Wednesday, May 1, 2013

To tow or not to tow, that is the question

Dear RV Shrink:
My husband and I have been reading your column for about a year. We are almost ready to retire and travel. We have decided on a small, Sprinter diesel, Class C motorhome with a couple of slides. The short, expandable unit we ordered seems perfect for travel. The problem is the addition of a tow vehicle. I think we should pull a small car and my husband says It defeats the whole purpose of staying small and agile. He says the Sprinter chassis is small enough and fuel efficient enough to drive 100% of the time. I contemplate the inconvenience to uprooting our home on wheels every time we go sightseeing, shopping or out to diner. My husband continues to argue the economic side of this issue. We enjoy your input, so could you give us some insight on this issue?
--Tow or not to tow in Tucson

Dear Tucson: This is one of those issues where one size does not fit all. Pulling a toad is a personal decision. If you've read this column for a while you probably know my reaction already. On an economic bases it would be cheaper to haul a tow vehicle. It is simple math. Most people will put three times the mileage on their toad as they will on the mother ship. Just in fuel savings, this should make your decision. You can also add accelerated depreciation on your new motorhome as you rack up miles that could be allotted to your toad. The convenience issues are pretty apparent. If your husband is concerned about pulling a second vehicle, he should talk to the many people that do. A towed vehicle tracks effortlessly behind a motorhome, it's quick and simple to unhook, and puts a very small dent in towed mileage. Here is an example of what you will experience once you get on the road. We are currently in Moab, Utah. It is impossible to camp in Arches National Park (a reservation only campground) unless you make a reservation six months in advance. The two campgrounds in Canyonlands are first-come, first-served. It is as much as a 100-mile round-trip into the Canyonlands National Park campground to see if there is a space available. It reminds me of the famous Clint Eastwood quote, “You have to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you punk?” Most people, like us, end up camping in one of the many BLM campgrounds in the area and taking excursions into the parks. We end up putting over one hundred miles per day on our toad. The viewpoint parking lots are jammed with traffic and tight. Often we can’t even find a parking spot for our small Saturn, let alone a small motorhome. Not everyone travels the same way. If you are constantly on the move, a single vehicle may work out just fine, but consider all the facts before you make a decision. You can always put the decision off until you have a few miles under your belt. A few shake down trips will change your perspective on many aspects of RV travel.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink



Kevin Read said...

On an economic bases it would be cheaper to haul a tow vehicle.

Totally wrong.

First, there's the cost of the tow vehicle. Then the cost of the wear and tear on the tow vehicle. Then the cost of the tow setup. Then the gas for the tow vehicle. Oh, let's not forget about insurance for the tow vehicle.

We've done all of our RV travels in a 28 foot motorhome without pulling a toad.

Oh, and get rid of that annoying "prove you're not a robot" thing, and you might get more comments.

Staff Report said...

If we get rid of the "prove your not a robot" thing that you suggest we'd get a lot more comments. You're right about that -- and about 95% of it would be from Spammers. I'm sure all our readers would just love to read more about great Viagra deals. - Editor

Alaskan Travelers said...

" A few shake down trips will change your perspective on many aspects of RV travel." is an understatement. Until you spend some time out there you can't be sure what will be the best fit for you. We had weekend RVs for years and you would think we would have a good idea what we needed to live on the road. Nope...... We started with a 32' Class A the first year...with a toad.. Changed to a truck camper the next 2 years. Tried a 28' 5th wheel the 4th year and within the same year traded it for a 36' 5th wheel Toy Hauler. We really like this one but may drop back to a truck camper. We have no desire for another Motorhome and toad. Different strokes!!!

Fred Wishnie said...

On the "prove you're not a robot" debate, we read many blogs that don't have this safety feature and don't notice any spam insertions. I think it's all a ruse.

hy do they have to be so difficult? Some of them reject you multiple times.

Anonymous said...

As the man said at the beginning, everyone is different. What works for some may not work for all. Like us, most people already have a car they can use as a toad. They already pay insurance etc on it. Yes you will have the cost of setting it up to be towed but that is usually minimal. If you are doing a world wind tour and are not spending more than a day or 2 in one area, then lack of a towed vehicle will probably work fine for you. BUT if your like we are and typically spend a week or more in an area before moving on to the next, a towed vehicle is a blessing we wouldn't be without.

The Astleys said...

There are other factors missing here as well. Pulling a toad means you don't back up without disconnecting. Besides precluding you dealing with small areas (parking lots, back in RV spaces, backing out of a "mistake") it can limit you on using the smaller camp spaces such as found in many national & state parks & national forests.

