And the truth is that either method works very well. You will see plenty of examples of RVers on the road using either towing method successfully.
But this article will provide a discussion of the merits of using a tow dolly instead. And it will cover the advantages and disadvantages of RV tow dollies.
So let’s get started now.
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Table of Contents
- What Is An RV Tow Dolly?
- What About Braking?
- Electric Or Surge Brakes?
- Lights For Your RV Tow Dolly
- Tow Dolly Pros
- Tow Dolly Cons
What Is An RV Tow Dolly?
When you are using an RV tow dolly at least two wheels of the towed vehicle are off the ground.
There are flat bed tow dollies that lift the whole vehicle off the ground too. But those are not a common site on the road among RVers. So this article mainly focuses on the two wheel tow dolly.
The tow dolly is usually attached to the back of the motorhome by means of the RV’s towing hitch. And it’s often just a simple ball hitch arrangement.
So using the tow dolly is fairly simple and straightforward after it’s attached to the motorhome. You just drive two wheels of the towed vehicle up on the dolly, usually the two front wheels.
The wheels settle in place on the dolly and they are then anchored down by the use of straps. This keeps the vehicle attached to the tow dolly as you go down the road.
What About Braking?
Many states require that you have an arrangement for braking in the towed vehicle that is separate from the RV braking system.
This is a safety requirement in case the RV has to make a sudden stop. With additional brakes on the towed vehicle, the RV can stop in a safe and controllable manner.
So how do you get brakes on an RV tow dolly? The good news is that many tow dollies already come with some form of braking system installed.
Of course, you have to be careful because there are also tow dollies that do not have a braking system. And these kind of tow dollies are not really suitable for most RVing uses.
So be sure that the tow dolly you purchase has either electric or surge brakes already installed. And now let’s discuss these two braking systems and explain how they work.
Electric Or Surge Brakes?
If you get an RV tow dolly with electric brakes, it means that the brakes on the tow dolly wheels are activated electrically.
To do this, there are wires on the tow dolly that connect to the motorhome, usually through a 6 or 7 pin connector on the back of the RV.
These wires receive signals from the RV whenever the brakes are being applied in the motorhome. So when you push on the brake pedal in the RV, the brakes are also activated on the tow dolly.
If your tow dolly has an electrical braking system, you will also need to install a brake controller in the RV. This fine tunes the communication between the two vehicles to make the braking on the tow dolly is smooth and safe.
If your tow dolly has surge brakes instead, the brakes are activated without receiving any signal from the RV. This is accomplished through inertia.
When you apply the brakes in the motorhome, the whole rig will change speed as it attempts to stop. The surge brakes sense this change of inertia, and start applying brakes automatically on the tow dolly as well.
Either method of tow braking is very effective and has been used successfully by many RVers. Of course, surge brakes are more simple because there is no wiring or connections required to make them work.
Lights For Your RV Tow Dolly
Many tow dollies also come with lighting installed too. There are usually lights mounted on the fenders of the tow dolly for braking and directional signals.
Once again, these are activated by connecting to the RV through either a 4, 6 or 7 pin connector. The number of pin connections often depend on whether there is electric brakes installed or not.
Many RVers use only the lights on the tow dolly. Others have a lighting system installed on the towed vehicle itself instead. This allows the lights of the towed vehicle to be used instead of the tow dolly lights.
But other RVers use an auxiliary lighting system that is independent from the tow dolly and the towed vehicle.
They are simply two lights that attach magnetically to the roof of the towed vehicle at its rear. Then wiring is run outside the towed vehicle and connects to the RV through a 4 pin connector.
Of course, this kind of lighting system has to be installed and removed with every tow. So it’s less expensive initially but requires more work each time you tow the vehicle.
Many RVers feel that the lights on the tow dolly are not enough for safe viewing because they are not at the rear of the towed vehicle.
So either using the lights of the towed vehicle or an auxiliary light system will do the job at the rear of the vehicle instead.
Tow Dolly Pros
- The cost. Tow dollies can often cost half the amount of a flat towing arrangement. In fact, some new tow dollies can be had with brakes and lights for about $1500. And if you buy used, you can lower that cost quite a bit.
- Simple setup – you drive the vehicle on to the dolly. Then you anchor the wheels on the dolly, connect the lights and brakes, and you are done.
- You can choose from a wide range of vehicle that be towed on a dolly. Flat towing can only be done by a relatively few amount of vehicles. But many front wheel drive vehicles can be successfully towed on a dolly. Be sure to check with the vehicle manufacturer to be sure though.
- With the drive wheels off the ground there is no fear of major damage to the vehicle’s transmission.
- Since the front wheels must be locked in place on an RV tow dolly, you don’t have to leave the key in the ignition. Many flat towed vehicles require this step to allow the wheels to move as the motorhome makes a turn. But this can also run down the battery in those vehicle as it is being towed. So all of this is avoided with the use of a tow dolly.
- If you get a new towed vehicle, there is not much to change when you tow it on a tow dolly.
Tow Dolly Cons
- More physical work and effort is required with a tow dolly. You have to be able to move the dolly around to connect it to the RV. And you have to be able to anchor the front wheels down securely as well. This kind of work may be difficult for some with physical limitations.
- If a flat towed vehicle has its lights and brakes hard-wired, the tow dolly will take longer to setup instead. If you flat tow a vehicle without hard-wiring the lights and brakes, there is not much difference in time for setup.
- You will need to find a spot to stow the tow dolly whenever it is unhitched from the motorhome. This may be a challenge in some tight campground spots.
You will see a lot more flat towed vehicles behind motorhomes than those using tow dollies. Don’t let this dissuade you from the use of an RV tow dolly.
As long as you are physically capable of working with tow dollies you will be fine. This includes loading and onloading the tow dolly, strapping down the wheels and moving the dolly on the campsite.
A tow dolly is a very simple and straight-forward piece of equipment that does its job extremely well. And tow dollies last for years with very little maintenance required.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion of using a tow dolly for towing behind a motorhome. If you have anything to add to this discussion, please leave it in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.
Have safe and happy travels my friends!