Best Toad for RVing?

If you’ve been around enough RVers, you’ve probably heard the term toad once or twice. It’s not a special pet that motorhome owners have. You won’t find one in an aquarium or zoo. So what is an RV toad and why do you need one if you own a motorhome?

Motorhomes are awesome: they bring the home along with you no matter where you go. But on the other hand, they can be pretty unwieldy for smaller trips—like that moment when you remember you forgot to bring Pringles and realize that running to the store to get them would mean breaking down camp, packing everything up, and then driving your hulking 40-foot beast to the grocery store.

While many different types of vehicles can be towed (often referred to as toad) behind a motorhome, there’s one important caveat: only certain vehicles can be flat towed or towed with their four wheels on the asphalt.

No, I am not talking about taking an amphibious creature RVing with us. In the RV world, the word toad is slang for a towed vehicle. It’s a silly wordplay that brings a smile to RVers’ faces much like a stinky slinky and other RV terminology. A towed vehicle is also often called a dinghy like on a ship.

But I digress. This article is about the most popular toad vehicles that RVers tow behind their rigs.

When your home-on-wheels is a large motorhome like ours you need a more nimble way to get around. No one wants to break camp and prepare the RV for travel mode just to go to a trailhead, or a restaurant, or for a quick trip to the nearest market.

You don’t want to fire up the Class A (or even a Class C for that matter) to explore a small town or nearby natural wonder or to navigate tight city streets. And if you did where would you park the big thing when you get there?

First, let’s take a quick look at how you can tow a vehicle behind a motorhome.

Flat towing behind Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you tow a vehicle behind your motorhome?

There are three primary ways to tow a vehicle behind a motorhome. You can flat tow (4 wheels down), tow on a dolly (front wheels up), or pull a trailer carrying the entire vehicle (either open or enclosed). You’ll want to do some research based on your motorhome and tow capacity and be sure to prioritize safety.

Flat towing

With flat towing, the vehicle you’re towing behind your motorhome has all four wheels on the ground.

The front of the tow vehicle attaches to the motorhome’s hitch receiver with a tow bar. This also requires that the front of your car has a tow package installed including a base plate.

This is the way we’ve been towing during the entire time we’ve been on the road (going on three decades!) and we think it’s the simplest, easiest way to bring a car along. But not all vehicles can be towed with all four wheels on the ground. You’ll want to consult a dinghy towing guide for a list of cars that are capable of safely being flat-towed.

Dolly towing

Dolly towing is when the two front tires of your towed vehicle are on a two-wheel dolly and the back tires are on the road. The dolly attaches to your motorhome’s hitch like a trailer and you secure the car’s front wheels with straps.

More time is required to hook up your vehicle this way and you’ll need to have space in your campsite for it. But dolly towing provides additional options for the types of vehicles you can safely tow. And it works well if you have more than one car that you want to be able to bring with you (one at a time, of course) since it doesn’t require anything to be permanently installed in the car like with flat towing. It’s also usually less expensive than a tow bar and baseplate and the installation required to install it.

Trailer towing behind Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer towing

With trailer towing, you drive your tow vehicle onto, or into an open or enclosed cargo trailer, strap it down, and pull the trailer behind your RV. This makes it possible to bring virtually ANY vehicle along, assuming (1) it fits in/on the trailer and (2) the weight of it and the trailer don’t exceed your towing capacity or take your rig above its maximum gross combined weight rating (GCWR).

Similar to dolly towing, even more consideration needs to be taken for where you’ll store the trailer when it’s not in use. Most campsites won’t have enough space for your RV, your towed car, AND a trailer. And some may not allow it or charge extra even if there IS space.

What to look for in a tow-behind vehicle to maximize exploration

Bringing a toad along is all about maximizing convenience and opportunities for exploration. This could be anything from off-roading in the desert to driving a scenic byway or simply having a smaller car to run errands after parking your motorhome and setting up camp. Knowing what kinds of adventures you and your family enjoy will help to steer you toward the best vehicle to tow behind your motorhome.

