Roadmaster Towbar Follow-Up

TheRVgeeks Great RV Products, Towing 27 Comments

After towing our Honda CR-V behind our RV for over 13 years, we’re big believers in the benefits of flat towing. This past summer we replaced our original towbar, and promised to keep you posted on how the new one is performing. This video not only provides an update, but includes some tips on how one person can disconnect the car in the most challenging situations.

When Roadmaster asked us to test out their Sterling All-Terrain, we hadn’t been actively in the market for a new towbar. We’d become so used to employing various tricks to overcome towbar binding that we didn’t realize what we were missing. As with many things, it took a conversation with friends who already owned the same Roadmaster towbar to make a light bulb go off. We’d been fighting with our old towbar for years without realizing that we didn’t have to.

So just how effective is Roadmaster’s patented “Freedom Latch” at releasing on hills and sharp angles? Check out the short video above for the deets!

If you want to see how this beautiful piece of equipment is made, be sure to check out our “How It’s Made” video below, where we took a tour of the Vancouver, WA factory that produces them.

On a related note… be sure to maintain and check your towing connections on a regular basis. We’ve never had a single problem, and have never known anyone else who has either… until our dear friends Nina & Paul of Wheeling It posted about their recent mishap. Like us, their experience with Roadmaster has been excellent. But we can all learn from each other’s experiences, and we’re now taking our toad a little less for granted. You can read all about it here.

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Comments 27

  1. On a related topic, which braking system for your towed vehicle are the RV Geeks using? I’ve been reading quite a bit about the air braking systems including one that is called ‘Air Force One’ and is manufactured by SMI Manufacturing. In general do you believe that are these more effective (and safer?) than the more traditional systems such as a Brake Buddy? I’ve read many complaints about the Brake Buddy system. Your thoughts?

    1. Post

      Hi Robert! We use an old Blue Ox system that has long since been discontinued. We are quite familiar with the Air Force One, and it is likely our top choice if we were in the market for a braking system today. As full-timers, Brake Buddy is not one we would consider, since we want something more integrated into the toad that requires no setup or takedown each time we tow. If not full-timing , or need the ability to tow more than one car and/or are planning to replace your toad in the not-too-distant future, a portable system like Brake Buddy or Roadmaster’s Even Brake might be a good consideration for you. Hope this helps a bit.

      1. Do you have any experience or comments to share regarding the air braking system for a towed vehicle that is from M&G Engineering? Everything I’ve been able to read has been extemely positive from those who own one…

        1. Post

          Hey Bob. We don’t have any experience with the M&G system, but we’ve looked into it many times over the years and consider it (and the very similar SMI Air Force One) to be one of our top choices to consider if we were to replace our existing (and discontinued) Blue Ox braking system. There are a lot of advantages to systems like this, the most desirable one being that they provide truly proportional braking to the towed vehicle, based on the amount of pressure applied to the RV’s brakes. From everything we’ve read, they work very well… and owners seem quite happy with them.

          If we weren’t going to go with the M&G/SMI systems, we’d likely go with the RoadMaster Invisibrake. It isn’t proportional, like the air-triggered systems are, but since it’s electrically triggered, it means one less thing to connect between the RV and the towed when hooking up (no air line… power and triggering signal come through the electrical umbilical cord).

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  3. Always watch your videos as they are a wealth of information. I have the Blue Ox tow bar which came with our used Dutch Star when we purchased the MH. I must admit that I do not remember it binding that much but has on occasion. I like the idea of the ease which the Roadmaster will release the arms. After watching your videos, I understand that binding occurs no matter which tow bar is used. However, it appears that the only reason the Freedom Latch releases easily is the increased force produced by the release handle mechanism.

    I have experienced the same binding in automobile transmissions when placing them in park and letting the car roll back on the parking pin. It takes additional force to put it back into gear but have heard some pins break.

    With the Roadmaster increased force on the release mechanism do you believe it will increase the wear on the parts or cause it to fail sooner?

