Flat towing setup with RV and Jeep Wrangler image

Do Not Try to Flat Tow Without This Equipment!

Flat towing a vehicle (also called a toad or dinghy) behind an RV is one of the most ingenious innovations since someone decided to throw wheels under a tiny home. The most common reason for flat towing is basic convenience. Who wants to maneuver a large, unwieldy motorhome through small towns, parking lots, or back roads? I don’t! With flat towing, I can just hook up my car to my RV’s trailer hitch, and when I get to the campsite, disconnect it to go exploring. Easy peasy. But to safely flat tow, your setup must have:
In the following sections, I break down what each of these parts are, what they’re used for, key options when researching the parts, and generally how to use them.Let’s get into it!
Watch Now: What You Need to Flat Tow a Vehicle

Base Plate Kits

What is a base plate kit?

A base plate kit is a set of steel components installed on the front frame of your toad. A base plate has connection points where a tow bar will attach. The other end of the tow bar attaches to your RV's hitch, either by inserting the tow bar's shank into the hitch receiver or a coupler.Base plates install on your toad's frame using as many existing bores as possible without sacrificing the strength or safety of your toad’s frame.Base plate kits are a vehicle-specific flat towing component, and most toads require custom-fitted base plates to specifically fit their frames. There are a few universal base plate kits available, but these kits require a lot of modification to your toad during installation.
base plate installed on vehicle image

How does a base plate kit install?

The ease of installing a base plate depends entirely on your toad. Some vehicles are ready to receive a base plate with little work needed to the front; however, other vehicles may need significant modification to the bumper, grille, or even new bores drilled into the frame to attach the base plates.If you are unsure about your ability to do this work on your own, I 100% recommend having a professional install your base plate kit. This is not a step you want to jury rig.At etrailer, we've installed an innumerable amount of base plate kits, and if we installed it, we filmed it. If you use our base plate kit fit-guide and shop the suggested kits, you can view the installation videos to a get a feel for the install process like the video here.

What are my options when looking at base plate kits?

First narrow your search to only base plate kits that fit your vehicle. Check out our fit guide for base plate kits here. Just enter in your vehicle’s year, make, and model, and our unique-in-the-industry system will display only base plate kits that fit your specific vehicle.When multiple base plate kits are available for a vehicle, the modifications needed to your toad will be nearly the same for each kit. The main differences between kits lie in the drawbar type and the number of frame bracket pieces. Typically, base plates consist of two main parts:
  • Frame bracket(s): Mount directly to the toad's frame
  • Draw bar arms: Provide attachment points for the tow bar
    • Removable arms attach to frame brackets using a pin/clip or twist-lock feature. They create a cleaner look with no visible parts when the arms are removed.
    • Fixed arms are welded to the frame bracket and are visible at all times. They are typically the more economical option.
Different brands offer different base plate styles. Roadmaster offers two styles of base plates, which you can read more about here. Demco offers two different styles, which you can learn more about here. Blue Ox offers a lug-style base plate system, which you can read about here. Finally, etrailer offers a variety of base plate kit options as well. In these articles, you will learn about the differences between styles and why you may want to choose one style over another.

What is a base plate adapter, and do I need one?

While most base plate manufacturers construct products to fit as many applications as possible, it is common to find that your tow bar's manufacturer does not have base plates that can fit your vehicle. Each tow bar manufacturer has a unique type of connection used to secure the tow bar to the base plate arms. Because of this, you may need to purchase an adapter.Roadmaster Base Plates: Some Roadmaster tow bars and base plates use quick-disconnects to attach the tow bar to your vehicle. One set of quick-disconnect brackets attach to the tow bar's crossbar. The set of other brackets attach to the base plate drawbar arms. Both brackets then interlock with one another and are secured with a linchpin.Blue Ox Base Plates: The drawbar arms have two lugs that interlock with the lugs on the ends of the tow bar arms. They are then secured in place with a pin and clip.Demco Base Plates: Demco classic base plates have drawbar arms with two-pronged ends that slide around the tow bar arm extensions and secure in place using a pin and clip. Demco tabless base plates have drawbar arms that stay attached to your tow bar's arms and twist and lock into place in the base plates.etrailer Base Plates: etrailer classic base plates have drawbar arms with two-pronged ends that slide around the tow bar arm extensions and secure in place using a pin and clip. etrailer tabless base plates have drawbar arms that stay attached to your tow bar's arms and twist and lock into place in the base plates.Example: If you have a Blue Ox tow bar and Roadmaster crossbar-style base plates, then the Blue Ox triple-lug ends on the tow bar arms will not work with your base plates. The adapter you need will have one side that connects with the lugs on the Blue Ox tow bar and one side that has quick disconnects for use with Roadmaster base plates. If you need an adapter, but aren't sure which type, consult the table here to help you choose.The key here is making sure your base plate kit and tow bar are compatible with one another. Generally, if you purchase a tow bar and base plate kit from the same manufacturer, they will be compatible with each other, but that is not always the case. You may end up needing to purchase a base plate adapter kit.
Roadmaster Base Plates
Blue Ox to Roadmaster Base Plate Adapter
Blue Ox to Roadmaster Base Plate Adapter

Tow Bars

What is a tow bar?

