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The Complete Guide to Setting Up a Car for Flat Towing Behind a Motorhome

The Complete Guide to Setting Up a Car for Flat Towing Behind a Motorhome

Flat towing a car behind a motorhome is a great way to bring extra transportation along with you when you’re traveling. We flat-towed our Honda CR-V behind our motorhome for over 20 years, so we’re well aware of the benefits of flat towing and we’ve got plenty of experience to share.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know and exactly what you need for this type of towing, also known as “4-down” towing. Let’s set up your car for flat-towing behind a motorhome.

What Is Flat-Towing?

Flat-towing is one way of towing a car behind an RV, where all four wheels remain on the ground. Also known as “dinghy towing,” this way of bringing a car along involves attaching it to the RV via a tow bar so it can roll along behind you (on all four wheels) as you drive.

One of the greatest benefits is that connecting and disconnecting is very fast and easy. Also, the equipment involved takes up very little space, unlike some other towing methods such as dolly and trailer towing. The downside, however, is that not all cars can be flat-towed, and you can cause severe transmission damage if you try to flat-tow a car that isn’t designed for it.

You can safely flat-tow many vehicles with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission, or cars with four-wheel drive and a manual transfer case. But this isn’t true in every instance. For details, see our post on what cars can be flat-towed behind an RV.

The best way to determine if your car can be safely flat-towed is to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If it says you can’t flat tow, don’t do it. Or at least not without modifying it first. In the post noted above, we discuss how some non-flat-towable cars can be modified to make them safe to tow, so if you’re interested in knowing more about that topic, be sure to have a look.

What Do You Need to Set Up a Car for Flat Towing?

Here’s what’s needed to get a car ready to be towed behind your RV with all four wheels on the ground.

Hitch Receiver and Adapter

First, of course, you must have a properly-rated hitch receiver on the rear of your motorhome. RV hitches are generally either frame-mounted or bumper-mounted. Note that if the receiver’s hitch height isn’t within 3″ of the height of your tow bar’s base plate, you’ll also need a hitch adapter to drop/raise it to the proper height.

Sale
ROADMASTER 0776 Dual Hitch Receiver with 2 Inch and 6 Inch Offsets
  • Item Package Height:41.91 Centimeters
  • Item Package Length:11.938 Centimeters

Tow Bar

The tow bar’s job is to securely connect the front of your towed your car to the rear of your motorhome. The two arms of the tow bar will connect to your car and can pivot side to side as necessary to offer smooth turning and towing. There are many different types of tow bars.

We highly recommend Roadmaster non-binding towbars and, specifically, the Nighthawk (their top of the line) which we used and loved for years. After we upgraded to the Nighthawk we were so happy with it that we were able to arrange a special package for our readers that includes a FREE tow bar cover and hitch receiver lock.

So, when you buy a made-in-the-USA Nighthawk directly from Roadmaster’s factory in Vancouver, WA, just tell them you want the “RVgeeks Package” and they’ll include a FREE tow bar cover and hitch receiver lock in your order.

Roadmaster, Inc Logo

Roadmaster Nighthawk RV Tow Bar "RVgeeks Package"

RVgeeks Package

Details


Call Roadmaster at (800) 669-9690 to order your Nighthawk tow bar factory direct and tell them you want “The RVgeeks Package”. You'll receive a FREE Tow Bar Cover & Hitch Receiver Lock to keep your new Nighthawk secure and looking great. Free Shipping is also included!

The Roadmaster Nighthawk is our favorite RV tow bar. The non-binding latches ensure you'll have an easy time disconnecting, no matter how the RV and tow car are positioned. Longer arms make connecting and disconnecting easier. And the LED lights along the arms improve safety and visibility when towing!

Check out our latest Nighthawk video here

SPECIAL!
Roadmaster, Inc Logo
Roadmaster Nighthawk RV Tow Bar RVgeeks Package

Call Roadmaster at (800) 669-9690 to order your Nighthawk tow bar factory direct and tell them you want “The RVgeeks Package”. You'll receive a FREE Tow Bar Cover & Hitch Receiver Lock to keep your new Nighthawk secure and...Show More

Call Roadmaster at (800) 669-9690 to order your Nighthawk tow bar factory direct and tell them you want “The RVgeeks Package”. You'll receive a FREE Tow Bar Cover & Hitch Receiver Lock to keep your new Nighthawk secure and looking great. Free Shipping is also included!

The Roadmaster Nighthawk is our favorite RV tow bar. The non-binding latches ensure you'll have an easy time disconnecting, no matter how the RV and tow car are positioned. Longer arms make connecting and disconnecting easier. And the LED lights along the arms improve safety and visibility when towing!

Check out our latest Nighthawk video here

Show Less

Matching/Compatible Base Plate Kit

A compatible base plate must be installed on the towed vehicle (and professional installation is recommended). A base plate is a metal frame that bolts onto the front of your vehicle. It typically has two receivers for connecting the tow bar arms.