    1. Post

      Hi Rodney. Thanks for the nice comment and great questions. It’s always nice to hear from a fellow Newmar owner, too! :)

      Binding does not actually occur in all towbar, as “binding” is sometimes inadvertently used to refer to something that actually isn’t: the “pinching” (for lack of a better word) of the pins that hold the towbar arms to the car. Towabar binding actually refers to the internal mechanism inside the bar itself, where the inner and outer arms meet. It’s the inability to release the handles on some towbars that constitutes binding, and some bars have that problem and some don’t.

      Once a towbar’s arms are released (either the easy way, as on our Roadmaster, or the hard way, as in rocking the car or applying greater force to the handles as on our old bar), the pins that connect the bar to the car can now easily be removed in almost all conditions EXCEPT on uphills. As mentioned, this is a function of physics and gravity, with the weight of the car pulling back downhill on the pins, and no towbar in the world can overcome that.

      That said, the trick of snugging the car forward in uphill situations once again gives the advantage to Roadmaster’s latch. When doing the same thing with our old bar, we could actually snug the car tightly forward enough that the handles would now resist releasing, because the force of the car toward the RV now simulates the situation of a downhill disconnect… with the lack of non-binding latches making it difficult to release them. It was kind of a balancing act on uphills… snug the car forward, but not TOO hard! LOL Now, it doesn’t matter how hard we snug forward, since the handles will release every time.

      Your questions about the Roadmaster latch wearing out sooner is a great one. Obviously we haven’t had it nearly long enough to say what old age will be like. But here is what we’ve seen so far in comparison to our old bar. With the old one, we had to sometimes practically stand on the handles to release them (even while rocking the car in some cases). The amount of force we had to use could be excessive at times, necessitating a move of the whole rig to a different location to get the bar off. We can’t imagine that that the amount of pressure we had to exert being good for the handles.

      We’ve seen the internal workings of Roadmaster’s latch (we showed that cutaway view in the video) and not only does it appear as robust as everything else on the entire towbar, but Roadmaster tells us that they do not have failure issues with the latches. There seem to be more elements of the latch design than the mechanical advantage the contribute to its ease of use. It seems to be a really well engineered piece.

      Sorry this was so long, but hope this addresses some of your thoughts on the topic. Thanks again for chiming in!

  4. Interesting video and discussions. I sleep better at night using locks on everything. In watching the video I saw something new that I wanted to post about. I use the Roadmaster All-Terrain towbar and Roadmaster base-plate.

    In the video, I noticed you ran the emergency breakaway pull cable in the safety cable passageway and that this cable was not a spring cable, but rather a straight cable. Do you see any issues with this arrangement with cable binding and either breaking or activating toad emergency brake system by accident?

    I also would have placed my electrical cable in the towbar passage as you did, but I use a thicker gauge 7-wire connection that includes a charge line line to the toad and a toad brake activation line back to the RV drivers seat. The brake activation line lights up some LEDs so I know when ever the toad brakes are in use. This also provides an electrical test of my toad connection from the RV drivers seat – that is, before driving away, I press my brakes and check the toad brake status light, if it turns on, I know the toad and RV are connected electrically and my air brake connection to the toad’s brake pedal is operating.

    1. Post

      Hi Mike! Thanks for the input. Good eye.

      As you saw, we did not use the standard coil-cord breakaway pull cable from Roadmaster OR Blue Ox. We created and installed our own using plastic-coated steel cable. We adjusted the length very carefully, such that it could not be pulled (thereby accidentally activating the toad brakes), no matter how sharply we turn. We tested routing, connection points on each end, and maximum-angle turns in both directions to be sure that there was comfortable slack in the line under all conditions.

      On the other side of that coin, we also made sure that the line wasn’t too LONG. In the event of a towbar failure, the car would of course fall back against the safety cables, preventing it from getting very far back from the RV. We disconnected the bar, but left the safety cables in place, and backed the car up until the cables pulled tight, making sure that the actuator pin on the front of the car was pulled clear prior to the safety cables pulling tight, again with a little room to spare. So there’s no way it can go off accidentally, and no way it can fail to go off in the event of a breakaway. We’re pretty comfortable with it now having tested and routinely inspected the set-up over the past several months.

