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Flat Towing Explained: What Vehicles Work and How

If you’re a motorhome owner and want to bring a second vehicle on your camping trips, you are most likely going to want to tow it. Some will have a second driver drive along behind, but towing is usually the easiest and most comfortable. There are three primary ways you can tow a car, either on a trailer, on a dolly, or flat towing.

Depending on the vehicle you want to tow, you may or may not be able to flat tow it, as it’s an option only available to a limited number of vehicles. Let’s find out why this is, and you can decide whether flat towing is right for you!

What Is Flat Towing?

Another term for flat towing is four wheels down towing. This type of towing occurs when all four wheels of the second vehicle are riding on the road. They turn along the motorhome’s wheels as you journey to your destination. No trailer or dolly lifts any wheels off the ground. 

Also, the front of the vehicle connects directly to the rear of the motorhome by a tow bar. You do not use a ball and hitch mechanism.

Close up of flat tow hitch
Bring a spare vehicle along on all of your RV adventures by flat towing.

How Is Flat Towing Different From Other Types of Towing?

If you can’t flat tow a vehicle, you can choose a few other options. Some people buy an enclosed trailer. These are very expensive but offer the best protection. Other people buy a flatbed trailer. Along with enclosed trailers, flatbed trailers are bulky and require ample room for storage. Both trailer towing types lift all four wheels off the ground and any type of car can be moved this way.

The other type of towing is dolly towing. This is when the two back wheels are down, but you raise the two front wheels and fasten them onto a dolly. For front-wheel drive vehicles you don’t modify or aren’t initially designed for flat towing, this option won’t damage the transmission since the front wheels aren’t turning on the road. This will still not work for all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and 4×4 vehicles that are not rated for flat towing. We tow our chevy volt on a dolly as its front-wheel drive only.

Pro Tip: Before you hitch up and head out on your adventure, discover Are Rivian Trucks Flat-Towable?

dolly towing a car behind a motorhome
Our cars front wheels ride off the ground on the dolly

What Vehicles Can Be Flat Towed?

Some vehicles come from the factory with the necessary requirements to be able to flat tow them. These requirements are basically a transmission disconnect or transmission that self-lubricates and a steering lockout override.

The transmission disconnect option isn’t just putting the vehicle in neutral. The transmission must be able to completely disconnect for you to flat tow without damaging it. The reason for this is that the transmission usually needs the engine spinning to properly lubricate the gears. In some cars, however, the transmission design allows for proper lubrication without the engine running. In the past, almost all manual transmission cars could be flat towed because of the way the transmission works in neutral.

A steering wheel lockout override allows the wheels to move while the motorhome is in motion but without veering to the left or right. This is essential for flat towing.

Often, AWD and 4X4 vehicles are preferred for flat towing because they have these features from the manufacturer. If you attempt to flat tow a vehicle that isn’t for this type of towing, you risk severely damaging the transmission, which will result in a costly repair. 

Many times the vehicle’s year also determines whether you can flat tow it. A 2013 model may not be suitable for flat towing, while a 2020 model may have the transmission disconnect and steering lockout override. Always check the owner’s manual for the final verdict about your particular vehicle.

Popular vehicles for flat towing are usually Jeep products like the Cherokee and Wrangler models. These 4X4 vehicles are also suitable for off-roading and getting to more remote areas where you can launch a kayak or hit a trailhead. The Ford F-150 is a popular truck for flat towing, and the Ford Focus or Fiesta are two compact, trendy options for RVers.

Finally, you can modify any vehicle for flat towing, but this can be complicated and costly. Some people spend the money to flat tow so they don’t have to deal with the bulky equipment of a trailer or dolly. However, others will forego the expense and choose another method of towing.

Pro Tip: Stay safe by knowing these 10 Camper Towing Rules You Should Never Break.

Second vehicle on motorhome
Ditch the flatbed trailer and tow dolly in exchange for flat towing.

