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Dinghy Towing Is The Answer When The RV Is At Camp

Plan on towing a vehicle behind your mobile home? Read further to learn about hitch connections, external signal lights, and brake applicators that let you do it like a pro.
Towing Car

Vacationing by motorhome continues to grow in popularity. Look at the advantages: no need to rent a hotel room night after night. If you have children, your hotel room savings multiplies. No unpacking and repacking of luggage at each stop. You get to enjoy the great outdoors as you set up camp, cooking and eating al fresco. We've heard of couples, typically retired ones, who will take off and travel for months at a time, seeing the country, while driving their "home away from home" down the highway. Proof the motorhomes' popularity comes to us by way of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), a trade group. They reported wholesales shipments of Type A, B, and C motorhomes were up 12% in 2013 compared to 2012, and up a further 11% in 2014, with a total of 356,700 units shipped. Americans have truly embraced the motorhome lifestyle.

Let's start with the dinghy vehicle itself. Not all vehicles can be flat-towed! Many can, but you must rely on information from the vehicle manufacturer to make that determination. The vehicle owner's manual almost always will tell you. If in doubt, call the car maker's Customer Service Department. If you're shopping for that vehicle, you can find out before plunking down your hard-earned cash. If you already own the vehicle you intend to pull, be careful, as permanent drivetrain damage can result if the car or truck is not designed for this.

Presuming you've got the dinghy vehicle lined up, the RV owner now needs to purchase a number of items to complete the job. At a minimum, this is what's needed:

1. Trailer hitch, with ball mount and ball, for the RV (universal part)
2. Tow bars (universal part)
3. Vehicle base plate (vehicle-specific part)
4. Wiring to run lights at rear of dinghy vehicle (universal part)
5. Tow Bar / Supplemental Brake Systems (universal part)

Let's take these one at a time, starting with the trailer hitch.

1. RV Trailer Hitch

Unlike receiver hitches for passenger cars and light trucks, which are vehicle-specific, the hitches for RVs are universal. They do come in different sizes and different tow ratings, so first check to see what the towing capacity is for your rig. The two variables you need to focus on are width and towing capacity.

RV Trailer Hitch

If you need a hitch that will fit a frame between 24" and 46", look no further than the Draw Tite Multi-Fit Motorhome Trailer Hitch. This unit will tow 5,000 lb. on its own, or 6,000 lb. with a weight-distribution hitch. Tongue weight is at a standard 10%, so its 500 lb., or 600 lb. with weight distribution.

Universal Curt RV Trailer Hitch

Curt manufactures three hitch choices for RV owners. Their Class 3 RV Trailer Hitch fits frames up to 51" wide, and is rated to tow 5,000/500 WC, or 6,000/600 WD. This hitch has a "zero drop" receiver. It is very important to point out that you want the connection between the RV hitch and the dinghy vehicle as close to horizontal as possible. If you need a drop at the receiver, the Curt Class 3 RV Trailer Hitch with 2" Drop has the same tow ratings as the previous model. If you need something to fit a frame as wide as 72", this Universal Curt RV Trailer Hitch is the way to go. Its tow ratings are 3,500 lb. with a 350 lb. tongue weight rating.

2. Tow Bars

Tow bars are the most visible part of the dinghy tow hookup. They are the physical link between the two vehicles, and recent advances in design have made it easier than ever to make and break that connection. Tow bars come in two basic versions: the A-frame style, and the self-aligning style. There are advantages to each. The A-frame type is less costly, and will likely be a better choice for the occasional user. The actual hookup will require two persons, one to drive and one to spot. The self-aligning tow bars can be installed by one person, and are the way to go if you are regularly disconnecting and reconnecting the dinghy. The Curt Adjustable Tow Bar, rated to tow 5,000 lb., is a value-priced A-frame style tow bar from one of the best-known names in the industry. The Tow Ready Adjustable Tow Bar has the same 5,000 lb. rating, and weighs only 31 lb., so as an A-frame tow bar, it is easy to handle.

