One of the biggest problems with tow dollies is that you can't back up. A few brave souls have succeeded, but most experts advise -- and most instruction manuals insist -- on a no backing-up policy. Backing up can damage the vehicles and dolly, as well as cause a serious incident like jackknifing. If you need to momentarily reverse, you'll have to unhook and move the towed vehicle, unhook and move the dolly, and then rehitch the equipment all over again to hook everything back up. For seasoned towers, this process might not take too much time, but it can still be a hassle that some might want to avoid. Keep in mind though, even if you use one of the other systems, like tow bars or trailers, you probably won't be doing much backing up with them, either.
You'll need to get low in order to inspect the next cluster of potential towing problems. If there are any parts hanging underneath the towed vehicle -- like spoilers, air dams and ground effects -- these should be removed before the vehicle is loaded onto the tow dolly, or they could become damaged.
Some RVers have had unfortunate accidents outside the normal realm of towing perils. If you hit a large bump or pothole, for example, the towed vehicle can jump out of proper alignment. The challenge of trying to get a car off a dolly when you're unable to drive it can put a real black mark on vacation memories. Also, if you need to tow an empty dolly without the towed vehicle's suspension in action, it can vibrate strongly and make driving a challenge. This can also damage the dolly, especially if the tires are left at their full psi.
Tow dollies can mean more maintenance and add more items -- and costs -- to the already lengthy checklist. Also, as we mentioned before, they add significant weight that needs to be factored in. Dollies can add anywhere from around 500 to 1,500 pounds (230 to 680 kilograms), which will definitely impact the trailer weight calculations.
Some vehicle manufacturers' warranties will be invalidated if a vehicle is towed by certain methods. So if your car is still under warranty, you'll definitely want to check into this before acquiring a towing system. This sort of information may be in your owner's manual or some other place that's easily accessible. If you need to have a dealer or manufacturer give you an answer, don't take a verbal one -- get the OK in writing. Also, tow dollies are often considered additional vehicles and need to be specially licensed and equipped if you're driving through some states. This can be especially important if your towed vehicle is over a certain weight, so thoroughly check out the laws of the land before you hit the road -- if you haven't already bought supplemental brakes, you may be heading back to the store before your big trip can begin.
Another factor worth mentioning is the space that a towing dolly takes up. They can be hard to maneuver -- it's often a two-person job -- and when they're not in use they can be a bit of an eyesore. Some solutions are available. For example, some RVers will drive their RVs right over the slanted portion of the dollies, so only the tire end peaks out, concealing a great deal of the apparatus.
If you're still convinced a tow dolly is the thing for you, continue to the next page for great towing and automotive links.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Collard, Tim. "Newsletter 2." RV Walk-Thru. (10/15/2008) http://www.rvwalkthru.com/news/Newsletter2.html
- "Dictionary of Automotive Terms." Motor Era. (9/15/2008) http://www.motorera.com/dictionary/index.htm
- "Frequently Asked Questions." FamilyRV.com. (10/14/2008) http://www.familyrv.com/faq/faq-towing.shtml
- Gummersall, Bob. "Choosing Toad (Dinghy) for a Motorhome." RVersOnline.org. (10/14/2008) http://www.rversonline.org/ArtFAQ2.html
- Koehn, Steve. "Towed Vehicle Barking Systems." RVersOnline.com. 7/1997. (10/14/2008) http://www.rversonline.org/97ConfBrakeSys.html
- Martin, Joe. "Trailer Loading and Towing Guide." Sherline Products. (9/15/2008) http://www.sherline.com/lmbook.htm#refrn4
- Moeller, Bill and Moeller, Jan. "RVing Basics." McGraw-Hill Professional. 1995. (10/14/2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=4WiolgqUO20C&pg=PA41&lpg=PA41&dq=tow+dolly+void+warranty&source=web&ots=V-NE5aVXLz&sig=9JI_RWRrKXzBhPU2tpFMPNyhRd0&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA40,M1
- "Operations Manual and Warranty Registration." MasterTow.com. (10/14/2008) http://www.mastertow.com/pdf/manual.pdf
- "Tow Bar FAQs." TowBar.com. (10/15/2008) http://www.towbar.com/faqs.htm
- "Tow Dolly." U-Haul. (10/13/2008) http://www.uhaul.com/guide/index.aspx?equipment=towing-towdolly
- "Tow Dolly Equipment Instructions." Penske. (10/14/2008) http://www.pensketruckrental.com/personal_rental/accessories/towing_tow_dolly.html
- "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
- "Towing Tips." Remco Towing. (10/14/2008) http://www.remcotowing.com/towing_tips
- Walczak, Jim. "Towing 4 Wheels Down." About.com. (10/14/2008)http://4wheeldrive.about.com/cs/towing4wheelsdown/a/aa070601a.htm