Flat towing behind Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Towing method preference

The first step in looking for a vehicle is determining how you want to tow. If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and low-maintenance towing method, flat towing is ideal. Depending on your tow bar system, it will likely take you no more than a few minutes to connect or disconnect your vehicle.

For some people, the biggest drawback to flat-towing may be the limitations it places on car choice since most cars can’t be flat-towed without damaging their driveline. But if you’re happy with a vehicle that can be flat-towed, that drawback is eliminated.

As previously noted, dolly towing can be a little more time-consuming than flat towing. Getting the front of the vehicle onto the dolly may take practice. Having a dolly also means caring for two more tires (the ones on the dolly itself). You may also need a place to store your dolly when it’s not in use. Keep this in mind when booking a campsite to make sure you have enough room for your RV, tow vehicle, and dolly.

Trailer towing gives you the most flexibility in terms of the vehicles you can bring along. For example, if you’re planning to travel with both a car and a motorcycle, trailer towing may a great option, especially if it’s enclosed which offers the added benefit of both security and complete protection from the elements. The downside is that it can potentially double the tow weight. Be sure you know how much weight your RV and trailer hitch can handle.

Off-roading

If you’re off-roading, choose a vehicle that maximizes your ability to seek adventure as well as your motorhome’s towing ability. Jeeps are the most common tow vehicles for off-roaders.

Carrying your gear

You can utilize your tow vehicle for carrying gear that doesn’t fit in your motorhome and you’ll also want to consider what types of items you’re likely to carry regularly. For example, our Chevrolet Equinox is perfect for large grocery runs to keep our fridge, pantry, and cupboards well stocked.

Besides gear, there’s of course the consideration for how many people normally or occasionally travel with you. A family of five will have considerably different needs than a couple. Even though there are only two of us, one of the primary reasons we chose our Equinox is because it’s capable of carrying five people, plus cargo. That way, when we’re traveling with friends we can sight-see together wirhout having to take separate vehicles.

Know your weight limits for towing and carrying gear in your tow vehicle, though. A small or midsize SUV means more cargo capacity which means you could exceed the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) for your motorhome and/or the capacity of the hitch receiver on the back of your motorhome.

Class A motorhome with toad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can my existing vehicle be flat towed?

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if your vehicle can be towed behind a motorhome. There used to be many cars that were flat towable but today that list has shrunk to just a handful.

There are many vehicles from previous years that are flat-towable. One of the easiest ways to determine this for your vehicle is to check the Owner’s Manual. Go to the Index and look under ‘R’ for the Recreational Towing section (if you don’t see a Recreational Towing section, then your vehicle cannot be flat-towed). Once you’ve located that section, read through the instructions and warnings outlined by the manufacturer. Somewhere in those instructions, they’ll very clearly say whether or not you should tow your vehicle with four wheels down.

Does my vehicle need to be modified to be flat towed?

Just because your vehicle can be towed behind an RV doesn’t mean that you can simply hook it up and go. There are many vehicles that require additional accessories in order to be towable.

As a general rule of thumb, most vehicles made in the last 10 years will typically need either a battery charger or a battery disconnect. To find out if you need either one of those products, double check the Recreational Towing section of your Owner’s Manual again. If the manufacturer says to disconnect your battery then you don’t need a battery charger. If the manufacturer doesn’t specify or if they specifically state not to disconnect the battery then you’ll likely need some kind of battery charger.

However, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach—some vehicles don’t need either of those products while others require things like third-party 12v outlets to power a braking system.

Flat towing behind Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What 2023-2024 vehicles can be flat towed?

