To tow your vehicle to your motorhome, you don’t necessarily have to buy trailers or dollies. With flat towing, there is only a minimal amount of gear that you have to buy and work that you have to do.
However, flat towing has plenty of intricacies that you may be unaware of. This material’s goal is to address them. Plus, we’ll provide you with a list of cars that can be flat towed.
What is flat towing?
There are many methods of towing vehicles, with three primary ways being tow dolly towing, trailer towing, and flat towing.
When flat towing – also sometimes alternatively called dinghy towing, with dinghy behind the vehicle that is towed – all four wheels of the towed vehicle are on the ground, rolling as you drive the towing vehicle. Most often, flat towing is done with an RV.
Flat towing is a less popular towing option than trailer or dolly towing, but it has been seemingly gaining popularity over the last years due to simplicity and space concerns.
Pros & cons of flat towing
When deciding whether to go for flat towing, an important thing to understand is what the advantages of flat towing over other methods of towing are. In reality, there are no towing methods that are outright better than the others – every way has advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s begin with the pros. Flat towing has the following two advantages:
- Flat towing is storage-efficient. When flat towing, you aren’t using any towing dollies or trailers that take up quite a lot of room. All the hardware used in flat towing is much more compact than that used in other types of towing.
- Flat towing is more convenient. Towing and unhitching a vehicle is quicker than with other types of towing. The only thing you need to do is to uncouple the vehicle – since it already is on all four wheels, you could drive it right away without too many alterations to the vehicle.
On the other hand, flat towing has some notable disadvantages:
- The need to modify the vehicle. Depending on the vehicle model, you may or may not need to do some modifications to it in order to flat tow it.
For safe and convenient flat towing, you may (and probably will) need to drill mounting hardware into the vehicle’s front bumper, driveshaft decouplers, auxiliary brakes, and whatnot. In the end, you do get a space-efficient solution, but preparing a vehicle for flat towing often requires a plentitude of time-consuming modifications.
- Relatively high cost. All those modifications we mentioned above do cost money. Often, it is cheaper to go for a dolly or a towing trailer than to prepare your vehicle for flat towing. This depends on what exactly a vehicle lacks, so flat towing some models may be much more cost-efficient than others.
- Not every vehicle can be flat towed. Possibly the biggest downside of flat towing is that not every car is suitable for it. You can dolly or trailer tow pretty much any vehicle, but not every vehicle can be flat towed.
A vehicle’s ability to be flat towed is a very crucial thing to consider, and we’d like to examine it a little more in depth below.
What determines if a vehicle can be flat towed?
So what determines if a vehicle can be flat towed? The answer to this question lies in the transmission of the vehicle. To be more precise, the lubrication of the transmission is what plays a crucial role in a vehicle’s ability to be flat towed.
When you are pulling a vehicle flat-towed, its drive wheels are rolling along the highway. In its turn, the wheels rotate the driveshaft, the component that delivers power from the engine to the wheels. And if the driveshaft isn’t being lubricated while the vehicle is being flat towed, then severe transmission damage can and most likely will occur.
The problem here lies in the fact that some vehicles rely on lubrication pumps to lubricate the transmission and the driveshaft. Needless to say, when the vehicle’s engine is off, the pump isn’t going to run, and the transmission isn’t going to be lubricated.
In the end, even though your vehicle may roll along the highway just fine, it isn’t necessarily suitable for flat towing.
Depending on the specific vehicle model, there are some other things that may not allow you to flat tow your car. For example, some vehicles have steering locks triggered by the ignition switch. So unless the engine is running, the vehicle’s front wheels won’t turn.
Many cars can be flat towed after some aftermarket modifications like transmission lube pumps. However, you probably shouldn’t expect as much reliability from a modified vehicle as from a vehicle that is designed to be flat towed from the factory.
What are the cars that can be flat towed?
Typically, rear-wheel-drive vehicles that have manual transmission are suitable for flat towing. In addition, some four-wheel drive vehicles can also be flat towed, given that they have a manual transfer case that can be placed in neutral.
A few vehicles with automatic transmissions can also be flat towed with their transfer cases in neutral and transmissions in the park position.
As you could have noticed, there are no specific guidelines on which vehicles can be flat towed and which cannot. Every car manufacturer has its own transmission and lubrication design, and a Toyota vehicle with an auto won’t be the same as a Ford vehicle with an auto.
The only way for you to definitely find out whether a vehicle is suitable for flat towing or not is checking its manual. Manufacturers usually include specific recommendations for towing in their vehicle’s manuals, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you to find out whether your vehicle is flat towable or not.
If you don’t have a vehicle yet or are planning to buy one, contact the manufacturer to find out whether the desired model can be flat towed or not.
Now, for some reference, we’d like to introduce you to vehicles that can indeed be flat towed.
Cars that can be flat towed
There are plenty of vehicles on the market that can be flat towed, so there certainly isn’t a shortage of car options for those who want to use this method of towing.
