Finding the ideal TOAD

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004-MarcJulieCodaMini_FindingIdealTOAD_postWhile you may not find it in the dictionary, in the RV world, the word TOAD is slang for “towed vehicle” – typically a car, SUV or off road vehicle that you tow behind your motorhome, to make it easier (and less expensive) to get around and about, explore, shop and run errands in the areas you visit with your RV. 

Many places, including some national and state parks, especially areas with narrow winding roads, make it difficult, if not impossible, to drive a large vehicle or motorhome around them, so it’s important to have a smaller vehicle to take you where you want to go. Of course, you’re also going to get a LOT better MPG in a regular passenger vehicle than your motorhome, so chances are, if you’re gonna be driving a Class A motorhome like us, you’re going to need a TOAD!

Selecting the right TOAD for us

We’re taking this RV adventure step by step, so it made sense for us to buy our TOAD before our RV. As part of our pre-planning phase, we have been taking steps to reduce our debts down so the only major financial commitment we will have is the mortgage on our home (which we ended up deciding to sell anyway) and the RV when we purchase it. 

We are both car lovers, and until recently had two cars – a Subaru WRX (fun, sporty, fast, practical, economical, reliable) and a Mazda Miata (sporty, sexy, economical, reliable and serious top down fun!). Each of these had a car payment and, with both of us working from home, when the summer days gave way to fall, we realized we were paying a lot more for the privilege of having two cars in the garage than we really needed. We don’t have kids, and we live in an area with a high walkability score (we can and walk or bike to the grocery store, bank, restaurants etc), so there were many days we didn’t use a car at all.

Getting financially free so we could get a step closer to our RV adventure dreams was our top priority, so we sold the Miata first and paid off the auto loan, saving us $280 per month – which really adds up to $350-$400 per month when you consider the insurance, maintenance and registration savings too. 

While the Miata would have been an awesome, fun car to keep as our TOAD, it’s only a two seater – and given we’ll be taking our labradoodle Coda along for the adventure, it just wasn’t going to work. So bye bye Miata! We had great times together, and I’ll admit I shed a tear when she drove off with her new owner, but we knew selling her was the right thing to do.

Next, we seriously considered keeping the Subaru WRX as a TOAD, but weren’t quite sure, so we created a list of Pros and Cons for keeping it versus replacing it with something else.

Pros of keeping the Subaru WRX

  • great car, reliable, still fairly new, being a 2009 model with only 60K miles
  • we could tow the Subaru “4 down” (tow the car with all 4 tires on the ground behind the motorhome)
  • it’s economical, and being AWD, can take us many places
  • it has a backseat and good storage capacity, so can accommodate the dog, luggage, shopping and most anything else we might need to carry, including bikes on the hitch

Cons of keeping the Subaru WRX

  • it was coming up for it’s next major service, which would cost us around $700
  • being fairly new, it is still a very nice car – did we really want a car still worth $17-18K to be towed, impacted by rocks thrown up by the RV, and no longer garaged?
  • it isn’t a convertible (this is high value for us, especially in the warmer weather, which we’ll be following!)
  • we still had a payment of $350 per month on it (well over half of our anticipated RV payment!)

With 4 pros and 4 cons, it was kind of a tough decision, but we decided to sell the Subaru WRX and buy another vehicle as our TOAD, based on these 2 major factors which carried the greatest weight:

1. The WRX isn’t a convertible. After driving a big bus around the country and following the nice weather, we are heading off on an adventure and we just know we’re going to want that fun, free, out-in-the-open feeling that we absolutely love when we’re driving a convertible.
2. The biggest factor of all in this decision was the auto payment. In preparing for this adventure, it’s really important for us to reduce our debts, and by selling the WRX we knew we could still get good money for it, and pay cash for a slightly older, nice convertible (with a backseat for the dog) while dropping off our monthly payment. This is an important step which would free us up to more easily afford the RV sooner rather than later.

So decision made, we sold the WRX the following week. It was snapped up just 24 hours after listing, faster than we expected, which meant we found ourselves car-free for the next week and a half. It’s amazing how many people react when they hear you don’t have a car – ANY car. Marc’s mom thought we were crazy and told Marc so but we also knew this was a temporary situation and we’d get by easily enough without a car in the short term. Several generous neighborhood friends offered to loan us their vehicle if we needed it, and we could rent a car locally for $11 a day in need, plus we were confident we’d find our next car pretty quickly.