      As far as locks, we feel the same, and have always kept our Blue Ox bar attached to the car with key-lockable pins, which can be seen in the video in the scenes that show the Blue Ox Bar. Of course Roadmaster has lockable pins too, but we’re in the same situation that Nina & Paul are in…. B.O. baseplate with a Roadmaster bar. Since B.O. only uses 1/2″ pins, and Roadmaster uses 3/4″ pins, they’re not interchangeable. We’re looking at our options, and expect to have something lined up soon. If and when we do, we’ll of course be sure to report back.

      On the electrical cord side, we have only 6 wires in our electrical cable, so no trouble fitting it through the channel. Although we do have extra room in there, so we’re guessing that your 7-wire cable must be quite a bit thicker if it won’t fit.

      We have on old Blue Ox braking system that was discontinued years ago. It has some of the same great functionality you’ve described, letting us know for certain that the toad is connected and that the brakes are indeed activating. We have one other really great feature on it, which is the ability to test actuate the toad brakes without even stepping on the RV’s brakes, using a 3-way momentary toggle on the RV dash. Down is “toad brakes off” and middle is “toad brakes active, but not depressed” (the standard mode travel mode). Whenever we step on the coach brakes in this mode, the switch lights up to confirm that the toad brakes are applying as well. Since it’s the actual depression of the toad brakes that sends the signal back to that light, it’s an ironclad way to know not only that they’re working, but the speed at which the light on the switch illuminates, and then goes off, tells us if calibration is required. If we step on the coach brakes and that light lags by a few seconds, we know the “pedal depress” setting needs to be increased. If we release the coach brakes, and that light stays on for a few seconds, we know we need to dial back the “pedal release” setting.

      The momentary “Up” position on our 3-way dash switch is “depress toad brakes” mode. That way, we can not only test them at the press of a button, but even better…. if we’re starting off for the day on a slight downhill right after connecting the toad, we can hold that button up as we begin to roll the coach. That holds back on the car, locking the unlocked towbar arm (if we didn’t luck into lining up the car 100% perfectly when attaching it). I hate to drive away until BOTH arms are locked, and this allows me to “pull” the car back just until the second arm locks, even on a downhill, when the car would otherwise roll forward toward the RV on the unlocked arm side. I love this feature. Of course we make a game out of seeing if we can get both arms to lock when connecting, but nobody can be 100% every time when lining up the car. ;-)

      Sounds like you have a great system, and really know how to use it. Thanks again for the input.

  5. “2) Having someone remove the clips (during a rest stop for example)”

    For the sake of humanity I’d like to think you made this up but I’m sure your telling the truth. I guess I never even thought of that being a possibility but I guess now I will have to consider lockable pins also. To try and end my comment on a more positive note your videos as always are thorough and helpful. Thanks again!

    1. Post

      Thanks for the lovely closing thought, Randy!

      We’d like to think that nothing like this could ever happen, and we’ve certainly never experienced anything like this, but Nina & Paul had this happen shortly after leaving their rig unattended on a ferry trip, so it was brought up as one possible explanation. Plus vandals and thoughtless kids do exist, so rather than calling it “paranoid” we figure that lockable pins are simply avoiding “temping fate.” ;-)

  6. Are the pins that are attached to the car from Blue Ox? The Roadmaster car hitch part looks more cumbersome than the Blue Ox system. If they are the Blue Ox pins do you suggest a hybrid system of using the Roadmaster hitch with the Blue Ox car mount system? Thank you

    1. Post

      Since we originally had a Blue Ox towbar, we do indeed have a Blue Ox base plate on the car. We would not recommend that you do it that way if you’re starting out fresh. Roadmaster is making all new base plates with hidden supports (inside the car) to allow the same type of unobtrusive, clean look as the Blue Ox base plates. If we were ever to buy a new car, we would only consider a totally Roadmaster system.

  7. Guys,

    Just a quick tip I got from “Wheeling It”. They had a tow bar failure that originated with the clips that secure the arms to the base plate. If you put the clips on the inside- it will greatly lessen the possibility that they will fall out.

