Towing a Car Behind an RV: A Tested Guide to Doing it Right

Thinking of towing a car behind an RV? Well, honestly it’s not as tricky as it sounds. And it’s way less of a hassle than unhooking all of your water and electrical connections to go to the store.

I’ve towed around the country, with one trip all the way from Alaska to my home state of Utah. In addition, I spent countless hours researching each of the following methods and seeking others opinions on the subject.

When it comes to towing a car behind your RV there are three main methods. Flat towing, using a tow dolly, or a trailer. Each comes with its own distinct advantages and problems. I’ve found that most Rvers on the road prefer flat towing.

But enough talk, let’s dive in below!

Flat Towing

Flat towing, also known as “four-down towing” or “dinghy towing”, is a method of pulling your personal vehicle with all four tires on the ground. In my experience, this seems to be the most popular way to pull a car because it’s so easy to unhook and take off for the day.

But, not all vehicles can be pulled this way. In fact, if you’re not careful you can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your transmission.

A picture of a jeep tow car behind RV.
Jeeps are very popular as “dinghies” due to their ability to be flat towed.

Without getting too deep in the details, many cars with automatic transmissions can’t be pulled, even in neutral. On the other hand, if you’re flat towing a vehicle behind your RV with a manual transmission or transfer case that can be placed in neutral, you’re safe.

Now I get it, that was super broad.

To be honest, there’s exceptions as with anything. If you’re currently looking for a vehicle to pull as a “dinghy”, I’d highly suggest checking out Motorhome Magazine’s “Guide to Dinghy Towing”. This list was super helpful when we were looking at vehicles that could be towed four-down. You’ll find trusted makes such as Ford, Chevy, and an RVer favorite, Jeep, on this list.

Check your owners manual before towing ANY vehicle behind your motorhome. This is a picture of a lady doing just that!
Always check your owners manual before towing a vehicle behind your RV.

If you want to know if your current vehicle can be flat towed, check your owners manual. This should tell you if you can pull your car. It should also include instructions on special precautions or procedures to take. Things like pulling certain fuses or the proper position for the transmission shift lever.

And a word of warning here. Emergency towing is NOT the same thing as recreational towing.

Now don’t despair. There is another option if you can’t flat tow your vehicle and you’d like to. Most RV dealerships do carry and install lubrication pumps, decouplers, and similar devices. This wouldn’t be my preferred plan of action though since these modifications can be expensive and complicated to maintain. And if not properly used, they can cause damage.

Equipment Needed

  • Tow bar – This piece connects the front of the vehicle to the back of the RV. I’ve found that most RVers seem to use Blue Ox for their tow bars.
  • Baseplate – This piece attaches to the front of your vehicle and is what the tow bar hooks into.  Once again, Blue Ox is a common choice for this piece.
  • Safety Cable – Your safety cable is there in case the vehicle your towing behind your motorhome comes unattached. It keeps everything together until you can get both rigs stopped.
  • Auxiliary lights – The purpose of these are simple, they extend your turn signals and brake lights to the back of your personal vehicle.
    • You have two main options here. One, lights that magnetically attach to the top of the car. These are cheaper, but you’ll have to remove and store them any time you want to unhook. The second option is to hardwire your auxiliary lights. This allows you to run a cable from the back of your RV to the front of your car and then syncs both sets of  lights to work in tandem.
  • Auxiliary brakes – Like your auxiliary lights, these extend your braking functions from your RV to your car.
    • Once again, you have two main options. One is to use a surge brake, which captures the inertia of a stop and uses an arm to press the tow vehicle’s brake. Or, you can also hardwire your brakes which once again syncs both vehicles.
A steering override helps prevent this from happening. Leaving your key in the ignition while pulling it on roadtrips.
Without a steering lockout override you’re typically stuck leaving your key in the ignition like this.
  • Steering Lockout Override (optional) – This is an optional modification that you can have a shop install that may make your life easier. Since some vehicle’s steering wheels lock when turned off, you’ll have to flat tow with the key in the ignition turned to the accessory mode. This can drain your battery, but an override keeps you from needing to turn on your vehicle.