The tow bar is the most recognizable part of a flat towing system. It links your toad to your RV for safe flat towing. The function of the tow bar is the same regardless of model or manufacturer. The differences between tow bars lie in the type of mount (how it’s installed), towing capacity (how much weight it can tow), and basic design (functionality).Beyond those aspects, there are a wide variety of features associated with the various models, all of which are discussed in detail in our Roadmaster, Blue Ox, and Demco tow bar feature articles.
Flat Tow a Vehicle - Tow Bar Setup

How does a tow bar install?

The primary difference between tow bars is how they attach to both your RV and toad.RV-Mounted Tow Bars: This type of tow bar inserts into your motorhome's hitch receiver, secured with a hitch pin and clip. That’s it. As you’ll understand when you read about vehicle-mounted tow bars, there is significantly less work that you must do to set up an RV-mounted tow bar.Using a locking hitch pin can secure the tow bar to your receiver, so you don’t have to worry about someone running off with your expensive tow bar.The benefits of an RV-mounted tow bar include:
  • Sturdy, stable connection - Because you don’t have a coupler on this style of tow bar, there’s one less point of potential uncoupling from your RV.
  • Safe, secure storage - Once you’ve installed your RV-mounted tow bar in your RV’s hitch receiver, it can be folded up to remain on the rear of your RV for storage. And it’s easy to keep safe by using a locking hitch pin.
  • Less hassle - Because your tow bar stays on the back of your RV, this also equates to less hassle. You won’t have to strain yourself, lugging your tow bar out of storage every time you want to flat tow.
  • Easy to adjust - As I’ll discuss later, your tow bar needs to be practically parallel to the ground. With a hitch receiver high-low adapter, you can easily get your tow bar level.
Hitch-Mounted Tow Bar
RV-Mounted Tow Bar
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bars: Vehicle-mounted tow bars were the first type introduced to the towing and RVing market. They function the same as an A-frame trailer, attaching to the trailer hitch ball on your RV with an integrated coupler. With the ease and popularity of RV-mounted tow bars, most manufacturers are moving away from this style of tow bar.In most cases, I prefer RV-mounted tow bars over vehicle-mounted tow bars, but the main reason why you may want a vehicle-mounted tow bar is because it's budget-friendly. Tow bars are pricey, but vehicle-mounted tow bars are the more economical option. I would recommend this type of tow bar for the occasional or price-conscious RVer.
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bar
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bar

What are my options when looking at tow bars?