On the plus side having a toad is great for exploring large cities.

It comes down to lifestyle and preference. Toadless is better for boondockers and "tourists" (those who move on almost daily, as we do) and pulling a toad is better for those who like to base camp, camp the rig in a spot for several days and explore the area.

Dick_B said...

and on the other hand Chuck Woodbury has a short video explaining how to get along WITHOUT the toad.
He suggest renting a car (he uses Enterprise that picks you up and drops you off). It would be an interesting comparison between the toad cost and renting.

tj said...

We have a 25 ft. class C on a Sprinter Chasis. We sometimes use a toad (Honda CR-V) but more often do not. It depends on the kind of trip. We went to Alaska and were driving every day, so no need for toad. Went to Arches like RV Shrink, and were very glad to have toad to drive around. It isn't as easy when towing, but nice to have when you get there, especially near cities.

Skip Jennet said...

One other concern we have when we use our RV for transportation is break-ins. If things haven't changed, RV locks have a very few cores as well as not too secure windows so easy to get into. It's happened to us. Hear of problems at trailheads.

Bob & Stephanie said...

We have lived full time in our motor home for 2 years now, and we have towed the entire time. When on the road, we put up to 200 miles a day on the toad when roaming from the campground. Our Honda CRV gets 25 mpg and since it is an all wheel drive vehicle, we can go many places our RV or another type of toad may not be able to go. The RV gets 8 mpg so the math is simple.

Every person has a different viewpoint but we like towing the toad.

Anonymous said...

Three years & 30,000 miles later, we laugh that we ever even considered a dingy. Our 25' Sprinter Diesel is our home 24/7 when we travel at 16-18 mpg; stopping just about anywhere we please to eat, use the bathroom or rest, while others cram themselves into a car. Roof vents & heat pump keep it the perfect temperature, while little cars blister in the sun. Home comforts are with us every minute; that's what RVing is all about! Easy to drive & park; and enhances your vacation like no cramped dingy can.

Unknown said...

You didn't mention "Backing up" with a toad. It's not recommended and I end up needing to back up often. I put a scooter on the back and visit the sights that way. Much, much nicer than a car anyway.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I logged 30,000 miles in our 41 ft Newmar without a toad. I required some planning but we would travel to an area that we wanted to explore, rent a car for a few days to a week and then keep going. We coulld always back up without dropping the toad, didn't have to worry about a flat tire on tow vehicle, etc.

Anonymous said...

I must be missing something what do you mean about prove your not a robot?

Bryan said...

If you need another vehicle to travel about and sightsee with, why not get a travel trailer or 5th wheel and a tow vehicle. That's my solution. My Suburban can go anywhere.

You have the best of both world's then and avoid an expensive RV with much more maintenance than a trailer and tow vehicle combined. Your depreciation is more under control as well and you can upgrade either without being affected by both issues or mileage like on an RV.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a small, inexpensive touring scooter would fit. We fulltime and have a towed but I work. That means hubby has no transportation. We have been looking at a small Chinese 250cc touring scooter that with carry both of us and get up to 55+ mph on the highways. We have known folks with this same make/model of scooter that they have had for a few years and they are very happy with their scooters. We just need to set up a system to haul it when we travel.

winndriver said...

My advice: rent a car when you get where you are going. Do it for a year or two and see if you can get by without a toad.

Unknown said...

My brother-in-law and I traveled (in our two motorhomes) for years without a toad. We hauled trail bikes on a bumper hitch for local transportation.

But finally, it became clear. The places we like to visit simply do not all take even a small motorhome. Dirt roads and even back-country paved roads are not kind. Washboard that you can skim over at 30mph in your car will keep the RV down to 6-8mph.

Our decisions to tow really had little to do with costs, which were not all that extreme anyway. It was more about convenience, comfort, availability and freedom. We both tow 4wd vehicles, and we can unhook in minutes and be off up a jeep trail to see what really lies around that far ridge.

Unknown said...

Dear Dr. an anyone else.
Don't buy into the "Totally Wrong" comment by Kevin an Ruth.
They are correct when they say "RV travels" but that is not their "only travels", ck. out there travel blog. It appears that a lot of there travels are in a Small Blue car with great gas mileage.
I would suggest to Tucson, because we also have a class B Sprinter, pull a Smart Car. There are small, light, an efficient.
On this side of the fence. We travel in a 40ft class A diesel pusher with a classic motorcycle on a rack on the back and pull the class B sprinter.
We average 25 to 30 thousand miles a year, with 10 on the Class A. We split the rest with about 60%on the bike and 40% on the Sprinter.
We started 17yrs ago with a 27ft Class A pulling a Toyota Corolla.
Yes Doc it is CHEAPER to TOW.
Fulltime on the road for 13yrs.
MoralDK & Sweetie Pie

Yes in is cheaper

John Connaughton said...

