How to Tow with a Tow Bar? [8 Tips for RV’ers]

How to Tow with a Tow Bar? [8 Tips for RV'ers]Flat towing a dinghy behind your RV makes it easy to explore beyond the campground. If you are interested in flat towing a vehicle, you might want to know how to tow with a tow bar. VEHQ has prepared this tow bar guide to help you to safely hitch-up your RV and dinghy combo.

You should know the maximum towing capacity of your RV before you hitch-up any vehicle. The loaded weight of the vehicle should not exceed the RV’s towing capacity. Also, check the towing capacity of the RV’s receiver hitch to confirm the hitch it is rated for the weight of your vehicle. 

Check the owner’s manual of your vehicle to make sure it has been approved by the manufacturer for flat towing. If the vehicle is not approved by the manufacturer, it might not be safe to flat tow with a tow bar. The owner’s manual should also provide towing procedures specifically for your vehicle. To prevent damage to your vehicle, follow the manufacturer’s procedures each time you tow. Some vehicles will require modifications to avoid damage to the transmission while towing. Now, you are ready to get connected:

  • Choose an A-frame or self-aligning tow bar with a tow rating for the weight of your vehicle.
  • Install a model-specific, base plate on your vehicle.
  • Use an adjustable height drop hitch receiver if necessary to allow the tow bar to ride level between the height of the RV and the height of the vehicle.
  • Fasten safety chains or cables securely beneath the vehicle, cross below the tow bar, and fasten to the RV’s hitch receiver. Safety chains should not drag on the ground.
  • Check that all hitch and wiring configurations are securely attached.
  • Check the vehicle’s brake lights, signal lights, and tail lights.
  • Check the tire pressure on the RV, the vehicle, and all spare tires.
  • Follow the manufacturer recommended, towing procedures for your vehicle. 

That is a lot of information! Let’s take a closer look at how a tow bar connection for your dingy. Soon, you will be underway in your RV with the dinghy safely in tow.

What is a Tow Bar?

A tow bar is a triangular-shaped bar used for towing to connect a vehicle to the rear of an RV. One end of the tow bar has a narrow, single-bar that has an attachment to be coupled with a hitch receiver. The opposite end of the tow bar has a wide, two-bar spread to be affixed to the vehicle’s base plate. There are two types of tow bars:

  • A-frame – Designed to fit a limited number of vehicles, A-frame tow bars are available as either solid or folding configurations and must be stored elsewhere when not in use. A-frames are sturdy but heavy and typically hitched by a two-person team.
  • Self-aligning – Designed to fit a wide variety of vehicles by mounting to model-specific, Class III, or Class IV base plates, self-aligning tow bars can be either coach-mounted or dinghy-mounted. Coach-mounted tow bars store easily on the RV when not in use. Hitching a self-aligning tow bar can quickly be done with one person.

Does a Tow Bar Have a Braking System?

Tow bars require the installation of a supplemental braking system. In most states, auxiliary braking for a flat towed vehicle is mandatory. Installing a supplemental braking system will give you more control. Using auxiliary brakes, you can decelerate the vehicle in tow when braking the RV without putting undue strain on either the RV’s braking system or the tow bar. Check out etrailer.com’s brake-down of the various types of auxiliary braking systems.

Does a Tow Bar Have a Lighting System?

Tow bars require the installation of a wiring system for lighting. In most states, it is mandatory to have a lighting system on your dinghy that works in sync with the RV’s taillights. There are several types of lighting kits available for a tow bar:

  • Magnetic, removable exterior light kits can be vehicle-mounted or hitch mounted.
  • Taillight bulb kits mount inside the vehicle’s taillight housing.
  • Diode light kits wire in-line with the vehicle’s existing lighting.
  • Wiring extensions connect the vehicle wiring to the RV wiring.

When to Tow with a Tow Bar?