A Roadmaster Nighthawk tow bar attached to a Honda CR-V

Here’s our Honda CR-V connected to our Roadmaster Nighthawk towbar. The “clips” or “pins” sticking out of the front of the car extend from the baseplate, allowing it to connect to the towbar.

Because the baseplate attaches to the towed vehicle’s frame and provides the connection point between the vehicle and the tow bar, it must be installed correctly. Each year, make and model of car requires a unique base plate, so you’ll need to be sure to get one that’s specifically designed to fit your car. Check with your installer and/or tow bar manufacturer for available base plate options.

Electrical Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is the electrical connection between the motorhome and the toad. It connects from the back of the RV to the front of the car, supplying brake, tail, and turn signal lights. It also carries the signal which powers the car’s auxiliary brakes (see below).

Some setups also include power from the RV to the towed car’s battery to keep it trickle charged. In our case, this happens through the Roadmaster Invisibrake supplemental braking system we had installed in our Honda CR-V.

Sometimes the umbilical cable comes with the towbar (as it does on the Roadmaster Nighthawk). If your RV already has a 7-pin trailer port, you may be set up for this connection already. If not, you may need something like this 7-to-6-pin cable:

Roadmaster 146-7 Flexo-Coil 7-Wire to 6-Wire power Cord Kit,Red
  • Includes cord, plugs, sockets and socket bracket
  • Stretches to over 8' to accommodate virtually any towing combination

Towed Car Light Wiring Kit

For safety, the lights of your towed vehicle need to be connected to, and activated with, the lights of your RV. For this reason, you’ll need to install a towed-car light wiring kit of some kind. The one below is a good example of a typical wiring kit.

ROADMASTER 154 Universal Wiring Kit, Black
  • Most widely-used wiring method
  • Includes four diodes, all installation hardware and step-by-step instructions

Note that depending on the year/make/model of car you’re towing you may also need additional wiring and/or lights installed. It’s also possible that you’ll need diodes or other electrical devices to ensure that signals don’t get crossed or back-feed into the motorhome.

Lighting equipment is often installed professionally at the same time as the baseplate, but you can also install it yourself or use an external, magnetically-mounted lighting solution like this one:

ROADMASTER 2120 Magnetic Tow Light
  • Fits all vehicles
  • Magnets hold lights securely

Safety Cables

Safety cables connect from the base plate to mounting points on the RV’s hitch receiver. Their job is to act as a failsafe connection in the extremely unlikely event that the towbar should separate from the motorhome or toad. Sometimes the safety cables are included with the tow bar package (as they are with the Roadmaster Nighthawk), but in many cases they’re not and need to be purchased separately.

Sale
ROADMASTER 643 Safety Cable
  • Coiled cables conveniently contract for storage
  • Drop-forged steel hooks and spring-loaded clasps for maximum strength and security

Supplemental Braking System

A supplemental/auxiliary braking system may be optional, but may also be required in some states based on the size/weight of your towed. Either way, it is highly recommended. This is because the brakes of your motorhome can be overloaded by the weight of your towed vehicle.

A towed car brake system helps to manage the car’s weight, reducing stopping distance, and also brings the toad to a stop in the unlikely event of a breakaway. This is accomplished with the help of a breakaway cable that triggers the supplemental braking system in the towed car if it separates from the RV, bringing it to a safe stop on the road instead of allowing it to careen about uncontrolled.

An InvisiBrake unit

The InvisiBrake is a compact unit that supplies braking power to your towed car whenever the brakes on your RV are activated… and if the car somehow gets separated from the RV, bringing it to a safe stop.

The system we used is the Roadmaster InvisiBrake. We loved this unit for many reasons, including the fact that it pulls power from the parking light circuit to trickle charge the towed car’s battery while towing (as long as the motorhome’s parking lights are on). And, as the name implies, it’s effectively invisible (the components can be hidden away in your towed car’s interior) and requires no setup when connecting the car to be towed.

We used this system in our CR-V for the last few years we owned our Class A motorhome. Combined with our Roadmaster towbar, we were more confident than ever that our Honda would safely and securely follow us wherever we towed it.

For much more information, see our full post on the Roadmaster InvisiBrake and have a look at our YouTube video:

Optional Upgrades You May Need for Flat Towing a Car Behind a Motorhome

So far, we’ve talked about the things you’ll need to safely and easily tow a car behind an RV. Following are some items you may want (or need) to consider depending on your particular setup:

Drop/Rise Hitch

While flat towing, you want your tow bar to be mostly level. However, the maximum acceptable rise for most tow bars is only an inch or two. If your RV’s receiver sits much higher or lower than the mounting points of your toad car’s baseplate, you’ll need a drop/rise hitch to bring them into line.

