We’ve received SO many questions about our reasons for using a tow dolly, advantages and disadvantages, that we thought it was high time we wrote a blog post about it instead of replying to individual emails each time! We’ve compiled the 21 most common questions we get about towing with a dolly versus 4 down and shared our answers here.
But first, if you haven’t already made a firm decision on which vehicle you plan to tow, you might like to start by reading our “Finding the Ideal TOAD” post. Here, we not only share our own personal journey and thought process of narrowing down our choice of TOAD (also known as a towed vehicle or dinghy) but more importantly, we share a list of helpful questions that will help you determine whether one of your existing vehicles is suitable to take along for the ride. It’s a good place to start. And, if it’s time to consider switching out your car or truck to something else (as we did) the article will help you get clear on what vehicle will best satisfy your personal needs while maximizing your travel experience.
But now, onto 21 Frequently Asked Questions about Towing With a Dolly. We hope you find the info useful in your search.
1. Did you consider all towing options: four down, tow dolly and trailer?
Yes, I (Marc) fully investigated all of the options available to us, weighing up the pros and cons of each. We thoroughly researched all the options and still decided to go with the dolly. Why? Here is our reasoning.
All three options definitely have their advantages. For example, if you are transporting a show car, motorcycles, extreme off-road vehicle, golf cart and/or other ‘toys’ (eg. multiple kayaks), a trailer is probably your best bet. But, as that didn’t apply to us, we quickly ruled out the trailer due to the higher cost and lower flexibility in terms of storing at a campsite. This narrowed us down to towing 4-down or going with a tow dolly.
In a nutshell, the biggest pros for towing 4 down are the simplicity and space concerns. The biggest pros for a tow dolly are lower cost and flexibility in the cars that can be towed. The biggest cons to towing 4 down are the higher cost of purchase/installation and the need to modify your tow vehicle. The biggest cons to a dolly are the extra time and work required to load and unload (which some may consider a hassle) and the additional space it takes up at a campsite. You need to weigh up what’s more important to you.
2. Why did you decide to go with a tow dolly?
Our decision to go with the dolly was based on four main things, the first of which is definitely the primary reason, which we will explain further in the article.
a) Our choice of TOAD – a Mini Cooper S Convertible. A tow dolly was our preferred option largely BECAUSE we chose a MINI. We are both car lovers so having a fun TOAD and especially a sporty convertible was very high value for us. One of our favorite ways to explore an area is to go out for a long drive, hugging scenic, curvy roads with the wind in our hair and a smile on our faces. And, we’re almost always in favorable weather, so it’s pretty hard to beat!
b) Hardware – We didn’t want to drill mounting hardware into the MINI fascia, or perform other complex installations. With our car being a 2006 we were not sure if it would be our TOAD long term, so a dolly lent itself to an easy change.
c) Cost – We estimated it would have cost us around $2-4k for the four down option which was definitely a factor, compared with buying a used dolly which would be a far more cost effective solution for our relatively inexpensive tow vehicle.
d) Protecting the car – being such a low profile vehicle, we felt the dolly would do a better job of protecting the MINI while being hauled around the country behind our coach!
3. How much time is required to hook up and secure the car onto the dolly? Is it a difficult process?
Yes, it does take more time and is a little more work to load the car onto the dolly than simply hooking up direct to the coach with four down, but it is not a difficult process. It takes me about 10-15 minutes to load onto the dolly and 4-5 minutes to unload now that I am practiced at it. Don’t expect to get it done that quickly on your first try! It took me much longer in the early days when I was new at it – the first time took about 30 minutes.
Note, there are a LOT of different tow dollies out there and each of these would have different procedures for properly loading, so this process and the time involved can vary a bit. So while a four down hook-up is generally faster and easier than loading onto a dolly, we have actually witnessed some people take up to 15 minutes to attach their 4 down vehicle while others can do it in under 5 minutes – brake booster setup seems to impact the time involved, so keep that in mind if you decide to go 4 down and want maximum ease and simplicity.