A tow bar is an affordable, convenient option to tow a vehicle without the use of a cumbersome trailer or tow dolly. If your vehicle has been approved by the manufacturer for flat towing, you can use a tow bar. Your RV and vehicle will require an initial set-up to be ready to use a tow bar. Once your rig is set-up, the lightweight tow bar is easily attachable/detachable and stowable. 

Are There Disadvantages to Using a Tow Bar?

Using a tow bar to flat tow is not suitable for all vehicles. If you can safely flat tow your vehicle, there are only a few disadvantages of a tow bar to consider:

  • Flat towing means that all four wheels of the vehicle remain on the ground, causing excess wear on the tires and adding extra mileage to the vehicle.
  • You cannot back-up the RV with a vehicle attached by a tow bar. If you need to turn around, you have to unhitch the vehicle.

Do You Lock the Steering Wheel with a Tow Bar?

Be sure to unlock the steering wheel before you start towing. Unlocking the steering wheel avoids potential transmission damage while the vehicle is being towed. Check the owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to unlock your vehicle’s steering wheel. In most cases, the ignition key is used by inserting the key into the ignition and turning the key to ‘accessory’ mode.

With the ignition key set to ‘accessory’ mode, power from the batteries can be transferred to various accessory features. Several strategies exist to prevent unnecessary battery draw while towing:

  • Removing the accessories fuse from the vehicle before towing is one option, but the fuse can be challenging to access.
  • Installation of a fuse bypass switch on the RV easily disengages the vehicle’s accessory fuse with the flip of a switch.
  • A charge line kit can be installed via the tow bar to connect the vehicle wiring to the RV wiring to continuously charge the vehicle’s battery.

Can You Tow a Front-wheel Drive Car with a Tow Bar?

The safest way to tow any vehicle is by using a flatbed truck or trailer. But if a flatbed truck or trailer is not practical for your towing purposes, a tow bar can be used to flat-tow a front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle. Checking the owner’s manual is the best way to determine if your car can be flat towed safely. MotorHome Magazine’s offers a tremendous flat towing resource available online, annually published ‘dinghy towing’ guides. These guides have handy towing tips for RV’ers and an updated list of vehicles that have been approved by their manufacturers for flat towing.

When a vehicle is flat towed, all four wheels are on the ground and moving. Flat towing can cause severe damage to the vehicle if the transmission is not properly lubricating all the moving parts. Manual transmission FWD vehicles can be flat towed safely without any modifications, simply shift the car into neutral (N) and unlock the parking brake. Automatic FWD vehicles often require specific procedures or alterations, depending on how the transmission’s lubrication system works. Some automatic FWD vehicles need a supplemental lubrication system, such as a Remco lubrication pump, to keep the fluids flowing while in tow. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations is essential to avoid transmission damage when flat towing vehicles.

Can I Tow My Car with My Truck?

Yes! Towing your car with your truck is possible if both vehicles are equipped for towing. You will want to make sure the weight of a loaded car does not exceed the towing capacity of the truck. Also, make sure the receiver hitch on the truck is rated to tow the weight of the car. Hitch-up your car to your truck using a tow bar with the same procedure that you would use with an RV. Always follow the car’s manufacturer recommended procedures for towing.

How Much Does a Tow Bar Cost?

The cost of a tow bar varies dramatically depending on the type, towing capacity, and parts dealer. Sturdy tow bars for occasional use, such as CURT’s adjustable tow bar, can range in price from $80 to $250. Permanently installed tow bars, such as self-aligning coach-mounted types, start higher in price at $400 and range upwards of $1,500 not including the cost of installation. For frequent towing, it might be worth the initial cost of a permanent tow bar that will be a user-friendly, easily stowable solution.

Now that you know how to use a tow bar for your dinghy, check out other towing tips and tow vehicles at VEHQ:

How to safely tow a car behind a motorhome

Should a travel trailer be level when towing?

15 Travel Trailer Towing Tips Every Driver Should Know

How to Trailer-Tow a Boat?

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