    1. Post

      Hi Drew! As we heard from Nina & Paul’s incident the day it happened, we linked to their story in our post. Interestingly, they are in the exact same situation we are, as we both have Blue Ox base plates and Roadmaster towbars.

      Since removing and installing a new base plate is very expensive, the easy solution is to simply use the adapter that Roadmaster makes to allow their towbars to be used with Blue Ox base plates, which is of course what we both did. Blue Ox of course also makes adapters to allow their towbars to be used with Roadmaster base plates, as they’re all smart enough to realize that people switching between brands is an important market for both companies.

      Here’s where one difference between the two company’s products gets interesting. Roadmaster overbuilds every part of their towbars. During our factory tour, we were asked not to mention the outrageously extreme loads they have been tested to, as Roadmaster does not want people loading them beyond rated capacity. Suffice it to say that our new towbar could handle FAR higher loads than it’s rated for.

      Part of that includes the pins that hold the towbar to the car. Blue Ox uses 1/2″ diameter pins, which is actually plenty to handle the load. But in typical overbuilt Roadmaster fashion, they use 50% larger 3/4″ pins. That means that when utilizing the adapter, we can’t use the 3/4 pins that would normally come with our new bar, since they won’t fit through the attachment points on the front of the car (the original Blue Ox attachments are part of the base plate and still used). Even though we still have 1/2″ pins, that’s plenty, but just not as overbuilt as the rest of the new bar.

      We’ve always used key-lockable pins, and would have continued using them, but they’re not quite long enough to reach through the Roadmaster adapter. And we can’t use Roadmaster’s lockable pins because they’re….. you guessed it…. 3/4″. So are the Roadmaster non-key-lockable lynchpins. So we can’t use our old locks, or Roadmaster locks or lynchpins. That leave us with the same pins Nina & Paul have.

      We’ve examined our pins and the clips that hold them in place closely and are convinced that there are only 3 ways there could be any issue: 1) forgetting to install the clips into the pins, 2) Having someone remove the clips (during a rest stop for example), or 3) A clip falling out of the pin, or breaking.

      #1 is avoided by doing the same thing we’ve always done: careful pre-trip inspection, as no connection, lockable or otherwise, will work if it’s not put in place. We will avoid the second possibility by adding a purposeful “towbar check” (pins & clips specifically) to our regular post-rest-stop walk-around. #3 above seems to us very unlikely. Ours clips are brand new, and very firmly held in place once inserted into the pins. It takes a strong pull to remove them, and we cannot imagine them “falling out.” As they age, we may decide to replace them if they seem to be losing the spring tension that hold them into the pins.

      All that said, we’d like to return to using key-lockable pins, and we’re looking for 1/2″ diameter ones that are long enough to fit through Roadmaster’s Blue Ox adapter. Once we find them, we’ll be sure to post an update. Until then, we will absolutely be following the advice of the Wheeling It reader who posted about inserting the pins facing outward! Thanks for mentioning it to everyone here, Drew. :)

        1. Post

          Thanks so much Steve! These clips are definitely an improvement over the ones we, and Nina & Paul have. We’re going to be stopping at Roadmaster about a month from now to talk about the optimal way to address this, and if we don’t find a key-lockable solution by then, we’ll order these new clips. Thanks again.

  8. Hello Guys,

    First let me say I really enjoy your videos and I have learned a lot. My wife and I just purchased our first RV (preowned) and your videos have given me the confidence to do some of the maintence I wouldn’t have tried on my own.

    Regarding the Roadmaster Towbar I wish I would have seen this 2 months ago. I went with the new Blue Ox BX7420 Avail Towbar. I plan to use my RV for business travel and needed something that was easy to work when I am by myself and this is what seemed to get the best reviews. For the most part its worked very well. I do find the pins a little hard to disconnect when I unhitch it from my Jeep Cherokee.

    Thank you for your insights and encouragment!!

