Towing Methods and Electrical Connections for an RV Towing a Car

Updated on August 11, 2018
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life and shares his experiences with valuable tips.

It is becoming more and more popular to take an automobile or other form of transportation with you when you use your RV on a trip or even on a short vacation.

When you get to your destination, you may want an extra vehicle for reasons of cost, convenience, and freedom.

The great thing about having a towed vehicle is that when you get to your campsite, you can park your RV, hook it up to the utilities, open the awning, and put out your chairs, tables, and grills, ready for your overall camping experience.

Once you are set up at your campsite, you can then consult the web or your travel books on the local entertainment, dining, and sights to see, and then jump into your car and enjoy what the local area has to offer you.

There are several popular ways to tow your vehicle down the road, each of which has advantages and disadvantages, and here are a few of the most popular.

Three Different Ways to Tow a Vehicle Behind Your Motorhome

The towing capability of your motorhome and the kind of car you have determine your choice of tow vehicle. You must know your rig's specs and weight limits before making a choice.

Method 1. Using a Tow Hitch

Towing your vehicle with all four tires on the road, sometimes called "towing 4-down," is usually the preferred method of towing another vehicle with your RV. With this towing method you will have all four wheels of your "toad" (your towed vehicle) on the road. It's the simplest way to hook up and unhook your automobile from your RV.

You utilize a ball hitch or single-point connection at the RV and a two-point connection system at the towed vehicle. When you are using this system, your vehicle connection can swivel at the RV and you have two stable connections to the front of your towed vehicle, providing a simple yet safe connection system.

Typical tow hitch for RV's towing a vehicle "4-down," with all four wheels on the road
Typical tow hitch for RV's towing a vehicle "4-down," with all four wheels on the road | Source

Advantages of the Tow Hitch

  1. This is the most convenient system for RV drivers, as there is only one hitch or pivot-point connection, and the driver can back the RV up for a few feet with the car still hitched this way, when necessary. I have seen some old-timers actually back their 30+ foot long RV into a campsite with the tow car still hooked up. I, personally just do not have that skill.
  2. After a long day of driving, when you finally get to your campground, you can easily and quickly disconnect your towed vehicle from your RV. and, the next morning's hookup is just as easy. This system requires the minimal physical exertion to connect or disconnect from your RV and should be seriously considered by any camper with physical limitations.

Problems With the Tow Hitch

  1. Most automobiles are front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, and are not designed to be rolling down the road without the engine is running and thus cooling the fluids in the transaxle. A few vehicles can handle this, but most manufacturers do not recommend it. You may end up with overheated fluids and seals, and possibly even permanent damage. But some front-wheel drive vehicles can be towed for several hours, either with the engine running (to keep fluid pumped to the axles) or with the RV driver stopping every 3-4 hours and running the engine for a few minutes to get the lubricants distributed properly.
  2. Some rear-wheel drive vehicles will require the installation of a solenoid switch kit which disconnects the axle in the vehicle in order to avoid similar damage to the transmission and rear-end.
  3. This type of towing, with some vehicles, requires that the vehicle have tow-bar adapters installed onto the front underside of the chassis for a safe connection to the tow-bar and thus to the RV. These adapters are usually designed to match the physical part of the specific automobile to be towed, so you must be sure that you install the right adapter.

How to Tow a Car Behind an RV

Method 2. Using a Tow Dolly to Tow Your Vehicle

The Tow Dolly has been around for years, and it can be rented at almost all truck and car rental companies.

It is essentially a two-wheeled trailer, with a “ball hitch” adapter to mate to your RV.

You drive the front wheels of your car onto the trailer, and then you use the special straps and chains to tie the front wheels onto the trailer bed.

With this system, your front-wheel-drive vehicle's front end is stable on the tow dolly, and your rear wheels are free-wheeling as you go down the road.

Child sitting on a tow dolly.  A motorhome can use a tow dolly to pull a front-wheel drive vehicle that must have one end off of the ground.
Child sitting on a tow dolly. A motorhome can use a tow dolly to pull a front-wheel drive vehicle that must have one end off of the ground. | Source

Advantages of the Tow Dolly

  1. You don't have to install specialized tow-bar adapters on the towed car.
  2. The tow dolly is relatively easy to hook up to the RV, if you are physically capable of lifting it and dragging it over to your RV to hook it up.

Problems With the Tow Dolly

  1. Using a tow dolly is more expensive than to the "toad" or "4-down" method of towing.
  2. Backing up is nearly impossible. The pivot point is so short that the dolly/vehicle combination has an exaggerated response to turns when you try to back the RV up. Because you have two pivot points—the hitch point and the front axle of the car both turn—the car will often go in unpredictable directions when backing up. Almost everyone recommends that if you want to back up, you remove the car from the tow dolly, drive it out of the way, back up the RV/tow-dolly combination, pull to a safe place, and re-connect the vehicle onto the tow dolly.
  3. The loading of the vehicle onto the tow dolly can easily take 20-30 minutes, and a good amount of sweat and physical dexterity as you crawl around under the vehicle and tow dolly tying things down, even if you are in decent physical shape.

