I love driving around in my RV. Hitting the road in a mobile home is a liberating experience and one that I suggest everyone try at some point in their life. However, as much fun as RVing can be, there is one significant limitation that I have to point out.
Getting around on streets can be a huge pain.
Imagine driving a 30 or 40-foot RV downtown in any metropolitan city. Imagine driving that down a residential street? While it can be done, it’s not an ideal situation. For that reason, I prefer to tow a car behind me wherever I go.
If you’re serious about RVing, then you’ve probably thought about towing a get-around vehicle before. However, these days you have to be careful about how you do it. While in the old days most cars were easy to pull behind, automatic transmissions have made it more challenging.
For that reason, I want to discuss four wheels down towing and the kinds of cars that are capable of it. Since having a smaller vehicle at your disposal when RVing adds so much to the experience, it’s imperative that you understand any limitations that come with towing a car along the way.
What Does “Four Wheels Down” Mean?
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If you’re not familiar with this term, it means when you tow a car without a special hitch or trailer. Instead, you attach a bar to the underside of the vehicle and let its wheels do the work. Since all four wheels are touching the pavement, the term is “four wheels down.”
If you did use a trailer and kept the front or rear wheels up, then it would be called two wheels down towing. While that is always a possibility, the bottom line is that it requires extra gear to accomplish. Do you really want to go out and buy a dolly and attach it to your motorhome? Not only that but do you want to have to drive your car up the ramp every time you head out somewhere?
Overall, four wheels down towing is by far the best option. However, many modern cars are not capable of it, which is why you have to know which ones qualify.
Why Can’t Some Vehicles Be Towed This Way?
When you look at the mechanics of it, the problem is the transmission and the lack of lubrication. Because the wheels are controlled by an automatic gear shifter, they have to be powered on to move freely. While you can spin the wheels without the car being on, it will damage the components over time.
Without constant lubrication, the parts inside the car will break down and may have to be replaced before you can drive it again. Since this is far too much of a risk to take when you’re taking a vacation, you have to make sure that your vehicle won’t have this problem.
Interestingly enough, even trucks or SUVs that may seem like qualified candidates may not work with four wheels down towing. For example, just because the vehicle has four-wheel drive doesn’t mean that it can go without powered lubrication. The Toyota Land Cruiser is a perfect example of this.
Requirements for Four Wheels Down Towing
Typically speaking, the following types of cars, trucks and SUVs can work for this kind of towing.
- Manual Transmission: since the gear shifter isn’t powered by the engine, you can shift into neutral and let the wheels spin freely without any problems.
- Rear Wheel Drive: typically speaking, the car or truck has to have this drivetrain along with the ability to shift into neutral to be able to be towed with four wheels down
- Four-Wheel Drive With Manual Transfer Case: for the most part, four-wheel drive vehicles are not capable of being pulled this way unless they have a special case that allows you to shift into neutral. A perfect example would be a Jeep vehicle or a Dodge Ram.
Overall, many commuter cars these days are just not built for this kind of towing. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to resign yourself to buying a trailer just yet.
Fortunately, many different devices can fix this problem. While they are not necessarily universal for each make and model, you should be able to convert many non-qualifying vehicles this way. Typically, you have to install a transmission lubrication pump or a driveshaft decoupler to make it work.
Unfortunately, these kinds of additions to your car can be both expensive and time-consuming to install. You will likely have to pay a professional mechanic to do it right. Not only that but if your vehicle is still under warranty, putting these items into the engine will void it.
Check the Manual
In the end, you should check your owner’s manual to see if your car is capable of four wheels down (flat) towing. All car manufacturers are required to list this information in the manual, so you should not have any problem finding out whether you’re good to go or if you’re out of luck.
Top Brands for Flat Towing
For the most part, Jeep and Saturn are usually prized by RVers for being the easiest to tow four wheels down. Since there are quite a few steps involved in this process (more on that in a moment), you want to find a vehicle that doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease to set up.
According to most lists out there, the top five auto brands for flat towing are:
You can find complete lists of specific makes and models online, such as Motorhome Magazine. The latest list that they offer is 2015, but it’s recent enough that it should still hold up today. However, if you don’t want to buy a new car or truck for towing, then you will have to modify your current rig or buy a tow dolly instead.
Flat Towing Considerations
Once you’ve figured out how you can tow your vehicle four wheels down, it’s essential that you understand all of the steps involved. While this towing method is by far the easiest and most hassle-free option, that doesn’t mean that you can just hook up your car and be on your way.
Here are a few of the things that you have to think about before getting ready to hit the road.
In many modern cars, the front wheels won’t turn unless the vehicle is on. As such, you have to keep the key in the ignition to ensure that your car won’t cause problems every time you have to turn.
Even if a car or SUV is rated for flat towing, that doesn’t mean that you can do it for as long as you want. While manual transmissions can be towed indefinitely without damaging anything, other vehicles are not so lucky. In those cases, you have to stop and run the engine for a few minutes to keep the axles and gears lubricated.
Double Check the Manual Based on Model Year
Although I said that the 2015 list of acceptable tow vehicles should be accurate for today, there’s no guarantee that current models will have the same capacity. So, unless you have a car from that year, you will have to check the manual first to make 100% sure that you can flat tow without any problems.
Auxiliary Brake System
While the tow bar itself ensures that your car or truck doesn’t smash into the back of your RV, many states require that you have a separate braking system installed as well. Not only will having this ensure that you don’t have to worry about breaking the law, it will make the trip that much smoother as well since you can slow both vehicles down at the same time.
Lighter is Better
One of the reasons that flat towing is the best option for bringing an extra set of wheels is that it doesn’t add wear and tear to your RV. However, if you are towing a massive vehicle behind you, then it will add more than if you brought a compact car instead. Overall, if you aren’t planning on doing any off-roading, don’t worry about bringing a huge truck with you on your trip.
Self-Aligning vs. A-Frame Tow Bars
Chances are that you’re traveling in your RV with other people, but if you ever have to attach your towed vehicle by yourself, it can be a huge hassle (or downright impossible) with an A-frame tow bar.
That being said, A-frames are generally cheaper, so if you’re on a budget, then that might be your best bet. However, self-aligning tow bars are much easier to handle, and they can fit a broader range of vehicles and base plates. Also, be sure to get a folding model so that it doesn’t take up too much room in storage.
Thanks for reading my blog! When it comes to towing an additional vehicle on your next adventure, four wheels down is the way to go. However, I want to make sure that you do it safely, so be sure to read your manual and follow the instructions.
I hope that you found this article informative and I wish you the best on your next RV trip!