A guide to tow bars and dinghy-braking systems designed to make towing convenient and trouble-free
The two heavy hitters in Blue Ox’s tow-bar arsenal are the Avail and Aventa LX, both of which are Class IV tow bars rated to tow up to 10,000 pounds, which pretty much covers every production vehicle that’s likely to be towed as a dinghy. Finished in premium metallic paint, the Avail provides an improved turning radius for maneuvering around tight corners, while its longer legs keep the towed vehicle safely away from the motorhome. The Avail features patented, nonbinding latches that release easily under any conditions, according to the company. The Aventa LX is unique in that it features a ball-and-socket design that reduces wear, and Signature Series easy-release locking handles that make connecting/disconnecting a cinch, even on uneven surfaces. Plus, Blue Ox’s exclusive triple-lug connection is said to minimize towing forces on the car. MSRP: Avail, $995; Aventa LX, $895-$945.
Moving down a notch in capacity as well as weight is the aluminum Class III Aladdin tow bar, weighing in at 37 pounds and rated to tow up to 7,500 pounds. Like other tow bars in the Blue Ox family, the Aladdin offers a self-aligning, three-axis swivel design, Signature Series easy-release locking handles and rubber boots that protect against road grime. MSRP: $995.
The Alpha tow bar is rated to tow 6,500 pounds and features a self-aligning three-axis swivel design, Signature Series easy-release locking handles and offset triple lugs just like its upper-crust cousins, but in a lower weight rating. Made of good-old-fashioned steel, the Alpha weighs 41 pounds and includes 7,500-pound-rated safety cables. MSRP: $745-$995.
The virtually maintenance-free Class III Acclaim tow bar is rated for up to 5,000 pounds, and offers Signature Series easy-release locking handles for hassle-free disconnect. But unlike the other bars in the Blue Ox family, this easy-folding, self-aligning and self-storing bar mounts to the vehicle’s baseplate. It automatically locks into towing position and detaches with just two pins. MSRP: $645.
When you only tow occasionally, the odds are pretty good that you’re only looking for a basic tow bar, and the Class III Adventurer fills the bill. It allows you to safely tow 5,000 pounds, yet weighs only 33 pounds. The adjustable legs expand up to 48 inches wide and fold easily for storage. MSRP: $295-$1,095.
All Blue Ox tow bars are backed by a 3-year warranty.
Blue Ox | 402-385-3051 | www.blueox.com
When used with an appropriately rated hitch receiver, the cleverly named Excali-Bar II offers the highest tow-capacity rating of any steel RV tow bar on the market at 10,500 pounds, yet still weighs only 46 pounds. Featuring independent arms and a nonbinding easy-trigger release for fast hookup, the vertical bolt design allows the user to maneuver the tow bar one leg at a time, thereby eliminating the need to step over the bar when connecting/disconnecting it. An adjustable towing angle, self-supporting arms and a standard 1 1/2-inch rise/drop receiver tube are just a few of the benefits included with this premium tow bar. MSRP: $827.
The 7,500-pound-rated Dominator tow bar offers the same features as the Excali-Bar II, but incorporates steel and aluminum components into its modular design. By providing heavy-duty stress components, without welds on the main portion of the tow bar, Demco has created a strong, durable bar that weighs just 30 pounds. MSRP: $1,108.
Unless you’re pulling something like a full-size SUV or truck, the Commander will take charge of your towing needs with a 6,000-pound tow rating. Incorporating steel components into its modular design, the Commander utilizes some of the same design elements of the Dominator tow bar, and the hallmark features of the Victory Series line, including independent arms, easy-trigger release, adjustable towing angle and a rise or drop male receiver. MSRP: $670.
All Demco tow bars are backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
Demco Manufacturing Co. | 402-385-3051 | www.demco-products.com
Roadmaster’s tow-bar lineup is divided into two categories: Classic and All-Terrain. The 6,000-pound-rated Falcon 2 and vehicle-mounted StowMaster Classic tow bars offer features such as one-person quick-connect and disconnect at the dinghy vehicle, independently telescoping adjustable arms, self-lubricating nylon bushings, Autowlok locking mechanism, solid stainless-steel inner arms and a powder-coat finish for maximum durability. In addition, Roadmaster claims that these tow bars have the largest hookup radius in the industry, which means it’s not necessary to line the car up perfectly — close is good enough. MSRP: Falcon 2, $624; StowMaster, $549.