Here is a list of some flat-towable cars from various manufacturers:
|Malibu||Auto||Only 1.5-liter models without active shutters can be towed.|
|Silverado 1500 4WD||Auto||Only models with a two-speed transfer case that have a 4WD Low setting and a neutral position.|
The ignition needs to be kept in ACC to keep the steering column unlocked.
|Silverado 2500 HD 4WD||Auto|
|Silverado 3500 HD 4WD||Auto|
|Spark||Auto/manual, towable with manual||The transmission needs to be shifted to neutral and ignition to ACC.|
|500||Auto/manual, towable with manual||The transmission must be in neutral position.|
|C-MAX Hybrid||Auto||The transmission needs to be shifted to park. The engine must be started and allowed to run for 1 minute at the beginning of each day.|
Then, the transmission needs to be placed in neutral and the ignition shifted off.
|Expedition/Expedition MAX 4WD||Auto||The four-wheel-down towing feature needs to be engaged, and the transfer case needs to be in neutral position.|
|Explorer 3.5L Duratec AWD/FWD||Auto||At the beginning of each day and once every 6 hours thereafter, the engine must be allowed to run for 5 minutes.|
With the engine running and your foot on the brake, the transmission needs to be shifted to drive, then to reverse, and finally back to neutral.
Then, the negative cable should be disconnected from the battery.
|Explorer 3.5L EcoBoost 4WD||Auto|
|Edge 3.5/2.7L EcoBoost AWD/FWD||Auto|
|F-150 4WD||Auto||The transfer case needs to be placed in neutral and the Four-Wheel-Down feature engaged.|
|Fiesta||Auto/manual, flat towable with both||Auto transmission models: the ignition needs to be switched on, the transmission placed to neutral, and the ignition switched back off.|
Then, the negative cable needs to be disconnected from the battery.
Manual models: the transmission must be in neutral.
|Focus 2.0 L, except ST|
|Fusion Hybrid||Auto||Release the parking brake and place the car in the Stay-In-Neutral mode.|
Allow the engine to run for a few minutes at the beginning of each day and every 6 hours thereafter.
While the engine is running and your foot is on the brake, shift into drive, then into reverse, and then back into neutral.
Re-enable Stay-In-Neutral before continuing to tow.
|Fusion Hybrid Energi||Auto|
|HR-V||Manual||Shift the transmission to neutral, release the parking brake, and turn the ignition switch to ACC to keep the steering wheel unlocked. Repeat every 8 hours.|
|Cherokee 4WD||Auto||Only models with two-speed transfer units. The transfer unit needs to be in neutral and the transmission in parking position.|
|Grand Cherokee||Auto||Only 4WD models with Quadra-Drive II and Quadra-Trac II. The transfer unit needs to be in neutral and the transmission in parking position.|
|Wrangler JK/JK Unlimited||Auto/manual, flat towable with both||Auto transmission models: transmission in park position.|
Manual transmission models: transmission in gear, not in neutral.
The transfer case needs to be in neutral position.
|Forte LX||Auto/manual, flat towable in manual||–|
|MKT 3.5L EcoBoost/3.7L Duratec||Auto||At the beginning of each day and once every 6 hours thereafter, allow the engine to run for 5 minutes.|
With the engine running and your foot on the brake, shift the transmission to drive, then to reverse, and finally back to neutral.
Then, disconnect the negative cable from the battery.
|MKX||Auto||Release the parking brake and place the car in its Stay-In-Neutral mode.|
Allow the engine to run for a few minutes at the beginning of each day and then every 6 hours.
While the engine is running and your foot is no the brake, shift into drive, then into reverse, and then back into neutral.
Re-enable the Stay-In-Neutral mode before continuing to tow.
|Navigator 4X4||Auto||The optional Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package with the 2-speed transfer case is necessary.|
|370Z Coupe/Roadster||Manual||After towing the vehicle for 500 miles, allow the engine to run for 2 minutes with the transmission in neutral.|
|Sentra NISMO||The transmission needs to be in neutral. After 500 miles of towing, allow the engine to run for 2 minutes with the transmission still in neutral.|
|Sentra S/SR Turbo|
|1500 4WD||Auto||The manual and electronic transfer cases both need to be in neutral.|
If the transmission is manual, it must be placed in gear. If auto, the transmission must be in park
|Corolla iM||Manual||Shift the transmission to neutral. Turn the engine switch to Accessory Mode or to ACC. Make sure that all powered devices are off and release the parking brake.|
After towing, allow the engine to run idle for at least 3 minutes.
|Corolla SE 6MT|
|Yaris Hatchback 3-door/5-door/iA|
This isn’t a comprehensive list, and you should consult the manufacturer before making a purchase to determine whether or not the desired vehicle can be flat towed.
Also, note that each vehicle has some specific procedures to be followed for flat towing. To ensure that the vehicle is handled properly when towed, consult the owner’s manual of your vehicle to learn exactly what you should do before flat towing.
Now, we’d like to dive in the things to keep in mind with flat towing so that you get an idea of what you should and should not do when flat towing your vehicle.