CURT 45064 Lifted Truck Trailer Hitch Mount with 2-Inch Ball & Pin, Fits 2-in Receiver, 7,500 lbs, 6-Inch Drop, Black
  • DEPENDABLE STRENGTH. Rated to tow 7,500 pounds gross trailer weight and 750 pounds tongue weight, this ball hitch offers dependability for your towing...
  • VERSATILE USE. This ball mount has a 2-inch x 2-inch shank and a 6-inch drop, making it great for larger, lifted trucks and Jeeps. It also features a...

Towed Car Protection

Towing a car behind a motorhome may leave it susceptible to damage from stones or other debris kicked up by the motorhome’s tires (especially when you’re traveling on unpaved roads). Fortunately, there are several good options available to protect a tow vehicle as it rides down the road behind a motorhome.

The best choice of protection may depend on the type of motorhome, tow vehicle, or tow bar that you have. See our post on tow vehicle protection for all the information you need on the variety of options available.

Battery Disconnect Kit

Some towed vehicles require the battery to be disconnected while towing. If this is the case with your setup, you’ll need to add a battery disconnect kit. These aren’t expensive or elaborate additions and you can easily install one yourself.

Simple Battery Disconnect Kit

GOGONFLY Master Battery Disconnect Switch, Heavy Duty Knife Blade 12V 24V Battery Cut Off Switch, Top Post Battery Power Shut Off Isolator for Car Marine Boat RV ATV Motorcycle Vehicle
  • HEAVY-DUTY DISCONNECT SWITCH: This reliable battery kill switch employs structural steel copper plated to provide perfect isolation and preservation...
  • HIGH VERSATILITY: Able to handle 12-24V of 250A continuous and 750A momentary at DC 12V, our master battery cutoff switch works with top post...

Battery Disconnect Kit With Remote Switch

With this option, once the kit is installed, you won’t need to open the hood to manually disconnect your battery and can instead use the remote switch to disconnect & reconnect it as needed.

ROADMASTER 766 Battery Disconnect,Black
  • Provides a positive current source for break away systems or other accessories which must be connected to the battery
  • Marine-grade solenoid with 200-amp constant duty and 600-amp surge

Charge Line

Finally, a charge line may be needed to provide battery charging from the motorhome to the towed vehicle. This is due to all of the electronics in cars these days. Some cars need to be towed while in a mode/state that leaves their electronics powered up during towing. If this is the case with your towed vehicle, then having a means of providing charging to the car’s battery while it’s being towed can be very important. Otherwise, you could end up with a dead car/toad battery at the end of your drive.

Even if your car doesn’t require the ignition to be left turned on while towing, brake lights coming on as you drive may also be a drain on the toad’s battery (this depends on how your towed vehicle lighting kit is setup to operate).

We hope all of this information is helpful to you as you consider how (or if) you want to bring a car along with you as you travel. During the 20+ years we spent full-timing in our Class A motorhome, flat-towing was unquestionably the right method for us, as it is for so many others.

With the above systems in place, we safely brought our Honda CR-V along without a single problem over many thousands of miles.

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Greg

Monday 17th of June 2024

I'm looking to buy a used vehicle that is already set up to be towed. I have a 2021 Newmar Canyon Star front engine diesel with a 6,000 lb rated hitch. I live in the Vancouver, B.C. area. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A. Cloche

Sunday 9th of June 2024

Need to inform RVers that you cab NOT 'Flat Tow' EV, PHEV and 'Hybrid' vehicles, even if you can get vehicle onto "Neutral" as wheels turning collect energy and can overheat batteries or cause fires.

Jeep dealer said "New Wrangler 4xe to replace 15 years old model was perfect for Flat Towing with transfer case in neutral". WRONG! 80miles down road, alerted to smoke from under rear axe. Warranty voided! Lucky didn't catch fire.

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 9th of June 2024

Sorry you had the sad experience of a dealer who didn't know what they were talking about. Thanks for reiterating the importance of ONLY flat-towing vehicles that are certified by the manufacturer as safe to tow four-down. Since that happens all the time (dealers either not knowing what they're talking about, or not caring about it just to sell a vehicle), we'll use this as an opportunity to re-state what we said about the topic in the above article:

"You can safely flat-tow many vehicles with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission, or cars with four-wheel drive and a manual transfer case. But this isn’t true in every instance. For details, see our post on what cars can be flat-towed behind an RV. The best way to determine if your car can be safely flat-towed is to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If it says you can’t flat tow, don’t do it."

Craig Caldwell

Sunday 2nd of June 2024

Does anybody know of a tire pressure monitoring system for an RV that can utilize the Toad's own TPS sending units? Would like to have a system but don't want 8 TPS sensors on the Toad.

TheRVgeeks

Wednesday 5th of June 2024

Good question, Craig. We've never heard of a system that could do that (likely do to the differences in all of the car manufacturers' systems... different frequencies and/or digital encoding, etc). But maybe another reader out there knows of a system like that? Would certainly be smart!

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