Flat Towing Vehicles – The Pros & Cons

Flat towing vehicles, or dinghy towing, as others refer to it, is very common. Especially, when the motorhome is a big rig!

After all, who wants to use a large and unwieldy motorhome to drive around town or run errands?

So you will see motorhomes pulling a vehicle behind that has all four wheels on the ground all the time. And that is what flat towing means, all four wheels of the towed vehicle are on the ground.

But how can you do that without tearing up some very important parts of the towed vehicle?

Well, let’s talk about that and also about whether flat towing a vehicle behind your RV is the best choice overall.

Tow bar or tow dolly? The pros and cons of Tow Bars.
Watch my video on flat towing vehicles

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Can You Flat Tow Any Vehicle?

So can you just hitch up your car and flat tow it down the highway? Probably not. There are only certain vehicles that are designed so that RV flat towing is possible.

Most cars and trucks simply won’t tolerate being pulled down the highway with all four wheels on the ground. This is mainly because of the damage that can be done to the drivetrain, especially the transmission.

If you have an automatic transmission in your vehicle, in many cases it can’t be used for flat towing.

In fact, flat towing vehicles not approved for dinghy towing down the highway will simply tear up the gears. And then you will have a huge repair bill!

If you have a manual transmission in your towed vehicle you stand a much better chance of being able to flat tow it. But even then you need to make sure that the vehicle’s manufacturer has approved it for dinghy towing.

But does this mean that all cars with automatic transmissions can’t be flat towed? Actually, there are some vehicle that have been designed by the manufacturer to be approved for this kind of towing.

What Vehicles Can Be Flat Towed?

If you watch for motorhomes going down the highway, you will begin to see the same flat towed vehicles often. So which ones are you going to see?

Overwhelmingly, you will see a lot of Jeeps being dinghy towed. It could be a Jeep Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, or Wrangler.

A lot of RVers like these vehicles because they also often have four wheel drive capability. And some are even known for being great for off-road adventures, like the Wrangler.

Some other good choices could be a GMC Terrain, Chevy Equinox, or an older Honda CRV, especially pre-2014. And some pickup trucks are flat towable as well.

All of these cars may be able to be flat towed successfully. But before you buy anything, make sure that the year and model you are considering is specifically approved for RV flat towing.

Any mistake made in choosing a tow vehicle here would be very expensive. So make sure you do your homework well on choosing a dinghy tow vehicle.

You also want to make sure that the towed vehicle’s weight is within the guidelines for your motorhome. Some vehicles are relatively light in weight, like the Honda CRV. Others, like a pickup truck are heavy in comparison.

So stay within the approved towing weight and hitch weight for your particular motorhome.

RV Tow Bars And Face Plates

RV tow bar for flat towing vehicles.
An example of a tow bar for flat towing

Once you have selected your towed vehicle, what now? Well, before you go dragging it down the highway, you will need a few essential pieces of equipment.

The first is an RV tow bar. The tow bar usually attaches to the hitch on the back of the motorhome.

There are two telescoping handles that come out of the tow bar and attach to the towed vehicle. The two most common tow bar manufacturers in use these days are Blue Ox and Roadmaster. Either one would be a good choice.

But there is one more issue here. Many vehicles do not come with a provision for flat towing already installed. So there are no hookups for the tow bar to use for a connection to that vehicle.

If this is the case with your towed vehicle, you will need to install a face plate on that vehicle. A face plate will be mounted securely to the vehicle so that towing it down the highway can be done safely.

This is not a job that most people can do easily or well. So unless you are very mechanically inclined and have experience in these areas, leave it to a pro instead.

It may cost more, but it is well worth making sure that you have a quality face plate installation. Once installed the face plate has the connections included for the tow bar hookup.

One last piece of equipment needed in this step is safety cables. They will attach the vehicle face plate directly to the hitch of the motorhome.

This is a safety precaution in case the vehicle somehow breaks away from the tow bar. It doesn’t happen often, but you sure don’t want your vehicle falling into traffic behind you untethered.

Brakes Installed For Flat Towing Vehicles

So far we have the vehicle connected to the motorhome using a tow bar and face plate. But what about the vehicle’s brakes?

In most states you are required to provide some means of vehicle braking for the towed vehicle. That is, other than using the motorhome’s brakes. This makes sure that the motorhome can use all of its braking power if an emergency should arise.

So there are usually two choices for dinghy vehicle braking. And either choice works quite well for many RVers.

One is to install a system for using the brakes on the vehicle itself. This means that you have to tie into the braking system of the vehicle.

Then a brake controller will need to be installed in the RV to fine tune the braking communication between the RV and the vehicle.

The braking commands are then usually passed through a 6 or 7 pin connector on the back of the motorhome. And the vehicle is wired to plug into that connector.

So when you apply the brakes in the RV, the vehicle’s brakes are applied as well.

If the braking system is installed correctly, this arrangement can work very well. But installing this kind of equipment is also beyond the average person.

So if you are not very familiar with working with vehicle braking systems, it’s probably best to have a pro install it instead.

Click here for my recommended hard-wired braking system

Click here for my recommended RV brake controller

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Auxiliary Braking For Flat Towing

The other solution to the braking issue is to use an auxiliary braking system. These do not tie into the towed vehicle’s brakes in any way.

They are usually a boxy piece of equipment that is placed in front of the driver’s seat in the towed vehicle. The rear of the unit is then secured up against the driver’s seat for leverage.

A mechanical arm protrudes from the system that can be attached by hand to the brake pedal of the vehicle. It usually just wraps around the pedal to hold it firmly.

