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Best Cars for Towing Behind Your RV
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The words “dinghy” and “toad” might seem like odd terms for a vehicle you’re towing behind your RV, but take them in stride. The term “dinghy” is actually a nautical nickname for a small boat that is pulled behind a yacht. As for “toad,” well, it might just mean exactly what it sounds like: something that’s quite literally towed. Whatever you call it, a vehicle you’re towing behind your car needs to be just that: towable. And, unless you’re planning to buy a trailer, not every car can be towed behind an RV. So what makes a great flat-tow vehicle? Read on to find out.
Ways to tow a vehicle behind an RV
If you’re considering pulling a dinghy or toad vehicle behind your RV, there are a few ways to do it. Each mode of towing requires either special equipment (like a trailer or dolly) or a particular set of qualities that your vehicle must have.
There are three ways to tow a vehicle behind an RV. They are:
- Flat tow or four-wheel tow: All four wheels are on the ground when a vehicle is flat-towed or four-wheel towed behind an RV. If you’re looking to flat-tow or have all four wheels on the ground, you’ll want to look for a car, truck or SUV that can handle that type of tow.
- Dolly tow: Two wheels are placed on a small dolly-style trailer while the other two remain on the ground.
- Car trailer or car hauler tow: A trailer lifts the entire car up off the ground and is towed behind the RV.
While more options open up if you’re willing to use a dolly, or if you purchase a separate car hauler that lifts the car completely off the ground, there are additional costs, weight requirements, hookup requirements and maintenance considerations to take into account. While a tow bar for dinghy towing will cost somewhere between $550 and $1,000 and also require a base plate for the vehicle at around $400, a dolly will cost around $1,700, and a full trailer will run upward of $2,750. As flat-towing will require the least equipment, it’s also the cheapest option.
Four-wheel, four-down or flat-towing a vehicle behind an RV
Four-wheel towing or flat-towing means that all four wheels will roll when the vehicle is towed behind your RV. You’ll need a car that can handle being pulled with four wheels down, and there are a few main elements that all vehicles have that are capable of this share.
First, you’ll need a vehicle with a manual transfer case. Second, the vehicle needs to have steering that can be unlocked. Above all, the wheels need to be able to move when the vehicle isn’t running or when the ignition is turned off. These days, not every car has these features.
Dolly towing a vehicle behind an RV
Dolly towing a vehicle behind an RV means that you purchase a separate smaller trailer that lifts the front two or rear two wheels off the ground and lets the other two wheels spin as you drive. Your ideal situation here will be a front-wheel drive vehicle — with the driven wheels off the ground, the car’s back wheels can simply roll along.
“When a vehicle needs a dolly, it adds another item that needs to be maintained and when parked and not in use,” said Kenny Phillips, host of RV podcast “Beyond The Wheel.” “Sometimes, you may need to find a spot on your campsite to store the dolly if it sticks out into the road.” In short, it’s just another thing to worry about, and flat-towing eliminates that.
Towing a vehicle on a car trailer
Having a car trailer expands your options to almost any car, provided that your trailer’s weight rating permits. Towing a vehicle on a separate trailer can help prevent wear and tear on your dinghy. Like a dolly trailer, a car trailer will require maintenance, too. Additionally, it is a large item to store when it’s not in use, and will cost quite a bit more than the other two options.
As you start to research towable cars, trucks and SUVs, you might find that they’re more difficult to find than they were in the past. As more technology is added and cars just get more complex, it gets harder to find a good dinghy. Features that make driving easier makes finding a good dinghy harder — things like automatic transfer cases, automatic transmissions and front-wheel drive systems all make flat towing harder. And some cars that have been towable go-tos for years aren’t configured or built the way they used to be. The Kia Soul and the Honda CR-V, for example, were once well-loved staples of flat-towers, but aren’t recommended for four-down towing any longer, likely thanks to redesigns.
Check and see if any of your current cars are able to be towed. Here are a few places to check:
- Your owner’s manual. If you don’t own the car you’re considering, many manufacturers have them available online.