Cashed up and ready to buy, finding our new wheels became our next mission!

Our criteria for selecting the best TOAD for us:

  1. Purchase price around $10K-$11K so we could pay cash for it – no monthly payment!
  2. Good brand, reliable, economical, low mileage, well maintained by previous owner inside and out
  3. Convertible, with a back seat for the dog
  4. Fun, zippy, sporty with personality (we are both car lovers/fun seekers after all)
  5. Has a car club we can join, so we can meet new people on our travels and go on drives together (like we did with the Mazda Peak 2 Peak Miata Club)
  6. Able to be towed either 4 wheels down or towed using a tow dolly. (We looked into the option of a flatbed trailer, but felt it would be more expensive to buy a trailer, heavier to tow than we wanted/needed, and not as nimble – having to deal with a motorhome, a trailer and a car, when parked at campsites.)

Based on this, and Marc’s previous interest in MINIs (in 2009, when deciding between a Subaru WRX and a MINI Cooper S – the WRX won), we were pretty sure we wanted to go with a Mini Cooper S Convertible (6 speed manual) this time around. But more research was needed. We also needed to learn what vehicles could and couldn’t be towed, and whether or not our specific selection – a MINI Cooper S Convertible – would be viable.

As it turns out, a MINI can be towed – with all four wheels down, which would require an investment in a towing kit (quite a few hundred dollars) as well as require drilling the front grill to attach the mounting hardware, which we weren’t sure we wanted to do. Importantly, because we were buying a used MINI – not new – we also didn’t need to worry about the issue of towing the vehicle voiding our warranty.

We could also to tow the MINI with a tow dolly, so buying a MINI would afford us two towing options to choose from. (We ended up buying a used Acme car tow dolly from Craig’s List for $800, about half the price of a new one and spent another $200 replacing the tires. If we ever sold the dolly, we’d get most of our investment back.)

Marc in our 2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible in Hot Orange at Arches NP, Utah.

Marc driving our sexy new 2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible in Hot Orange, at Arches NP, Utah.

Next, we spent a good week or so researching MINIs to narrow down to exactly what we wanted, right down to the year and color, so we could focus our search on finding ‘the one’. Those of you who know us also know we like to get really clear with our intentions, to help us find exactly what we’re looking for. We found the car that met all of our criteria in Nevada and booked a quick weekend trip to Las Vegas to pick it up! Did someone say road trip!? Naturally, we couldn’t resist a drive through beautiful Arches National Park to take some photos of our new toy with a stunning backdrop.

If you’re in the process of considering which TOAD vehicle will work best for your needs, here are some key questions to ask yourself before making a purchase – or keeping what you already have!

How to determine the best TOAD for your needs

  • Consider who you will need to transport in your TOAD – how many passengers (including pets!) and their needs?
  • How much gear will you need to carry?
  • Do you plan to do any off roading, that you might need a specific vehicle for (eg. a Jeep)
  • How important is fuel economy to you?
  • What kind of weather conditions will you need to consider eg. snow?
  • Weight – what is the towing capacity of your RV?
  • Is it tow-able? Some vehicles are NOT recommended for towing at all and towing may void your warranty (if you have one), so do your homework.
  • Will miles also rack up on your TOAD behind the RV? And if so, is that an issue for you?
  • What features do you really want and need on your TOAD?
  • How often are you going to be hooking/unhooking your TOAD? If frequently, what method will be the lowest hassle for you?
  • How much are you willing to spend on a TOAD, that will spend most of it’s life on highways, exposed to the elements and un-garaged?
  • Vehicle transmission type – automatic vs manual transmission (there are limitations)
  • Are there any limitations, based on Department of Transport (DOT) legal requirements? Check for your state and the states you plan to visit.
  • Which method do you plan to tow – flatbed/enclosed trailer, tow bar or a tow-dolly? Find out the difference here.
  • Which method is going to be easier for you to manage – physically, logistically and financially?

For more useful tips on towing a TOAD, check out these articles by other RVers.

RV Towing Tips: How To Pull A TOAD With Your Motorhome

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