The system is then plugged into the DC outlet in the vehicle for power. It is then ready for use.

The system works on inertia activation. In other words, if you put the brakes on in the RV, the system detects it in the vehicle.

It then activates the arm on the unit to physically apply the brakes by means of the brake pedal in the vehicle. It can even be trained to apply the brakes with a force in proportion to what is applied in the RV.

There is also a kill switch on the unit to apply the brakes quickly if it senses that the vehicle is no longer connected to the RV.

Some well-known brands of these units include BrakeBuddy, Roadmaster, and Blue Ox. There is also a low-profile version of the system made by RVi Brake.

An auxiliary braking system example
An example of an auxiliary braking system connected to the brake pedal

These auxiliary braking systems also work very well for many RVers and have lots of fans. But they take a while to install before each tow and must be removed and stored somewhere afterward.

Click here for my recommended towed vehicle auxiliary braking system

(This is an affiliate link for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Lights For Flat Towing Vehicles

Now we have one more step before we start flat towing this vehicle. We have to arrange for proper running and directional lights.

It is also a state requirement to have some means of displaying brake lights, night lights and directional signals. So once again there are two choices for most people.

You can either hard-wire the lights into the vehicle lighting system or use auxiliary lights. And either system can work well depending on your needs.

If you hard-wire the lights they are controlled by the 6 or 7 pin connector on the back of the motorhome. But if the vehicle brakes are not hard-wired, you may only need a 4 pin connector for the lights.

Installing the lights this way means that whatever lights are used on the RV are also used on the towed vehicle. This kind of installation can also be tricky though.

So use a qualified mechanic for the project if you are not completely comfortable with it.

The other choice is to use auxiliary lights that usually mount on the back of the towed vehicle. In many cases these lights are magnetic and can attach to the vehicle roof for easy visibility.

Then the wires for the lights have to be run to the front of the vehicle. There they are connected to the motorhome through the 4, 6 or 7 pin connector.

OK, let’s review the results of the two choices for vehicle lights.

If the lights are hard-wired into the flat towed vehicle, they can be ready for use by just making the connection to the RV.

If auxiliary lights are used instead, they must be setup and installed each time you tow. And then they must be taken off and stored in between tows.

Click here for my recommended towed vehicle hard-wired lighting solution

Click here for my recommended towed vehicle auxiliary lighting solution

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

What Is The Cost Of Flat Towing?

Obviously, we have discussed quite a bit of equipment that will be needed for flat towing vehicles. These include a tow bar, face plate, safety cables, and braking and lighting systems.

So what are we looking at for the cost of this kind of setup? Very often, anywhere from $3000 – $5000 if new equipment is used.

If you hard-wire the lighting and brakes and install a face plate, these will probably need to be done professionally. If so, there will be labor costs. And some of these projects are time-consuming.

If you choose to use auxiliary braking and lighting instead, you will probably have a lower overall cost. But you will also have to install these systems every time before you tow. And remove and store them afterward.

So the more convenience you have in towing, the higher initial cost. But the lower initial cost of the equipment also means more hassle each time you tow. Your choice.

Of course, if you buy used equipment you may save quite a bit on the initial purchase costs. But make sure that the items you buy are in good working order.

So with all of this said, here are the pros and cons of flat towing vehicles:

Dinghy Towing Pros

  • If your brakes and lights are hard-wired, hooking up and unhooking is a breeze. It only takes just a few minutes. You drive the towed vehicle up to the RV and connect the tow bar and safety cables. Then you plug in to the 6 or 7 pin connector and you are all set. Quick, simple and easy!
  • There is little to store with flat towing. The tow bar folds out of the way on the hitch. If you use auxiliary braking and lighting, they don’t take up much storage room either.
  • Flat towed vehicles track behind the RV like a dream. They usually have the same turn radius as the RV. Easy, peasy.
  • In a tight situation, it is easier to just unhook the towed vehicle before maneuvering the RV. A tow dolly is much more cumbersome in these kind of situations.

Dinghy Towing Cons

  • The cost. Setting up a vehicle for dinghy towing can cost more than twice the amount of a tow dolly. This is mainly due to the additional equipment needed and the installation costs by a professional.
  • You are limited in your choice of tow vehicles. Because the vast majority of vehicles can’t be flat towed, you can’t even consider them. You only have a relatively small pool of vehicles to choose from.
  • Many vehicles require leaving the ignition key in the “ON” position to allow the front wheels to turn freely. This can easily run the battery down unless even more equipment is installed in the towed vehicle to prevent this.
  • If you hard-wire the brakes and lights, you have a tough decision when you get a different vehicle. One choice is to remove those systems and have them re-installed again in the new vehicle. If professional removal and installation is required, this is very expensive. Or you have to let all of that equipment go when you sell the vehicle and buy new again. Either way, an installed face plate will certainly have to go with the old vehicle. And then a new face plate may be required for the new vehicle too.

Conclusion

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when flat towing vehicles. It is not a simple setup.

In the end it mainly comes down to ease and convenience vs. cost. The more you spend, the easier it is to hook up and unhook your towed vehicle each trip.

I also will be writing a companion article about the pros and cons of tow dollies for RV towing. So be sure to read that as well to be able to make a fair comparison.

And remember that what works for others in their situation may not work for you. As always, do the research and make your choice based on your personal circumstances.

If you do, you will most likely make a choice that you will be pleased with for years. And there are plenty of RVers who happily use either one of these towing solutions successfully.

Once again, have safe and happy travels my friends!

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