How to Modify a Vehicle to Be Flat-Towable

If the manufacturer made the vehicle for flat towing, you only have to purchase the towing equipment. This includes the tow bar and brake controller to help apply the vehicle brakes. There are no additional modifications you need other than to install the tow bar and base plate. However, for vehicles that don’t have the transmission disconnect and steering lockout override, there are some modifications you might need to make.

These modifications can allow the car to shift the transmission to neutral, pump transmission fluid to lubricate it, or disconnect the driveshaft altogether. These changes will be vehicle-specific. Remco is a famous company RVers use for these components. 

In addition, people modify the brake systems so that the motorhome can apply the brakes to the vehicle. This keeps you and other drivers safe. An auxiliary braking system reduces stopping distance since the towed vehicle adds weight to the combined weight of the motorhome. By adding a supplemental braking system, it works in tandem with the motorhome’s braking system.

Pro Tip: Before you hitch up and head out find out How to Measure Hitch Drop (or rise) Like a Pro.

What Types of RVs Can Tow a Vehicle?

Motorhomes have a tow rating. Always look at the owner’s manual to know how much weight your motorhome can tow safely. Manufacturers set these limits to stay within safe driving limits. Class As, the largest and heaviest class of motorized RVs, have the highest tow rating. Generally, Class As can tow 10,000-15,000 pounds.

Class Cs are a smaller class of motorized RVs that still can tow a vehicle. You can quickly identify these motorhomes by the cabover bed. They don’t have the enormous windshields that Class As have. Since Class Cs are on Class 3 or Class 4 chassis, which are smaller than chassis for Class As, they can usually tow 5,000-8,000 pounds.

We do not recommend towing a vehicle behind a towable RV. You don’t want a tow vehicle pulling a travel trailer or fifth wheel, which is then towing an additional vehicle. Towable RVs typically don’t have hitches or frames strong enough to tow a second vehicle. You can install a bike rack or cargo tray safely, but it’s not safe to tow a vehicle on the back of a towable RV.

White SUV flat tow
To successfully flat tow you will need a base plate kit, a tow bar, and a hitch.

What Equipment Do You Need to Flat Tow?

You’ll need to purchase a base plate kit, a tow bar, and a hitch to flat tow. Your motorhome probably already has a hitch. The hitch tow rating needs to match the weight of the vehicle you’re flat towing.

The base plate kit attaches to the vehicle’s front frame and provides attachment points for the tow bar. Base plate kits are for specific vehicles, so purchase one compatible with your vehicle.

Finally, the tow bar connects the vehicle to the motorhome. This V-shaped contraption has two arms that connect to the vehicle’s base plates and one connection point to the RV’s hitch.

In addition to these three significant components, you’ll want to buy safety cables to connect your RV to your vehicle if the tow bar fails and the vehicle disconnects. A light wiring kit will ensure that your vehicle’s tail lights and turn signals synchronize with your RV’s. Also, many states require a supplemental braking system. It also reduces the stopping distance since the two braking systems work in tandem with one another.

Pro Tip: Use these 6 Best Ways to Protect Your Tow Vehicle Behind an RV Motorhome while on the go.

What Are the Advantages of Flat Towing?

Flat towing is easy to hook up. For solo travelers, this is a huge advantage. It’s straightforward once you have all the equipment, and it takes less than 10 minutes.

One of the most significant advantages of flat towing for RVers is the lack of bulky equipment. When you arrive at a campground, you don’t have to use half of your site to unhook and store a flatbed trailer. Once you’re home, you don’t need an oversized garage to store a dolly.

Motorhome flat towing SUV
Flat towing is easy for RVers, even solo travelers, to set up.

What Are the Disadvantages of Flat Towing?

However, even with the advantages, flat towing isn’t for everyone. The largest disadvantage when flat towing is that you cannot back up the motorhome when connected. The reason for this is that the front wheels of the tow vehicles will turn the opposite direction of the motorhome and bind immediately. This means you can easily get your self in a situation where you have to disconnect to maneuver.

Second, you can’t flat tow very many vehicles. Without spending plenty of money on modifications, you can’t tow your minivan. Even for cars with the manufacturer transmission disconnect and steering lockout override, you’ll have to install the base plates, tow bar, lighting wiring system, and braking system. This can be more work than an RVer wants to handle and frequently costs more than a dolly or trailer.