My wife & I travel in a 26 foot Class C. Right now we do not full time and we do not tow, we do bring our bikes on every trip. Just so we have an alternate form of transportation. We will retire in 6 years and plan to keep the same RV, our current plans still don't include full-timing. But we do plan longer road trips, 4 to 6 to even 8 weeks and we have thought about towing. Since we will still have one car, besides the RV, we plan to buy a towable car before retirement, but hold off on the tow paraphernalia. Another option that we're giving a lot of consideration to, is a motor scooter we can put on the back of the RV. Sure, there may be times when using that won't be the most convenient due to rain, but the savings in the expenses seem to be huge. Anyway, you could think about that as a possible compromise.

VaVet96 said...

Yes, there are certainly costs of towing a vehicle, but those can be substantially mitigated - first and foremost by using a small, simple USED vehicle that costs very little to purchase and insure. Used in that a low purchase price makes depreciation much less of a factor. Simplicity keeps the maintenance down as there are less gadgets to break down. After all, this usually isn't your family luxomobile daily driver when you're back home. To us, the convenience aspect that the author talked about is well worth any net additive costs. The lessened wear and tear on the motorhome is a real bonus.

Penny said...

I didn't read all the comments but did anyone even think to mention that whenever you want to go anywhere (to the local grocery, Walmart, sightseeing, whatever) and you don't have a toad, you have to pack everything up and put everything away, bring in the slides, unhook the utilities, wind down the antenna, etc. before you can go? For me, that would just be one huge PITA!!!

Ellen said...

It's not about cost, it's about how you like to travel. Full-timing is a lifestyle and is VERY different than taking a vacation in an RV. We've been full-timing almost four years now (newbies yet!) and have had two rigs. Our current set-up is a 32' Class C with a Chevy Colorado (sm pickup) toad. We can get into just about any place we want; set-up is easy but with the toad we can go to remote off-road trails where the rig won't fit.

If your idea of travel is to go from one campground/RV park to another, see the local sites (like museums, tourist stops, etc.), staying to the main roads, then you probably won't need a toad. You'll want to plan your stops to avoid all the PITA (mentioned above), especially shopping and seeing sights before you stop for the night (if you're hooking up).

Having a toad does add to the maintenance (two vehicles for oil changes, tire maintenance, etc.) and cost (extra insurance, maintenance, etc.) but for us it's worth it to get to the out-of-the way spots we like to travel. And to have the freedom to stay in one area, roam for days or weeks or a month with the toad while the RV sits connected.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Penny. Once we are set up, my husband doesn't like to break camp until it's time to leave. I like to have the convenience of alternate transportation. It does depend upon where you are and what you plan to do. We took our motorhome to the Pendleton Round-Up for a week, rented a car from a local dealership, and used it only a couple times. If traveling, I want the extra set of wheels to explore, antique shop, etc. We tow a Jeep which gives us lots of options. We have a 34' Dutch Star; our previous motorhome was a Class C Holiday Rambler and we did not tow. It was easy to park anyplace and quick to set up. I would try RVing without a tow vehicle; try renting and if that doesn't work, invest in an easy to tow vehicle.

Unknown said...

As a newbie, I've found the first year you add ~everything !! you think you will ever need. The second year you end up taking out everything you can do with out. Travelin Texas Girls ~

Anonymous said...

As a former motorcycle development/test engineer in the UK, I did about 30,000 miles, riding 8 hours a day six days a week for a year. After we emigrated to the US in mid-1968(to the Seattle area), I took one look at the standard of driving and have never ridden any powered two wheeler on the street since. I didn't want my wife to open the door to a grim-faced State Trooper instead of me coming home.

If you aren't a regular motorcyclist/scooterist, you might be putting your life on the line by starting to use one.

Just one person's perspective.

Karen Russo said...

One thing no one has mentioned is that many campgrounds especially in cities are actually on bus lines. If you are (as many retirees are)over 65, in places like Seattle and Portland you can get around all day for $2.00.

Even if you had a toad, the cost of paring in downtown areas would be quite costly.