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How Rigid A-frame Tow Bars Work

You can use an A-frame tow bar to haul your motor home and your car on long trips.
You can use an A-frame tow bar to haul your motor home and your car on long trips.
Denice Breaux/iStockPhoto.com

­You've got your motor home, your itinerary and a little car to tow behind for day trips. Severa­l towing equipment options exist for bringing your vehicle along with you, including trailers, tow dollies and tow bars. The easiest and cheapest solution for your towing problem is to use a tow bar.

Unlike trailers or tow dollies, a tow bar pulls the car behind the motor home on all four of the car's own wheels. It can be stored easily and involves the least amount of towing equipment. A tow bar also takes up fewer parking spaces than a trailer or dolly. There are three types of tow bars: self-aligning motor home-mounted tow bars, self-aligning car-mounted tow bars and rigid A-frame tow bars. All of these types of tow bars have one piece attached to the RV near the bumper and one piece attached to the vehicle to be towed. In the case of rigid A-frame tow­ bars, the tow bar is mounted on the frame of the RV, with a receiver mounted under the frame of the car.

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The A-frame tow bar is a solid, welded tow bar that starts and stays in the same rigid position. In contrast, the arms of self-adjusting tow bars extend and contract to allow proper positioning. The tow bar then extends to a rigid tow position as the motor home pulls ahead. As their names imply, the self-aligning tow bars allow you to drive the car close to the motor home and adjust the tow bar to the car's position. The rigid A-frame style doesn't offer this kind of adjustment help when hooking a vehicle up to its cargo.

­Because of their relative simplicity, A-frame tow bars are the lightest and cheapest towing equipment an RV enthusiast can buy. Now that we know what they are, let's find out how they work.

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Despite its simplicity, it takes two people to properly use a rigid A-frame tow bar.
Despite its simplicity, it takes two people to properly use a rigid A-frame tow bar.
Tim McCaig/iStockPhoto.com

The purpose of rigid A-frame tow bars is to pull any load your motor home can. To find out how much weight your motor home can haul safely, you must consider the motor home's tow rating and the tow rating of the hitch receiver on the back. Depending on the motor home's capabilities, you could easily tow a small car, an SUV or even a boat with a rigid A-frame tow bar.

­The A-frame tow b­ar is a solid, welded tow bar that doesn't adjust itself to fit your vehicle. A-frame tow bars (shaped like a capital letter "A") start and stay in the rigid position. The arms of self-adjusting versions, in contrast, extend and contract a bit to allow you to position the tow bar properly, then the tow bar extends to a rigid tow position as the motor home pulls ahead.

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Using a rigid A-frame tow bar is a two-person job. One person holds up the tow bar, which is connected to the RV, and guides the tow vehicle driver to the exact spot where the coupler can be attached. The coordination required between the tow-bar coupler and the tow vehicle driver is so tricky that some sarcastically call the self-adjusting tow bars "marriage savers."

The main advantages of rigid A-frame tow bars are price and weight. It's the cheapest and lightest towing equipment option. Because of its rigid design, it's best for people who only tow vehicles a couple of times a year. No matter how often you use it, though, it has to be properly installed. We'll explore the tools needed to install one on the next page.

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Rigid A-frame tow bars are a good option for vacationers.
Rigid A-frame tow bars are a good option for vacationers.
Tim McCaig/iStockPhoto.com

­Though A-frame tow bars are the lightest and cheapest towing eq­uipment options on the market, they still must be properly installed. Often, the safest and surest way of installing rigid A-frame tow bars is to take the towing equipment and vehicle to a professional. Here are the tools you or the mechanic will need:

Requirements:

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  • Receiver hitch
  • Tow bar
  • Safety cables
  • Wiring kit
  • Baseplate for the towed vehicle

The baseplate is one of the most important pieces because it's specific to the car being towed and bolts to the car frame. Though it's customized to fit certain cars, some adjustments may be necessary, such as cutting the bumper or drilling holes in the frame. The baseplate comes with all the hardware necessary to bolt it to a secure place on the tow vehicle. Safety cables act as a backup mechanism in case the car becomes separated from the motor home. One end attaches to the car and the other to the motor home.

The wiring kit allows the running lights, tail lights, brake lights and turning signals of the car being towed to operate in conjunction with the motor home lights. If you're using an A-frame tow bar because you don't tow your vehicle very often, temporary kits are available that attach the lights with straps or wires. There are more permanent ways of wiring the car's lights to the motor home's lights if you tow more frequently.

For more information on rigid A-frame tow bars, please see the links on the following page.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Polk, Mark J., Explorer RV Insurance. "Dinghy Towing 101." (10/14/2008) http://www.explorerrv.com/articles/DinghyTowing101.pdf
  • Towbar.com. (10/14/2008) http://www.towbar.com/faqs.htm
  • Walczak, Jim, About.com."Towing Four Wheels Down." (10/14/2008) http://4wheeldrive.about.com/cs/towing4wheelsdown/a/aa070601a_3.htm

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