic merging onto the freeway, and be prepared to take evasive action to avoid “daydreamers.”
  • Plan ahead — most flat-towed dinghies can’t be backed more than a few feet, so it’s necessary to focus on easy ingress and egress. Most tow-bar manufacturers will not warrant damage caused by backing. Dollies tend to jackknife quickly. It’s better to disconnect the dinghy and drive to a safe place to reconnect.
  • Avoid having to make tight turns; they put a lot of pressure on tow bars.
  • Towing in deep sand or gravel may cause the dinghy’s front wheels to turn to one side. If this happens, you must manually recenter them before continuing.
  • Walk around the coach and dinghy to inspect all connections, check tire pressure (or use a monitoring system like the nVISION TPMS from Hopkins) and look for signs of trouble every time you stop.

To view the rest of the Motorhome Magazine towing guide, click here: 2011 Motorhome Towing Guide

If you take the necessary precautions with your tow vehicle, you’ll be much freer to move around the campground and the area surrounding it. For more towing tips, or for towing supplies, stop by Beckley’s today!

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