The Tracker, meanwhile, is “the safest, strongest, easiest, most durable, trouble-free, 5,000-pound-rated, A-frame tow bar manufactured,” according to Roadmaster. This basic, car-mounted tow bar easily folds for storage with no tools, and the sealed tow-bar arms keep dirt and moisture out. Featuring a lustrous black powder-coat finish, the Tracker is designed for all 2-inch hitch receivers. MSRP: $242.
First introduced in 2003, Roadmaster’s All-Terrain tow bars offer all the features of its Classic tow bars, but the All-Terrain designation means these bars have specific design elements that make them easier to use when the road gets rough. The 6,000-pound-rated Falcon is the best-selling tow bar in the world, according to Roadmaster, while the Sterling is billed as the world’s strongest aluminum tow bar, using steel and stainless steel at every critical point for superior strength and structural integrity. The Sterling weighs just 35 pounds and comes with safety cables and a power cord, both of which are routed through a center channel for safety and a clean, uncluttered appearance. The BlackHawk2 is a beefed-up version of the Falcon, meaning it has all the same features but can tow up to 10,000 pounds. MSRP: Falcon All-Terrain, $848; Sterling All-Terrain, $1,068; BlackHawk 2 All-Terrain, $1,020. Roadmaster offers a 2-year warranty when registered within 30 days.
Roadmaster Inc. | 360-896-0407 | www.roadmasterinc.com
The essential guide to safely towing a vehicle behind your motorhome
Installing a Baseplate
With the right tools and some DIY expertise, follow these steps to install a dinghy baseplate
The Patriot is a portable, proportional braking system with some pretty cool features. You can monitor all brake functions or even manually apply the dinghy’s brakes from the comfort of the motorhome’s driver’s seat using a remote control that continuously communicates with the braking system. A built-in battery ensures power is always there, and an electric cylinder means there are no air pumps, storage tanks or hoses. The Patriot self-calibrates with the push of a button and weighs just 15 pounds. MSRP: $1,395.
If you have a diesel pusher with air brakes, then you might be interested in the BrakeSafe. Compatible with ABS systems, without tapping into your towed car’s braking system, BrakeSafe employs a push actuator mounted in the towed vehicle and uses air pressure from your motorhome’s brakes to affect a smooth, quick stop. MSRP: $895.
BrakeBuddy (Hopkins Manufacturing)
The Digital Classic is perhaps BrakeBuddy’s most well-known braking system. Completely portable and weighing in at a feathery 11 pounds, the Digital Classic will reduce stopping distance by up to 50 percent, according to the company. Now featuring an LCD digital display for improved readability, the fully adjustable system is self-contained and can be installed in just minutes with no connection to the motorhome. The Digital Classic is backed by a 3-year warranty, and an extended 2-year warranty is available. MSRP: $1,149.
The Vantage Select is unique in that it allows the user to choose between full and proportional braking using the wireless remote from the comfort of the motorhome. The remote also notifies the user of braking mode, a breakaway situation and offers diagnostic information. The Vantage Select is AA-battery powered (DC power plug included) and features automatic start-up at the push of a button. MSRP: $1,499.
You could say that the Stealth is outta sight … literally. Designed for permanent installation, the towed vehicle main unit can be mounted under the dashboard or in the trunk of the towed vehicle, and “on-the-fly” sensitivity adjustment can be performed from the driver’s seat in the motorhome. An interesting feature, though you may not need it, is that the Stealth controller can apply the brakes to either a dinghy vehicle or a trailer, and the company maintains that no other product offers this option. MSRP: $1,099.
Hopkins Manufacturing Corp. | 800-470-2287 | www.brakebuddy.com
The name pretty much says it all: Even Brake is a portable, proportional braking system. Constant, self-diagnostic testing monitors system status, and any change is transmitted to the monitor in the motorhome cockpit. Power Save low-battery protection will warn you of a low battery in the towed vehicle with LED and LCD alerts, providing ample time to charge the battery. And, if the battery’s voltage drops too low, the system goes into sleep mode while maintaining emergency braking power. Even Brake also offers “terrain sensing logic,” so it automatically adjusts itself to uphill or downhill grades and rough terrain. Other features include automatic brake protection, onboard memory and a high-capacity air compressor. MSRP: $1,537.
The 9700 is also a portable system, but instead of proportional braking, it offers selectable light, medium or heavy braking — or can be set up for breakaway only. The 9700 activates only when the motorhome’s brake lights activate, so there are no false-braking worries. MSRP: $1,209.