Set-Up Price

You’re looking at $4,000 to $6,000 for professional set-up and installation. However, I’ve found that Blue Ox’s system isn’t too difficult to install if you’re handy, and you can save some money if you’d like to set up everything yourself. Parts alone cost around $3,000 so you’re looking at potentially saving a grand or more.

Pros

  • Extremely fast and simple to disconnect your tow vehicle. It can usually be done with only one person as well.
  • Takes up very little space. The towing arms fold against the back of the RV, meaning you don’t need extra storage space at the campsite or home.
  • Little to no impact on gas mileage and very little wear on the RV itself.
  • Tracks better than other towing methods, meaning it’s easier to drive.
  • Results in even wear on your car since all four wheels are on the ground. Although, I have heard that some see abnormal wear patterns on their tires.
Flat towing is by far the most popular method of pulling along your “toad”.

Cons

  • Any modifications you make on your vehicle go with it if you decide to sell it.
  • Can cause cosmetic damage from rocks flung by the RV. (There is a solution to this though called a “tow car shield”).
  • Unlocking the steering wheel when towing can drain the battery.
  • Limited choice of tow vehicles.
  • Can’t back up without damaging towing arms or even the vehicle itself. You’ll have to unhook and readjust everything.

Tow Dolly

If you can’t flat tow your vehicle but still want to bring it along, another popular option is a tow dolly. These hook into the back of your RV and lift the front two tires of your car off the ground with the back wheels trailing behind.

A car being hauled on a tow dolly.
Notice the vehicle with its front tires lifted up onto the tow dolly.

These work for front-wheel drive vehicles but will not for those with rear-wheel drive. Once again, you’ll want to refer to your owners manual to make sure that this is a viable option for you.

Loading your car onto a tow dolly isn’t a complicated process. You’ll drive up the ramp until it flattens and strap the vehicle into place. Your first time strapping down the tires can be a little complicated, but once you get it figured out the process tends to speed up.

Now, I have heard that this can be a little more tricky when the dolly is wet. Your tires are more prone to slipping, and I’ve heard of people sliding off and causing damage to the front of their car.

Also, you’ll definitely want a spotter when loading, especially if the car you’re bringing along has a narrow wheel base. The other person can make sure the wheels are properly lined up with the ramps, since there’s not much room for error.

Many states require you to register and put a license plate on your tow dolly, just like you would with a trailer.

And if you do decide to buy one, you’ll also need to make sure you have a place to store it. Most people should be able to find a place for it at home, but you will most likely have to pay for extra space at a campground. And a heads up, I have heard that some sites are running out of extra storage due to the growing popularity of RVing.

Equipment Needed

  • Tow Dolly – Obviously this is the piece that you’ll drive your car onto and use to pull it behind your motorhome.
A standard ball hitch.
  • Ball Hitch – This is placed into your hitch receiver and is where the tow dolly hooks onto the RV. You’ll typically see these on trucks. They’re pretty common, and  I have one on both my truck and my van.
  • 6-7 Pin Connector – Your dolly should already include this. This attaches to the back of your RV and provides powered connections for lights, brakes, etc.

Set-Up Price

If you’re looking to buy a tow dolly, you’ll be able to find one for anywhere from $2,000 to $4,500. You can also rent them from companies like U-Haul for less than $50 a day. U-Haul even has a feature on their website where you can see if your car is dolly compatible.

Pros

  • Inexpensive compared to other towing options.
  • You can pull a wider variety of vehicles than if you were flat towing.

Cons

  • Need extra space to store the dolly. This could be a little tricky to find at certain campsites.
  • Tow dollies are heavy, typically weighing in around 500-1,500 pounds. This makes them difficult to move and hook up, but also adds significant weight to whatever load you’re hauling.
  • Uneven wear on your vehicle’s tires since only the back two will be touching the ground.
  • Can’t back up while attached (although I have heard you can back up straight a few feet).
  • Does require two people to load properly and can be dangerous in wet conditions.

Trailer

A vehicle on a car hauler being pulled behind a motohome.

