Whether you travel far and wide or near to home, here’s what you need for better dinghy towing when you take your motorhome on the road.
Towing a “dinghy” vehicle is what makes traveling by motorhome so convenient. In addition to having your home wherever you go, you’ve also got your favorite vehicle to go out and explore with, which makes the RV experience that much more comfortable for you and your loved one(s). But before you plan your journey, it’s important to understand the steps required to take the family vehicle along for the ride.
Know before you tow
The first thing to consider is the vehicle you want to take with you. Whether it’s a vehicle you already own or one you’d like to purchase, check the owner’s manual under “towing,” “recreational towing,” “flat towing,” or “dinghy towing,” and see if the manufacturer approves of the practice before you take your next step. Owner’s manuals for most vehicles are available online simply by searching the year, make and model of your vehicle followed by “owner’s manual.” If the vehicle is brand spanking new and/or you can’t download a manual, your dealer should be able to help you find one (especially if you plan to buy from him/her).
Give it a brake
The laws in the U.S. and Canada require any towed vehicle to have functioning brakes — but unlike a trailer, your dinghy has its own system that isn’t designed to work with the towing vehicle. As such, you’ll need an auxiliary braking system that senses when the motorhome is braking and applies the brakes in the towed vehicle at (or near) the same time.
There are two basic designs in auxiliary braking systems: portable and permanent. Portable systems locate between the driver’s seat and brake pedal, and incorporate an arm and pedal clamp that depresses the vehicle’s brake pedal when the motorhome’s brakes are applied. Permanent brake systems require a larger investment in time during the initial installation, but once installed, require little more than plugging in the power cord and/or quick disconnect before setting off. Blue Ox, Demco, Hopkins (BrakeBuddy), Roadmaster and RVi all offer reliable braking solutions.
Step up to the plate
If you’re good go, the next thing you’ll need is the right equipment, starting with what is called a baseplate. The baseplate forms an attachment point for the tow bar (more on this in a minute), which will connect your vehicle to the motorhome via its hitch receiver. Blue Ox, Demco and Roadmaster all offer baseplates, and have fit lists on their websites that will tell you if a baseplate is available by simply entering the year, make and model of the vehicle. Most of the time, the installation instructions for the baseplate will also be available for download so you can see how much labor is involved. If you don’t see what you need, or have other questions, don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer of your choice — they will be happy to help you.
Raising the bar
Once the baseplate is installed, you’ll need a tow bar. Tow bars are available from a variety of manufacturers including those mentioned above, and features and functionality can vary greatly. Aside from the weight rating, consider if you want the tow bar to store on the motorhome or the car, and if you just want a basic design to get the job done, or a so-called “non-binding” tow bar with legs that move independently of one another, making it easier to attach/remove at weird angles or on uneven ground. Get the best tow bar you can afford, because a good one will make your RV life easier.
Now it’s time to modify the dinghy’s electrical system so that its running lights, brakelights and turn signals work when it is connected to the motorhome. The most common ways to do this are with a wiring harness that plugs/splices into the dinghy’s taillights, or a “bulb and socket” system, which bypasses the towed vehicle’s lighting with independent bulbs and sockets mounted inside the taillight assemblies. In either example, the kit will come with a harness that runs to the front of the vehicle and plugs into the power receptacle on the motorhome. Alternatively, you can use auxiliary lights that attach temporarily to the vehicle using magnets or suction cups. Here again, companies like Blue Ox, Demco, Hopkins Towing Solutions and Roadmaster can help.
Once the essentials are in place, be sure to check out the dinghy towing accessories each company offers — from rock shields that protect your paint, to charge line kits that will help keep your dinghy’s battery juiced up between destinations.