Different Ways to Tow a Vehicle
Earlier, I briefly touched on the three ways to tow a vehicle with your RV:
- On a transporter (with all four wheel off the ground)
- On a tow dolly (with two of the toad wheels off the ground)
- Four-down (with all four wheels on the ground)
With a transporter, the entire car is on the trailer. Most transporters have two tandem wheels
on each side and can accommodate a car that is medium sized. However, transporters are not too
light all by themselves, and are rather bulky to store. Also, you need to be sure that you have
enough towing capacity with your RV before you go this route.
A tow dolly is another means of towing a car with a motorhome. A tow dolly usually
has only one wheel on each side and is a fairly small trailer—when a vehicle is not on it.
With a tow dolly, the drive wheels of the car are the ones that belong on the trailer. For older,
rear-wheel drive cars, the vehicle is driven backwards onto the tow dolly so that the rear drive
wheels are off the ground.
If you tow a car backwards, borrow a trick from tow truck drivers—take a
piece of rope and loop it through the steering wheel; then hold both ends of the rope out the
front of the driver door and close it. The rope keeps the front wheels from turning very far
—making the car track better behind your motorhome.
For most of today’s newer cars which are front-wheel drive, simply drive the car forward onto the
tow dolly so that the front wheels are off the ground.
One note of caution, however. When you get to a camp site, you now have three pieces of equipment
to stow in your camp site. At many of the older camp sites that I have used, getting my 32-foot
motorhome and a Jeep into the site was a real squeeze. (I would never have had the room for a
For most motorhome travelers these days, it seems as though towing a vehicle four-down is the
preferred, and certainly the easiest, method. However, to use this method successfully, you need
to pay attention to the type of vehicle that you are going to tow and then outfit the vehicle
correctly. Towing a vehicle four-down only leaves you with two pieces of equipment to worry
about—your motorhome and your toad.
To successfully tow a vehicle four-down without damaging its drivetrain components, there are
five different ways that you can do so:
- Use an Older Manual Transmission Vehicle. Most older manual transmission
vehicles can be safely towed four-down by simply putting the transmission in neutral. However,
be aware that many of the newer cars and light trucks with manual transmissions cannot
be safely towed four-down, since the transmission does not get enough lubrication without the
- Use a Four-Down Capable Vehicle. The reason that you see so many Saturns
being towed four-down by RVers is because they were designed and manufactured to be able to be
towed safely four-down. If you are thinking of buying a new vehicle, being able to tow it
four-down without any modifications might be an important consideration in your choice of a
vehicle. There are several vehicle manufacturers that now sell vehicles that can be safely towed
four-down—but do not rely on the salesman’s word; be sure yourself before you buy.
- Use a Four-Wheel-Drive Vehicle. A four-wheel-drive vehicle, if it has a
transfer case, can be safely towed four-down by ensuring that the transfer case is in Neutral,
(and the regular transmission left in Park). But you need to be wary of those full-time
four-wheel-drive vehicles that do not have a transfer case that allows you to put the entire
drivetrain in a free-wheeling position—these vehicles are not suitable for towing four-down,
without making modifications to the vehicle.
- Install a Transmission Pump. Many RVers today like to keep the family
car that they already have, and simply have a transmission pump added to their car. A transmission
pump is simply an extra pump that is run off the car battery or a 12V connection from the motorhome,
and keeps the transmission fluid circulating through the transmission. This allows the vehicle to
be safely towed four-down without burning up the transmission. Some folks add a switch under the
dash, or simply use a 12 volt connection from the motorhome (through the regular tail light, brake
light, and turn signal cable between the motorhome and the toad). If you use this method, be sure
that you remember to put the vehicle’s transmission in neutral and not leave it in Park!
- Install a Driveshaft Disconnect. Another method that many RVers use for
towing their family vehicle four-down is to have a driveshaft disconnect installed on their car.
A driveshaft disconnect is a mechanical device that acts as a lock/unlock device between the
transmission and the driveshaft of the car. Usually there is a cable (much like an old-fashioned
choke cable) in the driver’s compartment that is used to either disconnect the driveshaft from the
transmission (the wheels still turn the driveshaft, but the transmission is not turning). By
pulling the cable, the driveshaft disconnect can be made to “connect” the driveshaft and the
transmission so that the car can be driven in the usual fashion.
- Install an Axle Lock. Yet another method of adapting a newer car with
front drive and automatic transmission for towing four-down is an axle lock. This device is
designed to be used on front-wheel drive cars. The axle lock is installed between the
transmission and the right front wheel. You simply reach behind the tire and give the unit a
twist to either engage or disengage the it.