The first qualifier for choosing a tow bar is finding one that is compatible or can be adapted for use with your base plate kit. Generally speaking, a tow bar and base plate kit from the same manufacturer will be compatible.When comparing tow bars, there are many options to choose from, so while the basic function of the tow bar remains the same, you may find you prefer certain features or materials over others.Here’s a breakdown of the common choices you have when selecting a tow bar. Steel vs. Aluminum: Traditionally, tow bars were made from steel; however, more and more modern tow bars are being constructed out of aluminum with reinforced steel welds. The best benefit of aluminum tow bars is how much less they weigh than steel tow bars. Steel tow bars can exceed 50 lbs, which can be a lot of weight to carry around. One of my favorite aluminum tow bars, the Demco Dominator, weighs only 30 lbs. That’s one lightweight tow bar!Fixed vs. Telescoping Arms: Some economical, vehicle-mounted tow bars are made with rigid arms that don't adjust in length. Conversely, tow bars with telescoping arms allow you to slide the arms to the length you need while hooking it up to the base plates. You don't have to drive your toad into a precise position to connect your towing system like with fixed arms.
Tow Bar with Telescoping Arms
Crossbar-Style Tow Bar
Extra Tow Bar Features You May Want:Non-Binding Release LatchesWhat is it? These are easy-to-grab latches that let you release the tension in the tow bar's arms after flat towing.Why do I want it? Tension in the tow bar arms when parked at an angle or on an incline can make it nearly impossible to disconnect the arms from your toad. A release lever relieves that tension so that you can safely disconnect the tow bar.
Non-binding release latches image
Self-Supporting ArmsWhat is it? These tow bars have a tension mechanism at the base of the arms that holds the arms wherever you place them.Why do I want it? Tow bar arms can be heavy and unwieldy, so self-supporting arms make it easier to keep everything in place while you're hooking up to your base plate.
Self-supporting arms in action image
Self-Aligning ArmsWhat is it? Once you're hooked up, the arms telescope to lock in the safe and centered towing position as your slowly drive your RV forward.Why do I want it? Self-aligning arms save you the hassle of having to align your toad perfectly with your RV's rear to connect the arms in the fully extended, locked position.
Self-aligning arms in action image
LED-Lit ArmsWhat is it? The Roadmaster Nighthawk tow bar has LED strip lights along both arms.Why do I want it? The LED lights illuminate the flat towing components, back of your RV, and front of your toad to signal to other drivers to not merge into your rig. They also provide more visibility to disconnect at night. No ramming your shins into the arms or losing parts on the ground.
LED lights on tow bar arms in action image
Pivot JointsWhat is it? Pivot joints allow the tow bar's arms to individually swivel, allowing for easier hookup on uneven ground.Why do I want it? If you camp at mom-and-pop campsites or in the backcountry, the ground likely won't be level, which makes connecting a tow bar difficult. Pivot joints allow the tow bar to be connected on uneven and inclined terrain.
Pivot joint on tow bar close up image
Safety Cable ManagementWhat is it? Tow bars with a cable management system have either clips or channels along the arms to secure the safety cables and/or electrical cord.Why do I want it? Loose safety cables can hang low to the ground, creating a safety concern, especially if you're taking your RV off paved roads. Keeping your cables away from the ground also protects them from wearing quickly and needing to be replaced often.
Cable management clip on tow bar close up image
When your toad is connected to your motorhome, the tow bar should be within 3", up or down, of being level to the ground. If it is not within this acceptable range, also called “the safe zone,” you will need to use a high/low hitch adapter to safely connect your tow bar to your base plate. Click here to learn more about high/low adapters.Why does this matter? Improper leverage can cause stress and wear on the tow bar and base plates. When braking, stress is applied to your towing system and to the frames of your RV and dinghy because of the downward braking force placed on both vehicles. This can cause flexing at the base plate installation points and adversely affect both the frame and suspension of your towed vehicle.
How do you know if you need a high-low hitch adapter? Here’s a quick tutorial on measuring your hitch receiver and base plate.
  • A: Measure the height from the center of your hitch pin hole on the RV to the ground.
  • B: Measure the distance from the center of your dinghy's draw bar arms (when installed in frame brackets) to the ground.
  • A - B = C: Subtract the difference (A - B). If there is more than a 3-inch difference, a hitch adapter is needed.
Measuring from ground to hitch receiver image

Safety Cables

What are safety cables?

Safety cables are steel cables connecting your RV to your toad. The cables' purpose is to ensure that your toad does not fully detach from your RV if your tow bar somehow fails. These cables are crucial for any tow bar setup and are required by law in most states.

How do I use safety cables?

If your safety cables aren't integrated into your tow bar, the proper way to connect your safety cables is to crisscross them underneath the tow bar. One cable will attach to the left side of your RV and to the right side of your toad. The second cable will attach vice versa. Crossing cables create a basket under the tow bar in case it becomes uncoupled. This basket keeps your tow bar from dragging on the ground.
In most towing setups, safety cables link two or three components together. The long cable connects the RV hitch to the base plate brackets on the toad. If your base plate has removable draw bar arms, you may also need to add a small cable that connects the base plate arms to the frame-mounted brackets on the toad.

What are my options when looking at safety cables?

Long, straight cables: Designed for tow bars with integrated cable channels
  • Note: Cables should not be wrapped around Blue Ox tow bars with protective rubber boots. This will interfere with the rubber boots’ functionality and cause them to prematurely wear.
Long, coiled cables: Won't drag during towing, great if your tow bar doesn't have an integrated cable management systemShort safety cables: May be required when using the Roadmaster EZ or XL base plates
Safety Cable Diagram

Safety Cable Tip

Use quick links. Your safety cables clip on to your RV's hitch and base plate brackets, but the proper clipping location can be hard to reach. Placing quick links makes clipping on safety cables quicker and easier. No awkward hookups—just a clip that your cable hook can easily attach to.

Tow Bar Wiring

What is tow bar wiring?

