Dinghy towing is ideal for seasonal and full-time motorhome owners because it allows you to run errands and explore your destination without packing up and moving your entire RV.
If you feel “stuck” and unable to explore because it’s a hassle to pack up and move your RV daily, you should consider towing a vehicle. Here’s everything you need to know about dinghy towing with a motorhome.
What is Dinghy Towing?
Also known as ‘flat towing’ or ‘four-down’ towing, dinghy towing allows you to pull a secondary vehicle behind your RV without using a trailer or tow dolly. It requires an RV with sufficient towing capacity, a compatible vehicle, and the correct dinghy towing hitch equipment.
Not all vehicle transmissions are compatible with flat towing, so some RVers acquire a new vehicle specifically for towing behind their motorhome. Before you worry about which vehicles you can tow behind your RV, consult your owner’s manual or check with your RV’s manufacturer to learn how much weight you can tow safely.
What Cars Can Be Flat Towed Behind an RV?
Your first step should be to check with your vehicle’s manufacturer to see if your existing vehicle can be flat towed behind an RV.
If you don’t currently have a vehicle, some of the most popular small vehicles for flat towing behind an RV include the Honda Fit, Chevy Malibu, Nissan Versa, and Chevy Spark.
Popular SUVs or larger vehicles for flat towing include the Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Tahoe, Ford F-150, Ford Escape, and Ford Edge.
When choosing a dinghy or toad, your main criteria will be vehicle weight and drivetrain. Your RV must be rated to tow more than the vehicle’s weight, and the vehicle’s drivetrain must be compatible with flat towing.
What Equipment Do You Need for Dinghy Towing?
Let’s cover the basic hitch & tow equipment you’ll need to tow a car behind your RV:
Technician Tip: Remember that manufacturers design these products to work with others in the same family. For example, a Blue Ox baseplate generally won’t be compatible with Roadmaster tow bars and a Demco auxiliary braking system. Mixing and matching is not recommended.
A baseplate is a structure that mounts to your vehicle’s frame to provide a secure location for the tow bars to connect. Baseplate selection is vehicle-specific; some require more extensive installation procedures than others.
Roadmaster, Blue Ox, and Demco are three of the most popular brands for dinghy towing equipment. Each company has a vehicle fit list on its website to help you find a baseplate kit that fits your vehicle.
Tow bars connect your RV’s hitch receiver and your towed vehicle. They must be rated for the weight of your vehicle plus any fuel or cargo stored inside. Choose tow bars with a weight capacity to spare, as you don’t want to max them out.
Generally, there are two types: traditional tow bars and non-binding tow bars. Traditional tow bars are more affordable but less user-friendly and can be difficult to disconnect if you’re not parked on level ground.
Non-binding tow bars are designed to move independently, making them easier to connect or disconnect on uneven ground or when your towed vehicle isn’t perfectly aligned with your motorhome.
The shank on non-binding tow bars inserts into your motorhome’s hitch receiver for easy installation. Many brands design them to fold up and secure out of the way once your vehicle is disconnected, meaning you don’t have to remove and store them between uses.
Finally, compare tow bar weights before making your selection. The design, materials, and construction will dictate how much tow bars weigh, but you’ll want to ensure you’re comfortable handling that much weight when installing or removing them.
Auxiliary Braking Systems
A braking system for towing a dinghy is legally mandatory in most US states and Canadian provinces. They’re also a smart idea to reduce the stress on your RV’s brakes when towing a secondary vehicle.
There are dinghy braking systems available in portable and permanent installations. Portable braking systems are more popular because they can be used for dinghy towing multiple vehicles. They also allow you to change your towed vehicle in the future.
These systems are temporarily placed in the footwell in front of the driver’s seat in your towed vehicle. They have an arm and pedal clamp that connects to the vehicle’s brake pedal and depresses it when you apply the brakes in your motorhome.
Permanent auxiliary braking systems are better for those who plan to tow the same vehicle for a long time. They offer the ease of one-time installation, typically requiring several hours of labor. Once installed, the system is basically “plug-and-play” whenever you’re ready to tow.
Permanent designs naturally offer proportional braking because they tie into your motorhome’s air or hydraulic braking system. However, proportional braking is an important feature to look for if you choose a portable braking system.
Proportional Braking = The auxiliary braking system mirrors the application of brakes in your motorhome, matching the timing and the force of application.
With a proportional braking system, it brakes harder as you do, limiting the jerking and stress on the tow bars and baseplate. This creates a smoother towing experience and reduces wear on your towed vehicle’s brakes.
Wiring Kits and Safety Cables
Most auxiliary braking systems have a wiring kit that plugs into your vehicle, ensuring its running lights, brake lights, and turn signals function in unison with your motorhome. If the system you choose requires modifying your vehicle’s electrical system, we strongly recommend contacting a Camping World Service Center to help with the installation.
At their most basic, wiring kits connect a receptacle inside your towed vehicle to another at the rear of your motorhome. Good designs incorporate an electrical backflow prevention feature to prevent damage to each vehicle’s electrical system.
Alternatively, some RVers install an auxiliary light bar on their towed vehicle. They usually install using suction cups or magnets and can save you some time versus installing a universal wiring kit.
Your dinghy towing system should also incorporate safety chains and a breakaway cable. If they don’t come with your tow bars, baseplate kit, or braking system, you must obtain the compatible accessories and install them properly.
