To tow a second vehicle with four wheels down, chances are you'll need to get towing base plates installed.

©iStockphoto/Tim McCaig

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Introduction to How Towing Base Plates Work

­Towing one vehicle behind another can be a great convenience. Maybe you're RVing and you want the family van along for sightseeing and errands. Could be you're delivering a new car to a loved one and you need a way to haul it with just one driver. In instances like these, there are a few key towing components you'll need to consider before hitting the road.

­For example, you need to decide how you want to tow the vehicle. You can tow it on a trailer with all the wheels off the ground (called four wheels up), you can tow it on a tow dolly that elevates only the front two wheels, or you can tow it with a tow bar and have all four wheels on the road (called four wheels down). Towing with four wheels down is the most popular way to haul a vehicle, but it comes with some important factors to consider. As discussed in other popular HowStuffWorks towing articles, different vehicles dictate how they can be towed. If you want to tow some makes and models with all four wheels down, you're good to go. Others, especially automatics, may need a lube pump to cool the transmission. But towing components that'll almost always have people headed to the store in order to properly tow their vehicles are base plates.

On the next page, we'll explore what towing base plates are, and why they can be so important for a safe tow.

The gold towing base plates on this Mini Cooper were made by Blue Ox, and they can be removed when not in use.

Photo courtesy Blue Ox

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Purpose of Towing Base Plates

Some towing enthusiasts will tell you using a tow bar is the perfect way to pull a vehicle with all four wheels on the road. They enjoy this method because tow bars are light, convenient, easy to use and generally cheaper than the other options out there.

­If you decide this is the method for you, you'll need several towing components. The first one is the hitch that goes on the back of the towing vehicle. Tow bars, usually shaped like the letter 'A,' with the pointy end toward the hitch, can be attached through a number of basic setups. For instance, some tow bars are rigid (these are usually cheaper but can be trickier to use) and others are self-aligning (these tend to be slightly more expensive but are more flexible and easier to use). Now that you've got your tow bar set up, take a look back at the vehicle you want to pull. What exactly are you going to hook these tow bars up to? Base plates!

The purpose of towing base plates is to connect the tow bar to the vehicle you're about to tow. They're mounted onto the frame of the vehicle and are a fundamental part of safe vehicle towing. If you're towing a vehicle a short distance in your quiet neighborhood cul-de-sac, you might be able to get away with a jerry-rigged system of chains. For real towing, like highway towing, base plates are essential.

On the next page, we'll talk about the variety of towing base plates available, and why you might want to let the professionals handle this installation job.

Base plate installation can be tough for people who don't know a ton about cars -- they might not even know what they're looking at. A professional can get the job done right.

Photo courtesy Blue Ox

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Installing Towing Base Plates

It would be hard to describe any specific installation of towing base plates because the equipment varies greatly between vehicles. In all cases, the base plates are bolted on securely, but there are a variety of one-of-a-kind designs to match up correctly with the many designs of today's vehicles. It's just like how the look and shape of some vehicles may make one person turn up his nose and have another dying for a chance to get down to the dealer, so the frames of many kinds of vehicle have something a little unique about them. These distinctions, whether large or small, make customized base plate designs a necessity.

Some base plates are single, solid bars bolted onto vehicles' frames with receiving brackets at either end, while some are actually two individual components mounted separately. These receiving brackets accept the ends of each arm of the tow bar and can be either concealed or standard. If you go with the more expensive concealed base plates, it won't be obvious when you're driving around that you occasionally tow your vehicle (and you might enjoy its appearance more). With standard towing base plates, the base plates are clearly evident but the price tag can be a little easier on the eyes. Some newer base plates are a combination of the two -- the visible components can be temporarily removed when you have no need for towing.

Installing towing base plates is a job better left to professionals -- in fact, many base plate manufacturers insist on expert installation -- because it's a complicated process and needs to be accomplished perfectly. Some parts on the front of the vehicle might need to be removed and a few modifications made to the frame of the car. And while you might think all vehicles are created equal, subtle variances can even exist between vehicles of the same year, make and model. These might include different cosmetic appearances, small changes in the width of the frame or other tiny modifications. Expert installers know what to do if they come across a match that isn't made in heaven, and they have professional equipment to ensure everything gets bolted in tightly and accurately. If your car doesn't have its original factory parts or was involved in a few accidents, this can give rise to even more challenges.

On the next page, check out more awesome articles about trucks, towing and trailers.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesMore Great Links

Sources

  • "Buying your first baseplate?" A.J. RV. Web site. (10/17/2008) http://www.ajrv.com/Main/AJRVBASEPLATEFITS.htm
  • Blue Ox Web site. (10/17/2008) http://www.blueox.us/
  • "Frequently Asked Questions." FamilyRV.com. (10/14/2008) http://www.familyrv.com/faq/faq-towing.shtml
  • Martin, Joe. "Trailer Loading and Towing Guide." Sherline Products. (9/15/2008) http://www.sherline.com/lmbook.htm#refrn4
  • Polk, Mark. "RV Education 101 Video Tip." RV Education 101 Web site. (10/17/2008) http://rveducation101.com/videostream/?clip=Blue_Ox_Baseplate
  • "Towing Glossary." U-Haul. (9/15/2008) http://www.uhaul.com/hitches/glossary/
  • "Towing a Trailer." U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 4/2002. (10/13/2008) http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/problems/Equipment/towing/index.htm
  • Walczak, Jim. "Towing 4 Wheels Down." About.com. (10/14/2008) http://4wheeldrive.about.com/cs/towing4wheelsdown/a/aa070601a.htm

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