Can You Tow Your Car 4 Down?

towing a car RV

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Almost any car can be towed behind an RV with two-wheeled tow dollies and four-wheeled trailers. Be sure the weight of the car plus the weight of the trailer or dolly can’t exceed the motorhome’s recommended towing capacity. But towing with a dolly or trailer isn’t very popular. First, there’s the expense of purchasing and maintaining a trailer or dolly. Second, there’s the storage space those additional conveyances require when not in use. Also, it’s extra work to get the towed vehicle on and off of the dolly or trailer.




Flat Towing

The alternative is flat towing, or 4 down towing. This involves attaching a tow bar to a suitable car, then towing behind the motorhome on its own four tires. Years ago, finding a car suitable for flat towing wasn’t difficult.  This is because most cars and trucks had manual transmissions, and could be towed four down. But things have changed; modern electronic transmissions and front wheel and all wheel drives require advance research when selecting a 4 down tow car.

Towing a car “four wheels down” or flat towing, has a lot of advantages. It’s popular with those who live fulltime in their motorhome. Flat towing has little to no effect on the gas mileage, handling, or overall wear and tear of your motorhome. Towing a car can give you the freedom to go shopping and sightseeing without having to take that huge, hard to park house on wheels with you. You can also scout out new locations, without risking getting your motorhome stuck in a difficult situation.

Towing a 4×4 with all wheels down is generally the best. That’s why you see a lot of Jeeps and other 4×4’s being towed. The best tow vehicle can be towed with all four wheels on the ground, is lightweight, and doesn’t register miles on the odometer while being towed. The lighter the tow vehicle, the less wear and tear on the motorhome and towing equipment.

Does your 4×4 vehicle qualify?

The best vehicles are factory approved by the manufacturer for towing behind a motorhome. Check your owner’s manual, or call the dealership or manufacturer. Some vehicles may have limitations, such as a top towing speed, and distance limitations. Check your owner’s manual, or with the dealership or manufacturer, for the towing procedure.

Most 4WD vehicles with a manual transmission, manual transfer case and manual lockout hubs can be towed four wheels down safely, with no problems. If your 4WD has no manual lockout hubs, and/or no manual transfer case, you’ll need a coupling device on the rear driveshaft to safely tow.

Knowing what you can or can not tow four wheels down could save you a lot of money in repairs.

Toyotas Don’t Cut It

Toyota, for example, makes several vehicles that would seem ideal for flat towing, such as the Land Cruiser. While these are great for tackling rough terrain, Toyota’s four-wheel drive trucks and SUVs don’t cut it flat towing.

“It all has to do with transmission lubrication,” says David Lee, a product training and education specialist at Toyota. “No Toyota, Scion or Lexus vehicle with an automatic transmission is suitable for flat towing”, Lee says. “Likewise, Toyota’s manual transmission vehicles are not all designed the same. Some require continuous operation of a transmission pump; this keeps the moving parts lubricated, and those can’t be towed four down”.

“With automatic transmissions and pump dependent manual transmissions, the output shaft is not lubricated, unless the vehicle’s engine is running. Severe transmission damage can occur if they’re towed with the drive wheels rolling down the highway, turning the driveshaft. Or, in the case of a front-wheel drive car, the half-shafts”.

What Can Be Towed 4 Down

Usually, a car or truck can be towed four down if it has rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission. Likewise, a four-wheel drive and a manual transfer case that can be placed in neutral can be towed 4 down. This makes Jeeps and Ram pickup trucks popular as towed vehicles.

The best way to assure a vehicle is OK for flat towing is to check the owner’s manual. Every automaker should clearly state in the owner’s manual, whether or not it can be towed four down. It should also state whether it can be pulled “two-down” on a tow dolly, with the drive wheels off the ground.

 

For a quick overview, Motor Home magazine publishes an annual list of four down towable vehicles. The PDF is available free, back to the year 2000.

 

If your car is not suited for flat towing, there are driveshaft de-couplers and transmission lubrication pumps that can be added to some automatic transmission vehicles. However, these devices can be expensive, as well as difficult to install and maintain. If they are not used correctly, the engine or drive train of your car could be damaged while the vehicle is being towed. But, if you already own a vehicle you’d like to flat tow, but it isn’t suitable, many RV dealerships and repair shops can order and install de-couplers, lubrication pumps and other devices to make your car flat towable. However, if you’re looking for a towable vehicle, it’s best to get one that’s factory ready to be towed 4 down.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Many vehicles that can be towed four down need to have the engine run every 100-200 miles (check the owner’s manual) in order to lubricate the transmission. Some also require the removal of various fuses. There are a number of four-wheel drive trucks with automatic transmissions that must be towed four down with their transmissions in “Park”, and the transfer case in “Neutral.”

Most vehicles have steering locks triggered by the ignition switch. This means the key must be in the ignition, with the ignition switched to the accessory position to unlock the steering wheel.

Don’t assume that since a previous years’ model was towable, that this year’s will also be. For example, the Ford Escape was a popular RV tow car, but it was redesigned in 2013, and is no longer certified to be towed with all four wheels on the ground.

All but eight states require most vehicles being flat towed to be equipped with auxiliary braking systems, that work in coordination with the motorhome’s brakes. These braking systems can be expensive.

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