|Class A||Fifth Wheel||Pop-Up Campers|
|Class B||Travel Trailer||Boat Trailer|
By Gary Bunzer
Whether seeking a suitable tow vehicle for a travel trailer or searching for an RV that can be safely towed behind an existing vehicle, remember all vehicles are assigned a maximum towing capacity as determined by the manufacturer. Virtually all makers publish an annual towing guide to bring clarity to the weight limitations of each model, including the all-important GCWR, (gross combined weight rating). Engine size, horsepower rating, transmission, axle and differential specifications, chassis and suspension construction, plus cooling and braking capacity all factor into a safe towing equation.
The same goes for towing a vehicle behind the motorhome. Stay within the limitations and excursions will be safe and enjoyable; providing the correct towing equipment is utilized. Let’s take a closer look at the various towing configurations.
Towing a small car behind a motorhome, dinghy towing, remains very popular since a smaller second vehicle allows for side trips and errand running while eliminating the need to break camp, disconnect all the utilities, secure the contents for travel and deal with the hassles of setting up camp again upon the return. Equipment-wise, there are three basic ways to tow a dinghy; tow trailer, tow dolly and tow bar.
The tow trailer is simply a flat bed trailer that allows the vehicle to be fully loaded into or on it. It is the least popular method mainly because of the bulkiness of the tow trailer itself. The advantage? The car is completely off the ground; absolutely no tire wear or the need for any modifications to the car.
With a dolly, the wheels of one axle only are placed onto a specially designed, single axle trailer. This is a popular method used primarily with front wheel drive cars. No other major equipment is required and no further modification to the dinghy is needed. Some are equipped with interesting features such as auto-steer and brakes.
The most common method of towing a small car, however, is with a tow bar. This allows all four wheels of the dinghy to remain on the ground resulting in less tongue weight on the motorhome and easier coupling and uncoupling. In most cases, additional equipment is necessary and modifications may have to be made, but the good news is that almost any small car can now be safely towed. The add-ons that may be necessary include a speedometer disconnect device, a transmission lube pump or a drive shaft disconnect coupler. The choice of dinghy will determine exactly what additional equipment is required.
Tow bars come in many styles. Self-Aligning – which allows a hook-up by one individual. Just get close enough behind the motorhome and make the connections. When pulled forward, the tow bar locks into place automatically.
“A” Frame – a rigid frame design that folds upright or detaches when not in use. It’s better for two people to make this connection since the dinghy must be in an exact position for the coupler to mate with the ball mount. Though less costly, it is more cumbersome and harder to stow when not in use.
Dinghy Mounted – can be either the “A” frame type or the self-aligning type, but is mounted on the front end of the towed vehicle.
Motorhome Mounted – is a self-aligning tow bar mounted on the rear of the motorhome. Lighter and easy to use, the motorhome-mounted bar eliminates the need for a standard ball mount. Plus it keeps the front end of the dinghy looking sleeker and cleaner when not being towed. It seems to have become the preferred method today. Because of the plethora of products, make an informed buying decision by investigating all the options.
Regardless of which type or style of tow bar you choose, a base plate must be mounted on the towed vehicle. Most manufacturers design base plates for specific vehicles in kit form, complete with all the necessary hardware and written instructions. Choose the one that is the least noticeable on your particular dinghy. Non-obtrusiveness is a good thing.
Conventional Travel Trailers
To tow a conventional travel trailer, a hitch is a mandate. Trailer hitches are rated by “class” according to weight capacity. The higher the class, the more weight that hitch can carry.
What most call “the hitch,” is actually comprised of several components. Weight distributing hitch assemblies include three main components; the receiver, ball mount and spring bar assembly. Several manufacturers produce a myriad of weight distributing hitches, so again, due diligence is due!
RVers neutralize adverse trailer sway by adding a sway control device to the hitch configuration. A friction type sway control is produced by many manufacturers and seeks to control the sway once it is initiated. It connects the tow vehicle ball mount to one side of the trailer’s “A” frame.
An alternative design is the Dual Cam High Performance Sway Control produced by Reese, which makes rigid the connection between tow vehicle and trailer on both sides of the “A” frame. The advantage of this is that it mechanically works to combat sway and maintain a straight towing line from the first onset of the sway.
Newer techniques of sway control have been introduced over the years and include sway control methods manufactured into the hitch design itself. Some quite interesting advances have focused on preventing sway rather than simply controlling it. The Hensley Arrow is but one example of this mindset.
The PullRite method of towing a travel trailer transposes the entire design into an upside down version of a fifth-wheel hitch of sorts whereby the pivot point is moved from behind the tow vehicle to a point just behind the rear axle. A PullRite foregoes the necessity of a separate sway control device altogether. Regardless of design or application, controlling or eliminating sway is tantamount to safe trailer towing.
Fifth-Wheel Travel Trailers
But can a short-bed pickup tow a fifth-wheel trailer? Thanks to many hitch manufacturers the answer is yes. Multiple designs are currently available from an assortment of manufacturers, making fifth-wheel towing plausible for even those with a short bed.
Brake Controllers - Travel trailers, fifth-wheels and even some tow dollies have brakes; predominantly electric brakes. A true proportional brake controller is always preferred over timer-based controllers.
Supplemental Braking - If a towed dinghy weighs 40% or more of the motorhome’s gross vehicle weight or if the car itself weighs close to 2,000 pounds, it is recommended to install supplemental braking. Though no Federal Law exists as of yet, many individual states and Canadian Provinces have laws requiring additional braking if the towed vehicle exceeds a certain weight. It is often emphasized that while state and provincial laws may vary, the law of physics is non-negotiable and very finite.
Electrical Connections - all towed vehicles must also be equipped with running lamps, stop lamps and turn signals. Be sure the two vehicles are wired accordingly and remember to check all lamp functions daily. Also, travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers must contain a fully charged battery for the breakaway switch to be operable.
Safety Chains - use quality safety chains. Chains are crossed under the coupler area of the towed vehicle and secured properly. Be certain there is enough slack in the length of the chains to accommodate the tightest of turns, but not so much that they drag on the pavement.
Additional Cooling - with added weight behind the tow vehicle, an auxiliary transmission cooler is cheap insurance and a heavier radiator could be a mandate with some heavy trailers.
So, do some homework, think safety, equip properly, hitch up and tow! You’ll soon discover what millions of RVers already know! And remember, RVing is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle!