All About Dinghy Towing Part I – Toads
Recently I’ve had several blog followers ask me about towing and toads (tow vehicles that is, not bumpy, green amphibians. By the way this is sometimes also called “dinghy towing”). The idea marinated in my brain, as these things do, and I decided it might be helpful to dive in and do a couple of quick articles for those interested. So, as we hang out here in SW CO we’ll take a break from our scheduled program to do a mini 2-part series on towing. Here we go:
1/ Do I Really Need a Toad?
There’s a mass of debate on the whole question of towing on RV forums. There are people who go towless, and there are people who would never live without. We are most definitely the second kind and for full-time RVing I think having a toad adds significantly to lifestyle enjoyment. Given our “beastly” size it’s hard to plan stops (even stores) that can accommodate us and almost impossible to plan any real sightseeing. Towing a separate vehicle gives us the freedom to set-up “the beast” in one location and use the smaller car to run errands, grocery shop, sightsee and get around. We use our toad almost daily even if it’s just a short drive to get to a cool trail or lookout. Given all this there are people who do go without and they usually fall into one of two categories:
- “Beast Size” – Toadless RVers with bigger rigs plan their stops at major stores (e.g. Walmarts) or stick to areas that have RV parking or are walking/biking distance from an RV park. Some will rent tow vehicles on the road and this is a real option, especially if you stay in one spot for longer periods.
- “Smaller Size” – Those with smaller RVs take the whole enchilada with them to see the sights and will simply set-up/take-down whenever they need to go. The smaller your RV, the more flexibility you have in places to go and see.
But for us, having a tow vehicle is a “must” and something we wouldn’t live without.
2/ How Do I Choose The Right Vehicle?
First of all let me point out that just about any vehicle can be towed or modified to tow depending on how you do it, so if you’re dead set on towing your grandmother’s 1959 neon pink Mini you can certainly do it. But if you’re new and just getting started there are a couple of key criteria that are worth looking at as you make your choice:
- Weight & GCWR – One of the very first things you need to be aware of is weight. No matter what you chose you *must* be aware of your GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating) = the maximum total weight that your motorhome can handle. Simply put your motorhome weight PLUS your toad weight should never exceed the GCWR. One of the first things a new RVer should do is load up your motorhome (with all things like water, fuel, propane, you etc. that you plan to carry on a regular basis) and get it weighed. Then you can do the math to figure out how much you can tow. Outside of GCWR, obviously a lighter tow vehicle will put less stress on your main engine and brakes (think emergency braking distance) as well as have less impact on fuel mileage. We’re nowhere close to our GCWR and like to have that extra safety margin.
- Towing “4-down” – You’ll hear people talk about 4-down and what they mean is that your tow vehicle can be towed with all 4-wheels on the ground. This is not the only way to tow (as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post), but it certainly makes life easier. Some cars are designed specifically to allow 4-down towing while others are not or can only tow with modifications (e.g. drive-train modifications). Check with the manufacturer before you commit on buying so you know what you’re getting into.
- Off-Road Capabilities – It’s important to think about how you’ll be using your tow vehicle while on the road. Many outdoor locations offer lots of road opportunities from scenic drives to full-bore 4-wheel off-roading (especially in the southwest). If you’re into the 2nd kind, you definitely what a toad that can handle that kind of driving.
- Repairs and Reliability – No matter what kind of tow vehicle you buy it’s always worth looking at how it stacks up in terms of reliability and repairs. Obviously comfort and gas mileage are other good considerations.
3/ And Our Answer Was…..?
We decided to tow our 2009 Honda CR-V. The CR-V is a popular choice amongst RVers. It has all-wheel drive, gets good gas mileage (~25 mpg), weighs only ~3,500lbs, and is specifically enabled for towing 4-down (there’s actually a separate tow-section with set-up instructions in the owner’s manual). We’ve been extremely happy with our choice.
For those seeking off-road capabilities Jeeps are a popular choice.
For those seeking max. gas mileage some of the new hybrids are promising.
And…there are lots of other choices.
- Motorhome Magazine comes out with a dingy towing guide every year and is probably the single best online resource for chosing a toad.
- Consumer Reports offer some of the best reviews on vehicles, both used and new. Once you’ve got a few toad choices, this is a good resource to narrow down your list even more.
- Kelly Blue Book is a great resource for pricing, especially if you’re buying a used vehicle.
- RV Safety and Education Foundation has definitions of all the weight terms as well as detailed articles on weighing your motorhome.
In the end chosing a tow vehicle comes down to whatever is best for you (as long as you stay within your total weight limits), so make your decision based on your own levels of comfort, lifestyle and pizzaz. Oh, and in case you missed it, go get that motorhome weighed…..your life might well depend on it.