Looking for something more permanent? The BrakeMaster is Roadmaster’s “direct” proportional braking system, recommended if you don’t frequently change motorhomes or towed vehicles. BrakeMaster connects directly to the motorhome’s air or hydraulic brake system for reliable, proportional braking. Once installed, it’s easy to connect (or disconnect) from the towed vehicle in less than a minute without any tools, adjustments or settings. Simply attach the ram to the brake-pedal clamp, secure to the floor or seat adapter, quick-connect the air hose, and you’re ready to roll. The BrakeMaster weighs just 3.75 pounds and is only 17 inches long, so it stores almost anywhere. MSRP: $573-$1,234.
Nothing is easier than nothing at all — at least, that’s the thinking behind the InvisiBrake. Once installed, there’s nothing to push, pull, set, adjust, activate or deactivate — and it’s so small it can usually be mounted almost anywhere in the dinghy’s interior or trunk. InvisiBrake is a fully automatic supplemental braking system that uses the electrical connections already in place on the towed vehicle (the towed vehicle’s electrical harness) to brake at the same time as the coach. In other words, the same electrical signal that activates the towed vehicle’s brakelights also activates InvisiBrake. Plus, InvisiBrake connects directly to the towed vehicle’s battery and trickle charges it during towing so it won’t discharge. InvisiBrake works on virtually any towed vehicle with vacuum-powered brakes, and comes with a two-stage monitor that displays braking activity, and an audible alert warns you if the brakes have been on too long. MSRP: $1,081.
Roadmaster Inc. | 360-896-0407 | www.roadmasterinc.com
The RVibrake2 system is unique not only in the way it looks, but the way it works. Unlike most other portable systems, which are large and square, the RVibrake2 is lightweight and low-profile. And, instead of pushing against the driver’s seat or a seat bracket, the RVIbrake2 housing pushes against the floor pan (where the seat is mounted) so there is significantly less deflection during braking. Setup takes less than 30 seconds, according to RVi — simply attach the brake-pedal clevis to the brake pedal, slide the unit against the floor pan or stop plate and plug in the 12-volt DC power cord. Then, push the green Auto Position button on the RVibrake2 control panel and the actuator pushes on the brake pedal, automatically positioning the housing against the floor pan. RVibrake2 creates proportional braking, and the wireless monitor allows you to make adjustments to the system’s settings while traveling. As a side benefit, the RVibrake2 is compatible with the company’s proprietary TPMS system. MSRP: $1,150
RViBrake | 800-815-2159 | www.rvibrake.com
Air Force One uses a pilot signal from the coach’s air-brake system to deliver 100 percent, direct proportional braking. The system is composed of three main components: the Operating Unit, the Actuator and the Coach Air Assembly. The Air Force One Operating Unit mounts under the hood of the towed vehicle, completely out of sight. It houses the vacuum generator for the dinghy vehicle’s power assist and also the reserve air supply for the breakaway circuit. The brake actuator is also very small and mounts on the brake arm of the towed vehicle and secures to the firewall with just one self-tapping screw. Once installed, the entire system is invisible and always ready for towing with no setup or takedown. Air Force One fits all makes and models, and each system comes complete with everything necessary for the installation on the towed vehicle. MSRP: $1,249.95
The Stay-In-Play DUO combines the power of air pressure and the gentleness of vacuum to provide the most powerful self-contained supplemental brake ever, according to the company. DUO uses the power and speed of air pressure to activate the towed vehicle brake pedal while creating vacuum for the power-brake system. DUO requires both deceleration and coach brake lights to apply the towed vehicle brakes instantly — there is no complicated gain or sensitivity to achieve the proportionate balance of brake effort. DUO’s small operating unit is installed under the hood so you never know it is there, and the system does not have to be taken in and out for normal operation of the towed vehicle. In fact, there is no physical connection to the motorhome at all. MSRP: $1,099.95
SMI claims that its Delta Force is the first and only dual-signal, proportional portable braking system. Designed for fast but secure mounting, the Delta Force features a ball-and-socket actuator, which makes it easy to work with irregular floorboards and offset transmission tunnels when mounting to the brake pedal. And, instead of wedging against the driver’s seat, Delta Force uses a cable tether secured to the floorboard with just one self-tapping screw. There’s no need to fuss with the brake-pedal clamp either, because SMI’s Set-It-Once design requires only that you adjust the clamp during your initial installation. Delta Force comes with an intuitive user interface, wireless CoachLink and a breakaway system. MSRP: $1,199.95
SMI Manufacturing Inc. | 800-893-3763 | smibrake.com