As many of our regular readers know, we’re big fans of flat-towing (4 wheels down). That’s because it’s worked so incredibly well for us over our nearly 2 decades of full-time RVing. We’ve been flat-towing our 2003 Honda CR-V for that entire time with great success, but the newer CR-Vs can’t be flat-towed. In addition, the CR-V isn’t the lightest car to tow behind a motorhome, and many people are interested in pulling as light a dinghy as possible.
We opted for a toad that would allow us to maximize our ability to explore in some pretty remote places (decent ground clearance and all-wheel-drive), but we know that’s not the primary goal for everyone, especially those with more limited towing capacities. So, today we’re putting the focus on dinghy weight and taking an in-depth look at the question of whether or not the Chevy Spark is the lightest car to tow behind a motorhome.
Is the Chevy Spark the Lightest Car to Tow Behind A Motorhome?
First, let’s keep in mind that we’re primarily talking about flat towing. When focusing on weight considerations, it makes more sense than ever to avoid adding a dolly or trailer to the mix. Any car that requires one also requires adding that weight to the car’s weight. And the components for flat towing (base plate, tow bar, and wiring kit) add virtually nothing in comparison to a dolly or trailer.
We’re also looking primarily at new vehicles here — those which are flat-towable and available to buy brand new as of this writing.
With that said, the no-longer-available-in-North-America-since-2015 Smart ForTwo gets a special honorable mention as the lightest flat-towable car in recent memory. If you’re looking for a used toad, and the lightest possible weight is your single biggest consideration, a used Smart car is a viable option. Of course, you should keep in mind that the Smart is VERY small, with room for only 2 people, and very little luggage space.
There are other lightweight cars available today that can h0ld more people and gear, and those are the ones we’ll be focusing on today, with the Chevy Spark as our featured vehicle of interest. Let’s take a look at why that is.
First, to answer the big question we posed at the start… YES, the manual-transmission version of the Chevy Spark is the lightest car currently available in North America that’s manufacturer-approved for flat-towing behind a motorhome.
Why is the Chevy Spark a Good Vehicle to Flat Tow?
It’s a Lightweight!
The Chevy Spark is a small four-door hatchback that seats four people and is light and compact. It sits squarely in the category of “subcompact” cars and is Chevrolet’s smallest vehicle.
The fact that the Chevy Spark is so lightweight is one of the most significant reasons for its popularity as a “toad” or dinghy vehicle for motorhome owners.
Many owners of large RVs are interested in carrying the lightest car to tow behind a motorhome because the impact on RV fuel consumption is minimized. Additionally, less weight means less wear and tear on RV braking systems because there’s less mass to slow down. Lighter toads mean less impact on RV transmission systems as well because there’s less weight to drag up hills.
With the Chevy Spark being the current winner in the lightweight-toad competition, we’ll include information on how to flat-tow one later in the post.
The Spark’s compact size adds to its appeal as an RV dinghy.
At under 11.9′, the 2022 Chevy Spark adds less length to an already-long motorhome than almost any other vehicle (some older Sparks are even shorter).
At a width of just over 5 feet and a height of just under 5 feet, the Chevy Spark is often described as “petite” with good reason.
As a toad, the Spark is one of those vehicles with a weight and size that make it barely noticeable to the drivers of most motorhomes, and it’s easy and compact to park once at a campground location.
The 2022 Chevy Spark has a retail price of only $13,600 brand new. Older models are obviously even less expensive and can be purchased on the used market, sometimes with very low miles.
With a 1.4 liter 4-cylinder engine, the Spark is affordable at the pump as well.
J.D. Power gave the 2021 Chevy Spark its “Best” rating (91-100) for reliability, which means that it’s an affordable car to own and maintain as well.
How Much Does the Chevy Spark Weigh?
The curb weight of the 2022 Chevy Spark is between 2,246 and 2,312 pounds, depending on the model.
By comparison, the Spark’s closest competitor in the size and price range, the 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback, does weigh less at around 2,095 to 2,140 lbs. But it generates only 78 hp compared with the Spark’s 98 hp. That’s a lot less muscle… for $1,500 to $2,000 more money. And the Mirage isn’t flat-towable, so when the weight of a dolly (or trailer!) is added, the Spark still wins for lowest weight.
In fairness, the Mirage does offer around 20 cubic feet of additional cargo space, one additional seat, and better fuel mileage as compared with the Chevy Spark. But at 78 hp from a 1.2 liter 3-cylinder engine, it’s a heck of a trade-off if you’re trying to pass on the freeway, scoot around big-city streets, or climb even a moderate grade.
The low weight and very low profile of the Chevy Spark combined with the 98 hp generated by the 1.4 liter 4-cylinder engine makes this tiny toad a light and nimble dinghy for RVers running errands or exploring the local sights.
Is the Chevy Spark a Reliable Vehicle?
As noted in the information related to affordability above, J.D. Power ranks the 2021 Chevy Spark at its highest level for reliability. But a 2021 vehicle hasn’t had a whole lot of time to prove its reliability in the real world.
The Chevy Spark first came on the market in the U.S. in 2012. Historically, earlier models appear to be reliable to 100,00-150,000 miles. Not bad for a $14,000 car.