    Marc Mason

    1. Post

      Hey Marc! Sorry to hear you’re experiencing some of the same issues we did. There is one additional trick that you may already use for disconnecting a Blue Ox by yourself: bungees. You can take two of those little black bungees (the type with the ball on them) and bungee the release handles to the towbar arms when you’re ready to disconnect. If the handles release freely (on level or uphill situations), they will hold the handles down (released) while you pull the car up a foot or so to disconnect. If you’re on a downhill, the only thing you’d need to do differently is pull the car back hard before moving it forward. In that case, the bungees will pull the handles down when you back up and take the pressure off them. You probably already know this already, but we thought this would be a good chance to mention it in case anyone else is reading this, is traveling alone and having trouble getting disconnected. Safe travels, and thanks for the nice comment.

  9. I have an older Sterling towbar, it’s about nine years old. Near the end of your video, you disconnected one side of the towbar, swiveled it and left it suspended while you disconnected the other side. This must be a new design, as my Sterling arms won’t stay suspended in the air. Also, my Sterling release handles take a great deal of force to release in situations where your’s looked like it took no effort. I guess it’s time for a newer Sterling…

    1. Post

      Hi Craig. David from Roadmaster informed us during our factory tour that their products, including the Sterling, have evolved to include improved features over time, and that older models are not the same as the new ones. That’s especially true of the non-binding feature, which was not available on older non-all-terrain models. The arm staying in place might be a new feature as well, but it could also be attributable to how new ours is in comparison to yours, as things probably to loosen a bit over time. We do love the fact that the first arm stays put when we disconnect it and then push it over alongside the second arm. The disconnect technique we showed here was how David told us to do it, and it has worked like a charm.

  10. After you first video I decided to buy the same Roadmaster tow bar and I too have never had any problems with it.

    However there is one improvement that I’d like to see. Especially after driving from Vancouver Island to Pentiction via the Coquihalla Highway yesterday. Hwys 5/97C were wet and a bit of snow on the summit areas means that the highway crews had been out laying down sand and gravel. The rain and drizzle meant it was flying everywhere.

    Often when I was disconnect the car the slides are coated with dirt and grit. Yesterday was the worst I’ve ever seen. I always use a rag to clean off the slide shafts but I would feel better if the towbar came with the rubber shaft covers. Something like I see on your old Blue Ox tow bar.

    1. Post

      Hey John! When we took our factory tour, we asked about that exact topic. David at Roadmaster told us that the way their towbar is designed and sealed, bellows are unnecessary, and wiping the arms down is fine, just like cleaning the rest of it. We got tired of the annual cutting of the cable ties to lubricate the Blue Ox, and look forward to having one less maintenance item on our spring cleaning and maintenance list.

      Hope you’re having a great trip. And get off the Coq before the temperature drops too much! We’ve heard so many nightmares about that road in winter. You went right by us yesterday, but we’ll be heading south soon. Sounds like you’re heading the wrong way! :-P

      Safe Travels,
      Peter & John

      1. If David at Roadmaster said the seals are designed for mud and grit I’ll take his word for it. But I hope they know just how gritty our winter roads can get.

        I had to take the RV to Penticton for my slide-topper fix. I’ll be getting the RV Tuesday and bringing it to Peach Arch. On Wednesday Kathy & I are heading south.

        I’m planning to fly back for meetings (and Christmas) in December but then will be south till April. See you in Quartzsite if not sooner.

        1. Post

          We’re sure it can’t hurt to wipe the inner arms before retracting, but they surely designed them knowing what a beating they can take back there. If you’d like a little more direct input on it from the pros, a call to Roadmaster support would be a good idea, as they’re super responsive (although probably closed for the holiday today).

          For what it’s worth, care and cleaning instructions are on page 10 of the manual:

          Have a safe trip. We’ll look forward to meeting you in Quartzsite. We’ll be there for at least the first half of the big show this year, although in an informal way as opposed to appearing at a booth!

    2. John, the black foam pipe insulation fits very well around the arms when extended and helps keep them clean. Just be sure the arms are fully extended and locked prior to installing the foam or it will be forced off during the first turn prior to the arm locking. Worked very well for us on the Alaskan Highway.

      1. Post

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