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Getting An RV Tow Vehicle – Part 2. Tow Dolly or Flat-Tow “4 Wheels Down”? 

 April 24, 2016 |  By David Risley

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Follow Along On Our Tow Vehicle Setup:

rv-tow-vehicleSo, we had decided to begin bringing a car with us on our longer RV trips. Next up…

Get a tow dolly or flat tow?

Two very different ways to do it. And for me, it was a big decision.

See, my main car was a Toyota Prius. And ironically, my wife’s car is also a Prius. So, there we are… a family with 2 damn Priuses (or is it Prii?).

The problem with the Prius is that you can’t tow it on all 4 wheels. It is a hybrid with a CVT transmission and this particular hybrid just can’t be towed that way. Which was a shame because I really liked the car. Hell, I’m a family man now. I’ve long since stopped worrying about my car being cool. I came off an Acura TL that guzzled gas and required 93-octane and I just knee-jerked into a Prius. All jokes aside, it is a very well-built car, requires very little maintenance, and it is insanely practical.

But, you can’t tow it on 4 wheels. Bummer.

So, do I get a dolly and tow it with the front wheels up?

The Pros and Cons of a Tow Dolly

Certainly a viable option. And by all accounts, the most financially sensible option.

One little potential issue is that the Prius is a low-profile vehicle and it rides pretty low to the ground. So, getting it up on some dollies would mean that it would drag and scrape on the ramps and mess things up. Some people would solve that issue by getting ramp extenders, but seems like more hassle to me.

I looked at various options. There’s the Stehl dollies you see all over the place. You’ve got the high-end dollies, like the KarKaddy SS which can fold up when you’re not using it.

But, the one that stuck out to me was from American Car Dolly. This is a small company that will build your dolly and deliver it to you for free, with upfront pricing of $1495 brand new. And the design of this dolly is ideal for low-riding vehicles such as the Prius.

car_dolly_rear

So, that’s the dolly.

But, then…

Do I really want one?

I started looking at the cons of having a dolly

  • Seems to me that the process of putting a car on and off this thing is going to be more involved. Straps, ratchets, ramps, yada yada.
  • I have to STORE this dolly somewhere when I’m not using it. In my garage at home, or on the campsite somewhere when out.
  • It is another thing to maintain.

The time on and off the dolly was a big factor for me. We are a young family who moves around alot. We don’t do the kind of RVing where we go to one campground and stay put for days at a time. So, the time to deal with logistics would be magnified by how often I’d have to do it.

By most accounts, it can be about a 10 minute affair (give or take) to get the vehicle ready to go, and maybe 5 minutes to get it off again.

So, I’m envisioning being in a place overnight. We need to grab a few things at the grocery store. To take that little trip, I’d have about 15 minutes of logistics just to have the car ready to drive over there. And I’d be doing that alot, since like I said we don’t tend to stay put very long.

Which brings me to the idea of flat-towing…

Pros and Cons of Flat-Towing “4 Wheels Down”

First, let’s state the obvious…

For this to work, you need to have a car which CAN be towed 4 wheels down. And many of them can’t be. You can download (for free) the Dinghy Guides for various vehicle years to see if your car can be towed this way.

2016-DINGHY-GUIDE_Cover_550
These guides by Motorhome Magazine really are the gold standard for figuring out if your car can be flat-towed.

As already stated, the Prius I have can’t be towed this way. Which means… get another car.

Do I replace the Prius or buy a third older vehicle just for towing? I was looking at CR-Vs and ideally I would just get rid of the Prius and get a new-ish CR-V. I especially liked the 2012-2014 models. I mean, it’s probably not a car I would buy if not for the RV tow thing, but it is a nice vehicle.

Or, I buy an older car. I looked into an older Saturn. It would work. But, most of them had well over 100k miles on it. And, well, I’m just not a fan of having a ton of vehicles. I like to have less stuff that does multiple things.

Then, there’s the cost of actually towing. I’d need to buy:

  • The base plates for the car (unless it is already installed)
  • A towcar
  • The braking system
  • The lighting kit
  • the labor to install all this stuff

As you can see, towing “4 wheels down” is clearly the more expensive option. It isn’t even close.

But, then there’s the benefits…

It will be much faster and easier to hook/unhook the vehicle. I mean, perhaps 2-3 minutes and I’m ready to roll. Even faster to unhook it.

How fast you can do it depends on your choice of equipment, but we’ll get into that later.

The Choice You Have To Make

Depending on your choice of towing hardware, it is a fairly good estimate that prepping to flat-tow is going to cost at least double what it will cost to dolly tow. Probably more like 3X.

I mean, there is absolutely no bones about it: Dolly towing is far cheaper. Even more so if the vehicle you own isn’t capable of being flat-towed.

If money and upfront cost is the primary driver of your decision here, then clearly buying a tow dolly is the way to go. You can even get tow dollies used on Craigslist and save yourself some money. The used ones will look kinda rusty sometimes, but they’ll do the job. And if you have a low-profile vehicle, pay attention to the brand of dolly and do some research on whether it’ll go on without dragging.

If speed, ease and convenience are more important to you than the upfront costs, then flat-towing is the preferred way to go.

What Did I Ultimately Decide?

Well, I decided that I would incur the upfront cost for the convenience. My family does a lot of RV traveling and the speed of working with the flat-tow setup is just far preferable for me – especially with how often we move around.

For me, this upfront cost was fairly substantial seeing as it meant getting rid of my Prius. Not a move I was excited about because I actually liked the car.

I decided to switch to a Honda CR-V.

2012-honda-crv

I found a pretty good deal on a 2012 CR-V EX. That gave me the current body style, which I preferred. The 2012-2014 models of the CR-V are towable (as well as earlier models). Starting in 2015, Honda decided to go with a CVT transmission on the CR-Vs which means it is no longer towable on all four’s. That’s unfortunate, however I was planning to buy used anyway.

So, CR-V in hand, it was time to begin looking into prepping this thing to be flat-towed.

Which brings me to the research phase of which gear to get. And that can be a nerve-wracking experience.

More on that in part 3…

Follow Along On Our Tow Vehicle Setup:

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David Risley

I'm not a full-timer. Call me... a half-timer. I'm an avid lover of going camping and traveling in our Holiday Rambler Vacationer motorhome. We can do that due to my work at Blog Marketing Academy.

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