You are required by law to have a lighting system on your toad that functions in sync with your RV's tail lights. More specifically, when you brake, use a turn signal, or turn on your hazard lights on your RV, your toad’s lights should do the same thing. You have several light wiring options available to you. These systems all meet the legal requirements for synching your RV and toad's lights. The main difference is how they’re installed. Some solutions are temporary (needing to be installed and uninstalled anytime you’re flat towing), and others are permanent (installed once and remain on your toad). Additionally, some wiring systems are universal and can be used with any toad, while other systems are custom to your vehicle.

What are my wiring options?

Removable Exterior Light Kits: Magnetic towing lights and hitch-mounted light bars. These are typically the most economical wiring solutions, but you will have to set up the system every time you flat tow. However, the setup is quite easy. Just plug the harness into your RV (which may require an adapter if you don't have a 4-way plug), and then pop them into place at the rear of your toad.
Magnetic Tow Light Kit
Bulb and Socket Kit: Mount inside vehicle's tail light housings and bypass dinghy lighting system. This is another economical solution, but it means you have more bulbs to maintain over time. Moreover, many new vehicles don't have space for an extra set of bulbs, meaning you'll have to drill into your housings to make room. This leaves your housings susceptible to water intrusion.
Bulb and Socket lighting kit image
Diode Kit: Wires in-line with toad's existing tail lights. This is the most common method for syncing your lights. The best benefit of this system is that once it’s installed, you don’t have to worry about removing anything. Also, it uses your toad’s bulbs instead of you needing to add an extra set of bulbs. You can also install a diode kit on your own, but it will take a bit of time. When you find a diode kit on our site, you can view our installation videos to guide you through the process.
Magnetic Tow Light Kit
Custom-fit, Plug-In Wiring Harness: This is the most recent technology for towing wiring, and more and more people are choosing this method. This system consists of a harness that plugs directly into your toad’s existing tail light wiring harness. This is a solution you can install at home with the same benefits and functionality as a diode kit.
wiring harness product image

Extra Wiring Accessories You May Need

If you are unsure about wiring systems that will work for your toad, we have a custom fit guide to help you choose the best solution for you. When you enter in your vehicle’s year, make, and model, you may be shown a few extra parts that are needed for your specific setup.Two common wiring extras are wiring extensions and charge line kits. If these parts are required for your vehicle, the recommended wiring kits will contain these parts for you.Wiring Extensions: Connect towed vehicle wiring to motorhome wiring. Most installations require a wiring extension.Charge Line Kits: Connects to 6-way or 7-way plug and allows RV to charge vehicle's battery while you're towing. This will prevent the vehicle's battery from being drained if it's used to power a braking system. A power line must be present on the RV. If there is no power at the 6-way/7-way plug, a charge line kit must be installed. Here are some testers you can use to see if you’re getting power.
If you'd like more detailed information on the types of toad light wiring options available, click here.

Supplemental Braking Systems

What is a supplemental braking system?

Required in most states and Canadian provinces, a supplemental braking system synchronizes your toad’s brakes with your RV’s brakes. While you may think this is an optional component for your flat towing rig, most likely you will RV in a state that requires this system. You might as well plan for this component beforehand. Additionally, while you're flat towing, your RV is pulling thousands of pounds behind it. A supplemental braking system helps make sure everything safely stops when it needs to.This braking system has benefits too. A supplemental braking system can decrease braking distance up to 30% on some towing setups. It also minimizes wear on both vehicles and smooths braking. Plus, many RV manufacturers will only honor your warranty if a braking system is in place when towing.

What are my braking system options?

When looking at supplemental braking systems, you have two general categories to choose from: fixed systems and portable systems.
Fixed Braking Systems: A fixed braking system is installed once, and you don't have to remove it when you're done flat towing. Some fixed systems work by tapping into your RV’s and toad’s braking systems and may require a professional to complete this installation.
Fixed braking system product image
Portable Braking Systems: A portable braking system is a simple braking solution for people who don’t want to bother with advanced mechanical work; however, this system has to be removed and set up again every time you flat tow.
Portable braking system product image
These systems all serve the same braking purpose but with different perks and drawbacks. There are many more aspects to braking systems when choosing one for your rig. If you'd like to learn more about supplemental braking systems, click here.

General Tips

Before Choosing a Flat Towing Rig:

I know this sounds obvious, but be sure that your vehicle can be towed before taking it on the road. Some vehicles must be equipped with a transmission lube pump, an axle disconnect, a drive-line disconnect, or free-wheeling hubs before they can be flat towed. Failure to properly equip your vehicle could lead to severe damage like transmission or engine failure. Check your owner's manual or call your dealer for specific information on your vehicle.If your vehicle cannot be flat towed, you may be able to use a tow dolly instead.