4. Do you have trouble storing the tow dolly at campsites?
No, but it really is going to depend on the size of your RV and where you plan to camp. Our coach is 36 feet long (35’10” to be exact) and so far, we have had no problem storing our dolly on our site at campgrounds. If necessary (not often) we can slide the dolly under the rear of our coach up to 80%. If you have a much bigger RV it may pose more of a problem but not necessarily – many campgrounds offer large sites that can easily accommodate RVs, dollies and a tow vehicle. You may need to call ahead to check site sizes for peace of mind. Some campgrounds, where space is at a premium, may charge extra for you to store your dolly (or trailer) separately if it doesn’t fit on your site, but so far we have not encountered that.
The tightest campsite we stayed in was in Colorado Springs and we still managed to fit the dolly sideways next to the coach. Yes, there were larger sites available but we scored the last ‘cheaper’ site which also happened to be smaller.
5. Isn’t towing 4-down much easier than a tow dolly?
Four down is obviously the “easier” option in many ways but, like many easy solutions this also comes at a “price” – mostly in dollars but as mentioned earlier, we also we felt towing 4-down wouldn’t protect our MINI as well as if it was mounted on a dolly. Also, keep in mind that much of the expense with a 4-down set up is sunk into modifying a specific vehicle. Using a tow dolly allows you to switch vehicles immediately without additional hardware. If you have a more expensive towed vehicle, and/or are committed to keeping that vehicle a longer time, 4-down might be the better choice for you.
6. Are you still happy with your choice to tow using the dolly?
Yes, more than three years later, we are still happy with our choice of everything in our setup – Tiffin motorhome, MINI and tow dolly. The combo works really well for us. That said, if we had chosen another vehicle (say a Jeep or a Honda CRV – both very popular TOADS) and were willing to spend the extra $$$, we would definitely have more seriously considered towing four down. It all comes down to a matter of priorities and personal choice – our choice and number 1 priority was having a MINI convertible as our TOAD. For us, FUN took priority over the ‘easier’ solution of 4-down.
7. Does towing a vehicle void the manufacturer’s warranty?
Assuming a vehicle is still under warranty, some vehicle manufacturers (eg. MINI) may not honor repair warranties on cars that are towed 4-down as it may damage the transmission. We recommend you contact your vehicle manufacturer and research this in more detail. In our case, our 2006 MINI with manual transmission (an older car no longer under warranty) CAN be safely towed, either 4-down or on a dolly.
8. Where can I find out what vehicles are tow-able?
Motorhome Magazine has a great guide about which vehicles are acceptable as a TOAD (also called a dinghy) with detailed information about specific requirements for each vehicle. For example: A certain type of car might be OK to tow four down for 200 miles, but then the vehicle needs to be started up and put in gear for a few moments, before putting back in neutral to resume towing. Other details may relate to whether the ignition needs to be left ‘on’ for the steering to remain unlocked while towing. Click here to view the guide.
9. What kind of tow dolly do you have and why?
Our dolly is an ACME (hydraulic disc brakes) and my research revealed that while there are many choices and brands of tow dolly, the Acme is ideal for MINI’s and other low profile vehicles because it has a low load height. Our Acme dolly also has built-in surge brakes which was important to us. Plus, being lightweight and not having a swivel deck makes it easier to move by hand which is very important because you will often want/need to disconnect the dolly if you are going to be backing into a campsite. Roadmaster and Demco are other popular tow dolly choices.
10. What did your tow dolly setup cost?
We bought our dolly used (about 4 years old) on Craig’s List for $800 in May 2014. A comparable new dolly costs approximately double that. We spent an additional $25 on spray paint and stickers to spruce it up a bit and in the first month, we spent $200 replacing both tires/wheels (since you can’t easily buy these specific tires separately). The first tire we had bought in advance as a spare and so when one tire started shredding during our drive to CA, we were very glad we had that spare on hand! We immediately replaced the second tire/wheel when we arrived at our destination in Lake Tahoe and felt more confident having the two brand new tires. One month later, we bought some new ratchets for the straps which work much more smoothly, these cost $20.