Installing a rock guard is a great idea to protect your towed vehicle from rocks or other debris that your motorhome can kick up. There are generally two types: those mounted to the rear of your motorhome (i.e., mud flaps) and those mounted to the front of your towed vehicle.
A rock guard or mud flaps on the rear of your motorhome should be the bare minimum to protect your towed vehicle. You can also consider mounting an additional rock guard to the front of your towed vehicle.
Still, you’ll need to consult your vehicle’s manufacturer to see if they warn against such an installation. Some vehicles can’t have accessories permanently mounted to the grill so they can maintain proper airflow for cooling the transmission.
How to Tow a Car Behind an RV
There are three main ways to tow a car behind your RV: flat towing, dolly towing, and trailer towing. Let’s cover each:
How to Flat Tow a Car Behind an RV
Flat towing is a great option with the right vehicle because it doesn’t require a secondary piece of equipment beyond the hitch (i.e., no dolly or car trailer required). Vehicle compatibility is the main issue with this method of towing, but it also puts more wear on all four tires than the other methods.
The exact process for hooking up and towing for flat towing will depend on the tow bars you choose. The manufacturer is your best resource for the procedures to install and use vehicle towing equipment safely.
That said, here’s a generic overview of safe installation and use procedures:
- Equip your vehicle with a compatible baseplate kit.
- Secure compatible tow bars to your RV’s hitch receiver.
- Line your vehicle up behind your RV at the manufacturer’s recommended distance.
- Attach the tow bars to the baseplate on your vehicle.
- Attach safety chains in a crisscrossed fashion.
- Plug in the wiring connection.
- Connect the braking system and breakaway cable.
- Unlock the vehicle’s transmission.
- Ensure the parking brake is disengaged.
- Check brake lights, running lights, and turn signals.
Depending on the model, some vehicles have time limitations on how long they can be flat towed. They may also require that you start the car every couple hundred miles to lubricate the transmission. Consult your owner’s manual or contact your vehicle’s manufacturer for safe flat towing procedures.
Technician Tip: All tow bar systems are made for forward use only. Backing up, even one foot, can severely damage the tow bar, RV, or towed vehicle.
How to Dolly Tow a Car Behind an RV
Dolly towing involves placing your vehicle’s front two wheels on the dolly, leaving the rear wheels on the road. It minimizes the wear on your front tires, but you’ll need to rotate tires regularly to avoid overuse of the tires not on the dolly.
Dolly towing is a happy medium if your vehicle can’t be pulled with tow bars, but you don’t want to invest in a car trailer. Just ensure that your RV can safely tow the weight of your vehicle combined with the weight of a compatible tow dolly.
How to Tow a Car Behind an RV on a Trailer
Towing a flat or enclosed trailer is sometimes the only option if you want to bring a four-wheel drive vehicle on your RV adventures. Your trailer must have a ramp to load and unload your vehicle, and you must have heavy-duty ratchet straps to secure your vehicle before towing.
This is the heaviest option for dinghy towing, so you’ll want a trailer with electric brakes, meaning your RV will need a brake controller. Like all these methods, you’ll need to check your RV’s towing capacity to ensure you can tow the combined weight of your trailer, vehicle, and hitch equipment. You’ll also need a place to store the trailer between uses.
Tips for Safe Dinghy Towing
Safety is essential for any type of vehicle towing. Here are a few safety tips to help you get to your next destination with ease:
- Double-check everything. This includes straps, locking pins, safety chains, wiring connections, braking controls, and all lights on your RV and towed vehicle.
- Plan for your added length. You’ll need longer to proceed through intersections. Check your side mirrors frequently to ensure you’re clearing potential obstacles when turning.
- Follow less closely. You’ll need more time time to slow down and stop when towing.
- Unhook before setting up camp. This makes it easier to make final maneuvers to put your RV where you want it. It also eliminates the possibility of hitch and vehicle damage if you try to level your RV while your vehicle is still connected.
FAQs About Flat Towing Behind an RV
Here are a few more common questions about dinghy towing behind an RV:
How to Tow an AWD Car Behind an RV
Many all-wheel drive vehicles require a car trailer to be towed behind an RV to avoid damage to the transmission. In fact, this is the only safe way to transport an all-wheel drive vehicle behind your RV.
Can You Tow an Electric Car Behind an RV?
You cannot currently flat tow an electric vehicle behind an RV because they cannot be shifted into neutral. However, they can be towed on a car trailer with the appropriate loading ramps and ratchet straps.
Does Towing a Car Behind an RV Damage It?
One of the main dangers of towing a car behind an RV is damage from rocks or debris kicked up by your RV tires. That’s why most motorhomes used for towing are equipped with rock guards to minimize the chance of that type of damage.
Aside from that, towing a vehicle behind an RV isn’t inherently dangerous for the vehicle, so long as it’s done correctly. Choosing the incorrect dinghy towing method for your vehicle can certainly result in serious damage.
Towing a vehicle behind your RV opens up a world of possibilities and allows you to set up an RV base camp for extended stays. The only question is, where will your next RV adventure take you?
Here are a few articles for travel inspiration:
- 8 Lesser-Known National Parks to Add to Your RV Bucket List
- 10 State Parks That Are Screaming “Road Trip”
- Top 5 Destinations to Escape the Cold
What questions do you have about towing a car behind your RV? Share your comments below.