The last method that most people use to tow their personal vehicle is with a trailer (also known as a car hauler). These typically have two axles for strength and stability, as well as low rails along the edges. There are also completely enclosed trailers, but these aren’t as common.

Car haulers can carry any vehicle, as long as your RV is up to it and the axles have a high enough weight rating. You’ll typically see 4-wheel or all-wheel drives hauled in this manner to prevent any damage from happening to their transmission.

Loading a trailer is as simple as making sure the RV is in park and driving up the ramp. You’ll then strap your car into place and you’re good to go. You can also use your trailer to haul your toys such as bikes and ATVs, or use it as extra storage.

Now here’s the great thing about using a trailer behind your RV. In a pinch, you can actually back these up. There’s no need to unhook and get readjusted.

But, car haulers are heavy. And because of that they’re usually pulled by diesel motorhomes that have plenty of power.

Equipment Needed

  • Trailer – Obviously, this is what you’ll be towing with.
A weight distribution hitch that help distribute the weight of a load.
A weight distribution hitch that helps distribute heavy loads and reduce sway.
  • Weight Distribution Hitch – These hitches distribute heavy loads across your RV and help prevent swaying. While yes, you could still use a standard ball hitch, I’d recommend one of these for your car hauler. It’s safer and much easier to drive.
  • 6-7 Pin Connector – Your trailer should already include this, but this piece connects your trailer and RV brakes, lights, etc.

Set-Up Price

If you’re looking to buy brand new, expect to spend anywhere from around $4,000 to $10,000. If you’re looking for an enclosed trailer, expect closer to $15,000 to $20,000. However, looking at my own local classifieds, it wasn’t hard to find used car haulers for even less.

Several different listings for car haulers here in my home state of Utah.

Pros

  • Absolutely zero wear and tear on your personal vehicle.
  • You can back up with a car hauler. While it does take some practice and experience, it is possible.
  • You can haul pretty much any vehicle you want.
  • Can be used as extra storage or space for bikes, ATVs, etc.

Cons

  • Heavy. Not only are you hauling your own vehicle but another 1,500 to 3,000 pounds. Hence the reason why most RVs that pull a trailer are diesel powered.
  • You’ll need to find a place to store your trailer. At home this may not be as big of a deal but many campsites are running low or not providing extra storage due to the surge of new RVers.
  • More expensive than other options. Plus, you’ll need to pay registration fees on your trailer every year.

Tips and FAQs on Towing

Tip: Slow Down

This is my #1 tip for people new to towing anything. Slow down! If you drive too fast the vehicle you’re towing will begin to sway (AKA death wobbles). You’ll also want to account for delayed braking time due to the extra weight.

When I’m towing anything I tend to drive at or slightly slower than the speed limit.

Tip: Check Your RV’s Towing Capacity

Make sure that your rig can haul both that vehicle of yours and whatever you’re hooking it up to. A trailer and dolly does add significantly more weight to the package so make sure you account for that.

If you decide to tow above your RV’s capacity you’ll be putting a lot of strain on the engine and transmission, which can cause damage.

Tip: Get The Right Hookups (and a camera)

Make sure you have the correct hookups before towing. You’ll need a hitch receiver and electrical connections before using any of the above methods.

Also, a rear view camera is essential in my opinion. You’ll want to monitor whatever vehicle you have in tow as you’re driving and having one allows you to do so. The last thing you want is to be unaware of some problem going on behind you while flying down the freeway.

Question: Are You Putting On Extra Miles?

You don’t need to worry about adding miles onto your vehicle in tow if it has an electronic odometer.

Are you putting extra miles on your car when towing it behind your rig? The typical answer to that question is no, you’re not. Almost all cars built within the last 30 years have an electronic odometer that only records miles from the gearbox when the vehicle is running.

But if you’re towing an older vehicle with a mechanical odometer then yes, it will add miles. An expectation to this rule is a front-wheel drive car pulled on a dolly.

Concluding Thoughts

Yes, there’s a lot to unpack above. But honestly, most people prefer flat towing, and with the help of a professional you should be on the road in no time.

And perhaps you’re still looking for an RV to tow your car. In that case, I’d check out our article on the cost of buying an RV to own.