So, all up, our towing setup cost $1,045 for a dolly that is “as good as new”– honestly, after giving it a bit of TLC, it’s in much better shape now than when we bought it! One other advantage of the tow dolly is we are confident we would get most (at least two thirds) of our investment back if we changed our mind or circumstances and we decided to sell the dolly and either go 4-down, stop RVing, or go with a different setup – say a smaller Class B or C which would remove the need for a TOAD (say, if we decided to take on Europe!)
Note: As of September 2016 (after 2 years and 3 months and 23,000 miles) one of our tow dolly tires has started to split so we just ordered two more (tire and wheel mount) at a total cost of $190 including shipping. We’ll mount the two new tires on the dolly and keep the other one that isn’t split as our spare.
11. Do you need more space turning with a dolly behind the coach?
We have found that the dolly tracks very well behind our coach. The dolly tends to cut the corner a touch more than the rear wheels of the coach so we have gone over a couple curbs in really tight spaces, but overall it has towed very well. Towing a dolly will naturally add a couple of feet to your overall length when driving and some dollies have very long ‘necks’ which add even more length – this could be a factor when navigating parking lots and other tight spaces.
As an aside, we like that our coach also has a built-in rear camera which allows us to keep an eye on the MINI and dolly while driving.
12. What are some other limitations or considerations of a tow dolly?
Dollies are primarily used for front wheel drive cars as the drive wheels are elevated. Rear wheel drive vehicles are generally not as well suited for tow dollies, but can be mounted backwards in a pinch. Four wheel drive vehicles generally must be towed four down or on a trailer. Most four wheel drive vehicles cannot be towed on a dolly. Of course, it is a good idea to rotate your vehicle tires regularly as the rear ones travel more miles than the front. We have a lock that we put on our dolly to prevent theft. You also need to factor in the weight of the dolly into your maximum towable weight. Going with a four-down set up saves this weight (400-600 lbs).
13. What if you get into a situation where you need to turn coach around in a hurry – what do you do with the dolly?
When towing with a dolly, just like towing four-down, you cannot use reverse. If you end up in a sticky situation, you could certainly unhook a 4-down vehicle more easily, and would not need to figure out what to do with the dolly. To help offset this, we invested $300 in an RV specific GPS which allows you to plug in the specific dimensions of your RV/setup and it will guide you to roads and places that are friendly to your vehicle and reduce the likelihood or need to turn around at all. To date, we have never ended up in a sticky situation where we needed to unhook the dolly.
14. Would you recommend towing 4-down?
Yes, if you are prepared to make the $2-4k investment in the setup, plan on keeping your same vehicle as your TOAD for a while, and have a vehicle that is well suited to being towed four-down, it is a great option and we would certainly recommend this path for others who felt it was a better fit for their needs.
15. Anything you don’t like about using a tow dolly?
No major issues we can think of. Yes, it is an extra item to keep at your campsite but ours is rarely, if ever, in the way at all.
16. My vehicle is not towable four down – is a tow dolly my best option?
If you don’t want to consider changing out your vehicle for your life-on-the-road, then yes, a dolly is a great option.
17. Do you have any experience with electric brakes versus surge brakes?
I have towed trailers and dollies with electric brakes but I prefer the surge brakes on a tow dolly because when towing the dolly without the car on it you can end up locking up the electric brakes but that won’t happen with the surge brakes. Occasionally, we find ourselves towing the dolly around without the car loaded. If you do this with a dolly that has electric brakes, you will probably want to disconnect the brakes before doing so. This is fine if it is just around a campground, but if you are on the open road, you might want to keep the wiring connected so that you still have working lights. You could burn up your tires pretty quick if you use the brakes on the dolly when it’s not loaded. The downside of surge brakes is that if you are doing long sustained down hills, the brakes can overheat as they stay on more steadily.
