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RV Towing Methods and the Electrical connections for your Motorhome, Camper and Car.
Your RV and Vehicle Towing Methods
It is becoming more and more popular to take an automobile or other form of transportation with you, when you use your RV on a trip or even on a short vacation..
There are numerous reasons for this need for an extra vehicle when you are at your destination, but essentially it is done for the purposes of; Cost, Convenience and increased Freedom.
With Motorhomes, your Tow Vehicle choice is driven by the towing capability of your Coach itself, and you must always make sure that you know your Rig's specs and weight limits before making a choice.
The great thing about having a Towed vehicle is that when you get to your campsite, you can park your RV, hook it up to the utilities, open the awning, and put out your chairs, tables, grills, etc, ready for your overall camping experience.
Once you are setup at your campsite, you can then consult the web or travel books on the local entertainment, dining, and sights to see. Once you have a plan, then you can jump into your car and enjoy what the local area has to offer you.
There are several popular ways to Tow your vehicle down the road, each of which has advantages and disadvantages, and here are a few of the most popular.
Typical Vehicle Tow Hitch system
Your TOAD must be Towed properly
The word TOAD is a bastardization of the phrase Towed Vehicle, and this method of towing is sometimes referred to as Towing 4-Down.
Towing your vehicle with all four tires on the road is the simplest way to hook up and unhook your automobile from your RV.
This is usually the preferred method of towing another vehicle with your RV. You utilize a Ball Hitch or Single-Point connection at the RV and a Two-Point connection system at the towed vehicle. With this towing method you will have all four wheels of your TOAD on the road.
When you are using this system, your vehicle connection can swivel at the RV and you have two stable connections to the front of your towed vehicle, providing a simple yet safe connection system.
ADVANTAGE-1: This is the most convenient system for RV drivers, as there is only one hitch or pivot-point connection, and the driver can relatively easily back the RV up for a few feet with the car still hitched this way, when necessary.
I have seen some old-timers actually back their 30+ feet long RV into a campsite with the tow car still hooked up. I, personally just do not have that skill.
ADVANTAGE-2: After a long day of driving, when you finally get to your campground, you can easily and quickly disconnect your Towed Vehicle from your RV. And, the next mornings hookup is just as easy.
This system requires the minimal physical exertion to connect or disconnect from your RV and should be seriously considered by any Camper with physical limitations.
PROBLEM-1: Most automobiles are front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, and are not designed to go down the road without the engine running and thus cooling the fluids in the transaxle.
Some few vehicles can handle this, but most manufacturers do not recommend it, suggesting you may end up with overheated fluids and seals, and possibly even potential permanent damage.
But, some front-wheel drive vehicles can be towed for several hours, either ;with the engine running (to keep fluid pumped to the axles), or with the RV driver stopping every 3-4 hours and running the engine for a few minutes to get the lubricants distributed properly.
PROBLEM-2: Some Rear-wheel drive vehicles will require the installation of a Solenoid Switch Kit which disconnects the axle in the vehicle in order to avoid similar damage to the transmission and rear-end.
PROBLEM-3: This type of towing, with some vehicles, requires that the vehicle have Tow-Bar Adapters installed onto the front underside of the chassis for a safe connection to the Tow-Bar and thus to the RV.
These adapters are usually designed to match the physical part of the specific automobile to be towed, even though many of them seem common, you must be sure that you get the right ones installed.
An outline of a typical Tow Dolly
Using a TOW DOLLY to Tow your vehicle
The Tow Dolly has been around for years, and they can even be rented at almost all truck and car rental companies.
It has a “Ball Hitch” adapter to mate to your RV, and is essentially a two-wheel trailer.
You drive the front wheels of your car onto the trailer, and then you use the special straps and chains, to tie the front wheels onto the trailer bed.
With this system, your Front wheel drive vehicles front end is stable on the Tow Dolly, and your rear wheels are free-wheeling as you go down the road.
ADVANTAGE: The towed car does not require the installation of specialized Tow-Bar adapters, and the Tow Dolly is relatively easy to hook up to the RV, if you are physically capable of lifting it and dragging it over to your RV to Hook up.
PROBLEM-1: A Tow Dolly is relatively expensive compared to the TOAD method of towing.
PROBLEM-2: When driving the RV, if you get into the position where you have to back up, this is nearly impossible to do. The Pivot Point is so short that the Dolly/vehicle combination has an exaggerated response to turns when you try to back the RV up.
With this towing method you have two pivot points (the hitch point, and the front axle of the car both turn), and the car will often go in unpredictable directions when backing up.
Almost everyone recommends that you bite the bullet, remove the car from the Tow Dolly, drive it out of the way, back up the RV/Tow-Dolly combination, pull to a safe place, and re-connect the vehicle onto the Tow Dolly.
PROBLEM-3: This loading of the vehicle onto the Tow Dolly can easily take 20-30 minutes, and a good amount of sweat and physical dexterity as you crawl around under the vehicle tying things down.
And, honestly, you need to be in decent physical shape to crawl around under the Tow Dolly an Vehicle combination to get everything tied down safely.
An outline of a typical Tow Trailer
Towing your Vehicle with a TRAILER
Hauling your vehicle on a Trailer has plus’ and minus’.
You would not believe what I have seen going down the Interstate highways on a trailer towed behind an RV.