Things to keep in mind when flat towing your vehicle
Running the engine from time to time
Some vehicles require special stopping procedures either after covering some distance or after a set time period has elapsed. Some cars don’t require any special procedures at all, but if your car’s manual says that you must allow the engine to run once every 6 hours, for example, you should do it.
You may think that overfilling the transmission before towing may circumvent this requirement, but it actually won’t. The reason for this is that the problem is caused by lack of oil circulation rather than by lack of a lubricant. So don’t try to bypass the instructions and be “smart” about your car.
Wheel steering locks & battery power
In some vehicles, you are required to place the ignition switch in its ON position to unlock the steering. Aside from that, when the ignition is on, power is applied to various systems in the vehicle. During a long day of towing, this may lead to a significant discharge of the battery.
Manufacturers give various tips and instructions on preventing battery discharge. Mostly, manufacturers require that you remove one or more fuses from the vehicle while towing. The negative cable is also removed due to this reason. It may also be possible for your vehicle to be charged from the motorhome while towing.
By the way, this is also the reason why you need to switch all of the vehicle’s power equipment off during the ride. Obviously, this is done in order to preserve charge in the battery.
Things to consider before flat towing your vehicle
After getting yourself a motorhome and a flat-towable vehicle, you probably aren’t ready for the towing just yet. Before actually setting off for your journey, there are some things that you need to keep in mind. Those things are your RV’s hitch receiver, your tow bar, the vehicle’s baseplates, and auxiliary brakes.
Let’s go over them one by one.
First and foremost, check the rating of the hitch receiver on your motorhome to make sure that it is suitable for the loads you are planning to tow. If the hitch receiver has a lower than necessary rating, do not attempt to flat tow your vehicle.
However, if you’ve chosen a correct motorhome and vehicle, you shouldn’t have to worry about towing load.
Another thing to keep in mind with hitch receivers is their height. The height of hitch receivers in motorhomes rarely matches that of the vehicle, due to which it is often necessary to use a drop receiver for level towing.
If you need to install a drop receiver on your motorhome, make sure that it also has the required load rating.
The hitch receiver of motorhomes is connected to the towable vehicle’s baseplate with a tow bar. There are two types of tow bars – A-frame and self-aligning.
Designed to fit a limited number of baseplates, an A-frame tow bar is a cheaper option. In their turn, A-frame tow bars are available in folding and solid styles, with the folding design working with a wider range of vehicles.
Self-aligning tow bars fit a much wider range of vehicles, but they are also more expensive. There are two kinds of self-aligning tow bars – coach-mounted and dinghy-mounted. People usually prefer coach-mounted units since they have a lower risk of damage when not in use.
Choosing a proper baseplate for your vehicle is perhaps the most crucial step to take when preparing it for dinghy towing. Each vehicle is going to require a baseplate designed for it specifically. When choosing a baseplate, it is essential to keep in mind the brand, model, and manufacture year of your vehicle.
Selecting the right baseplate isn’t everything though. Installation may also have its intricacies.
On some vehicles, the bumper covering (the fascia) needs to be removed temporarily in order to allow the installation of the baseplate. You may even need to do some minor drilling or trimming of the grille, air dam, or whatnot.
Modern baseplates are pretty well-adapted to the vehicles they are designed for, so you may not even need to modify anything. But be prepared to do some alterations to your vehicle nonetheless.
In all 50 states, it is required that the dinghy be connected to the hitch receiver with properly rated safety cables. The safety chains or cables need to be crossed under the tow bar and secured to the hitch receiver. In addition, the cables need to be long enough to allow full turning without binding, as well as should not drag when slack.
Tail & brake lights along with turn signals are mandatory in all 50 states, so wiring the dinghy to your motorhome’s lights is another thing you will have to do. It’s fairly easy, and you should be able to find guides on how to do it online.
For cases where modifications to the original wiring of the vehicle are undesirable, removable towing lights become a good option. Most removable lights rely on magnets, though some of them are affixed to the dinghy via suction cups. After installing such lights on your dinghy, you just run a cable from the lights to the connector on the motorhome’s hitch receiver.
Another thing that you will probably need to install auxiliary brakes. Installed on the dinghy and connected to the RV, auxiliary brakes engage when the brakes in the motorhome are applied.
In the vast majority of states, there is a maximum towing weight set by law, above which the use of auxiliary braking systems is mandatory. This number is usually somewhere around 4,000 pounds. A few states instead specify a stopping distance that the auxiliary brakes must have.
Whether or not you will have to install auxiliary brakes will depend on the state. However, since the 3,000-4,000-pound mark is easy to exceed, you probably should install auxiliary brakes on your dinghy anyway. Besides, if traveling across states, you will have to ensure that your RV complies with their regulations, so it’s a good idea to have auxiliary brakes just in case.
Now, you should know everything in order to decide whether or not to switch to dinghy towing. It definitely has some great benefits, but not every vehicle is suitable for it.
But if you do have a flat towable vehicle and an RV that can tow it, you shouldn’t have any problems with flat towing.