A few safety tips for motorhome owners who take along another vehicle when they travel.
By Bill Hendrix, F761S
Most FMCA members these days tow another vehicle behind their motorhome when they travel, and the majority tow the vehicle with four wheels on the ground. A smaller number of FMCA members opt to use a tow dolly or trailer for towing. Each of these methods offers advantages and disadvantages, and motorhome owners must consider the vehicle to be towed and personal preferences. To accommodate the developing trend of towing four wheels down, a wide variety of tow bars and base plates are available.
Safety should be first and foremost in your mind when you are selecting towing equipment. Remember, have the installation done professionally by an established, reliable shop. Alignment of the tow bar is vitally important to prevent inordinate stress from exerting impact loads on the towing attachments. A level tow bar is best. If the tow bar is more than 3 or 4 inches out of level, use a drop (or rise) receiver to correct it. (Refer to the article titled “Tow Bar Forces And Alignment” in the March 1999 issue of Family Motor Coaching.)
A few basic points should be understood. Most important is to make sure the towing equipment and all the accessories are load-rated for the weight of the vehicle that is being towed. Be sure to conduct regular inspections of the equipment. At the very least, check everything over each spring (or annually) when you are getting the equipment ready for the road. Inspect all the attachment points to make sure all the bolts are in place and are tight. Inspect the base plate, the receiver, and the tow bar for any signs of wear and tear.
All towing equipment should come with a detailed set of instructions. Read and follow these instructions to the letter. If there is something you don’t understand in the instructions, call the provided phone number and speak with a company technician. These folks are very motivated to ensure that their equipment performs safely and satisfactorily.
Choosing a location to hook up the two vehicles is also very important. Ideally, it will be a level, hard surface, out of traffic and congestion, and situated so as not to block traffic or create a hazard to other motorists or to you.
Each person should develop a routine to follow for hooking up the towed vehicle. Most of you already have done this subconsciously, but you need to make it a conscious routine “” a routine that you follow systematically each time you hook up and then reverse the process for unhooking. A written checklist is a good idea, especially for those new to towing.
Here is a suggested hookup procedure that generally will apply to motorhome-mounted tow bars. First, separate and extend the tow bar arms about halfway and lay the ends on the ground. Next, crisscross the safety chains (or cables) and lay one beside each arm of the tow bar. Extend the electrical cord along with the supplemental brake attachment to their appropriate locations. On your signal, the car is driven slowly forward to align the ends of the tow bar arms with their mounting brackets. The car is put in “park” and the engine turned off. At that point, attach the tow bar arms with the cross pins and safety pins. Next, attach the safety chains and secure them. Plug in the electrical cord and affix the supplemental brake attachment. Be sure to step away from the vehicles and then signal for the car to be backed up so as to lock at least one of the tow bar’s arms.
The following procedure will be applicable to most towed-vehicle-mounted tow bars. Drive the car forward to the appropriate distance from the motorhome. Attach the coupler to the ball; latch, lock, and pin the coupler. Back up the towed vehicle to lock at least one of the tow bar’s arms. Then follow the balance of the routine outlined above.
Several states do not require safety chains or cables, but I cannot imagine any responsible, safety-conscious RVer towing without them. I am reminded of an incident in British Columbia when a sport utility vehicle detached itself from a motorhome and went careening through a park and a playground. It was a miracle that nobody was injured.
Supplemental braking is another area for which motorhome owners bear responsibility. Motorhome manufacturers are now making definite statements as to how much weight the motorhome’s brakes will adequately handle. Regardless of the braking capacity, the combination will stop in a shorter distance if the car’s brakes are helping. Educate yourself as to the supplemental braking systems that are available (see “Supplemental Braking” in the July 2003 issue of FMC). Ask for test results of the different products to determine effectiveness.
Another important aspect of hooking up a vehicle for towing is to ensure that you follow the towed vehicle manufacturer’s prescribed instructions to ready the vehicle and the transmission for towing. It would be wise to post these instructions on the vehicle’s sun visor for quick reference, as some vehicles require a precisely sequenced operation.
Before pulling out, test the turn signals, stoplights, and running lights on both vehicles. In addition, I usually stop at the first rest area and do a “walk-around” of the motorhome and towed vehicle “” double-checking all the towing equipment. You may note that I did not suggest using the parking brake during the hookup procedure. I haven’t used the parking brake since I forgot to release it one time before pulling out!
A suggestion for the onlookers: some people get very nervous when someone is looking over their shoulder, and this could cause a tragic mistake. If you come upon someone who is hooking up their towed vehicle, ask if they need help. If your offer is declined, move on. RVers are an accommodating bunch, and assistance is only a few words away.
On the road, I keep the CB radio tuned to Channel 19 and the squelch very tight. If a trucker or fellow RVer notices something awry with our coach or towed vehicle, a close-range call can be heard.
Having another vehicle along certainly can be convenient and add to the enjoyment we glean from our motorhomes, but it is important that we consider safety first and foremost.