With rising fuel prices and limited access for coaches at many scenic and wilderness areas, towing a vehicle behind your bus conversion is becoming an increasingly popular option. Before you hook up your car, however, there are some important things you need to know to make sure you and your vehicles are headed down the road as safely and securely as possible. The most basic requirement for safe towing is the right equipment, but even the right equipment must be backed by careful and attentive driving and maintenance.
There are three ways to tow a car with an RV: a tow dolly, a car trailer, and four wheels on the ground. How often you will be towing and how frequently you will be hitching up and unhitching the car are prime considerations in deciding which option best suits your needs.
The hitching process using a dolly is the most involved and time consuming. The dolly first has to be hitched to the coach, then the wheels of the car need to be driven up on the dolly and the car secured to the dolly. A light bar with brake and tail lights needs to be mounted on the car. Keep in mind that the dolly will add to the gross combined weight of the coach. The dolly is a good choice for vehicles you don’t want to or can’t tow four wheels down, but they are somewhat cumbersome otherwise.
Towing a car on trailer is somewhat easier than using a dolly, since the trailer utilizes its own brakes. Other advantages of a trailer include the ability to back, as well as allowing you to raise all four wheels of the car off the ground. Like the tow dolly, it also adds to your vehicle’s weight. The biggest disadvantage dollies and trailers have is what to do with them when you get to the campground. Many campgrounds do not have room for parking a trailer or dolly along with your coach. The most popular, and generally considered the easiest and most convenient method of towing, is with all four wheels on the ground using a tow bar. Tow bars have great portability. When you reach camp, you can unhook, fold up, and store the towing equipment in your coach or car.
If you decide to tow using a tow bar and all four wheels on the ground, your next consideration is the requirements of the vehicle you want to tow. Most vehicles on the road today can be towed four wheels down.
Most vehicles with automatic or four-wheel drive transmissions, however, require a lubrication pump or driveline disconnection before towing. It’s important to know your vehicle’s requirements before towing, so if you are unsure, check your owner’s manual or contact your car dealer for the specific instructions on how to tow your car behind a motorcoach.
There are three general types of tow bars available for consideration:
- Self-aligning motorhome mounted,
- Self-aligning car mounted
- Rigid A-frame.
When selecting a tow bar, keep in mind it must be strong and durable enough to handle the weight and unpredictable road conditions that come its way. You also want the tow bar to be easy to operate and convenient to store. You’ll also need to match your tow bar selection to the weight of the car you’re towing. Choose an SAE Class II hitch for vehicles up to 3,500 pounds; an SAE Class III hitch for vehicles up to 5,000 pounds; and an SAE Class IV hitch for vehicles up to 7,500 pounds.
In addition to weight requirements, drivers will want to consider choosing towing products that are backed up by warranties and customer service programs that can assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as you travel across the country.
The list of essential towing equipment for safe, four wheels down towing includes the tow bar itself, along with a tow hitch/receiver, a base plate, safety cables, and a tail light wiring kit. Have a professional RV equipment dealer mount the base plate for the tow bar on the front of the car and wire the car’s brake and tail lights so they will operate in sync with the motorhome’s lights. Federal law requires the RV-activated tail lights and safety cables.
Attentive Driving and Maintenance
Safety and security are your top concerns when towing, which can become particularly challenging in stopping situations at higher speeds or going down steep grades. You need to review the towed weight limit specifications for your RV to determine if its brakes are adequate to stop the towed vehicle.
Also, you’ll want to increase your following distance from a car’s recommended two seconds to six seconds or more. Other recommended security, convenience, and handling features include a speedometer disconnect, a guard to protect your towed vehicle from road debris, and a tow bar storage cover.
Before you tow, review the following 20-point towing safety checklist to make sure you’re on top of the routine and the unexpected.
Towing Safety Checklist
- Inspect the tow bar, dolly, or trailer for loose bolts and worn parts.
- Tighten loose bolts and replace worn parts before hooking up. If you have bolts that are consistently coming loose, use Loctite or put on a double nut to keep them tight.
- Hook up on a flat, smooth surface.
- If you have a coupler style tow bar, check the fit of the couple on the ball. Adjust the coupler if necessary.
- Hook up the tow bar. Make sure hitch is snugly engaged and the safety pin is in place to prevent accidental unhitching.
- Set up the towed vehicle’s steering and transmission to tow.
- Check your parking brake to ensure it is disengaged.
- Latch the legs on a self-aligning tow bar.
- Attach the safety cables. Cross the cables between the vehicles and wrap the cables around the tow bar legs to keep them from dragging.
- Attach the electrical cable.
- Check the function of all lights on both vehicles.
- Locate your spare key and lock the towed vehicle’s doors.
- Drive with care and remember: Your vehicle will be about 25 feet longer while towing.
- Each time you stop, check the tow bar, base plate, and cables to make sure they are still properly attached.
- Check the tires of the towed vehicle to make sure they are not going flat. If you are using a dolly or trailer, check the wheels to make sure they are not hot to the touch. If the wheels are hot, it may indicate a brake or bearing problem.
- Each day before you start, check the lights to make sure they are working properly.
- Between trips, clean the tow bar and cables to keep them in good shape. Also, clean and lubricate the tow bar as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Make sure all safety decals are readable.
- Never let anyone ride in the towed vehicle.
- Drive safe and have a great trip!