Coming next -> a gripping article on towing equipment. Do try to contain your excitement as you wait for it to come out…SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this “dinghy” post 🙂
You’re most welcome 🙂
Jim B says
Very timely…we just purchased a 2011 CR-V. We have a smaller motorhome right now, a Winnebago View, but are planning on going a bit larger once my wife retires and we go for much longer outings. Right now we do not spend more than a day at any one camp site so a toad is not a necessity. But…our next outing we will be taking the Toad along as we plan on staying at one location for a week and though you can take our Winnebago View just about anywhere it is a “hassle” to break down camp IMHO.
Which brake system do you use on your Toad…in fact can you tell us the towbar brand as well!
Thanks again for a great blog!!
The toad is really a lovely freedom to have in camp. I think you guys will enjoy it. And regarding tow equipment…all the juicy details coming in my next post, so stay tuned 🙂
we too have a 2011 CRV (same color too) – we use a roadmaster tow bar and use diode lighting for our lights – still searching for the brake system and will buy one as soon as I decide which one to get…
Cool! I’ll be talking about supplemental braking in my next post. There’s definitely a lot of choice out there and it took us a while to narrow it down.
I can’t really image how people do it without towing something. We go so much, see so many things and visit so many cool places….I just can’t image having this lifestyle without a vehicle. We have friends that don’t tow anything but they always have to stay close to what they want to see, call a taxi or grab a ride with someone going the same direction. We are too spontaneous for that. Another great job!
I’m so with you Marsha. We just love our toad and couldn’t imagine going without. Nina
Jerry and Suzy LeRoy says
Can hardly wait! Toad is necessary for fulltimers for sure. We started with a Geo Tracker, but somehow after a few years it began to grow smaller in relation to our size and needs. Now we tow a 2004 Suzuki XL-7 with a lift on the back to hold Suzy’s “Big Red” mobility scooter. So we tow a toad that carrries a load!
Nice combo!! It’s great that you guys have figured out how to tow the scooter too. Nina
jil mohr says
and then there are those of us who have a 5th wheel our “toad” truck which holds our home…..;) yet another discussion as to which to get in the first place….
Oh yeah…that’s a whoooole other mini-series of posts 🙂
This was a good article.
Though it is not the most common choice, we made the choice of a full-size 18 foot trailer because we were coming down the Alaska Highway to start our full-timing adventure, and the stories of toads thrown off the road and landing in a ditch or disconnecting one end of the tow bar and destroying the toad are legendary.
There is one big drawback to a full trailer. Good Sam road service does not help you if you blow a tire, but when we blew a tire on our full trailer they reimbursed us what we paid a nice Canadian trucker who helped us.
We have gotten very used to our trailer, though in a tight spot my husband crunched the left rear cargo bay door (but not so bad it ruined it). We’ve not yet run into a situation where we could not stay because of our trailer, and dropping it has become very everyday for us. At first, we were a little timid about dropping the trailer and about untying the car, but that has become pretty mundane now.
We love that we can back up the trailer pretty much anywhere (you have to disconnect a tow bar if you get in a tight spot, from what I understand), as long as you don’t jackknife..takes some practice to get the hang of backing it up. We love that we don’t put any extra miles on our car. Our car plus trailer equal about 5,000 lbs, and our RV barely knows they are there. Our miles per gallon only went down .1 by adding them. So we’re still getting about 10mpg. We just put the spare for the trailer in the back of the toad and take it out for long term stays.
Learning to turn a trailer around corners takes some practice, as you have to pull your RV all the way to the top corner just before turning. Learned a lot from that book called “How to Drive Your Motorhome Like a Pro.”
We do go slower pulling our trailer, not only to save gas (we always go 55 mph), but if it had not been for that trailer our brand new Hyundai toad would’ve been destroyed on the Alaska Highway. We chose a trailer with 4 tires, and that also kept our toad safe when we blew a tire on the trailer. Our Hyundai’s tires never get worn out, and the steel guard we opted for on the trailer keeps rocks from flying at the Hyundai’s windshield. We keep our backup camera on all the time and watch the toad closely to see if it has shifted. We check the tie straps at pretty much every stop by just giving it a little pull on each strap.
If we had not come down the Alaska Highway, we might’ve chosen a tow bar setup but maybe not. The trailer is just an extra protection against the road and other drivers who carelessly drift into our lane and stuff. It gives us a bit more road respect too. Most people don’t want to dent their car on a big trailer.
The trailer also gives us a place to put things like scooters or a power chair or whatever else we choose in the future.
The trailer is definitely a very flexible choice but most of the places we stay (national forest and public parks) wouldn’t be able to take it. If you stay mostly in private parks I don’t think it’s a problem. Glad it’s working out for you guys! Nina
We always drop the trailer if it is tight. Easy, fast.