Flat Towing Safety Tips:

Some important notes for your initial flat tow setup:
  • Never exceed the maximum weight capacity of your tow bar or any other component of your system.
  • Always hook up and disconnect on as level ground as possible. Even non-binding tow bars may be difficult to maneuver if your system is not in-line.
  • Set your toad's steering and transmission to "tow." Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will have a “Towing” or "Recreational Towing" section, which should detail the steps necessary to get it prepared to tow.
  • Check to make sure tow bar arms are locked in place before heading out.
Roadmaster Nighthawk Hitch Mount Tow Bar
Still have questions? Did we miss a need-to-know parts tip? Let us know in the comments!
About Dani S.I don't just put nice words on a page. Being a content writer at etrailer means I ask about a hundred questions every day to our experts, installers, technicians, and product managers. I ask the question before you know you have the question in the first place. It's my job to be always learning so I can serve you better through helpful, easy-to-read articles. Now and then, I also like to provide a bit of comedic relief around the office.
Related Articles:

Learning How to Flat Tow Article Series

Related Products:Published On: 4/20/2021

Questions and Comments about this Article

Larry P.

Do you ever wonder how we got things done without videos and well explained instructions? Thanks to eTrailer's well done videos and well written instructions things that used to be too hard for the average person is now easier than ever. I am towing a Colorado Bison ZR2 behind a Nexus Viper 27V Class C motorhome. All five components needed I was able to purchase from eTrailer. This gave me the confidence needed to install all 5 components myself.

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Les D.

@LarryP Glad we could help!

Dr. W.

Great the best clear conscious well written articlesI have ever read in 65 years. And the one video on base plate to Subaru installation was similar - the old KISS Principle keep it simple stupid. My thanks to Dani - and e trailer for doing it “right”. Thank you.

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

Thank you for the kind words!

Brad

I am looking to purchase a 2017 Coach House Platinum 220TB RV. It is built on a Ford E450 chassis and has a 14,500 lb GVWR and a 22,000 lb GCWR. I would be towing a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited with 5800 lb GVWR. Will this work? What equipment do you recommend I purchase?

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

As long as your RV is rated high enough to tow your 2021 Wrangler Unlimited you should be good to go. Here is a link to our list of parts for a 2020 Wrangler Unlimited. These will be the same for your 2021.

Reply from Brad

@JonG Thank you very much. I was mainly concerned about the weights involved.

E. S.

Thank you

Donny D.

Hi, I want to tow my classic car (Old Mini Cooper) on an A frame tow bar, but my car does not have a steering lock. Must the wheels be locked obviously in the forward position or dose the car track its self in the free steering position? Thanks for your help.

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

That is something that you'll need to look up in your owner's manual. If you let me know the year of your Mini Cooper then I can try to look it up as well but you should be able to find a section in your manual about recreational towing that specifies this.

Leslie N.

We purchased a 2002 Jeep Liberty Sport to pull behind our 1997 Fleetwood Southwind Storm motorhome. With yout help we got a base plate and other accesories to go along with a Demco Excaliber tow bar. We set out on our maiden voyage and discovered we had horrible sway or fishtailing at even 45 mph. It was a constant battle to keep the moter home between the lines. After much research we added 10 extra pounds air pressure to the jeeps tires which seemed to help on our trip back home but we still couldnt go over 50 mph. We sent awaay for a 4" receiver drop to make the tow bar more level but have't got it yet to try out. My question to you is if you could possibly have any ideas on why we might be getting that much sway and what we can do to help it. We will never get anywhere at 45 mph plus it is potentially very dangerous. Thank you for your time and any suggestions

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

You definitely want to make sure that your tow bar is within the 3" safety range (see attached) so if it isn't then the high/low adapter will definitely be a good place to start. Another thing to possibly check is your anti-sway bars and steering stabilizer on the motorhome. If these are old or haven't been replaced then it would really help your driving experience overall - not just while you're flat towing. If you go through our fitguide and select the year/make/model of your motorhome chassis you can see if we have anything that fits.

Ken F.

Maybe you can help me in finding the right tow bar and base plate that I would need for our 2020 Nissan Rouge. We have a Thor Ace class a would appreciate your help thank Ken

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jason S.

As of today (1-20-2020) none of our manufacturers have determined a fit for your vehicle regarding base plates. As soon as they do, you will be able to see them on our website fit guide for your vehicle which I've linked. I recommend checking your owner's manual as the 2019 model year didn't allow for flat towing and instead required a tow dolly like the Demco Kar Kaddy 3 Tow Dolly with Disc Brakes - Tilt Bed Frame - 4,800 lbs # DM9713046 .



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