Tow Ready Adjustable Tow Bar

Blue Ox offers a variety of tow bars for the RV owner. Their Ambassador A-Frame Tow Bar is rated at 5,000 lb., and includes 5,000 lb. safety cables. Their lineup of self-aligning tow bars differ by weight rating. The Acclaim 5,000 lb., Alpha 6,500 lb., Aladdin 7,500 lb., and Aventa 10,000 lb., are all self-aligning units. While the Acclaim has a ball mount, the Alpha, Aladdin, and Aventa all have straight shanks for insertion directly into the receiver, so a ball mount and trailer ball are not needed for these three.

Tow Bars

3. Base Plates

Next, you need some way to connect the tow bars to the front of the dinghy vehicle. This component is known as a base plate, also sometimes called tow bar brackets. This is the only vehicle-specific part that you need. Again, it is very important to note that A) Not all vehicles can be flat-towed; and B) Just because a base plate is available is not a guarantee that the car or truck can be safely towed with all four tires on the ground. With that caveat out of the way, let's look at our base plate applications.

Base Plates

Blue Ox specializes in this kind of towing, and their range of base plates is extensive. Within Product Options, enter your year, make, and model vehicle, and the exact-fitting base plate will be there for your choosing. For most vehicles, base plate or tow bar bracket installation is a 2- to 4-hour job. It will typically involve removal of the front fascia or bumper, some minor cutting of bumper, grille, or air dam pieces, and drilling. Welding is usually not employed, as the base plates are bolted in place using higher-grade hardware. It is definitely a job for those who have the tools and mechanical means. The good news is, it is a one-time installation. The base plate remains in place, and its modern design minimizes its appearance at the front of your vehicle.

4. Dinghy Rear Lights

Dinghy Rear Lights

When towing a dinghy vehicle, legislation in all 50 states require lighting at the rear. The law sees the dinghy vehicle as no different than a trailer. While there are solutions which require you to tap into the dinghy vehicle's electrical system, the easiest and most cost-effective solution is to obtain a set of magnetic-base auxiliary lamps. These simply stick to the trunk or roof of the dinghy vehicle with magnets, while you route and secure a wire harness along the vehicle, plugging into the standard electrical fitting at the rear of your RV. When it's time to unhook and drive the dinghy, the lights and wiring take two minutes to unplug, and you can store them in the trunk. Tow Ready has a value-priced Tow Light Kit. Also take a look at this set from Roadmaster. Curt makes a similar set of trailer lights, with several choices available to you within the Product Options menu.

5. Tow Bar / Supplemental Brake Systems

Finally, we come to the 5th and last line of products we are featuring today, and those are tow bar braking systems, also known as supplemental brake systems. These are nothing like the "brake controllers" which are designed to be installed into the TOW VEHICLE which is pulling a trailer, and apply the trailer’s electric brakes.

Patriot Brake Controller

For our dinghy towing, we need a device which will apply the brakes on the dinghy vehicle itself. Although state laws may vary regarding requirements for such brakes, there is consensus within the industry that when you have that much weight behind your RV (on average, 2500-4500 lb.), you want additional braking power.

We have a number of units available from several reputable firms. From Blue Ox, you have a choice between their Patriot Tow Bar Braking System, which installs inside the dinghy vehicle, or for a simpler install, their AutoStop Tow Car Braking System, which mounts at the front of the tow bar.

Roadmaster Towing provides an even wider choices of supplemental braking units, including their 8700 InvisiBrake Supplemental Braking System, 9700 Portable Braking System, and three different versions of their BrakeMaster: 9060 (with BrakeAway for RVs with hydraulic brakes), 9160 (with BrakeAway for RVs with air brakes), or 9100 (without BrakeAway). Be sure to check all of them out!

We've seen, both statistically and with our own eyes, an ever-increasing number of motorhomes on the highways and byways of America. And more and more of these are pulling along the dinghy vehicle. It makes a lot of sense. When you're ready to join the enthusiastic throng, check in with us. We have all the components you need to safely and securely attach the dinghy to the RV. Enjoy the trip!

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