Three Ways to Tow a Car Behind Your RV

Shelley DennisOctober 21, 2022

Three Ways to Tow a Car Behind Your RV

So you’ve made the decision to travel by RV for your next getaway— congrats! But have you considered how you’ll get around once you put your motorhome in park? Many RVers choose to tow their car behind the motorhome.

This way, once the RV is parked, you don’t have to worry about breaking down camp every time you want to go out to explore parks, get food, and more. Bringing a car along gives campers greater freedom when on the road.

If you fall into this group, you will have three different towing options to consider.

Equipment Needed to Tow a Car Behind an RV

Before we dive into the three options, let’s go over some equipment basics. No matter how you tow your accessory vehicle, the RV will require several basic items to safely pull the car.

Trailer Hitch

This is considered a permanent fixture on your RV. Most RVs come from the factory with a hitch, but for those that don’t, a trailer hitch can sometimes be added.

There are several styles of hitches, but the most common has two main components: a receiver and a ball hitch.

Hitches are rated by the amount of weight they can pull, so always be sure to refer to your vehicle (and trailer, if applicable) weight and the towing capacity of your RV before towing.

Parts of a Trailer Hitch Diagram
A diagram of a common trailer hitch. Image source: Curt Manufacturing

For more info on the different types of hitches and terminology, take a look at U-Haul’s Towing Glossary.

Electrical Connections

With any method of towing, you must connect wiring from the trailer to the coach. This electrical setup will control the brake lights, turn signals, license plate light, and, in some cases, the electric brakes from the trailer.

Not only does this make your toad street legal, but it makes it safe. Towing anything without functioning lights or signals is dangerous.

Coaches typically come with 6- or 7-pin connectors already near the hitch.

Three Ways to Tow Your Car Behind Your RV

There are three main ways to tow your car: four down, with a tow dolly, or with a car hauler. Deciding which to use comes down to two main factors: whether or not your car model is designed for towing and personal preference. Let’s dig a little deeper into each type.

Note: If you see the word toad or dinghy, we aren’t talking about frogs and boats! Those are both terms used for a towed car.

towing a car with the four down method
A motorhome towing an SUV using the four-down method.

Four Down

Four down (also called “flat towing” or “dinghy towing”) refers to how many tires of the toad are on the road when pulling it behind your motorhome. Unlike the bulky equipment needed for dolly and trailer towing, four-down towing is done with a small tow bar.

The main issue that people find with this method is that many vehicle transmissions do not allow for this option. If you use this method to tow a car that isn’t designed for this, you could be looking at spending major $$$ on car transmission repairs.

If you are not sure, refer to the Dinghy Towing Guide. This guide offers a list of vehicles that can be “flat towed” as well as manufacturer’s instructions.

Equipment Needed for Four Down Towing

If your toad can be pulled behind the RV, you will need a few items to connect and brake the car:

  1. Tow bar
  2. Base plate kit installed on the toad
  3. Wiring kit
  4. Safety cables
  5. Supplemental braking system

Plan on spending anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 for these items, depending on the amount of work you can do yourself versus the work you hire out (installation of the base plate, wiring, and the braking system may require a professional).

One detriment to towing a vehicle “four down” is that you cannot back up your motorhome while the vehicle is attached. However, it doesn’t require much time to unhook the toad and back up the RV if needed. This video from RV Inspection and Care is great at explaining the pros and cons of RV flat towing.

If you have checked the Dinghy Towing Guides and find that your toad cannot be pulled four down, then you have two options: Tow Dolly or Car Hauler.

Tow dolly behind an RV
A tow dolly being pulled by an RV. Image source: Demco Products

Tow Dolly

A tow dolly is a type of trailer on which the front two wheels of a car are loaded. The rear wheels of the car are on the ground and roll as the motorhome moves.

A tow dolly is used mainly for vehicles with front-wheel drive transmissions, although rear-wheel-drive cars can be placed in a tow dolly if their transmissions are disconnected.

A tow dolly requires less equipment, but the main reason to use a tow dolly is if your RV cannot pull the weight of a toad plus the car hauler it is loaded on.

Here’s one of our favorite tow dollies:

Equipment Needed for a Tow Dolly

Here are a few additional things you’ll need if using a tow dolly:

  1. Ratchet straps
  2. Safety chains

Most dollies come with attached ramps, so loading is usually straightforward. As with all towing, be sure your motorhome is attached securely to the dolly at the hitch ball, and that the motorhome’s parking brake is on while loading.

There are a couple of things to consider with towing using a dolly. First, most states require a license for the dolly (a little added expense. Secondly, you cannot back up the motorhome while the dolly and toad are attached.

towing car behind rv with car hauler
A motorhome towing a car using a car hauler.

Car Hauler (Trailer)

If your toad is an all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle, chances are that you will have to put it on a trailer to pull it behind your motorhome (check the Dinghy Towing Guides). Commonly known as a car hauler, the trailers normally have two axles for stability and low (or no) rails along the edges.

When purchasing a trailer, look for car haulers that are long enough for your vehicle. It is also important to make sure the axles on the trailer are rated at least 3,500 lbs. per axle.

Many trailers come with hidden ramps and one of two different braking systems. Surge brakes do not require a separate brake controller for the RV, but electric brakes do.

The latter system gives you the capability to control the brakes on the trailer from within your motorhome, rather than depending upon the pressure of the trailer against a hydraulic cylinder (surge brake).

Equipment Needed for Car Hauler Towing

If you are towing with a car hauler, you will also need a few extra items:

  1. Ramps (if the trailer does not include them)
  2. Ratchet straps for tie-down
  3. Brake controller (if the trailer has electric brakes)

If your RV did not come with a brake controller, purchase and installation will cost about $300. Your car hauler will require its own licensing, as well. In a pinch (and with talented driver skills) you can back up your motorhome while the trailer/toad is attached.

Another consideration is that once you reach your destination: you may need to detach the trailer and store it somewhere within the campground. If that is a concern, consider finding a “pull-through” campsite.

Though it might be somewhat of a hassle, a big plus for using a car hauler is saving the wear and tear on your toad’s engine and transmission while you haul it.

Take Your Pick

Any way you look at it, bringing a “toad” along can be a great plan! No one relishes the thought of unhooking water and electricity at the campsite just to run some errands or take a side trip in the area.

Taking a car with you can save you money in the long run and sanity on a daily basis! Figure out which plan will work best for you if you decide to tow a car, and check with Outdoorsy for road trip ideas.

I'm a mountain gal who gave it all up to hit the road full-time with my Golden Retriever, Sully. Together we explore the back roads of America, documenting the beauty of our country and the people that make her great!

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