Family RVing Magazine publishes a yearly list of vehicles that can be flat towed. For 2023-2024, they list the following vehicles as being flat towable:

  • Blazer (Chevy)
  • Bronco (Ford)
  • Canyon (GMC)
  • Colorado (Chevy)
  • Corsair Grand Touring Hybrid (Lincoln)
  • Edge (Ford)
  • Encore (Buick)
  • Equinox (Chevy)
  • Escalade (Cadillac)
  • Escape Hybrid (Ford)
  • Expedition (Ford)
  • F-150, 250, 350, & 450 (Ford)
  • Gladiator (Jeep)
  • Grand Cherokee (Jeep)
  • Maverick (Ford)
  • Nautilus Hybrid (Lincoln)
  • Navigator (Lincoln)
  • RAM 1500, 2500, & 3500 (Dodge/RAM)
  • Sierra 1500, 2500 & 3500 (GMC)
  • Silverado 1500, 2500, & 3500 (Chevy)
  • Suburban (Chevy)
  • Tahoe (Chevy)
  • Trailblazer (Chevy)
  • Trax (Chevy)
  • Versa S (Nissan)
  • Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer (Jeep)
  • Wrangler (Jeep)
  • Yukon (GMC)
  • Z (Nissan)

While this may feel like a decent number of choices many popular vehicles from years past (such as the Honda CR-V) no longer come in flat-towable models. (It’s worth noting, however, that older models of these cars can still be flat-towed.) As many auto manufacturers continue to simplify their product offerings, it’s likely that this list will continue to shrink in coming years.

Flat towing behind Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do I put my car in its towing mode?

This answer is a bit more complex and difficult to answer with a one-size-fits-all solution here. The best thing to do is to consult your Owner’s Manual as I mentioned previously.

Pro tip: If you no longer have your original Owner’s Manual (or don’t have access to it now), try searching for it on the manufacturer’s website. Almost all vehicle manufacturers have online copies of their manuals.

However, as a general rule of thumb the primary thing you’ll do is put your transfer case in neutral so that your wheels can freely rotate as you move (this is a bit more complicated than simply putting your transmission to Neutral and your Recreational Towing section will lay out an exact, step-by-step process for how to do this on your vehicle).

Another very common thing you may need to do is unlock your steering column. In most cases where this is necessary, you’ll have to disconnect your vehicle’s battery. There are some cases, though, where the steering column can be unlocked by leaving the key in a certain position, pulling a fuse, etc. Again, make sure to consult your Owner’s Manual for this part.

How to choose a toad for your motorhome

Choosing a good vehicle to tow behind your motorhome requires careful consideration to ensure that the vehicle is safe, reliable, and easy to tow. Here’s an outline of the steps you should take when choosing a vehicle to tow behind your RV:

  • Determine your motorhome’s towing capacity: The first step in choosing a good vehicle to tow behind your motorhome is to determine its towing capacity. This will help you determine how much weight you can safely tow.
  • Consider the weight of the vehicle: The weight of the vehicle you choose to tow is crucial. You want to make sure that the weight of the vehicle does not exceed your motorhome’s towing capacity. Additionally, you want to choose a vehicle that is light enough to be easily towed by your motorhome.
  • Look for vehicles with flat tow capability: Some vehicles are designed for flat towing which means they can be towed with all four wheels on the ground. This is typically the easiest and most convenient way to tow a vehicle behind a motorhome.
  • Choose a vehicle with a neutral gear option: If the vehicle you choose does not have flat tow capability, make sure it has a neutral gear option. This will allow you to tow the vehicle with two wheels on the ground using a tow dolly. (Though, a flat-tow car is best.)
  • Consider the braking system: Most states require a supplemental braking system for vehicles being towed behind a motorhome. Make sure the vehicle you choose can accommodate a braking system.
  • Check the towing setup compatibility: Make sure the towing setup you have on your motorhome is compatible with the vehicle you choose. To ensure compatibility, you may need to purchase additional equipment such as a baseplate or tow bar.
  • Consider the ease of setup and hookup: Finally, consider how easy the vehicle is to set up and hook up to your motorhome. You want to choose a vehicle that is easy to prepare for towing and doesn’t require a lot of time and effort to hook up to your motorhome.
Class A motorhome with toad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manual vs. automatic transmissions for towed vehicles

When choosing a vehicle to tow behind an RV, the type of transmission you choose can impact your towing experience. Here are some considerations when deciding between manual and automatic transmissions for vehicles you tow behind a motorhome.

Manual transmission

Generally, manual transmissions are easier to tow than automatic transmissions because they do not require any special equipment to disengage the transmission from the engine.

