Towing Terms

graphic of motorhome pulling car

Toad (or dinghy).

graphic of a car

A “toad” (also called a dinghy) is the term commonly used to refer to a “towed” vehicle. The term “toad” (like a frog) is used regardless of how the vehicle is being towed:

Most toads today are towed four down or on a tow dolly. Sometimes you will hear the term “dinghy” used to also refer to a towed vehicle. (Later on in the "seminar" I will spend a little time talking about what is required to safely tow a vehicle “four-down”.)

Auxiliary Braking System.

pic of auxiliary braking system

This term is used to describe a supplemental braking system for toads. Sometimes you will hear RVers refer to “toad brakes”, but it means the same thing. All of these systems make use of the brakes in the toad to help slow it down, but is especially intended to help stop the toad and the motorhome in the event of a “panic” stop.

There are many different types of systems on the market today. Some use self-generated air pressure and cylinders to apply pressure to the brake pedal of the toad, some use hydraulic pressure from the motorhome, some use air pressure from the motorhome (usually diesel pushers), and some use a surge brake system by sensing pressure on the tow bar.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each system, and some systems are quite popular among full-time RVers.

I want to stress one very important point here today, and that is that toad braking systems are an important overall part of safely driving an RV while pulling a toad. Many people with diesel pushers feel that they don’t need one, but if they are ever involved in an accident, the other person’s lawyer is going to “eat them for lunch.” Having an auxiliary braking system for your toad is excellent insurance, even if you never have an accident.

Remember, if you are towing a car “never leave home without it—an auxiliary toad braking system, that is.”

Break-Away System.

pic of break-away cables

A break-away system should be part of any auxiliary (toad) braking system that you purchase. A break-away system provides an extra margin of safety for your toad, and applies the toad brakes if the toad ever becomes unattached from the RV by more than a few inches (if the cable has been properly adjusted). If the toad should ever become unattached from the motorhome, the cable is pulled tight and pulls out a “plug” on the front of the toad. This action, in turn, causes the auxiliary braking system to firmly apply the brakes on the toad, bringing it to a stop before it careens through traffic or runs off the road.

If you travel to Canada, you need to be aware that the Province of British Columbia requires that toads be equipped with both an auxiliary braking system and a break-away system to be legal.

A Break-Away System is a standard feature on all fifth-wheel trailers, and it serves the same purpose—to stop the trailer if it should become disconnected from the tow vehicle.

Brake Controller.

pic of electric brake controller

A brake controller is something that only is of concern to a person who is pulling a travel trailer or a 5th wheel trailer, hopefully with a properly sized truck. A brake controller is used by the driver to control how, when, and how sensitively the electric trailer brakes are applied.

Electric Brakes. All travel trailers and 5th wheel trailers, and almost all pop-up trailers, are equipped with electric brakes to help slow them down and stop them without putting undue strain on the vehicle that is towing them. (If you have a motorhome, you do not have to be concerned with either a brake controller or with electric brakes, since a motorhome has neither of these devices.) However, if you tow a large trailer with your motorhome, rather than a toad, you will have a brake controller for your trailer brakes.

Safety Cables.

pic of safety cables

Safety cables are an integral part of your equipment when you are towing a toad. Safety cables are required to be connected from the frame of the toad to the frame of the motorhome.

Obviously, the cables should be strong enough to handle the load of your toad. Rather than use just a heavy chain, most RVers choose to use a jacketed cable that is also coiled, usually with a snap hook on one end and a removable chain link fitting on the other end.

There is a right way and a wrong way to attach and route these cables from your toad to your motorhome. (We will discuss this subject in more detail later on.)


pic of receiver hitch

A receiver (sometimes called a Receiver Hitch) is the type of hitch that is found on most motorhomes. When no ball mount adapter is inserted in the receiver, it looks like a square piece of steel tubing. Not all receiver hitches are created equal, however. Depending on the size of the tubing and its attachment to the motorhome, receiver hitches may have a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs., but most of the newer motorhomes have a receiver hitch rated at 5,000 lbs.

It is very important, if you have a 5,000 receiver that you have a ball mount adapter and a hitch ball that is also rated for 5,000 lbs. (and not 3,500 lbs.). For example, my lady’s Jeep station wagon weighs more than 3,800 pounds, and my Dodge Dakota pickup weighs in at more than 4,500 lbs.—and neither can be safely pulled by a motorhome with a hitch capacity of only 3,500 lbs.

Be aware that, while you are wandering down the aisles of your favorite RV supply store stocking up on all the goodies that you want for your RV, it is just too easy to get the wrong parts. A 5,000 lb. hitch ball has a 1” shank, whereas the 3,500 lb. hitch ball has only a ¾” shank! Know what you are buying!

5th Wheel Hitch.

pic of fifth-wheel hitch

5th wheel hitches are usually bolted to the bed of a pickup truck. You will also find these hitches on larger diesel trucks that have been specially built for towing large 5th wheel trailers. When the trailer is not attached, the hitch in the truck bed looks much like a wheel or washer with a slot cut in one end for the mating piece mounted on the trailer. Hence, the name fifth wheel.

Ball Hitch.

pic of ball hitch

A ball hitch (or ball and tongue hitch) is what most of us first think about when a trailer hitch is mentioned. A ball hitch may be mounted on a hitch ball adapter for use with a receiver, or bolted directly to the bumper of some trucks. However, most of today’s smaller trucks don’t have real bumpers, and the small lightweight bumpers on most pickup trucks will not safely handle the extra weight of a trailer.

It is best to have a hitch permanently attached to the frame of your car or truck. Several manufacturers market bolt-on trailer hitch kits that are engineered for a particular vehicle. But, again, make sure that you know the towing capacity of the hitch and ball combination and that it is also sized for your particular vehicle.

Remember to use common sense: Bolting a 5,000 lb. hitch to a small S-10 or Ranger pickup truck does not mean that the truck can then safely tow a 5,000 lb. load!

Let me take a minute to talk about the proper sizing and load carrying capacity of a receiver and ball mount adapter—like you find on the back of most Class C and Class A motorhomes. Receivers, ball mount adapters and hitch balls come in various sizes and load carrying capacities. Many RVers have the wrong combination on their rigs for the type of vehicle being towed.

First, know the weight of the vehicle or trailer that you want to tow, and then be sure that your car, truck, or motorhome has sufficiently sized hitch capacity to safely tow the intended load. Then you must also remember to not exceed the GVCWR (the combined weight of the motorhome and what it is towing). All newer motorhomes are required to have all of the required weight ratings posted in the coach. Do your homework first, before you go out on a trip and have an unfortunate happening.

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