Can You Tow Your Car 4 Down?

towing a car RV

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With two wheeled tow dollies and four wheeled trailers, almost any car can be towed behind an RV, as long as the weight of the car plus the weight of the trailer or tow dolly doesn’t exceed the motor home’s recommended towing capacity. But towing wth a dolly or trailer isn’t very popular; first, there’s the expense of purchasing and maintaining a trailer or dolly, then there is the storage space those additional conveyances require when not in use. Also, there is the extra work needed to get the towed vehicle on and off of the dolly or trailer.

The alternative is flat towing, or 4 down towing. This involves attaching a tow bar to a suitable car, allowing the car to roll along behind the motorhome on its own four tires. Years ago, finding a car suitable for flat towing wasn’t difficult, as most cars and trucks with a manual transmission could be towed four down, as well as 4×4 vehicles with a manual transfer case. But things have changed; today’s electronic transmissions and front wheel drive, and modern day four wheel drive systems require advance research when selecting a flat towed car for your motorhome.

Towing a car “four wheels down” or flat towing, has a lot of advantages, and is 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 with your motor home 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 safely scout out new locations, without risking getting stuck with your motorhome in a difficult turn around, or deeply rutted dirt road.

Towing a 4×4 with all wheels down is generally the best. That is why you see a lot of Jeeps and other 4×4’s being towed. The best tow vehicle is one that 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 is, 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 to be 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 check with the dealership or manufacturer, for the towing procedure, such as, which gears to tow in.

Most 4WD vehicles with a manual transmission, manual transfer case and manual lock out 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 will need a coupling device on the rear drive shaft to tow it safely.

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

A Toyota, for example, makes several vehicles that would seem ideal for flat towing, such as the Land Cruiser. While these vehicles are great for tackling rough terrain, Toyota’s four wheel drive trucks and SUVs don’t cut it comes to 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, “and Toyota’s manual transmission vehicles are not all designed the same. Some require a continuous operation of a transmission pump, to keep 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 being lubricated, unless the vehicle’s engine is running. “Severe transmission damage can occur if they are 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”.

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

The best way to make sure a vehicle is OK to be flat towed is to check the owner’s manual. Every auto maker should clearly state in every model’s manual, whether or not it can be towed four down, or whether it must be hauled on a trailer, or 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, but these devices can be expensive, as well as difficult to install and maintain. And if they are not used correctly, the engine or drive train of your car or truck could be damaged while the vehicle is being towed. But, if you already own a vehicle you would like to flat tow, but it isn’t factory suitable for flat towing, many RV dealerships and repair shops can order and install de-couplers, lubrication pumps and other devices to make your car flat towable. But if you are looking for a towable vehicle, it is best to go for one that is 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 the “Park” position, and the transfer case in “Neutral.”

Most vehicles have steering locks triggered by the ignition switch, and the key must be in the ignition, with the ignition switched to the accessory position in order 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 tow car with the RV crowd, 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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