Another disadvantage is you can’t tow a different vehicle each trip. If you want to take out the Jeep Wrangler for a trip to Sedona one weekend and then take out the GMC Sierra to Tucson the following weekend, you can’t easily swap out vehicles. When towing with a dolly or trailer, you can change cars more efficiently. But because the flat towing setup is vehicle-specific, it makes the task more challenging.

Pro Tip: Make sure you know these 10 Ways to Make Towing a Big Rig Less Dangerous before you hit the road.

tow dolly at campsite
Every time we stop we have to do something with the tow dolly

How Much Does It Cost to Flat Tow?

Generally, flat towing is more expensive than dolly or trailer towing. However, the cost greatly depends on the modifications you need to make to the vehicle. Just the base plate kit, safety cables, tow bar, braking system, and light wiring system can cost anywhere from $2,000-4,000. That’s only for the parts. Depending on where you live, the labor cost could be $70-135 per hour.

Is Flat Towing Right for You?

You must decide if flat towing is the best decision for your travel style. If you want a convenient setup and don’t want to deal with bulky equipment, you’ll have to take the time to purchase the necessary parts to install the flat tow setup. You’ll also have to pay for the initial investment.

But if you’re on a tight budget or don’t have a vehicle you can flat tow, purchasing a dolly or trailer may be the better decision. It comes down to your vehicle type and how much money you want to spend.

So is flat towing right for you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Dan

Wednesday 26th of April 2023

We bought a '21 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk right after we ordered our '21 Class A Bounder. Setting it up was a little more expensive that you intimated. Taking it to the RV dealership recommended by our Jeep dealership kept us from buying the parts from eTrailer at a discount. They required us to order the parts from them to be covered under their warranty. They pulled the parts from the retail pages of Blue Ox (base plates and tow bars) and Roadmaster (brake system and lighting system) and passed that retail price on to me. These items were installed in 8 hours at the prevailing labor rate which was a little closer to $175/hour. All in, that put us a couple dollars shy of $5K.

We also opted for the permanently installed braking system that is bypassed when the dinghy is disconnected from the Bounder. It takes me less time to hook up the toad than it does to attach the dolly, then drive up on it and attach the toad to the dolly. Disconnect time is less than 10 minutes. My bride is very happy with the setup.

As fellow Michiganders, it's fun to watch your travels and tips. Keep up the good work.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 26th of April 2023

Gosh its crazy how expensive it has gotten to set them up but your right its much nicer. The trailhawk is a great toad!

Donald Fleming

Monday 24th of April 2023

I ordered the new Ford Maverick truck because you can flat tow it. It’s supposed to be built in the 1st week of May let you know how it works out.Don

Mark

Monday 24th of April 2023

We tow a FJ cruiser with a manual transmission on a flatbed carhauler behind an E450 Class C chassis. I thought I wanted to flat tow it at first and looked into doing a double driveshaft disconnect because the manual FJ is full time 4x4 and not supposed to be flat towed. It was cheaper and easier to get the flatbed trailer. I find myself backing up A LOT! We also have a large toolbox fitted on the trailer along with two extra propane tanks allowing us to stay out in the boondocks longer. Those things along with not having the extra wear and tear on the tow vehicle have confirmed my choice. We are rarely in a rush so the time it takes to load the toad and strap it down is not an issue. There are disadvantages but this setup works best for us. RV'ing is always a compromise no matter what your equipment is. Research, research, research, then pick what you think is the best setup for your type of RV'ing.

Steve H

Monday 24th of April 2023

We have a 25' Class C that fits in USFS and NP campgrounds and grocery store parking lots everywhere. We also have an automatic Mini Cooper that can't be flat towed. If we are snowbirding in AZ or NM, one of us drives the motorhome and the other the Mini. For shorter trips, we leave the Mini at home and take our E-bikes on a rack on the motorhome. No tow bars, no trailers, no dollies.