The Toad

When I briefly considered buying a Class B motorhome, I assumed the Class B would also serve as my local transportation vehicle.  But, the idea of buying a Class B didn’t last long – too small, and too little storage for full-time living, at least for me.

As you know from reading my blog, dear reader, I have concluded that I will purchase a Class A diesel pusher, bus, or bus conversion.  I considered strapping a small scooter or moped to the back of the motorhome for local transportation, but that notion faded fairly quickly.  First, there is no protection from the elements.  Second,  there would be no place to put Olive, whom I would not be comfortable always leaving behind in the RV; I imagine her alone, barking her head off and getting us kicked out of the RV park.

Olive also loves riding in the car and being my copilot.  When parked she will hunker down and nap in her car seat, as long as I can park somewhere that is not subject to extreme elements. In Seattle, I bring Olive along in the car when I know that covered or underground parking is available.  (Don’t worry.  If I am staying in a place that is sunny and/or hot, I will leave her in the RV with air conditioning – don’t call PETA!)

I had no idea how little I knew about towing a vehicle behind a motorhome, until I spoke to a used RV salesman.  I assumed I would be towing my 2014 automatic transmission Kia Soul on this journey.  That is not to be.  The salesman explained that vehicles can be towed on a trailer or a dolly.  If using a dolly, you must strap the front wheels to the dolly, which can be messy and inconvenient in rainy or muddy conditions.  The straps must also be re-adjusted and re-cinched as the weight shifts and the car settles while towing.  A trailer is easier, but with either the trailer or the dolly – what do you do with the towing apparatus when you reach your destination?  A dolly may stow under the motorhome, but not a trailer.  And, dollies and trailers add unnecessary weight.

The solution: “flat towing,” or towing “four wheels down.”  A vehicle that is towed on all four tires is called a “toad” in the RV world.  Some prefer the word “dinghy,” borrowing from the nautical world, meaning a smaller craft pulled behind a larger craft.

Most automatic transmission vehicles cannot be towed on all fours; when all four tires rotate, the transmission can overheat.  You might be able to install a pump on the transmission to cool it as you tow, but who wants to find out the pump failed and the transmission is dead when you pull over at the rest stop?

In general, manual transmission vehicles are better for flat towing that automatic transmission vehicles.  However, manual or automatic, not all cars can be flat towed.  The first rule in determining if a vehicle can be a toad is to review the vehicle’s owner’s manual.  If the manufacturer does not recommend it, don’t do it.   If you do it with some sort of mechanical modification I don’t even pretend to begin to understand, just know you could be voiding any warranties, and you could potentially fry your vehicle (yes, that is as technical as I get).  The second rule in determining if a vehicle can be a toad is to join the Family Motor Coach Association online and access the FMCA’s annual towable vehicle guide: http://www.fmca.com/

As I shop for my toad, the FMCA guides have proven invaluable.  But, even if the FMCA says it can be done, see Rule Number 1: Check the owner’s manual.

The owner’s manual has spoken; my automatic Kia Soul cannot be flat-towed.  While not all automatic transmission vehicles can be flat-towed, many can.  Ever wonder why you see so many motorhomes flat-towing Jeeps?  Many Jeeps with automatic transmissions (not all – see the two rules above) can be towed four wheels down.

Cars that can be flat-towed require a special towing system, which could cost thousands of dollars, unless someone is selling a tow vehicle that is already outfitted to be towed.  You will hear and read terms like “Blue Ox” or “Roadmaster,” just to name a couple, which are manufacturers of towing systems installed on both the motorhome and the vehicle for flat-towing.  You may also hear or read about “Brake Buddy” or other manufacturers of “auxillary braking systems,” which are installed on or in the toad.  There is a fair amount of online debate regarding whether a braking system on the toad is necessary; I say if some states don’t require secondary braking systems on towed vehicles weighing less than 3,000 pounds, I’ll eventually be passing through states that do require them, so why take the chance?  And regardless of state laws, why wouldn’t you want more chances to stop in an emergency?

Here is Brake Buddy’s state-by-state guide to towing and braking: http://www.brakebuddy.com/towing-laws

If I purchased a Class A gas motorhome, my toad would likely be a Smart Car manual transmission or Fiat stick.  The Smart Car and the Fiat are the smallest cars that weigh the least, and that is important when considering a gasser’s towing and cargo carrying capacity.  I really don’t want to drive stick again, especially in city traffic.  But, if I buy a gasser, I will.

If I buy a diesel pusher, things become much more convenient.  Right now I would purchase an automatic Jeep Liberty or automatic Honda CR-V as my toad if I bought a diesel pusher.

Either way, gas or diesel, the Kia Soul has gotta go.  It’s a shame, really.  I have loved driving that vehicle!  I suppose I could trade the automatic for a manual and flat-tow the stick, but I really would like to tow an automatic if I can.

Which toad I buy will depend entirely on which motorhome I purchase.  Let’s not put the dinghy before the coach!