Outfitting a Dinghy Vehicle
Selecting the proper tow bar, auxiliary-braking system and accessories leads to a smooth towing experience
Dinghy towing, or flat towing, a vehicle behind your motorhome is a great convenience, and even more of a necessity for full-time RVers.
In order to go, though, you need the proper gear to set up your vehicle and coach. Gear includes the tow bar, accessory kit (which may contain safety cables, electrical cables, tow bar cover and more), baseplate, wiring kit and braking system.
When selecting a tow bar and braking system, keep future vehicle purchases in mind, and consider sizing your equipment appropriately. So, if you have a Honda now, but might move up to a Jeep 4×4 in a year or two, opt for a larger tow bar and perhaps a proportional braking system, so you can use them both with the new vehicle.
Related Story: Dinghy-Towing Primer
Blue Ox offers four receiver- or motorhome-mounted tow bars, with capacities from 6,500 to 10,000 pounds; accessory kits; lighting kits; and braking systems. The company also offers a fuse-bypass-switch kit that allows the owner to disconnect a towed-vehicle circuit without actually having to pull the fuse. The company’s baseplates and brackets are precision-made and feature a quarter-turn mount with a spring-actuated locking pin. Blue Ox tow bars have a three-year warranty, and the braking systems come with a two-year warranty.
The Avail tow bar is Blue Ox’s premium offering. With powdercoating and exclusive gold badging, this bar offers smoother towing, improved turning radius and a tow rating of 10,000 pounds. MSRP: $995.
The Aventa LX is a ball-in-socket design which, according to Blue Ox, reduces component wear and offers a 360-degree swivel. Like the Avail, it features a tow rating of 10,000 pounds. MSRP: $895.
The Aladdin bar is made of aluminum, which makes it lighter (only 37 pounds), but it still has a 7,500-pound capacity. Its three-axis swivel makes connecting and disconnecting easy. MSRP: $995.
Blue Ox’s entry-level receiver tow bar, the Alpha, is a functional, all-steel bar with a 6,500-pound capacity that still folds away nicely on the back of the motorhome, and will work well with a number of smaller towable vehicles. MSRP: $745
Accessory kits, like the one pictured here, are needed to complete a setup of a tow-bar system. They may include a light-wiring kit, a six-wire electrical cable, tow-bar locks, a tow-bar cover and more.
Towed-vehicle braking is essential, and is required by law in most places. Systems like the Blue Ox Patriot proportional braking system allow effective braking and breakaway safety stopping, while still remaining economical and relatively easy to transfer from one vehicle to another. MSRP: $1,395.
Blue Ox | 800-228-9289 | www.blueox.com
Demco’s Victory Series tow bars — the Commander, the Dominator and the Excali-Bar II — offer RVers a great selection of receiver-mounted tow-bar options, with capacities ranging from 6,000 to 10,500 pounds with a limited lifetime warranty. Demco has a long list of custom accessories designed to complete the dinghy-towing package.
All Victory tow bars have independent self-supporting arms, easy trigger-type release, a rise or drop male receiver and an adjustable towing angle. Safety cables with integrated safety cable retainers are included with every bar. The company’s baseplate and bracket system features a quarter-turn-style mount with a separate insert pin style lock.
All Demco tow bars feature a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser, and a free lifetime factory service program. By sending in a postcard to Demco, the company will respond with a Returned Goods Authorization number. Ship the bar, prepaid, to Demco, it will service the bar and repair or replace any bad components and ship the bar back free, plus include a new tow bar cover.
The Dominator features a mix of aluminum and steel construction and has a capacity of 7,500 pounds. MSRP: $1,125.
The Excali-Bar II is Demco’s premium offering. With all-steel construction, it has the highest tow rating in the industry, according to Demco, at 10,500 pounds. The unit weighs 46 pounds. MSRP: $839.
Demco Manufacturing Co. | 800-543-3626 | www.towdemco.com
Roadmaster’s Classic and All-Terrain series, first introduced in 1986 and 2003, respectively, consist of four receiver-mounted tow bars all featuring a powdercoated exterior finish with stainless-steel inner components. The motorhome-mounted bars have a patented storage latch, which locks the tow bar in place easily on the back of the motorhome.
The company also offers a large assortment of brackets, braking systems and accessories, including seven lines of mounting brackets, and four different braking systems. Roadmaster products have a one-year warranty, which can be expanded to two years upon product registration.
The Falcon 2 tow bar is the company’s classic receiver-mounted option. Featuring a proprietary Autowlok tow-bar-storage lock, it has a 6,000-pound rating, which will handle a large selection of today’s smaller towable cars and SUVs. MSRP: $732.
The Falcon All-Terrain has the same rating as its classic brethren, but has the added benefit of all-terrain features, including its Freedom Latch, which allows easy release of the tow bar without straightening and aligning the tow bar. The bar also has built-in channel guides for the safety cables and electrical wiring. MSRP: $958.
The BlackHawk2 All-Terrain is a beefed-up version of the Falcon All-Terrain, resulting in a 10,000-pound capacity, which allows the towing of full-size trucks, Suburbans, Excursions and similar vehicles. MSRP: $1,071.
The Sterling All-Terrain, Roadmaster’s premier offering, is a high-capacity, lightweight tow bar, weighing only 35 pounds. The company states the bar is “the world’s strongest aluminum tow bar with steel and stainless steel at every critical point to further ensure superior strength and structural integrity.”
