Towing a Smart Car

Ken Freund Coach & Powertrain

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
Monticello, Ill.

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

 


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16 COMMENTS

  1. I tow my 05 cdi behind our class A with the blue ox system, have had no issues after towing all summer, no bungees on steering wheel and it runs straight. Plan on towing to Arizona this winter, about 2500 miles round trip, easy to hook up and light weight makes towing easy.

  2. We have towed our Smartie for 3 years now, from coast to coast. Easy to hook up and detach, no fuses to pull, battery never goes dead. We use a brake assist but due to it’s light weight it is not required! Only downside is that it only carries two people, but that may be an upside in some instances!

    • Regarding towing your Smart Car…what class is your RV. We have a 33 ft Class C Minnie Winnie and are trying to figure out what car and tow set up will be easiest as we have no towing experience…and new to rving. We saw a motorcycle in a rack attaced to the rear bumper area and wonder if something similiar would work for a Smart and if there is a manufacturer for one. Tia

  3. did talk to a group of people in Oregon. august 2016, that all towed smart cars, flat down, they said, the units that do not have power steering, tow fine, the smart cars that have power steering need the bungee cords. just passing that along.

  4. I just recently got my 2015 Smart Car set up for flat towing. When I get to my destination and hook the battery back up, I enter the code into the radio as required, but the car won’t start for several minutes, after several tries. Does anyone else have this issue? Note: I am always careful to make sure the digital dash has completely shut down before disconnecting the battery.

    • I’m having a “no start” problem with my 2008 Smart Car. I don’t know what you are referring to about a “code into the radio”—there is no reference to that in the 2008 owner’s manual, so I’m guessing that applies to newer Smart Cars.

      Have you tried moving your car when it won’t start? Just by chance, I was on a slight incline the last time my SC wouldn’t start after towing. I put it in N and it rolled a few feet. I turned the key while it was rolling and started right away. The same thing happened a second time when we returned, only the car was rolling backwards.

      • I just bought a 2008 smart car passion, we have a 30 ft class A, any recommendations to what you use for towing would be greatly appreciated.

  5. We have a 2015 smart car. I got it totow behind our class A, worked great first few times, maybe 400 miles. Then after a short 90 mile trip it would not start . Turns out I burnt out the clutch . Maybe it popped into gear, Maybe I hit gear shifter on accident, I will never know but it was a $ 2300 dollar repair.

  6. good information. we are just fixing to start traveling with our 2017 Smart Car, auto with turbo, blue Ox tow package, brake buddie, does anyone have any advise on this setup???

  7. We were going to flat tow a Fiat behind our Tiffin 32ca. All looked good until I was told that no turbo fiats could be flat towed. Many folks have told me that no turbo cars can be towed. Good Luck.

  8. 2016 and 2017 tow able smart cars as per factory. PLEASE NOTE THE TWINAMIC TRANNY IS THE 6 SPEED ONLY NOT THE 5 SPEED AUTOMATIC
    Dear smart Dealer Partners,
    We are excited to confirm the approval of MY2016 and MY2017 smart fortwo flat-towing capabilities. Model Year 2016 and 2017 smart fortwo ICE coupes and cabrios equipped with the twinamic Dual-Clutch Automatic Transmission may be flat-towed behind other vehicles such as Recreational Vehicles, moving trucks, etc. This approval applies to all Model Year 2016 and 2017 smart fortwo ICE coupes and cabrios with the DCT transmission, regardless of production date. Updates to the owner’s manuals are in development.
    DISCLAIMER: MY2016 and MY2017 smart fortwo models with the standard 5-speed manual transmission and smart electric coupes and cabrios are not approved for flat-towing.
    Detailed instructions accompany this announcement, but will remain posted on the smart fortwo Dealer Ordering Guide home page for future reference. For more information, please contact your Sales Operation Manager or After-Sales Operations Manager.
    We hope you share our excitement for this newly communicated capability.

  9. 2016 and 2017 with 6 speed twinamic dual clutch transmission
    Flat towing
    Before towing your smart fortwo, follow these simple instructions in this order
    Flat towing is when all wheels of the vehicle are on the ground during tow.
    For vehicles that will be flat towed over long distances, observe the following recommendations:
    >Preparing the vehicle: Contact an authorized smart center for information on recommended tow bar equipment and installing a matching on/off switch on the battery terminal.
    >Do not flat tow the vehicle with the front axle raised. Doing so may cause serious damage to the brake system which is not covered by the smart Limited Warranty.
    >Failure to follow the recommendations for flat towing can cause damage to your vehicle:
    >Not following the battery disconnect procedure in the proper sequence may result in data loss in the vehicle’s control units.
    >Not disconnecting the battery and leaving the key in starter switch position 1 (ignition on) my result in
    >The ESP being activated. Active braking action through the ESP ® may seriously damage the brake system which is not covered by the smart Limited Warranty.
    >In a discharged battery
    Preparing for flat towing
    Before towing your smart fortwo, follow these simple instructions in this order
    > Engage the parking brake.
    > Make sure the ignition is switched on.
    > Depress the brake pedal and keep it pressed.
    > Move the gear selector lever to manual shifting lane. (A)
    > Move the gear selector lever to the downshifting position and hold it. (B)
    > Gearbox engages defined gears for dinghy towing.
    > Wait approximately 30 seconds until the 6. gear is displayed in the instrument cluster.
    > Release the gear selector lever and leave it in the manual shifting lane.
    > Release the brake pedal.
    > Confirm that ‘6’ gear is still shown in the instrument cluster. (C)
    > Switch off the ignition.
    > Wait approximately 10 seconds.
    > Leave the key in the starter switch.
    > Turn the battery off using the previously installed battery switch or disconnect battery.
    > Release the parking brake.
    After flat towing
    Exiting flat tow mode
    >Engage the parking brake.
    >Turn the battery on using the previously installed battery switch or reconnect battery.
    >Depress the brake pedal and keep it pressed.
    >Switch on the ignition.
    >Move the gear sector lever to park position P.
    >Ensure ‘P’ is shown in the instrument cluster.
    >Release the brake pedal.
    >Switch off the ignition and remove the key from the starter switch.
    >Lock the doors.
    >Moving the gear selector lever out of manual row will abort the flat towing program.
    >Gearbox engages defined gears

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