However, some manual transmissions require periodic running to lubricate the transmission gears which can be inconvenient while on a road trip.

Manual transmissions are also becoming less common in new vehicles so finding a vehicle with a manual transmission to tow may be more difficult.

Auto transmission

Automatic transmissions require a transmission pump to lubricate the transmission while being towed. This pump is powered by the vehicle’s battery which can drain the battery over time if the vehicle is towed for long distances without being started.

However, many newer vehicles with automatic transmissions are designed to be flat-towed which means that they can be towed without any special equipment to disengage the transmission from the engine.

Automatic transmissions are generally more convenient and easy to drive which can be an advantage if you use the towed vehicle daily during your travels.

Both manual and automatic transmissions can be suitable for towing behind a motorhome and the best vehicle depends on your preferences and the specific vehicle you plan to tow. It’s important to consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for towing the vehicle to ensure a safe and enjoyable towing experience.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.

—Henry Ford

Methods for Trailer Sway Control

There are a few simple, practical things you can do to reduce the risk of trailer sway

When you’re traveling down the road hauling a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel or any other kind of open/enclosed trailer, various weights factor into your towing experience and, more importantly, your safety and the safety of everyone traveling the roads with you. One of these is tongue weight.

In an earlier post entitled What Is Tongue Weight and Why Is It Important? I discussed how tongue weight impacts the operation of the tow vehicle and the trailer. Improper tongue weight can have very serious consequences including trailer sway.

In today’s post, I’m looking straight at trailer sway—what is it, how to prevent it, and how to control it when it happens. I’ll also include some general towing tips while we’re on the subject.

This is important information for anyone who tows anything (even a flat-bed trailer or utility trailer), so let’s dig in and get started.

Camping in a trailer on Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is trailer sway?

Trailer sway is the side-to-side motion of a trailer that can happen when you reach a certain speed as you’re towing a trailer of any type or size. As you might imagine, it’s extremely uncomfortable to be towing a trailer that’s swaying from side to side.

However, what makes trailer sway so dangerous is that it can build to the point of whipping which is a more violent tossing back-and-forth of the trailer that can quickly become uncontrollable.

Generally speaking, this type of side-to-side motion occurs when a trailer is improperly loaded and is heavier in the back than in the front.

Let’s take a look at the best methods for preventing trailer sway.

Driving Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Methods for preventing trailer sway

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to prevent trailer sway, all of which are easy to apply for any driver. The only requirement is to be conscientious in your planning and towing.

Load your trailer properly for trailer sway control

Perhaps the greatest contributor to trailer sway is an improperly loaded trailer. A trailer that’s loaded too heavily in the rear of the trailer will be prone to trailer sway from the get-go.

So, one of the top tips to prevent trailer sway is to be sure to load 60 percent of your cargo weight in the front half of the trailer box. This is one of the most important actions you can take to prevent trailer sway. Just be sure that you don’t exceed your tow vehicle’s and hitch’s tongue weight.

Camping at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Load all cargo inside the trailer

By this, we mean that you should always load your cargo so that none of your load extends outside the trailer.

Don’t allow any cargo to stick out of the rear of the trailer, for example, or to extend outside the trailer body in any way. That cargo will move the center of gravity of the trailer further backward increasing the likelihood that sway will be a problem.

This is more applicable to utility/box trailers but be aware of it even with RVs.

Never exceed your trailer’s maximum gross weight

Your trailer is rated with a maximum gross weight (GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) with good reason. Adhere to the boundaries of that rating without fail.

Never exceed the maximum gross weight rating of your trailer.

Never overload your tow vehicle

Likewise, never overload the vehicle you’re using to tow your trailer. This can be easy to do. Many people use their tow vehicle to haul lots of stuff—extra clothing, recreational and sports-related items, extra food, etc. It’s amazing what people will try to use their tow vehicle to carry.

Overloading your tow vehicle is a sure way to invite sway and potentially whipping which could be disastrous.

