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Recently, a TikTok video went viral — at least in the vehicle-repair world — for depicting the aftermath of a dinghy tow gone horribly wrong. For the record, a “dinghy tow” is when you tow a personal vehicle behind a motorhome or RV.
The video, purportedly shot by a Jeep dealer in the southern U.S., depicted a rather disturbed set of driveline components on a relatively-new Wrangler.
The owner, when hooking up the Jeep behind the RV, apparently forgot to shift the transfer case out of gear and into neutral. It was left in the 4Low setting, with the SUV’s manual transmission set in first gear.
As the Jeep was being towed with all four wheels on the ground – although the use of a two-wheel tow dolly wouldn’t have helped in this situation either – the rotating wheels were spinning the transfer case, transmission, driveshafts, and the engine’s crankshaft at incredibly high speeds. The shop manager figured the engine was spinning at more than 50,000 rpm, well past its redline maximum of 6,600 rpm. The transfer case and the rear section of the crankshaft exploded, destroying everything – transfer case, engine, transmission, and driveshafts – in the process. A preliminary estimate of the damage apparently exceeded $30,000 in parts alone.
Based on early reservation numbers, campgrounds across the country are expected to have a banner year. That means more than a few large-RV owners will be towing along a smaller vehicle to expand their enjoyment of smaller towns, narrower lanes, and normal-sized parking spots.
Three ways to tow
There are basically three ways of taking a smaller ride along behind a large RV. They are flat-towing (all four wheels of the towed vehicle on the ground); dolly towing (using a two-wheeled trailer that carries the front wheels of the towed vehicle); or a car carrier (a double-axle trailer that carries the entire towed vehicle). The most popular is flat-towing, primarily because it avoids the expense and storage problems associated with dollies or carriers.
If you’re thinking of flat-towing behind an RV, check to see if your current ride can be used in such a manner. While it’s unlikely you’ll run into the problems our Jeep owner did, you can do some severe driveline damage if your vehicle isn’t made for flat-towing. Your factory dealership should be able to tell you if your auto is rated.
The right equipment
If it is, then a proper tow-bar kit will need to be mounted to the front. Most good trailer shops have these, and it goes without saying that your RV will need a suitably-rated hitch. You can get wiring kits to let the RV control the signal, brake, and running lamps on the towed vehicle, or go with a set of magnetically-mounted lamps to stick on the rear of the towed vehicle’s roof.
If the vehicle involved is small and light enough, such as a subcompact, and the RV is large enough, you may not need a brake controller that operates the towed vehicle’s brakes from the RV. But if it’s anything larger and heavier, you’ll want to consider getting such a system.
Follow the rules
Most vehicles capable of flat-towing have specific operating instructions issued by the automaker, and they usually require the engine to be started at least once a day when towing, or in some cases, after a predetermined distance has been covered. This ensures the battery charge is maintained, and the fluid circulation systems are protecting their components. Always check the owner’s manual to be sure.