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How Does Towing a Car Behind an RV Work?

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Last Updated on September 10, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine

When traveling with an RV there are many cases where you’ll want or need a smaller vehicle than your RV.

This can be especially true if you travel in a larger Class A or Class C motorhome.

These RVs are great for traveling and parking in a campsite but not so much for running errands like grocery shopping or stopping off at the post office. There are also quite a few places you may want to explore where larger RVs simply won’t fit. 

A few examples of these places include going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, the Acadia National Park loop road, and the road leading to Fern Valley in Sequoia National/State Park just to name a few. 

Fortunately, taking a car with you on your journey is not a difficult task. Here we’ll take a look at how you can tow a car behind your RV.

Options for Towing Your Car Behind Your RV

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is how your car can be towed behind your RV.  There are three options available and not all cars can use all options.  The three possible options are trailering, dolly towing, and flat towing. Let’s take a quick look at each and how they work.

Trailering

This is known also known as “4 up towing”, and it is exactly as it sounds.

All four wheels of your towed vehicle are up on a trailer.

All cars can be trailered assuming you have a trailer, tow hitch, and RV which can tow the extra weight. If you have a purely electric car (BEV) or rear-wheel drive gas car then trailer towing is likely your only option.

There are a couple of benefits to using a trailer.

First, the wheels of the vehicle don’t turn as you travel so there is less wear and tear on the vehicle and the odometer won’t reflect those traveled miles. Next, trailers can be backed up which can make navigating some places easier.

There are a couple of downsides to trailer towing.

Trailers can sway causing stability issues while traveling.

These trailers are usually small and light relative to your RV which helps minimize this issue. The bigger problem is dealing with the trailer while you are in camp.

Most campsites won’t have space for the trailer, car, and RV.

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This means you’ll likely have to use your RV to bring the trailer to a storage location in the campground and leave it there while you’re camping.

The benefit of having a car outweighs this inconvenience, but you’ll want to keep this in mind when planning to travel with your car.

Dolly Towing

A tow dolly is essentially 1/2 of a trailer which allows you to pick up the front wheels of your towed vehicle off the ground.

Tow dollies work best with front-wheel drive cars or with EVs and hybrids that only have drive motors on the front wheels. As 1/2 trailers, tow dollies have most of the benefits trailers have.

The towed vehicle’s rear wheels are on the ground so you will have some extra wear and tear on the rear tires, bearings, and axels. They are smaller, lighter, and generally cheaper than a full trailer, and loading and unloading them is usually a little easier. Like a regular trailer, you will still need to store your tow dolly away from your campsite in most campgrounds.

Flat Towing

Flat towing, or “4 down towing” is when you use a special hitch to tow your extra car with all four wheels on the ground.

In order to flat tow, your vehicle must have a way to disengage the wheels from the transmission. Putting a regular car in neutral doesn’t qualify. 

Even in neutral, the drive wheels will spin the transmission output shaft, turning a subset of gears inside. With the engine off, the input shaft will not spin and the transmission fluid will not circulate through the transmission cooler.

The spinning output shaft combined with a lack of flow through the cooling system will cause excessive heat to build up, leading to transmission damage. The most common safe mechanism for flat towing is a transfer case with a neutral position. The neutral position in a transfer case allows the wheels to turn without driving the output shaft of the transmission.

A flat towing setup consisted of a special hitch that has at least two parts.

The first part of the hitch is the baseplate. This is the part of the hitch which is installed in the front of the towed vehicle which allows it to be securely connected to the tow bar. 

The second part is the tow bar which attaches to the base plate on the towed vehicle on one end, and to the RV at the other. The attachment to the RV usually happens in one of two ways, either directly into the RV’s hitch receiver or onto a ball of a standard trailer hitch that is installed into the RV’s receiver.

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It’s important to note that neither the tow bar nor the base plate plays a role in steering the towed vehicle.

When the ignition is in the proper position to disengage the steering lock, the front wheels will naturally turn with the RV as the car is towed. Finally, there is also a special wiring harness that’s installed into the towed vehicle.

When towing, that wiring harness is plugged into the trailer port of the RV hitch setup.

This allows the RV to control the lights, turn signals, and brake lights of the towed vehicle as you travel.

Flat towing has many advantages over trailers and dollies.

  • It’s the easiest to set up and break down at a campsite
  • All the equipment necessary to flat tow can be stored either in/on the tow vehicle or on the RV while it’s parked in camp

There are a couple of downsides. 

  • There are relatively few vehicles that can be flat towed
  • With all 4 wheels on the ground, the vehicle will likely log the traveled miles on the odometer
  • Will suffer the wear and tear of traveling those distances in the parts that are moving

The best way to tell how your car can be towed is to reference the towing guidance in your owner’s manual. If your vehicle can be flat towed, the owner’s manual will clearly state that and outline the proper procedure for doing it.

It will also give guidance on the best ways to tow your car if it cannot be flat towed.

Putting It All Together

Once you have determined the best way to tow your vehicle behind your trailer it’s time to buy the necessary equipment and get things set up.

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09/23/2022 11:22 am GMT

Cars are heavy and you’ll likely be traveling significant distances so don’t skimp on the gear. 

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If budget is an issue, buy good used stuff before considering cheap new stuff.  Equipment failures mid-journey can be dangerous and at a minimum can easily ruin a trip with lost time and significant extra expense.

Once you think you have everything you need, practice at home getting everything connected and loaded up. It’s easier to solve problems in your own driveway than it will be at some remote campsite.

It’ll also make it easier when the conditions are less than optimal like at night, or during a rainstorm.

Finally, take the finished setup out for a test drive before going on a real trip. This will let you find and correct any issues like trailer sway before you hit the road for real.

Before leaving the site, make sure you check out these other RV-related articles.

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