How to Tow Your Car on a Tow Dolly

Method 3. Using a Trailer to Tow Your Vehicle

You would not believe what I have seen going down the interstate highways on a trailer towed behind an RV.

Probably the most amazing combination to me was a double-decker trailer with a car on the bottom deck along with a motorcycle, a golf cart, and what looked like four bicycles strapped to the top deck.

How he got that golf cart up there and back down, I do not have a clue.

Some cars must be towed with a trailer because they cannot be towed with the tires on the ground.
Some cars must be towed with a trailer because they cannot be towed with the tires on the ground. | Source

Advantages of Towing With a Trailer

  1. You can get a trailer just about any size you desire, to carry any weight up to your RV's maximum limit.
  2. You do not have to make any mechanical or electrical modifications to your vehicle to tow it.
  3. Once you decide to use a trailer for your vehicle, you can then add other items that you want to use on your trip onto the trailer, along with the vehicle, and open up your limited RV storage areas.

Problems With Towing With a Trailer

  1. A lot of campgrounds do not have extra storage for trailers, and frown upon RVers who show up with a trailer that has to be stored.
  2. You can expect to pay an extra storage fee for your trailer at campgrounds.

You should always call ahead and plan your campground stops if you are towing a trailer, and check on their individual rules concerning trailers.

Picking the Right RV Towing Method

In summary, there are a number of requirements and options that you need to seriously consider when you decide to take a vehicle with you on your RV trip.

In addition to the information above, you need to do some research:

1. Research the popular brands of hitches that are available for your RV, and pick the one that you consider the best for you and your lifestyle and camping preferences.

2. Know your RV's exact towing capacity. Contact the manufacturer, or if they are not available, dig through your owner's manuals, and also check those labels that are glued all over the inside of your RV. In some cases they will list the specific towing data for your rig.

Three Types of Electrical Connectors for Towing and How They Are Wired

With any of these methods of towing, you must have an electrical connection between the RV and the towed vehicle for lights, turn signals, brakes, and so on.

Pre-made cables are available at most camper part stores, as well as kits for wiring into the actual electrical harness of towed vehicles.

Coaches usually have a 6-pin or 7-pin connector mounted near the hitch itself.

Some of the wiring systems are simpler than others, but there are standards for the connectors and wiring.

Below is a short overview of the connections on the different popular electrical connectors.

1. The 4-Pin Towing Connector

The standard 4-pin tow connector is usually used for light towing. It is a flat plastic connector, with three pins either male or female, and the fourth pin the opposite sex.

The connector shown is for the wiring of the towing vehicle. The pins and their uses are listed below.

The 4-Pin Connector is the most commonly used towing electrical connector in the USA.
The 4-Pin Connector is the most commonly used towing electrical connector in the USA. | Source

Function of Pins in 4-Pin Connector

Pin number
Use
Wire Color
1
Ground (male pin)
White
2
Tail lights, license plate light, side lights
Brown
3
Left turn and stop lights
Yellow
4
Right turn and stop lights
Green

2. The 6-Pin Towing Connector

The standard 6-pin tow connector is usually used for towing larger loads. It is a “keyed” round metal connector with the following connections.

The pins are shown from the wiring side of the towing vehicle's connector.

Diagram of wiring point definitions for a standard 6-pin connector
Diagram of wiring point definitions for a standard 6-pin connector | Source

Functions of Pins in 6-Pin Connector

Pin Designation
Function
Color
A (center pin)
12V
red or black
TM (at the guide)
Tail lights
brown (usually)
GD
Ground
white (usually)
LT
Left turn signal
yellow (usually)
RT
Right turn signal
green (usually)
S
Electric brakes. This pin provides a variable voltage to the electric brakes of large tow trailers and campers to help stop them.
blue (usually)

3. The 7-Pin Towing Connector

The standard 7-pin towing connector is used for towing large loads. It is a “keyed” round metal connector with the following connections, shown from the wiring side of the towing vehicle's connector.

The wiring connections for a standard 7-pin connector
The wiring connections for a standard 7-pin connector | Source

Function of Pins in 7-Pin Towing Connector

Pin Designation
Function
Color
1
Ground
white (usually)
2
Electric brakes
blue (usually)
3
Tail lights
green (usually)
4
12V
black (usually)
5
Left turn
red (usually)
6
Right turn
brown (usually)
Center
Auxiliary power or backup lights (can be wired for either)
 

A Quality Electrical Power Adapter for Towing Vehicles

Reese Towpower 74682 7 Way Multi-Plug T-Connector Assembly U. S. Car Replacement Socket OEM
Reese Towpower 74682 7 Way Multi-Plug T-Connector Assembly U. S. Car Replacement Socket OEM

Once, when I had traded cars, I needed to connect my old camper and I purchased this kit. It was actually easy to install and worked great for me.

