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…