After Baja I was reunited with my toad, left behind in Palm Springs during the Mexico adventure. The happy reunion made me realize: 1) I would not be enjoying this journey as much without the toad; and 2) While I blogged about the toad decision–making process, I have not written about the final choice, or the experience of towing a car behind an RV.
I bought a diesel pusher RV. That gave me more options when it came to towing a vehicle, because there are fewer weight restrictions than with gas models. For the reasons I enumerated in the previous post, I wanted to flat-tow, not use a trailer or dolly, and I did not want to make any after-market mechanical modifications to the car to do so. I focused on certain models of automatic, flat-towable Jeeps and older Honda CR-V’s, but quickly set my sights on the CR-V for less weight, better gas mileage, lower price point, and fewer and less expensive repairs comparatively to the Jeep models.
The newest Honda CR-V automatic is no longer flat towable (BOO, HISS, Honda!) but I did not want to buy a brand new car to tow behind an RV anyway. Have you seen these contraptions and nets and barriers people put on their towing devices to prevent rock chips and the like? I prefer a car with a few warts already, so incidental scratches and chips make me no never mind. Internet research revealed that the 2003-ish Honda CR-V came in a goldish brown/tan color that would match the rig nicely. Yes, those of you who know me should not be surprised that color coordination was part of my purchase decision-making process! Two almost identical cars were for sale in the Portland area – one by private owners, and the other at a dealership.
I was too late to buy the car from the private owners, which was too bad, because they had already modified the car for towing. If you can buy a toad that has already been modified, it is less expensive in the long run and will save you a lot of appointments and hassles. For $12,000 I purchased the dealer’s 2003 Honda CRV, which had less than 30,000 miles on it.
For approximately $3,500, I added a Roadmaster Towmaster system to the front of the CRV so that it could be towed behind the RV, together with a secondary braking device placed inside the vehicle, called a Brake Buddy.
I had the work done by a trusted welder and trailer parts and accessories dealer in Seattle, whom I did business with many times when I owned the vintage trailer. I added graphics to the car to promote blog:
Since writing about my fears of towing the toad, I’ve become an old pro at it. Trust me, if you have concerns about your ability to do this, you … can … do … it. Here is my step-by-step process:
1. Pull car near RV.
2. Unlatch and unfold Stowmaster and place hitch mount on ball.
3. Attach two safety cables.
4. Attach electrical cord.
5. Attach breakaway cord.
6. Start car. Shift through all gears, then back to drive, then to neutral, leaving the car running for at least three minutes to circulate fluids.
7. While fluids are circulating, remove floor mat and place the Brake Buddy on the floor of the car by the pedals, attaching it to the brake pedal. Plug-in the 12 V power and the cord that allows the Brake Buddy to communicate with the RV. Bring seat forward to touch the Brake Buddy. Test the system by pushing the test button, standing back to ensure that all brake lights on the toad and the RV are working. When you brake the RV, the Brake Buddy will brake the car.
8. Turn off the engine, leaving the car in neutral and in “accessory” mode. Ensure the steering wheel can turn and the emergency brake is off. (I keep two car keys on my keychain; one is on a breakaway fob, so I can leave the key in the ignition but still lock all the doors with the extra key.)
Miles do not accrue on the odometer when towing. Honda recommends no more than eight hours of towing per session. If you stop for break, just leave the car as-is. It is not necessary to repeat the steps in the same day.
I have met many RV’ers, women in particular, who are scared to tow, and I get that. I was petrified. They consider towing a Smart Car or Fiat or Mini as a compromise. Trust me – once you are towing a car, you are towing a car. It really doesn’t matter the size, as long as it is within your weight restrictions. The car follows dutifully along behind you, whether it is 10 feet long or 18 feet long. Yes, it takes a little longer to change lanes, especially in big cities, but when you’re that large, people will eventually let you in. Turn on your turn signal and stick your nose in! The biggest modification you must make when towing a car is taking wider turns; widen right-hand turns so the toad does not go over the curb. Widen left-hand turns to avoid cars waiting at lights to the left.
I have met people on the road who do not tow a car, and for the most part they make it work. For example, they rent cars in metropolitan areas, or mooch rides. I knew that would not work for me, as I sometimes like to stop in rural areas, unhook the toad, and go exploring. I like the freedom of having my car with me all the time, and it also serves as secondary storage. In fact, in the last few months I’ve added even more storage to the toad; first, a bike rack for an electric bike (which I’ll tell you about another time – I am in the test phase on that one), and while I was in Seattle recently, I added a cargo box.
If you are an RVer feeling the pinch of not having local transportation, tow a vehicle. If I can do it, anyone can do it!