The first thing you’ll need to decide is how you want to tow: with a tow bar, a tow dolly, or a trailer.
Tow bars allow the towed vehicle to ride flat on all four wheels (a dinghy tow). This can be great for stability, but it may put miles on the towed vehicle. Also, not all vehicles can be towed this way, so check whether your owner’s manual specifies that the vehicle can be towed flat. Tow bars often come with all the electrical connections and wiring you need for safe towing, but check to see what yours comes with. Wiring accessory kits are readily available.
Tow dollies let a towed vehicle ride on two wheels. Dollies can be an economical choice, but hand-crank models usually require more than one person to hitch and unhitch. Motorized dollies allow for easy, one-person operation but are more expensive. Some hybrid models allow you to use a drill (with an adapter) to motorize the hand-crank operation.
Trailers hold your entire towed vehicle, making them the most practical for small cars or sporting vehicles like ATVs or jet skis. If you choose to invest in a trailer, make sure it can accommodate the weight of what you’re towing and consider other uses for it, like for hauling things between your vacations.
Planning on pulling your tow through some less-than-smooth terrain? Consider tow bars, dollies, and trailers with extra shock absorption.
Auxiliary braking systems.
If you are driving a large motorhome and plan to always tow the same vehicle, consider a permanently installed braking system. This works seamlessly with your RV’s brakes, automatically braking the towed vehicle when you brake your RV. If you’d like the flexibility of changing towed vehicles to suit your needs, a portable system is a better choice. Most braking systems will come with all the wiring you need, but always double-check what’s included. Traffic laws in all states require working brake lights, tail lights, and turn signals on towed vehicles.
Both vehicles, your tow vehicle and the one you’re towing, may already be equipped with hitches, but you may need to purchase adapters to adjust height between the two vehicles and ensure a safe connection. Hitches are particular to the vehicles involved, weight being towed, and much more. For example, some hitches are designed specifically for connections to pick-up beds for pulling fifth wheels. Make sure the hitch receiver on your RV matches the vehicle you’re towing.
Other accessories to consider.
When it comes to towing, the accessory options are endless. You don’t need all of them. When choosing add-ons, think about what you’re towing, where you’ll be towing, and what tools will help you feel confident and safe on the road. Here are some you should consider:
Your tow bar, dolly or trailer may come with safety cables. If not, add them, and ensure they are rated to the weight you’re towing. Safety cables keep your towed vehicle attached in case the hitch comes undone.
An aftermarket rear-view camera may be well worth the investment, especially if you’re towing an RV. This improves visibility for parking and reversing, as well as letting you see more while you’re on the open road. (Keep in mind that if you are driving a large motorhome and towing a vehicle, you will not be able to reverse your RV.)
Once your towed vehicle is hitched up, see whether mirror extensions are necessary. You want to make sure you can see all the way down your vehicle (including what you’re towing) and a decent distance out to the sides. This is a simple and inexpensive add-on that can greatly improve safety.
If your motto is “Safety first, second, and third,” consider this backup device. Should your towed vehicle become completely unattached, this brake will automatically engage the brakes of the breakaway vehicle and slow it to a gradual stop.
SWAY CONTROL SYSTEMS
Most hitching systems come with weight distribution and sway control built in. If yours does not, you may want to add a bolt-on sway control device. These use friction and tension to keep the trailer or towed vehicle in alignment. Make sure any device you use is compatible with your braking system and be sure to disengage it when parking/backing up and in icy conditions where it can interfere with turning.
Towing can introduce a little wear and tear—on the towing vehicle and the one being towed. Guards can be placed on the back of the towing vehicle as well as the front and back of the towed vehicle, providing a little extra protection against dings and bumps.
Weight ratings are crucial.
Keep in mind that the right towing accessories are the ones that work with your vehicles. Safe towing relies on good information:
- Know the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of your towing vehicle so you can be sure it can accommodate the weight you intend to tow.
- Know the weight of the RV (fully loaded) or vehicle you’re towing and the towing capacity and tow rating of your tow vehicle.
- Check the specs and always follow manufacturers’ recommendations for hitches and accessories based on the makes and models of your vehicles.
Remember that no amount of add-ons can make up for being safe, thorough, and informed. When it comes to pulling an extra vehicle along, the most important thing to have in tow is knowledge.
Need more knowledge? Ease your towing tension by checking out our other articles.