18. Have you ever thought of getting a different set up?
We would still tow 2 up with the dolly for our MINI (or any low clearance vehicle) but if we had a higher clearance vehicle (even a regular car or SUV) we would probably lean toward towing 4-down. It all depends on the type of vehicle we are towing. We are both avid drivers so having a fun sporty car for exploring is more important to us than finding the most convenient tow method. For others, if ease and convenience was top priority, they would likely choose a car/tow solution that made life a bit easier.
For us, any perceived “inconvenience” that might be considered to be associated with the dolly is far outweighed by the amount of fun and joy we get from driving the MINI. It’s totally worth the little extra time it takes. We would certainly recommend this option for anyone who shares similar concerns and values to us.
19. Do you recommend 4-down towing?
Yes, this is a great solution if you have a suitable vehicle and are willing to spend the extra money on setup. A lot of vehicles are covered under warranty when towing but always check with your vehicle manufacturer first! Blue Ox and Roadmaster towing systems are the most highly recommended brands for towing four down – be aware that you may need to have it professionally installed.
20. I am a woman traveling solo – would you recommend using a dolly?
Regardless of your gender, I would say it helps if you are physically able with a bit of strength to manage the tow dolly. But we’d probably be more inclined to recommend 4-down towing as a better option as it doesn’t require as much physical exertion or strength – plus, you’re also less likely to get dirty.
21. Any other tips to help me determine the best towing setup for me?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your choice of car/TOAD more important then the tow method? Then go through the questions in our Finding the Ideal TOAD article to help you shortlist suitable vehicles, once clear on this, you can consider the towing options you have available.
- Is the convenience and simplicity of tow method more important to you than cost of choice of car/TOAD? Then 4-down is the way to go – simply choose a vehicle that is compatible with a 4-down towing solution. Examples include: Jeep, Honda CR-V (2015 CR-Vs are no longer towable 4 down, from what we’ve heard, but do your research!).
- Do you plan on towing one or more ‘toys’ such as a motorcycle, show car, ATV, multiple kayaks or golf cart? A trailer (open or enclosed) may work better for you. Of course, this also means you would likely need a more powerful RV such as a diesel pusher (not gas) to give you extra towing weight capacity. Trailers are also nice for maneuverability as you can back up with a trailer, unlike a dolly or 4-down. For a motorcycle, scooter or golf cart, you can also mount these on the back of your coach with a special lift rack – check out CruiserLift, Hydralift etc to explore your options… AND tow a vehicle behind.
Our Final Thoughts
As you’ve probably gathered by now, like anything in the RV world there really is no “one size fits all” or “best way” for towing either. It all comes down to what works best for YOU and your specific needs and desires.
During our initial research phase, the simplicity of towing four-down was quite appealing, so we briefly considered a Jeep Wrangler that we could cruise around in and enjoy with the top off, but by now you’ve probably realized that we simply love sporty little convertibles way too much! Plus the Jeeps were more expensive than we wanted to spend on a TOAD and gas mileage on the MINI is awesome (30 mpg) which helps offset the coach mileage of 7-7.5 mpg. This is a point worth considering, as doing all of your errands and exploring in a gas guzzling truck might not be ideal if fuel economy is important to you. Of course, a truck might be your preferred runaround vehicle – we saw a guy in Santa Fe who was driving a big tag axle coach with a cruiser lift on the back for one Harley while towing a full size truck 4-down with a second Harley in the bed of that truck – I guess he found the towing combo that worked for him!
So in summary, whether to tow four down or with a dolly (or trailer) all comes down to your personal preference, needs and budget. And we believe, your ideal choice of vehicle to do your exploring in. That’s why we went into so much detail in our Finding the Ideal TOAD blog post – taking the time to sit down and determine what is really important, high value and top priority for YOU will help you reach a sound decision in your choice of vehicle AND naturally help lead you to greater clarity around the best towing option to support your lifestyle of choice. After all, this is about helping you create a fun, adventurous life that enables you to really explore all of the places you’ve always wanted to see – in the way that is most enjoyable for you!
Hope that helps! Good luck with all your planning and let us know in the comments below what TOAD and towing method you choose to go with and why. We’d love to hear your stories.