What Is Flat Towing?
Flat towing, also know as dingy towing or four wheel towing is when the vehicle you are towing has all 4 wheels on the ground behind your RV.
Flat towing is one of the most popular ways to tow a vehicle behind an RV. I would say 90% of the RV’s I’ve seen on the road are flat towing a vehicle. It’s nice to have a secondary mode of transportation when you travel with an RV, especially if you like to visit national parks, and flat towing is one of the easiest ways to bring a car with you on your travels.
The reason people choose flat towing over dolly towing (having two wheels on a small trailer or “dolly”) is it’s fast and easy to hook up and unhook, there’s nothing to store, better tracking, and if you get in a tight backing situation you can remove the tow vehicle and get more room to maneuver.
In this guide, I’ll go over the basics and cover everything you need to know about flat towing a vehicle behind your RV. I’ll include what you’ll need to start flat towing, and talk about the pros and cons. Keep in mind that I am not a mechanic and this guide is meant to give you the basic information on flat towing to help you decide if it’s right for you. If you want to get your vehicle set up for flat towing I suggest having a mechanic install the main components.
What Vehicles Can Be Flat Towed Behind An RV?
The first and most important part of flat towing is making sure your vehicle is flat tow compatible. Not every car has the ability to be flat towed, and towing a car that isn’t meant to be towed on all four wheels could destroy the transmission and be very costly. To be towed the vehicle must have a transmission disconnect and steering lockout override.
The easiest way to check if your vehicle is flat tow compatible is to check the owner’s manual. It should tell you in the towing section.
The company that has the best flat towing features in most of its vehicles and the most popular choice for RVers is Jeep. Most Jeep Wranglers, Cherokees, and Gladiators can be flat towed, that’s why you see so many of them behind RVs.
Common vehicles that can be flat towed are:
- Jeep Wrangler
- Jeep Cherokee
- Jeep Gladiator
- Ford F-150
- Ford Edge ST
- Ford Escape Hybrid
- Dodge Durango
- Honda CR-V
- Chevrolet Colorado
- Chevrolet Spark
- Mini Cooper
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Chevrolet Sonic
- GMC Terrain
- GMC Canyon and more…
Always check the owner’s manual even if you own one of these specific cars because the flat towing capabilities can also vary by year and specific model.
What You Will Need To Flat Tow Behind An RV
While it’s easy in theory, flat towing does require a bit of prep. It’s more than just hooking up a car to a tow bar behind your RV and you will need more than just a tow bar.
What You Need To Flat Tow Behind An RV
- Tow Bar
- Base Plate
- Lighting System
- Braking System
- Safety Cables
- Rock Shield (optional)
- Mud Flaps (optional)
The tow bar is the thing that connects the towed vehicle to the RV. The bar attaches to the hitch insert on the back of an RV and has arms that stretch out and connect to the installed base plate on the car.
Tow bars come in lots of different budget ranges and can be really fancy or very simple. I cover everything you need to know about the different kinds of tow bars in this article here (click to view).
The base plate is the metal insert that will go on the front of the vehicle you will be towing. Base plates and tow bars go hand in hand. You need to make sure you get a base plate that is compatible with the brand of tow bar you get. In my tow bar article (click to view) I include a list of the base plates that go with what tow bar and the compatible vehicles.
Base plates aren’t super difficult to install but they may require some drilling. If you’re not comfortable taking apart the front bumper of your vehicle I would suggest having a mechanic install the base plate for you, you can also have the wiring done at the same time for the brakes and lighting which I’ll talk about next.
The car you are going to be flat towing has to have lights so people know when you are braking and turning. There are two kinds of lighting systems: hardwired and auxiliary.
Hardwired is when you use a wiring kit to connect the lights in your vehicle to the RV so the flat towed car will use its own taillights to match the RV. Some people hardwire their cars themselves using kits like these (click to view on Amazon) but you can also have a mechanic do it when they install the baseplate. If you aren’t familiar with connecting diodes and the electrical system of a car I suggest having a pro take care of it.
Another option is to use magnetic brake lights (click to view on Amazon) that are placed on top of your tow vehicle and use a long wire to connect to your RV. These are a lot easier to install and a good option if you are on a budget or don’t want to mess with the wiring in your vehicle. I recommend this method if you aren’t planning on towing your vehicle a lot or you may be getting a different car to tow in the near future since a hardwired lighting system isn’t removable.
The braking system in a flat towed vehicle is the most complicated part, but the most important. There are two ways you can add brakes to your car: hardwire and auxiliary. If you want to hardwire your brakes so the car brakes when the RV does you definitely will want a knowledgeable mechanic to do it. You have to make sure that’s done right.
Hardwired supplemental/auxiliary brakes are nice because you don’t have to install and remove the auxiliary braking system every time you want to use your car. The only downside is they are normally very complicated to install and it’s recommended to have it done by a professional. They also can’t be transferred to another vehicle if you decide to get a different one.
A portable auxiliary tow vehicle brake system is basically a box that has a mechanical arm you connect to the brake pedal of your car. The braking system will brake when you brake in the RV and it works a lot like a hardwired system would. The huge benefit to it is there is little wiring set up required, it works with hybrid vehicles, and if you decide to get a different car you can simply move the auxiliary braking system to the new one.
Most models come with a little screen that will be in the cab of the RV where you can adjust the brake pressure or manually override the brakes in case the car you are towing starts having problems and it needs to be stopped immediately. Some of these kinds of braking systems even have an alarm on the small cab monitor that will sound if the breakaway cable is activated.
Most auxiliary braking systems also come with a safety break-away like trailers do, which is why they are required in all towed vehicles in some states.
You can read about the best braking systems for flat towing with an RV in this article here (click to view).
Safety chains are required by law whenever you tow anything. You have to have them for trailers and you have to have them for towing cars. Luckily most vehicles that can be flat towed will have a place on the front where you can connect the safety chain and you shouldn’t have to install anything extra.
The only thing you need to make sure of is you get heavy duty enough chains for the size of vehicle you will be towing and the right length for the kind of tow bar you use. It’s fairly universal though and good safety chains like these by Blue Ox (click to view on Amazon) should work fine for most flat tow setups.
Rock Shield (Optional)
Another thing you may want to consider getting for your flat tow setup is a rock shield. The car you are towing is right behind your RV which more than likely will be flipping up rocks and other road debris. It’s not uncommon for cars that get towed to get a little damaged after a long trip. In worst case scenarios you may even get a broken windshield.
It’s not mandatory but getting a rock shield is a good idea, especially if you travel a lot or have a newer vehicle that you want to keep looking nice.
There are a few kinds of these shields. There’s the kind that goes on the front bumper of the towed car (click to view on Amazon), the kind that fans out under the tow bar (click to view on Amazon), and even a cover that goes over the entire front of the vehicle including the hood and the windshield (click to view on Amazon).
I prefer the one that fans out under the tow bar since it’s a universal fit and works for all flat tow vehicles but if you want something a little more custom the other kinds of shields work as well.
Mud Flaps (Optional)
Another way to protect your car when it’s being towed by an RV is to put mudflaps on the RV. This will help stop some of the rocks and mud from getting kicked up and onto your car.
There are a few different kinds of RV mudflaps. There’s a long one that goes right under the bumper of the RV (click to view on Amazon) or the more traditional kind that goes right behind the rear tires (click to view on Amazon). Whatever kind you decide on make sure you get the right size for your specific RV.
Flat Towing Laws
I touched on this a little bit before in the braking system part of this article but I wanted to give a little bit more information about it.
An auxiliary braking system is required in the vehicle you are going to be towing when it’s over a certain weight. That weight limit is different depending on what state you are in but 90% of states require one if your towed vehicle weighs more than 4,000 lbs some require it when the vehicle weighs even less. To put that into perspective a 4 door Jeep Wrangler weighs around 4,500 lbs. Some states even require it no matter how much the vehicle weighs (Wyoming, North Dakota, & Kansas).
Most states also require a break-away as well, which is something you get from an auxiliary brake system.
If you want to travel in your RV and flat tow a car behind you it’s just going to be safer to always use an auxiliary braking system. It’s better to use the thing that complies with the most laws and is also the safest. In the end, the choice is up to you but I recommend the auxiliary braking system.
Pros & Cons Of Flat Towing Behind An RV
Hopefully, some of this information has helped you learn a bit more about flat towing or dingy towing. The other option is to use a “Dolly” which is a small trailer you drive the front two wheels of the car up on.
To end this article, here are some of the pros & cons of flat towing. If you decide to start flat towing always make sure everything is installed the right way and you are safe out there on the road.
- Fast Set Up & Take Down
- Connections Require Minimal To No Storage
- Better Tracking Behind RV (The Car Will Follow The RV Better Than A Tow Dolly Does)
- Can Remove Completely If Your RV Gets In A Sticky Situation
- Less Budget Friendly Than Dolly Towing
- Only Works With Certain Vehicles
- Battery Can Run Down On Towed Vehicle If It Needs To Be In On Position (Only With Certain Kinds Of Braking Systems)
- May Need To Get New Base Plate If You Switch Vehicles
Have any questions about flat towing behind an RV? Leave a comment below.