Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pulling the Toad

I wrote this post for those readers interested in more details on what's involved with towing our car behind our camper.

This business of towing a car with all four of it's wheels on the ground can be complicated and requires some preparation and planning. Readers of this blog know that we started our endeavor with Dar driving the car separately, following the camper wherever it went. This is not an ideal situation. Not only because this requires fueling two running engines, but it's just not as much fun traveling separately. When you turn the corner and get that sudden view of the mountains or Lake Michigan or whatever, there's an added sense of enjoyment when it's experienced together. So pulling the car, after an initial period of familiarization with driving the camper, was always part of the plan.

The "together but separate" phase ended a week or so ago when all the hardware for towing was installed on the camper and the car. I thought I'd use this post to explain all the gear and what the process is like to get it all connected and working.

First, the vehicle that you're going to tow is called, among RVer's, "The Toad". Get it? towed... toad? Our Toad is an 8 year old Chevrolet S-10 Blazer -- not worth much but if we're going to have problems or wreck something I'd rather we do it to this thing than a new car.

The toad must be deemed "towable" by it's manufacturer or an authority on the subject. Most cars aren't designed to be pulled down the highway with their engines and lubrication systems turned off. Only a few vehicles are towable right from the factory: most 4WD Jeeps and some older-style 4WD's from other manufacturers are among them. Our old Blazer is one that fit's the bill. Almost any other car can be towed but only after an additional lubrication pump or some kind of drive-line uncoupler is added.

Then a towbar system must be purchased and installed. The towbar itself is a beefy "V" shaped affair that connects to the camper at one point, the hitch receiver, and to the toad at two points. The two places it attaches to the toad are called the baseplate or brackets, and these must be securely installed to assure a solid fail-safe connection between the camper and the frame of the toad.

A wiring harness must also be installed to connect the lights, brake lights, and turn-signal lights of the camper with the same lights on the toad. Just as on a trailer, proper lighting is necessary for safety and is required by law.

Then, a braking system must be installed on the toad, again, for safety and as required by laws in most states. We chose an electronic system that senses deceleration and manually pushes the brake pedal when needed. Because the motor of the toad isn't running, there are no "power brakes", but it pushes hard enough that it does provide noticeable braking power. So when the brakes are applied in the camper the deceleration is sensed by the system in the toad which decides whether the deceleration is greater than a pre-set amount, and if it is, applies the toad's brakes to help the whole rig come to a stop.

Of course, a couple beefy safety cables are hooked between the camper and the toad, as required by law. In the unlikely event that the towbar or it's connections fail, the safety cables are there to keep the toad connected to the camper and not going off on it's own, totally uncontrolled. Then, there's a "break-away device", which comes into play in the even more remote event that the towbar fails AND the safety chains fail, and the toad is now going off on it's own. When the toad separates from the camper altogether, this device activates the toad's braking system, applies the brakes and stops the vehicle -- hopefully before too much damage is caused to other persons or property.

All this gear takes us about 10 or 15 minutes to hook up and make operational every time we're pulling the toad. Our limited experience so far is good. The toad is barely noticeable to the driver of the camper, who really values the rear-view camera as it's the only way to keep tabs on that little car behind the big ol' bus. The toad tracks mostly within the turning radius of the camper so, except for maybe really tight turns, it's not necessary to allow extra turning room for the toad. Oh, and one more thing... the toad should NEVER be backed when connected to the camper. Very bad things can happen to the toad's steering and suspension systems if backed up. So far, I haven't gotten us into a situation where backing is necessary while towing. When it happens, and it will happen I'm told, you gotta' un-connect and re-connect the toad after getting pointed in the right direction.

None of this is cheap. Our towing system is worth about the same as our old Blazer. But most of it is transferable to our next car whenever that happens.

So that's my primer on pulling the toad.

T