 

Renting a Car Versus Towing a Vehicle

Sometimes “the trip is not worth the tow.”. Or, in other words, especially if you are taking a short trip to one place and have no plans to run around a lot, you can just leave your car at home, and rent a car to get around. Or, if you don't plan on leaving the campground or camping resort very much, just take taxis when you need to.

I have done the math and even though towing is cheaper than renting a car (believe it or not) if you camp very often, it is a break-even situation if you just use a taxi a couple of times.

If you pack your RV carefully, and plan to stay in the campground or resort exclusively, then you don’t really need the hassle of the hookup, un-hooking, and towing.

In summary, consider what fits your lifestyle plans for your trip and stay. It is your choice to make and live with.

RV Towing and Safety Tips

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Don Bobbitt

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      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Jason- Try this. Tow your car to a large parking lot such as a Walmart. Pull your car straight for 100 feet or so. By this time your tires should be pointing straight. IF not you have a problem. IF the are straight, then alternately do a 180 in each direction, with someone watching that your tires turn in each direction and then back to straight.If, each time your wheels did not turn fully to the left and then fully to the right and then came back to straight, you have a problem with your car. If they did not turn freely in each direction then your "unlocked" front steering is not really free-wheeling.

        One trick I use is; while the tire are straight forward, I tie a white towel to the top-center of the steering wheel. I have a rear camera on my motorhome and I can easily watch it turn left and right as I drive my motorhome through curves. Try it.

        Good Luck, DON

      • profile image

        Jason 

        5 years ago

        I have a 34ft. Rv and a 98 Subaru Legacy L, AWD standard with a hitch and two point connected to the car I got new tires all around, and on a 5,200 mi. trip I had to replace both front tiers, "one blew and the other was in very bad shape." The steering wheel was unlocked the hole time, And battery out of the car. What should I do?

        My E-Mail is wurzburgerjason@gmail.com

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        WillStarr- I started a Google+ community for campers who have questions, about anything to do with camping. It is a community with an archive or "lookup" information and a place where campers can ask each other for advice. Check it out, You might want to help others at one time or another. It is called RV and Camping Help. But, it is only for people who use google mail and or G+.

        DON

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        With all the computers and electronics in today's vehicles, it's best to leave them alone and make all mods independent.

        My dealer is Roger's RV in Glendale, AZ., and he is one of the very best...honest, reliable, fair-priced, and very knowledgeable.

        I'm having a Steer-Safe unit installed tomorrow. It stops that white-knuckle sway caused by passing big rigs, and disasters resulting from front tire blow-outs. I'll let you know the results.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        WillStarr- I love the wiring modification. I wish I had thought of this when I had my Jeep.

        DON

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        The steering lock is mechanical, so you simply turn the key to the accessory position (the first position) to unlock the steering, make sure the transfer case is in neutral, put the transmission in park, and then disconnect the negative battery cable.

        I lock all the doors by hand after I'm done.

        BTW, the turn and brake lights on my Jeep are totally independent of the Jeep's factory system. My RV dealer installs a separate socket and bulb in the taillight housings, and runs wire from them to the wiring plug at the front of the Jeep. That in turn is powered by a patch cord to the RV, so I don't need the battery in the Jeep for my rear signals.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Will Starr- Thanks again for a great comment. It could prove helpful to other people towing Jeep Wranglers.

        Just one question? If you disconnect the battery wire ( Pos or Neg), how does the steering stay locked ON without any power? I thought it was a solenoid thing, but it must be a mechanical lock?

        DON

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Hi Don,

        My Jeep manual has a towing section, and if you are towing any long distance, it says to disconnect the negative battery cable so it won't drain the battery.

        My RV dealer also recommended keyed-alike tow-bar locking pins to keep thieves from easily stealing your toad when you stop, since the keys are conveniently in it!

        The manual also says to put the transfer case in neutral (make sure by putting the transmission in drive and then reverse...there should be no movement) and then put the transmission in park for towing. That keeps the transmission from moving during tow.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Will Starr- Blue Ox is the best high quality brand to use, as far as I am concerned, so great choice.

        Just a note: I know every manufacturers year model is different. But I towed a 2007 JeepWrangler Unlimited and I had a little problem. I had to place the jeep in neutral and keep the key turned on so that the steering would operate during towing. Otherwise the steering would be locked and you could eat a tire very quickly. And, with the key turned ON, I had to stop every 4-5 hours and run the Jeep engine for a half hour or so, to make sure it would start at the end of the day. I suggest that you check if this is a problem with your 2010 Jeep.

        DON

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        I recently installed a Blue Ox tow bar on my Class C, and a base plate on my 2010 Jeep Wrangler unlimited. We pull it with a 29' Jamboree Searcher, equipped with a 460 Ford and a Banks system on an E350. I'm now going to install a Steer-Safe stabilizing system, so the trucks don't blow us around so much.

        Good article.

      • profile image

        wireless tow lights 

        7 years ago

        Got interesting info here! i hope you will also be posting different materials of wireless tow lights. thanks! keep posting!

      working

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