The Sterling comes complete with safety cables and power cord, routed through a central channel, and has an 8,000-pound capacity. The inner and outer arms are separated by urethane bushings to ensure proper operation and corrosion resistance. It also has many of the same features as the All-Terrain series of bars, including the Freedom and Storage latches. MSRP: $1,143.
The EvenBrake and 9700 model braking systems are Roadmaster’s portable and proportional systems, ideal for those who desire an easily movable braking system that requires a minimum of initial installation. They feature a dashboard monitor that displays the status of the unit, and work with a breakaway switch. MSRP: $1,556.
If you’re looking for an invisible, convenient system for your towed vehicle, and one you plan to keep for several years, then the InvisiBrake system is a good choice. The system components are installed in the tow vehicle and require a minimum of connection and setup each time the vehicle is towed. While it is removable and can be transferred to a new car, the InvisiBrake requires three to five hours of installation time, according to the company. MSRP: $1,080.
Roadmaster offers a complete line of accessories, and several different styles of mounting brackets for towed vehicles. The company also offers Combo Kits that include the necessary safety cables, locks and a storage bag. MSRP: $234-$361.
A truly advanced proportional braking system, the RVi Brake 2 is an easy-to-use system that not only features a wireless monitor and breakaway system, but will support the company’s tire-pressure-monitoring system (TPMS) sensors, so the dinghy’s tires can be monitored for pressure and temperature through unit’s wireless LCD display. According to the company, the RVi Brake utilizes air pressure to activate versus an electric actuator, which makes it more responsive.
The system, which features one-touch auto positioning on the tow-vehicle floor, is easy to install and move from one vehicle to another. The company also offers a number of accessories designed for the system, including a fuse disconnect, dinghy-battery charger and a soft shell case for the lightweight main unit. MSRP: $1,150.
RViBrake | 800-815-2159 | www.rvibrake.com
The BrakeBuddy Stealth is Hopkins’ permanent installation solution for those who desire a simple hookup with the added benefit of being able to control trailer and dinghy brakes with a single remote controller, mounted in the motorhome. The Stealth features a main unit that mounts out of sight in the dinghy vehicle, and an actuator cable is run to the firewall where a cable operates the brake pedal from behind. The Stealth is engineered to install up to five-times faster than other permanently installed units, according to Hopkins. Some vehicles require more teardown for installation, however, so don’t be surprised if the installation of any permanent system requires more time or some customization. MSRP: $1,099.
The Vantage Select represents the company’s new technology, which is said to allow for either proportional or full braking at the touch of a button. This means that it can be proportional, mimicking the stopping action of the motorhome, or it can “remove the entire weight of the towed vehicle when stopping.” This is accomplished from the motorhome driver’s seat via the company’s wireless remote, which also indicates the operational status of the brake-control system, including diagnostic information. MSRP: $1,499.
The Digital Classic is Hopkins’ original proportional system, and the newest version includes an LCD digital display that gives cues as to the correct setup of the unit. Weighing only 11 pounds, the company states that the Digital Classic can be set up in minutes, with no hardwired connection to the motorhome. A wireless alert system is also included. MSRP: $1,149.
Hopkins Manufacturing Corp.
The Air Force One is the “safest and most secure way of using coach air for supplemental braking,” according to SMI Manufacturing. The system “energizes the towed vehicle’s power brakes through a patented process that does not require an electronic vacuum pump.” The system has no wearing parts, and has a patented breakaway system that seals the motorhome’s air supply in the event of a separation, which meets FMVSS 121 regulations, and the company claims that it is the only manufacturer that includes the components to comply with these regulations. The system, when fully installed, works seamlessly with the coach’s air brakes, providing proportional braking force, and is completely invisible with no adjustments. Plus, the system is designed to fit and work with all towed vehicles, and comes with a five-year warranty.MSRP: $1,249.95.
The Stay-In-Play Duo is an inertia-based system without the box. The system mounts under the hood, so it is basically invisible, and is tied into the vacuum system of the towed vehicle, activating a soft, power-assisted brake pedal.
Activation of the brake system is safely accomplished by interpreting the brakelights of the motorhome and deceleration. Once the brain receives both signals it will apply the brakes proportionally as needed. The company states that this results in a seamless and immediate braking experience. The motorhome driver is notified of the brake-system activation by a light circuit attached to the brakelight circuit, so if the vehicle brakes are applied, the light is on, just like the taillights. The Stay-In-Play Duo has a five-year warranty. MSRP: $1,099.95.
To compete in the portable braking system arena, SMI designed the Delta Force proportional, portable dinghy-braking system. What makes this system different, first, is the dual signal design. Like the Stay-In-Play Duo, it requires both a brakelight signal and deceleration to activate, making accidental activations much more unlikely. Second is the floor tether cable, which it shares with the Air Force One. The company found that many users of brake systems had an issue with the brake systems pushing against the seat, causing damage. SMI instead uses a tether cable attached to the firewall, giving a more secure and positive mounting fixture, according to the company. The Delta Force also features a wireless indicator for inside the motorhome that shows the braking status of the unit, including connectivity, braking effort, fault codes and activation of the breakaway circuit. The Delta Force has a five-year warranty. MSRP: $1,199.95.
SMI Manufacturing Inc. | 800-893-3763 | www.smibrake.com