- Good Sam’s Guide to Dinghy Towing. This guide is compiled every year, and includes a list of towable cars each year.
If you’re already in the market for a new dinghy, or your trusty daily driver isn’t towable, here are some cars, SUVs and trucks suggested by RV-ers and expert ratings.
Before you get too far into shopping, however, we suggest you check the owner’s manual of any vehicle you’re considering purchasing just to double-check that you’re getting a vehicle that can be flat-towed. Consider the fact that not all cars from the same model can be flat-towed, and make sure that you’re getting the right one. If you’ve got your eye on a car that isn’t flat-towable, consider towing with a dolly, which takes two wheels off the ground, or a full trailer to pull almost anything.
How we chose the best vehicles to tow behind an RV
In making this list, we looked for vehicles that are flat-towable from the 2019 Good Sam Guide to Dinghy Towing. With these vehicles in mind, we looked at data from Kelley Blue Book expert ratings and Edmunds expert ratings, and only those with the best scores made this list. We also looked at EPA fuel efficiency and considered safety ratings from both NHTSA and IIHS. The MSRP listed is for the base trim of each vehicle unless otherwise specified (for example, the Honda Accord Sport’s price is for the Accord Sport, not the base Accord.) We only considered 2019 models for this story.
Best cars to tow behind an RV
A car is the perfect complement to an RV. If you’re opting for a car, your probably hoping for something small to take you places that your RV just cannot go. Cars tend to be small, light, easy to park and fuel-efficient, making them a great choice for a tow-along.
KBB expert score: 4.6 out of 5; Edmunds score: 8.2 out of 10
This sporty and affordable subcompact car is an excellent small (read: light) and affordable option for towing. With rave reviews from both owners and experts alike, this little car has made big impressions. Impressive fuel efficiency also helps make it a favorite, as it gets up to 36 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s also one of the easier vehicles to hook up, and requires very little work to get it on the back on the RV to break camp quickly. For RV-ers looking for a small runabout, the Fit provides an easy-to-drive and budget-friendly alternative to something larger.
KBB expert score: 4.1 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.9 out of 10
As Ford phases out sedans, they’ve also eliminated some popular toad options, including the Ford C-Max. Though the C-Max will no longer be available in 2019, Ford still offers the larger Fusion and will continue to offer it until at least 2021. The Fusion shares the same powertrains as the C-Max and will still be available. In addition to the hybrid, the Fusion with the 2.7-liter, six-cylinder Ecoboost engine is flat-towable, as is the plug-in hybrid variation. While the C-Max isn’t available any longer, the Fusion provides a highly-rated and proven alternative.
KBB expert score: 4.7 out of 5; Edmunds score: 8.3 out of 10
The Honda Accord has been a long-standing favorite amongst owners and it is now four-wheel down towable. The Accord Sport is the model that RV-owning Honda loyalists should be shopping for — we’d recommend the 2.0-liter engine option, as it adds on extras like heated seats and keyless entry. Chosen as one of Edmunds’ Editor’s Choice vehicles of 2019 and with strong ratings from experts and consumers, the Accord is a tried-and-true favorite. The impressive 26 miles per gallon combined gas mileage will be helpful for exploring your new surroundings, while a spacious interior and a roomy trunk is perfect for gear and day trips.
Best SUVs to tow behind an RV
For many RV-ing families or off-road enthusiasts, a car simply won’t cut it, and that’s perfectly understandable — a toad’s most important quality is that it does everything your RV can’t do. For those wanting to hit the trails after the RV is parked, or for families who just need a bit more space, here are some top picks for dinghy SUVs. As many SUVs are available with four-wheel drive, you’ll want to consider how you’ll want to tow — four-wheel drive vehicles cannot be dolly towed, but they are flat towable.
KBB expert score: 4.6 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.6 out of 10
Honda’s SUVs are a favorite of many families and campers, particularly the CR-V. However, the 2019 CR-Vs are no longer flat towable. The HR-V is small enough to be as fuel-efficient as many sedans getting 28 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway, but with the added benefit of the extra height of an SUV. It won’t be ideal for off-roaders, but it will be a favorite among those looking for something for everyday use. This highly-rated SUV might just be a replacement for the classic CR-V.
