How Does a Tow Bar Work?

Whether you're a long-time road-tripper or you're venturing out in your first prolonged RV trip, you'll probably want to bring a car. Wherever you stop, your small car or SUV will make for a great grocery getter around town and will enable you to expand your reach once you've set up camp. Just the thought of trying to navigate a bulky motorhome in a small parking lot or in and out of a tiny campground sends shivers down most enthusiasts' minds. But instead of driving two vehicles cross country, accumulating wear and tear and spending most of your time apart, towing a vehicle gives you the convenience of mobility at your destination while everyone still gets the comfort of the RV on longer drives.

The simplest and easiest of your motorhome towing options is to use a tow bar. Also referred to as four down, referring to the number of wheels that make contact with the pavement, a tow bar is a flat towing mechanism that consists of a tow bar, a base plate installed on the towed -- or "toad" -- vehicle, a wiring kit for lights, safety cables and a supplemental braking system. However, cars with automatic transmissions that cannot be disconnected may not be compatible with this method, so be sure to consult your vehicle's user manual before attempting to tow a vehicle for the first time. Another thing to keep in mind is that while your vehicle is attached, you will not be able to reverse your motorhome, though you can always detach your car if needed.

For those that would rather get some wheels off the ground, other towing options include tow dollies and trailers, which are capable of towing either two or four wheels up. The first, a tow dolly is primarily for front-wheel drive transmissions. Most hatchbacks, sedans and small SUVs fit this profile, and it's as simple as driving up on to the dolly with a vehicle's two front wheels and securing them in place. Always check your vehicles user’s manual for additional information. Dollies typically come with ratchet straps, security chains and safety chains to keep everything locked and in place, and the commonly included ramps help make loading and unloading easier. As with a tow bar, you won't be able to reverse with the dolly and car attached. Various states also require a license plate for your dolly, which can represent a potential added expense.

The third option, a four-wheel up trailer or car hauler, is the most comprehensive yet most cumbersome way to tow a vehicle. Great for all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles, a car hauler typically has two axles and low or no rails along the edges. They also commonly come with loading ramps and either a surge or electric braking system, as well as various straps, ratchets and fastening devices. Unlike the tow bar and tow dolly, a capable driver can reverse with a vehicle attached, though this should not be overdone as accidents and mishaps are common. One significant negative with a car hauler -- and is also partly true for a two-wheel dolly -- is that once you've unhooked your car, you now have a large trailer taking up room at your campsite.

But while the function of dollies and trailers are pretty straightforward, how does a tow bar work? As the smallest and easily stored option, tow bars are great space savers on a cramped campsite, and, used correctly with the right vehicle, they're just as safe and capable as the other options. There are three types of tow bars: the first is a self-aligning motorhome-mounted tow bar; then there's the self-aligning car-mounted tow bar; and, finally, the rigid A-frame tow bar.

The self-aligning motorhome-mounted tow bar is an easy-to-hook-up option that requires just a few moments to attach to a motorhome and toad. Once attached, it's as simple as setting off, and the self-aligning bars will fold and lock into place, safely keeping the toad properly aligned and a correct distance from the RV. Unlike other towing contraptions, this tow bar doesn't need to be aligned and hardly needs any setup at all. Just hitch the two vehicles together and away you go. Aside from attaching the tow bar to your motorhome, you'll also need a vehicle specific base plate or bracket, as well as safety cables and a wiring kit to activate lights on the “toad”, but it's by far the easiest way to get a towing setup going.

The second type of tow bar, a self-aligning car-mounted tow bar, is like a motor-home mounted bar in that once they're quickly hooked up, everything will move into place and optimally lock and balance itself. But since it's mounted on the car, not the motorhome, these tow bars can be handled by one person, though their extra weight can impact your car's fuel efficiency, as well as cause extra wear on your car's suspension, alignment and tires. In an accident, a front-mounted tow bar can also cause significant damage, so it's important to consider your specific needs before deciding on a tow bar.

The final and most basic type of tow bar is an A-frame tow bar. Attaching to the rear of your RV and to the frame of the toad, an A-frame tow bar is a rigid, yet lightweight and cheaper option than a self-adjusting tow bar. Strong and capable of towing cars, an A-frame tow bar is shaped like the capital "A" and features a crossbeam providing support to two arms. Because there's no automatic self-aligning here, connecting an A-frame tow bar is a two-person job. One person holds the tow bar and guides the driver of the tow vehicle to the precise position for hookup. They can be finicky, so patience is a virtue here, and it may very well be best for those infrequent towing needs. Indeed, each time you need to tow a vehicle, this delicate connecting dance must be performed, and those that have graduated to self-aligning bars vow that they'll never return to a basic A-frame tow bar again.

If you're in the market for a towing apparatus, consider a Demco tow bar. They're self-supporting, self-aligning and self-leveling, so you'll never again spend a frustrating morning hooking up a car only to repeat it day after day. Incorporating our patented Easy Trigger Release, which provides flawless hookup and disconnect, Demco tow bars are non-binding and perform at a high level under the harshest of conditions. Designed with arms that move independently, a Demco tow bar is surely the easiest tow bar you'll ever use, and our commitment to strength and safety means you don't have to sacrifice peace of mind with an easy to use tow bar.