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Flat Towing Behind a Motorhome: What You Need to Know

Published on October 18th, 2023 by Emily Lawrence

Motorhomes are fantastic vehicles because they combine the best features of a tow vehicle and trailer in one streamlined package. Choosing one of these best cars for flat towing behind a motorhome makes this a breeze. Let’s dive into the most important things to know about flat towing.

How Do You Want to Explore New Locations?

Driving one vehicle is super simple. But sometimes it’s hard to drive a motorhome everywhere you go. You won’t be able to navigate busy cities or small side streets with an RV setup like this. That’s why it’s usually a great idea to tow a separate vehicle behind you (often referred to as “dinghy towing” or “four-down towing”). But before you make this decision, let’s review the most important things to know about flat towing, and discuss some of the best cars for doing it.

If you plan to make RVing a major part of your life, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. In some cases, you may want to buy a new car or switch out for a different model that’s more conducive to your needs. There are plenty of cars that can be safely towed behind a motorhome, but you’ll need to compare your different options before you move forward with any final decisions.

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Traveling with a separate vehicle opens up a whole new world of possibilities. You’ll be able to set up camp, then detach your car and freely explore the area. Your campsite will stay safely parked while you use the smaller vehicle to visit tourist destinations, restaurants, beaches, and more. Flat towing is a wonderful solution for many RVers, but there are several factors to consider. Read on to learn about some of the best cars for flat towing.

What is Flat Towing?

flat towing truck and motorcycle behind motorhome
Example of flat towing truck and motorcycle. (Image: @FIRE UP, iRV2 Forums Member),

Before we dive in, let’s discuss what flat towing is. This term may be unfamiliar to you if you’re new to the RV world (especially if this is your first motorhome). Motorhomes have their own engines and batteries, so they can drive without any help from a tow vehicle. But if you want to hitch a separate vehicle to the rear, you can maximize your travel options. 

Flat towing refers to a vehicle that is towed with all four wheels on the ground. It attaches the car to motorhome with a tow bar. This method ensures that all the tires are worn down at an equal rate, plus it makes the car more stable while in motion. The car ignition is activated to put the vehicle transmission in neutral throughout the journey. This allows tires to spin and transmission to operate without any issue.

Deciding to flat tow a car behind a motorhome requires a significant investment in time and money. For example, RV owners who decide to flat tow cars behind an RV should always install an auxiliary brake system that works in sync with a motorhome’s brakes to help both vehicles slow and stop in unison. Some state motor vehicle laws require this dingy towing braking system and some don’t. Regardless, anyone who wants assurance that their motorhome and toad will safely stop at all times, needs this essential towing gear. 

What Flat Towing is NOT

Flat towing does not use a tow dolly. This is when you tow a car behind a motorhome but use a device that keeps the front tires elevated while the rear ones spin. Dolly towing is ideal for cars that cannot be flat towed, but it does cause the rear tires to wear down faster. Parking is also difficult with a rig like this. 

Flat towing is not the same thing as towing with a car trailer (a dolly). This motorhome car towing method attaches the dolly to the back of your motorhome and keeps the rear vehicle off the road entirely. It takes a bit more effort to connect the hitch and park your vehicle, but this format enables you to protect the tires. It’s also a bit easier for reverse steering when you travel with a car trailer.

Example of tow dolly towing behind a motorhome. (Image: @DonDee, iRV2 Forums Member)
Example of tow dolly towing behind a motorhome. (Image: @DonDee, iRV2 Forums Member)

You’ll have lots of options when you want to choose the best cars for flat towing. But if you want to keep your existing vehicle and it’s not compatible with this format, you can always try one of the alternatives mentioned above.

Qualities to Look for in a Flat Tow Car

If you would like to move forward with flat towing behind a motorhome, now it’s time to narrow down the type of tow vehicle that you want. Plenty of cars and trucks can be flat towed  without any issue, so you have a wide range of choices. But there are a few key qualities you should look for during your selection process. 

1. Manual vs Automatic transmission

First of all, what type of transmission does the vehicle have? Almost all cars with a manual transmission can be flat towed without any issue. This is great news for people who already have older vehicles that they want to use as cars for flat towing. But manual transmissions are becoming few and far between these days, so you may not have a ton of new options available to you. 

On the other hand, automatic transmissions are much more accessible. Almost every modern vehicle has an automatic transmission. However, not all of them are safe for flat towing. You may need to install new aftermarket equipment to make it better suited for towing. This could include gear like driveshaft decouplers and lubrication pumps. 

Check your owner’s manual to see if there are any recommendations about towing options. Sometimes the manufacturer will recommend a certain format that will give you the best results. 

2. Drivetrain

Next up, look at the drivetrain for the vehicles you’re interested in. The best cars for flat towing are those with rear-wheel drive (RWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) with a manual transfer case that allow you to put the car in neutral. They will ensure that your vehicle will move forward smoothly without any friction coming from the front wheels. Fortunately, there are lots of cars and trucks that come with these drivetrains. Some can even switch back and forth!

Some cars can never be flat towed. Autos with “Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs)” and many front-wheel drive cars are poor choices because their engine needs to be running in order to lubricate the transmission system.

3. Size and Weight

Finally, consider the size of cars for flat towing. You might be tempted to tow a large truck or van behind your motorhome because of the extra space they can provide. But sometimes, compact vehicles like a Honda CR-V are better. They add less length to your rig, you get better gas mileage because they are usually more fuel efficient, and they can increase your parking options. 

If the goal is to carry an extra car for trips around the city, you don’t usually need a large model. The length and weight may also factor into your decision. All motorhomes have a maximum towing capacity, so make sure that any car you choose falls within these guidelines.

How to Find the Best Cars for Flat Towing Behind a Motorhome

With all these factors in mind, you can move forward in your search to find the best towable car. Luckily, there are lots of options on the market! Be sure to check your existing vehicle’s eligibility first. You might be able to save money by using what you have. But if you’re interested in buying a new vehicle, you have a lot of great models to consider, from city-friendly cars to off-road pickup trucks. Our friends at carry the most current flat towing vehicle list. 

The eligibility of these ideal flat tow vehicles will vary based on their specific model year, trim, and manufacturing year. If you already own a car that aligns with one of these brands, don’t move forward until you check its specifics. Some year models are safe for flat towing, while others are not. 

Be sure to look up the details of each new vehicle before you make a purchase. You can also check directly with the seller to find the best cars for flat towing. As long as you do a bit of research, you’ll be able to find lots of great car options and towing bars that work for them. Who knows? You might already have the perfect vehicle sitting in your garage!

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