Towing a car, that is. I spent my first year full-timing in my motorhome without a car but bought a manual transmission small vehicle while I was in Oklahoma City for two months. The second month there involved a few weeks of getting the car ready to tow. My first 200 miles consisted of driving to an RV park that was 22 miles from my son’s house and then driving back to my son’s house for more work. Then driving back to the RV Park to spend the night before heading out to the Tulsa area for four days, 130 miles away. The following is what I chose for my equipment and what I learned along the way.
You have some options when deciding to bring another vehicle with you on the road. Some people have a travel trailer or fifth wheel and a truck. I felt this was too inconvenient for me at the time I went full time because I had numerous animals, including a parrot and a cat, who would have to travel in the truck with me and the dogs while driving. Also, I’ve noticed that travel trailers always seem to involve a lot more set up than the motorhome, even when just staying overnight. So if you decide to travel with a motorhome, there are three ways you can tow a second vehicle. You can flat tow (4 wheels town) or tow two wheels on a trailer with the back wheels down on the ground or you can put the entire car on a trailer to tow. I’ve even seen some setups where people tow their car inside an enclosed trailer at the back of the motorhome but then you are getting into the very long length area and it’s a lot harder to find places to park.
I just knew from experience that I didn’t want to deal with some of the issues with a trailer like swaying on the road and more difficulty handling. Everything I read said that flat-towing was very easy and you usually don’t even know the car is there, as it follows behind the motorhome. Once I decided to flat tow, I had to do some research and buy a vehicle that had manual transmission and no other issues, like having to disconnect fuses or do things with the steering. The best way to get this information is to check the free dinghy tow guide downloads from Motorhome Magazine. I was very fortunate to find a late model small vehicle that was all manual with low mileage at the price I wanted to pay. You might have to look for awhile. Some of the models I was interested in don’t make manual transmission styles and most of the ones I went to look at had very high mileage.
Once you decide on flat towing and you have your vehicle, you need to decide which tow package you want installed. There are three main manufacturers and you can start your research there. Those are Blue Ox, Roadmaster, and Readybrake. If you buy a complete system from Blue Ox or Roadmaster, you will need a supplemental brake system. Yes, you can hook your car up and go but the brake system in the towed vehicle is required in most states and is just a safe practice. Systems like Patriot or Invisibrake sit on the floor of the towed vehicle and hook up to the brakes. These systems are good if you need to move it from one vehicle to another easily. They run about $700-$900. The other type, on Readybrake, are cables that are permanently attached inside the car and can be connected to the motorhome or disconnected easily. These come with the complete tow package and the Readybrake tow bar is built to function with the brake cable. Do your research before deciding and there are many videos on YouTube to help you decide.
You need to decide on a base plate as well. Ideally, your base plate should match your tow bar so that hook up is easy and safe with no buying extra parts. I haven’t researched everything but did get the following information. Camping World gave me an estimate on installing a Roadmaster towing package with a supplemental brake. Their estimate was $2,400 including installation and all parts. This probably would have been the best deal for me but I wasn’t able to make an appointment with them. After three weeks, I gave up and looked elsewhere. I found a dealer through the Blue Ox website and called about an estimate. Their quote, which took a week to get, was $5,400 including labor. There was no way I was going to spend that much money. While deciding what to do, my son found a video about a system called Readybrake and after watching this video and checking the website, I decided that this system made a lot of sense to me and was the least expensive, as well.
Readybrake gives you an option of ordering a Blue Ox or a Roadmaster base plate and then they provide everything else for a little less than $2,000 for the Ready Brute Elite package, which was the correct package for my 3,000 lb. vehicle. Everything was delivered within the week and during installation, we were able to call the company twice with questions and had someone answer right away. I did experience a few frustrations during installation mostly because my son is a perfectionist and re-did a few things until they were failsafe and as perfect as he could get it. Because it was his first time, there were a few things he learned but all in all, he did a great job. He spent about 5 days (maybe 6-8 hours per day) total accomplishing the following:
- one day – install base plate
- one day – electrical system
- two days – figure out the braking system, try different techniques, get the brake cable installed, get the breakaway cable installed (by this time, I was concerned and wondering if we really needed the breakaway cable but he kept plugging away and once it was installed, I’m glad I let him take the time)
- one day – fine tune everything and test
Keep in mind that if you go with the Readybrake system, you will have to drill holes in your car and you can only use the Readybrake tow bar with the car that has the brake cable installed. It actually looked a lot easier on the video and did turn out to be a bit of a challenge for my son. My car had very little room to work and was definitely not as easy as a Jeep, like they show in the videos. My son is an electrician and mechanic by trade, employed by the Air Force, so he was able to do many things that were a complete mystery to me.
It seems like there are a lot of parts but I can actually keep everything attached and easily just unhook the car. I would not put all the cables and cords away unless it was raining or I am parked long term. Otherwise, I leave everything draped across the tow bar. Hooking up involves the following:
- Pull car up to tow bar and leave in neutral; hook up the tow bar to the base plate
- Hook up the electrical cable for lights (my son created a plug in system from the motorhome to the car bumper for me for easy removal when not in use)
- Hook up the brake cable and breakaway cable (carabiner)
- Hook up the big safety cables
- Turn the steering wheel to the unlock position and leave key in (I keep a spare key for this so I can still lock the car if I want to)
- Either pull motorhome forward or drive car back to lock the legs of the tow bar (you can hear the red bars click when locked)
That’s it. Driving was a breeze and I was lucky that my first long drive involved good weather and very little traffic. I look forward to many years of adventurous travels with the little car in tow.