2019 Ford Edge ST
KBB expert score: 3.8 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.6 out of 10
New for 2019, the Ford Edge ST is able to be flat towed when equipped with the 2.7-liter engine. The Edge ST differs from the normal Edge in sportiness, and offers 355 horsepower as opposed to the 250 horsepower that the base engine offers. While it’s no off-roader, the Edge does offer a good amount of space inside. While it might look unassuming, the Ford Edge ST offers a hidden advantage.
KBB expert score: 4.4 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.8 out of 10
The Wrangler has long been a favorite dinghy for many years thanks to its off-road capabilities and the fact that they don’t require much work to get ready to tow. If you’re an avid off-roader looking for adventure, it’s tough to look anywhere else. If you’re looking at getting a Jeep Wrangler for towing specifically, there isn’t too much you’ll need to look for to make it flat-towable — Jeep says that both its automatic and manual options are flat-towable, though neither can be dolly towed. Expect to lack in gas mileage — the Wrangler four-wheel drive with a six-cylinder engine will get about 23 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 miles per gallon in the city. But for those looking for the most thrills, the Wrangler might just be the best you can do.
KBB expert score: 4.4 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.4 out of 10
For those who aren’t doing serious off-roading but need something that can handle seating five comfortably, the Equinox is the ideal flat-towing SUV. There’s a wide variety of interior trim levels to choose from, with upper trim levels that offer a luxe feel and offer many tech features. Both all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive models with the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter engines are towable, as are the 1.6-liter diesel engine options. Available Wi-Fi connectivity is a big plus for those long days on the road. Good ratings from experts and owners alike sweeten the deal.
Best trucks to tow behind an RV
For those wanting more than an SUV or car can offer, a truck is also an option to tow behind your RV. The good news: if you’re into American trucks, you’ll pretty much have a choice as both GM and Ford make at least one variation of each of their truck options towable. While the extra weight will certainly come at a sacrifice, there are some things you just can’t beat with a truck. Here are the two towable front-runners:
KBB expert score: 4.4 out of 5; Edmunds score: 8.1 out of 10
This popular American-made pickup truck is a proven favorite of RV-ers. You’ll need to choose a four-wheel-drive version for four-down towing. For serious off-roaders, the trail-tough Ford Raptor version is also flat-towable. When not being pulled behind the RV, the F-150’s generous payload and towing ratings make it useful for everyday hauling and work.
KBB consumer score: 4.4 out of 5; Edmunds score: 7.6 out of 10
The Chevrolet Colorado offers a variety of options and really allows you to make it fit your taste and needs. While it’ll be a little bit smaller than a full-size truck, it will still offer the functionality of a pickup truck without the weight of a full-size truck. A four-wheel-drive version will be needed for flat-towing. You’ll need to be sure that the Colorado you are towing offers 4WD low gearing to ensure safe four-wheel towing. Be sure to take these things into consideration when looking at this truck.
How to finance your new dinghy
The good news is that finding your vehicle is really the hardest part — financing your new dinghy is fairly simple. Approach it the same way you’d go about financing any other automobile purchase. First, you’ll want to decide how much you want to spend on a new vehicle and then check with several different lenders, including online lenders and credit unions. Having a preapproved auto loan in hand can be a big benefit when you start shopping. Consider trying out LendingTree. Simply fill out one online form and you could receive up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders, based on your creditworthiness.
Before committing to any one vehicle, it makes sense to do your homework and be absolutely sure that the vehicle you have chosen can be towed the way you want to tow it, whether it’s four-down or flat-tow, dolly towing or car hauler towing. Double-check the owner’s manual (not just the owner’s guide) and do your own research before plunking down any kind of cash on a new towable vehicle. For more about RV living and financing, check out our story.
MSRPs in the article are accurate as of the date of publishing.