Picture the scene. You’re on the road trip of a lifetime in the motorhome of your dreams and you just got your camp set up exactly as you want it. It’s not until this moment that you realize you forgot to pick up beer for later and coffee for the morning. The last store you passed was miles away. You have no choice but to re-pack the RV and head back up the highway.
Packing up and breaking camp every time you need groceries or want to go sightseeing is the biggest—we would even go so far as to say the only—downside to RVing. Luckily, there’s a real simple solution.
Towing a vehicle—whether it’s a four-wheel-drive SUV or a compact convertible—behind your motorhome resolves all the potential problems associated with driving an RV. An extra set of wheels is a must-have if you need convenient supply runs, access to local attractions, and maximum fuel efficiency.
It’s not as simple as just tying your regular household vehicle onto the back of the RV and hitting the road, though. There are some things you need to know before choosing a suitable tow vehicle for your next road trip.
Dollies or Dinghies?
Almost any vehicle is towable if you add a trailer into the equation—providing it doesn’t take you over the RV’s towing capacity, of course. Trailers come in either four-wheel or two-wheel varieties.
Two-wheelers are called tow dollies and sit under the front wheels of the towed vehicle, allowing the rear wheels to roll. They’re smaller than four-wheelers (which naturally have to be at least a little bigger than the vehicle you want to tow) but still require a sizable amount of storage space when they’re not in use. There’s also the expense and extra effort of getting the vehicle on and off the trailer, and attaching and detaching the RV.
The alternative to a tow dolly is flat-towing the vehicle, dinghy-style. Dinghy-towing involves attaching the motorhome to your tow vehicle of choice via a suitable tow bar and pulling it along with all four wheels flat on the ground. This is a popular and more budget-friendly option than investing in a tow dolly, and doesn’t require any additional storage space.
There are some other, specific requirements that you need to be aware of instead, though. First, if you’ve decided that dinghy-towing is the way to go, you’ll need to make sure you have a dinghy-towable vehicle.
What Makes a Vehicle Suitable for Dinghy-Towing?
It used to be the case that almost any four-wheel or rear-wheel drive vehicle with a manual transmission and manual transfer case could be flat-towed without too much hassle. But, as vehicles become more complex with increasingly electronic features and automatic transmissions, things have become a little less straightforward.
Much of this stems from the fact that vehicles with automatic transmissions can usually only lubricate their internal components—like the drive shaft—when the engine is running. But flat-towing a vehicle depends on all four wheels rolling, which means the drive shaft is moving even though the engine isn’t running. Running a vehicle in this manner with no lubrication can cause irreversible damage, even over short distances.
In actual fact, the only way to confirm if a vehicle is flat-towable is by checking the owner’s manual for that specific model year. Never assume that more recent model years are suitable for four-down towing, just because their predecessors were. Absolute clarity on this matter can only be provided by the manufacturer and this declaration is often very easy to find, if you take the time to check the relevant paperwork.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing an RV Tow Vehicle
So you’ve checked the manufacturer’s handbook and it says quite clearly that your car should be perfectly happy being towed four-wheels-down on the highway behind your motorhome. Does that mean you’re good to go?
Unfortunately, no. The advice from the vehicle manufacturer or dealership might confirm that you can use it as a dinghy, but this is only true if the combined weight of the vehicle and the motorhome stays under the maximum weight capacity, as specified in the RV paperwork.
Even when a car is viable for flat-towing, there are often extra steps that need to be fulfilled before the towing is possible, and or legal. For example, you may need to remove specific fuses, or ensure the key is turned to accessories mode in the ignition to deactivate an automatic steering lock on the front wheels.
As mentioned above, any vehicle must be properly lubricated during use to prevent damage to the drive train components. Check in the owner’s manual whether or not you need to do this with your tow vehicle manually by periodically stopping on your journey and turning the engine over.
Finally, all but eight states require you to fit the vehicle you’re towing with an auxiliary braking system which works in conjunction with your motorhome’s main brake system. To be honest, even if you live in one of the states where it’s not required, we’d recommend installing one of these anyway. An auxiliary braking system is a sensible—if not essential—addition to your setup.
10 Best RV Tow Vehicles
The vehicle you ultimately choose to tow behind your RV will depend on what you need it for, how much additional weight you have to play with, and how much extra room you need when driving around outside of the motorhome. That said, some vehicles make better dinghies than others and, year after year, certain makes and model years always seem to come out on top. Here are our best RV tow vehicles to help you make a decision.
- Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler has been deemed suitable for dinghy-towing almost every year since 1990 and is a popular choice. With high-tech features, a removable cargo mat to protect internal storage areas, and a veritable rugged design, it’s also modest enough in size that it can be flat-towed behind Class A and Class C Motorhomes.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
Having been manufacturer-approved for dinghy-towing since 1993, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a popular choice in the RVer community and a mainstay of top 10 recommended lists in motorhome magazines everywhere. This is mostly down to its performance in off-road conditions and unrivaled ground clearance, but take note that only the four-wheel-drive models can be flat-towed.
- Jeep Cherokee
The Jeep Cherokee, too, offers superb four-wheel drive capabilities and decent features, but at a lower price point than the Grand or the Wrangler. You can’t take the roof off, and it’s a bit more car than SUV in terms of comfort and handling, but if you’re traveling with the family, this is not a bad thing. It has been approved by Jeep for recreational towing since 2014, but you’ll need to purchase and install the relevant flat-towing wiring kit unless you’re buying a model year post-2018.
- Jeep Liberty
The Jeep Liberty remains a popular choice for flat-towing, despite not having been manufactured since 2012. It makes a great dinghy and can easily be towed behind Class A and Class B motorhomes. All four-wheel-drive models since 2002 can be flat-towed and two-wheel drive models from 2009 onwards can also be flat-towed if you remove the driveshaft first.
- Ford Focus
If all you need is a reasonably small car with decent trunk space, the Ford Focus is a compact, relatively lightweight option for four-down towing behind any class of motorhome. It shouldn’t be towed at speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour, though, and some models—including but not limited to the Focus Electric, Focus RS and Focus ST—should not be flat-towed all all.
- Ford Fiesta
A popular vehicle in general, not just with RVers after a decent tow vehicle, the Fiesta is a solid choice. It’s a little smaller than the Focus, and so you lose some trunk space, but it more than makes up for it in terms of handling and wonderfully efficient gas mileage.
- Chevrolet Spark
If you’re really looking to minimize extra weight, or you’re already up close to the maximum weight without a dinghy, it might be worth considering the Chevrolet Spark. It’s a compact—some might say fun-sized—hatchback with a reliable performance record and, more importantly, is one of the lightest options on the market suitable for dinghy-towing.
- Chevrolet Colorado
The Chevy Colorado is one of the most popular flat-towable pick-up trucks around and has been approved as such ever since 2004 (except for one model year in 2014, when it wasn’t). Towing a pick-up behind your motorhome gives you a whole host of options that you don’t get from towing a regular SUV, particularly when it comes to hauling large items. Kayaks, bikes and anything else you want to take on your trip fit easily in the truck bed and you don’t have to worry about securing them on the roof or the rear door of the RV.
- RAM 1500 Laramie
Another popular choice when it comes to flat-towable pick-ups, the Laramie offers a luxurious, comfortable interior and an admirable list of safety features with serious off-roading options. Be aware that only the four-wheel-drive version is approved for flat-towing.
- Chevrolet Equinox
General Motors hit a home run with the Chevrolet Equinox, at least as far as RVers are concerned. Approved by the manufacturer for flat-towing (2014 model year onwards), this family-sized SUV is also automatic and available with both front-wheel and four-wheel-drive options. All models are suitable for dinghy-towing, but keep speeds below 65 miles per hour and be sure to run the engine for at least five minutes every morning and at every fuel stop.
We’ve covered the key things to consider and included 10 of the best RV tow vehicles on the market to make sure you make the right decision when it comes to towing.
As much as we love motorhomes, they’re not great for running errands or squeezing into tight spaces at crowded tourist hotspots. You can avoid disappointing miles per gallon rates and the inconvenience of packing up every five minutes by towing an extra vehicle for running around in. If you’ve got the space to store a full-size trailer or a tow-dolly, it doesn’t really matter which vehicle you choose to drag behind you, as long as you stay under your RV’s maximum weight limit.
The alternative is four-down towing, also known as dinghy-towing, where the vehicle is towed will all four wheels to the ground and resembles a much smaller boat being dragged behind a bigger yacht. The only problem is that not all vehicles are flat towable.