Probably the most amazing combination to me was a double-decker trailer with a car on the bottom deck along with a Motorcycle and a Golf-Car and what looked like 4 bicycles strapped to the top deck.
How he got that Golf Car up there and back down, I do not have a clue.
ADVANTAGE-1- On the plus side, you can get a trailer just about any size you desire, to carry just about any weight up to your RV maximum limit.
ADVANTAGE-2- You do not have make any mechanical or electrical modifications to your vehicle to tow it.
ADVANTAGE-3: Once you decide to use a trailer for your vehicle, you can then add other items that you want to use on your trip, onto the trailer, along with the vehicle, and open up your limited RV storage areas.
PROBLEM-1: - On the Minus side, a lot of campgrounds do not have extra storage for trailers, and actually frown upon RVers who show up with a trailer that has to be stored.
PROBLEM-2: You can expect to pay an extra storage fee at campgrounds for your trailer, as most campsites do not accomadate trailers in addition to your camper itself.
You should always call ahead and plan your campground stops if you are towing a trailer, and check on their individual rules concerning trailers.
Renting a Car versus Towing a Vehicle
Sometimes “the Trip is not Worth the Tow”. Or, in other words, sometimes, especially if you are taking a short trip to one place, and have no plans to run around a lot, just leave your car at home, and rent a car to get around, or if you don't plan on leaving the campground or camping Resort very much, just take taxis when you need to.
I have done the math and even though towing is cheaper than renting a car (believe it or not) if you camp very often, it is just about a break-even situation with you use a taxi a couple of times,
If you pack your RV carefully, and plan to stay in the campground or Resort exclusively, then you don’t really need the hassle of the hookup, un-hooking, and towing.
In Summary, you have to consider each trip that you are taking and it comes down to what fits your lifestyle plans for your trip and stay. It Is Your choice to make, and Live With.
A quality Electrical Power Adapter for towing vehicles
Once, when I had traded cars, I needed to connect my old camper and I purchased this kit. It was actually easy to install and worked great for me.
Towing Electrical Connectors and how they are wired.
With any of these methods of towing, you must have an electrical connection between the RV and the towed vehicle for lights, turn signals, brakes etc..
Pre-made cables are available at most Camper part stores, as well as kits for wiring into the actual electrical harness of towed vehicles.
Coaches usually have a 6-pin or 7-pin connector mounted near the Hitch itself
Some of the wiring systems are simpler than others, but there are standards for the connectors and wiring.
Here is a short overview of the connections on the different popular electrical connectors:
A typical Standard 4-pin Connector
The 4-Pin Towing Connector usually used for light weight towing
The standard 4-pin tow connector is a flat plastic connector, with 3 pins either male or female, and the 4th pin the opposite sex.
The connector shown is for the wiring of the towing vehicle. The pins and their usage are;
PIN-1=Ground (male pin) White wire,
PIN-2=Tail Lights (and license plate light and side lights)= Brown Wire,
PIN-3=Left Turn & Stop Lights (Yellow Wire),
PIN-4=Right Turn & Stop Lights (Green wire).
A diagram of a Standard 6-pin connector wiring
The 6-Pin Towing Connector usually used for towing larger loads
The standard 6-pin Tow connector is a “Keyed” round metal connector with the following connections.
Those shown are from the wiring side of the towing vehicles connector. The Pins and their usage, are;
PIN-A (center pin = 12V (and is either red or Black),
PIN-TM -(at the guide) = Tail Lights (usually Brown wire),
PIN-GD =Ground (usually White),
PIN-LT=Left Turn Signal (usually Yellow),
PIN-RT=Right Turn (usually Green), and
PIN-S= Electric Brakes (usually Blue). This pin is used to provide a variable voltage to the electrical brakes of larger tow trailers and campers to assist in stopping them.
A diagram of Standard 7-pin connector wiring
The 7-Pin Towing Connector used for Towing Large Loads
The standard 7-pin Tow connector is a “Keyed” round metal connector with the following connections.
Those shown are from the wiring side of the towing vehicles connector. The pins and their usage, are;
PIN-1=Ground (usually White),
PIN-2=Electric Brakes (usually Blue),
PIN-3=Taillights (usually Green),
PIN-4=12V (usually Black),
PIN-5=Left Turn (usually Red),
PIN-6=Right Turn (usually Brown), and the
Center PIN= Auxiliary Power or Backup Lights (can be wired for either)
Picking the right RV TOWING method
In Summary, there are a number of requirements and options that you need to seriously consider when you decide to take a vehicle with you on your RV trip.
You not only need to consider the information above, but you need to seriously research the popular brands of hitches that are available for your RV, and pick the one that you consider the best for you and your lifestyle and camping preferences.
Along with all of this you need to know exactly what the towing capacity of your RV is.
For this, you need to do a little research with the RVs manufacturer, or if they are not available, dig through your owners manuals, and also check those labels that are glued all over the inside of your RV.
In some cases they will list the specific towing data for your Rig.
Then there are such things that you need to have or at least consider such as;
4- emergency braking systems
5- emergency brake cabling
6- and more.
Do your research and you will assure that you are as safe as possible while you tow your car down the road.
How to TOW a car behind an RV
How to TOW your Car on a Tow Dolly
RV Towing and Safety Tips
© 2010 Don Bobbitt