Towing a Smart Car
March 8, 2013
Filed under RV Tech Q&A
Four years ago we purchased a used 2001 Coachmen Mirada. While searching for a dinghy, we came across an article on Smart cars. We liked that these can be towed four wheels down, and we liked the idea of these vehicles. These Smart cars were so new to the United States at that time that we had to wait for Blue Ox to come out with a hitch that would work for the Smart car. Our local RV dealership installed the hitch but we didn’t have much success towing the Smart. Sometimes (usually when turning corners) its front wheels would begin slamming right then left, back and forth. We didn’t go far from home to camp so usually my husband drove the motorhome and I drove the car, which sort of defeated the purpose of having a Class A coach.
We recently upgraded to a 2003 Pace Arrow and, now that we’re retired, plan to go farther from home. As we started to install the old hitch onto the new motorhome, we saw a notice that said the height of the hitch and connection area on the dinghy need to be within 4 inches of each other. Maybe that explains why the Smart car didn’t tow well behind the Mirada. We ordered a hitch adapter that put the hitch and the Smart car within the 4-inch limit.
We thought we had covered all the bases and were ready to go without any more issues, but when we hooked everything up, the Smart car’s front wheels still slammed back and forth.
We contacted Blue Ox, and a company representative told us that the problem is caused by the Smart car’s “narrow wheel frame and caster of the wheels.” The representative suggested that we crisscross two bungee cords from opposite sides of the steering wheel to under the driver’s seat. That seems like a strange solution to a fairly serious issue. And there was no mention of how long the bungee cords should be or how tight. We noticed the Smart car is no longer listed in MotorHome’s 2012 dinghy guide. Perhaps it has been determined that flat towing Smart cars is not advisable?
Can you help us determine what we need to do so that we can tow this cute little car behind our motorhome? We are so excited about traveling around the country, but we need a solution before we can head out.
Vickie and Bob Carlton
You may have noticed the car is “darty” on the highway at speed. Normally, a driver’s hands would damp this action right away, preventing it from getting worse. But with no hands on the wheel, it can develop into a real shimmy at a harmonic frequency that builds upon itself. This has happened to some other brands and models of cars over the years that were dinghy towed.
The recommended solution for the Smarts and other models has been to attach a pair of regular bungees. These are fastened to the seat frame and crossed diagonally and attached to the steering wheel at the 9- and 3-o’clock positions. They need to be long enough to allow the wheel to turn in normal corners (when towing the steering wheel doesn’t normally go all the way around). You can ride in the car while it’s being towed in a large parking lot to verify that your setup works. It may not be a very elegant solution, but it seems to work for many people, and it’s simple and inexpensive.
As for the tow bar, yes, it should be as close to horizontal as possible.
We should note that our 2012 Guide to Dinghy Towing did not include the Smart car because the manufacturer does not approve flat towing of the vehicle. According to a representative from Smart, “We never approve flat towing on any of our cars. But, if you have to or need to, you must follow the specific instructions of the owners manual. It is very critical to avoid damage to the engine or transmission.” The Smart car is also not included in our 2013 Guide to Dinghy Towing.
— Ken Freund