Users in online forums are mostly happy with this popular, affordable small car, saying that the engine requires few repairs over time.
Chevrolet’s notable 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty suggests that even the manufacturer has faith in this vehicle’s reliability.
But as with any vehicle, longevity has a whole lot to do with how it’s driven and maintained, and in the case of an RV dinghy vehicle, how it’s towed as well.
Speaking of how it’s towed…
How Do You Flat Tow Your Chevy Spark?
Before towing any vehicle, you’ll want to become familiar with recreational vehicle towing laws which may vary depending on the region in which you live.
Here are the details on flat towing the Chevy Spark:
Only the 5-speed manual can be flat-towed, which is the LS model. It’s somewhat basic, but includes an awful lot for the money.
Also, for anyone who isn’t already aware, when you want to flat-tow any car, you first need to have a base plate installed. This provides the sturdy attachment points to which your tow bar connects, and is bolted (or in some cases welded) to the car’s chassis.
And of course, you’ll want a high-quality tow bar for flat towing.
Additionally, a wiring kit ensures that the brake lights, taillights, and turn signals from the RV are replicated in the car’s rear lighting. There are also considerations for braking and breakaway protection.
Once those have been installed, you’re ready to flat tow your Chevy Spark.
Pull your Chevy Spark into position behind your RV in preparation to tow. Secure the Spark to your RV according to the directions given with your tow bar (we also have a great video about it)!
Here are the steps required to connect your Spark for flat towing. Keep in mind that these steps are taken directly from the 2022 Chevrolet Spark owner’s manual. Different years, makes, and models all have their own instructions. Check your owner’s manual to be sure!
- Shift the transmission into neutral.
- Disconnect the negative battery cable.
- Cover the negative battery post with a non-conductive material.
- Release the parking brake.
Note: The owner’s manual also states that you should never exceed 70 mph while towing a Spark.
Based on the steps listed above, we’d suggest that instead of steps 2 & 3 above, we suggest installing a remote battery disconnect switch, rather than actually removing the battery cable.
One additional comment about the instructions in the owner’s manual — Chevy says nothing about making sure the steering wheel is unlocked during towing. We suspect that the Spark is the same as just about every other car on the market today, with a steering wheel that locks when the ignition key is removed.
If indeed that is the case, it’s critically important that the steering be unlocked while flat towing! One of the steps required on our Honda is one we’re assuming should also be followed here — we put the key in the ignition, turn it to the “accessory” position to unlock the steering wheel, turn it back to the “off” position, and then leave the key in the ignition the entire time we’re towing. We also confirm that the wheel is indeed unlocked by turning it from side to side.
We keep our valet key handy for this purpose since we of course want to lock the car (especially with a key visible in the ignition). When we arrive at our destination and want to disconnect, we simply use our regular CR-V owner’s key to unlock the car and remove the valet key from the ignition.
UPDATE (Sept 10, 2021): thanks to John H. who commented below to let us know the 2021 Spark doesn’t have a locking steering wheel… so there’s no worry about that when setting it up to flat-tow. Just be aware that if that changes in a future model year, you may have to take additional steps to ensure the steering wheel remains unlocked while being towed.
All in all, these are very few, and simple, requirements to hook-up a Spark for flat-towing. There are cars with FAR more steps to complete, which just increases the potential to make a mistake.
Should You Buy a Chevy Spark to Tow Behind Your Motorhome?
As always, this is a question that can only be answered by you!
The Chevy Spark is a lightweight, compact vehicle with a good reliability rating. It offers decent fuel economy, is an inexpensive vehicle to purchase, and comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Despite the fact that the Chevy Spark is among the lightest cars to tow behind a motorhome and one of the least expensive cars on the market, there are a couple of drawbacks to this vehicle as a potential dinghy for RV travelers.
The first is size. It’s a pro and it’s a con, depending on what you need to do with it.
The Chevy Spark offers only four seats, and the rear seats are pretty tight. If you’ve got a family of five to carry, this one’s out of bounds for you. If you’ve got a couple of kids and a Great Dane – or frankly, if you’ve got ONLY a Great Dane, the Chevy Spark probably isn’t the toad for you.
The same goes for cargo capacity. If you’ve got a whole lot of stuff to carry when you’re driving your toad, or if you tend to need a car that will haul large items, you’ll want to look elsewhere. It’s a great option, but it has distinct limitations based on its size.
Finally, if you’re adventurous like we are and you want to be able to climb mountains and explore areas where the terrain is rough, the Chevy Spark is probably not the tow vehicle for you, since it only has 2-wheel drive. Our Honda CR-V may only be “all-wheel drive” vs the many truly off-road capable 4-wheel drive vehicles on the market, but it’s taken us some amazingly remote places, and never gotten stuck once!
With all of that said, if you’re like many RVers and your dinghy needs to take you to explore National Parks or cool small towns, or take you to see a movie, dine in a restaurant, or shop for groceries, then this lightweight, inexpensive vehicle that’s capable of being flat towed may be just the toad for you, especially if you appreciate the connected feeling that stick shift driving provides (like we do)!
Depending on how you intend to use your dinghy, the Chevy Spark (currently the lightest car to flat tow behind a motorhome) may be a great vehicle that ticks all the boxes your RV lifestyle needs.
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