What to use and how to use it?
If you choose to go on the road in a motorhome as we did, you will need some way in which to take a second vehicle with you. There are three common choices for taking a car along. You could pull a trailer with the car on it, you could use a tow-dolly, or you could tow the car on it's wheels using a tow-bar. The trailer method has many advantages in that it has brakes, and you can take any car that will fit on it, as well as the ability to back up. But very few of us travel in motorhomes that have to weight ratings required to use a trailer, as well as the fact that this is the most costly method. The use of a tow-dolly can be a good choice as it is possible to tow pretty much any front wheel drive vehicle and it can be purchased with brakes, but it creates a problem of where to keep the dolly when not in use and it also is more of a job to put the car on the dolly and get ready to travel. For those reasons, by far the most popular way of taking a towed vehicle (toad) with you is to use a tow bar. We are among those who have made that choice.
There are several good quality tow bars available today but in my opinion the best are those from Roadaster and those from Blue Ox. When choosing a tow bar I strongly recommend that you choose one that stays attached to the motorhome when not in use. The first and most important reason is the fact that the most common way for a toad to come loose from the motorhome is for the hitch to pry off of the ball when crossing a large dip. With the bars that insert into the hitch receiver, there is no ball to come free. Also, the folded bar stays on the back of the motorhome when you use the toad and is much less in the way or in danger of getting damaged when not in use. This type of bar does cost a little more, but they are well worth the extra cost. When selecting a tow bar you should also be aware of the weight that the bar is approved to tow. Both Roadmaster and Blue Ox offer versions of their tow bar in aluminum alloy or steel. Aluminum is far lighter and is much easier to hook-up, particularly for the ladies. But it also costs significantly more. Steel works fine though and may have a higher towing weight rating.
We now use an Aladdin from Blue Ox. Along with your tow-bar you will also need a base-plate. The base-plate is attached under the frame of the toad and is the point to which the tow-bar is attached to the toad. It provides a proper connection while preventing any damage to the toad due to stress and mechanical forces. We especially like the way that the connections for the tow-bar can be removed from the toad when not in use with the Blue Ox plate, leaving nothing that shows. It is also our opinion that Blue Ox has the very best support that can be found for such products. As an example, we recently shipped our Aladdin back to the company for reconditioning and the whole thing was done at no cost to us except shipping. Our tow bar is now back in service and anyone would think that it was new, rather than seven plus years old.
When you tow you must also be sure that the receiver you have is rated high enough for the weight of your toad. Most motorhomes have hitches rated for either 3500# or for 5000#. The next thing to consider is to make sure that your tow bar is as near to level when attached to both vehicles, as possible. According to Mark Penlerick, an engineer with Blue Ox, "no more than four inches higher at the motorhome side and absolutely never lower at the motorhome side. The reason is one of geometry and physics." The problem is the leverage that is applied to your hitch when crossing a dip and even worse is the dynamics of an emergency stop. If your motorhome is low, the toad could rise into the air and come into contact with the rear of the motorhome. It is unlikely to lift the rear of the coach, but can still be a problem. If your motorhome has an overhang of 12' behind the rear axle, 1 degree of change in attitude in the motorhome will make a 6" slope into a 10" slope and 3 degrees makes that slope a drop of 24"! Remember that the front suspension of the motorhome "squats" in every stop and when the motorhome returns to level it pushes downward on the front suspension of your toad with it's total weight. This is not a linear function and it happens every time the you apply the brake. It is lessened to some degree if you have a brake system on your toad. The March/April, 2004 issue of Escapees Magazine has an excellent article that explains this phenomenon.
Tow-bar maintenance is one item that is often overlooked by many RVers. Mark calls it the "neglected middle child." Most of us take great care with maintenance of the toad and the motorhome, but we tend not to give any thought to the part in the middle. "The one that does all of the work, the one subjected to every bump, stop, start, jerk and unusual occurrence, the one burdened with the responsibility of pulling 3,000 to 10,000 pounds, is left to fend for itself and sooner or later will rebel. Nothing lasts forever." Before every trip inspect your tow-bar for problems. The pins are the easiest item to check. "Visually inspect that the pins attaching the tow-bar to the base plate are in good condition. Pull them out, feel the surface to insure they are not wearing. Check the operation of the retainer pins that hold the main pins in place. Make sure those still have a good, strong resistance when you snap them into place to secure them. Don't forget to check the 5/8" pin that holds the tow bar to the motorhome receiver hitch too." While you are checking things, check to insure that all bolts are in place and tight. Move the tow bar through it's complete range of motion, and verify that it operates smoothly without being too loose or too tight.
Most tow-bars come with a manual that tells of any needed maintenance. Be sure to keep it and to follow it for safe, successful towing. I believe that towing four down is by far the best choice for taking a vehicle along.
A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, replace it.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2007 18:00