Driving La Sal Mountain Loop Road, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maintain a maximum speed of 55 mph

When towing a trailer of any type, it’s best (imperative, really) to maintain a maximum speed of 55 mph if you want to prevent trailer sway.

Rest assured that you won’t arrive at your destination much more quickly if you’re driving 65 or 75—or at least not quickly enough to be worth the risk that speed over 55 mph carries.

When towing a trailer, always maintain a speed of 55 mph or less.

Invest in a sway control kit

You can also invest in a sway control kit appropriate to the trailer you intend to tow. These help to limit lateral trailer motion, thus reducing sway.

These kits usually include the sway control unit and appropriate attachment pieces.

The sway control unit attaches to your vehicle and to the trailer at the coupling point and is designed to counter any wandering/sway.

Note that TWO sway control units are recommended for use with larger trailers.

Camping at Sunshine RV Park, Texarkana, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Invest in a weight distribution hitch/sway control hitch

While a weight-distribution hitch is NOT a reliable trailer-sway prevention method on its own, it can be effective when combined with a sway control unit. In fact, there are packages that combine a weight-distribution hitch with sway controls.

It should be noted that weight distribution hitches and sway control kits are not intended to be the sole means of controlling trailer sway. You’ll still need to employ operational methods of preventing trailer sway such as proper trailer loading, proper speed (55 mph or lower), and proper weight management.

Sway control kits and weight distribution hitches are intended to provide additional assistance with sway control on winding roads and windy days.

Just be aware that not all hitch receivers are compatible with weight-distributing hitches. Check with your manufacturer before purchasing.

Trailer at Wind Creek Casino RV Park, Atmore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Methods for controlling trailer sway (once it happens)

Let’s look specifically at methods you can use to control trailer sway when it’s occurring.

Remove foot from gas pedal

First, remove your foot from the gas pedal. While your instincts may move your foot to the brake pedal, don’t apply the brakes. Simply remove your foot from the gas pedal and allow your vehicle to slow down on its own.

Camping at La Paz County Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do not apply brakes

Again, don’t apply the brakes though once your speed has decreased from removing your foot from the accelerator, you can very gently apply your trailer brakes manually if you have them.

However, don’t apply your tow vehicle brakes.

Gradually reduce speed to control trailer sway

Gradually reduce your speed to at least 10 mph less than the speed at which you were traveling when the swaying began.

Do not increase speed

Do NOT increase your speed. Higher speeds make trailer sway more severe leading to whipping and an inability to control the trailer. This presents a very dangerous situation.

Camping at Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maintain steering wheel in straight position

Don’t try to steer out of the sway. It won’t work and is very likely to make matters worse.

Instead, try to keep your steering wheel in a straight position at 12 o’clock and don’t make any sudden turns.

Stop and reload trailer

As soon as you’re able to safely do so, stop and reload your trailer moving the heavier portion of your cargo to the front of the trailer.

When you resume travel, be sure to keep your speed at or below 55 mph.

General Towing Tips

Anytime you’re towing anything, these general towing tips will keep you safer.

Camping at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slow down

When towing a trailer, always reduce your normal driving speeds. Your combined vehicle size and weight are increased when you’re towing so going slower will help to ensure you can maintain control.

When going downhill, never ride brakes

Never ride your brakes when traveling downhill. Instead, slow down and shift into a lower gear allowing your engine/transmission to help keep your speed down.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When going uphill, shift into lower gear and slow down

When traveling uphill, shift into a lower gear and slow down. Stay in the slow lane, turn your flashers on if you’re driving below the speed limit (or below 45 mph on the highway) and keep an eye on your temperature gauge.

If engine temperature rises, exit the roadway as soon as safely possible

If your engine’s temperature rises, exit the roadway as soon as you can safely do so. If your engine’s temperature increases too much, your vehicle will stall leaving you stranded in traffic and possibly damaging your engine.

Slow down

As I close out this post on methods for trailer sway control, this one is well worth repeating. When you’re towing a trailer, slow down for everything including curves, inclement weather, road construction, and prior to exits.

SLOW DOWN is the mantra of safer trailer towing.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign