Flat towing setup with RV and Jeep Wrangler image

Do Not Try to Flat Tow Without This Equipment!

Flat towing a vehicle (also called a dinghy) behind an RV is one of the most ingenious inventions since someone decided to throw wheels under a tiny home. The most common reason for flat towing is basic convenience. Who wants to maneuver a large, unwieldy motorhome in small towns, parking lots, or back roads? I don’t! With flat towing, I can just hook up my car to my RV’s trailer hitch, and when I get to the campsite, disconnect it to go exploring the trails. Easy peasy. But to safely flat tow, your setup must have:
In the following sections, I break down what each of these parts are, what they’re used for, key options when researching the parts, and generally how to use them.Let’s get into it!
Watch Now: What You Need to Flat Tow a Vehicle

Base Plate Kits

What is a base plate kit?

A base plate kit is a set of steel components installed to the front frame of your dinghy. A base plate has connection points where a tow bar will attach. The other end of the tow bar attaches to your RV.Base plates install on your dinghy's frame using as many existing attachment points as possible without sacrificing strength or safety of your dinghy’s frame.Being a vehicle-specific piece of a flat towing rig, all dinghies require custom-fitted base plates to specifically fit their frames.

How does a base plate kit install?

The ease of installing a base plate depends entirely on your dinghy. Some vehicles are ready to receive a base plate with little work needed to the front; however, other vehicles may need significant modification to the bumper, grill, and new bores in the frame to attach the base plate.If you are unsure about your ability to do this work on your own, I 100% recommend having a professional install your base plate kit. This is not a step you want to jimmy rig.At etrailer, we've installed an innumerable amount of base plate kits, and if we installed it, we filmed it. If you use our base plate kit fit-guide and shop the suggested kits, you can view the installation videos to a get a feel for the install process like the video here.

What are my options when looking at base plate kits?

When looking at base plate kits, you will first narrow your search to only base plate kits that can fit your vehicle. Check out our custom-fit guide for base plate kits here. Just enter in your vehicle’s make, model, and year, and our unique-in-the-industry system will display only base plate kits tailored to your vehicle.When multiple base plate kits are available for a specific vehicle, installation will be nearly the same for each kit. The differences lie in the draw bar type and the number of frame bracket pieces. Typically, base plates consist of two main parts:
  • Frame bracket(s): Mount directly to the dinghy's frame
  • Draw bar arms: Provide attachment points for the tow bar
    • Removable arms attach to frame brackets using a pin/clip or twist-lock feature. They create a cleaner look with no visible brackets.
    • Fixed arms are welded to the frame bracket and are visible at all times. They are typically the more economical option.
Base Plates Installed on Vehicle
Different brands offer different base plate styles. Roadmaster offers four styles of base plates, which you can read more about here. Demco offers two different styles, which you can learn more about here. Finally, Blue Ox offers a lug-style base plate system, which you can read about here. In these articles, you will learn about the differences between styles and why you may choose one style over another.

What is a Base Plate Adapter, and do I need one?

While most base plate manufacturers construct products to fit as many applications as possible, it is common to find that the company that made your tow bar does not have base plates that can fit your vehicle. Each tow bar manufacturer has a unique type of connection used to secure the tow bar to the base plate arms. Because of this, you may need to purchase an adapter if your tow bar and base plate were made by different companies.Roadmaster Base Plates: Most Roadmaster tow bars and base plates use quick disconnects to attach the base plates to the crossbar and tow bar. One quick-disconnect bracket attaches to the arm or crossbar. The other bracket attaches to the base plate draw bar arm. Both brackets then interlock with one another and are secured with a linchpin.Blue Ox Base Plates: The draw bar arms have two lugs that interlock with the lugs on the ends of the tow bar arms. They are then secured in place with a pin and clip.Demco Base Plates: The draw bar arms have two-prong ends that slide around the tow bar arm extensions and secure in place using a pin and clip.Example: If you have a Blue Ox tow bar, but you only have Roadmaster base plates with quick disconnects, then the Blue Ox triple-lug ends on the tow bar arms will not work with your base plates. The adapter you need will have one side that connects with the lugs on the Blue Ox tow bar and one side that has quick disconnects for use with Roadmaster base plates. If you need an adapter, but aren't sure which type, consult the table here to help you choose.The key here is making sure your base plate kit and tow bar are compatible with one another. What I mean by that is, your tow bar should be able to attach to your base plate. Generally, if you purchase a tow bar and base plate kit from the same manufacturer, they will be compatible with each other, but that is not always the case. You may end up needing to purchase a base plate adapter kit to allow your tow bar to connect to your base plate.
Roadmaster Base Plates
Blue Ox to Roadmaster Base Plate Adapter
Blue Ox to Roadmaster Base Plate Adapter

Tow Bars

What is a tow bar?

The tow bar is the most recognizable part of a towing system. It links your dinghy to your RV for safe flat towing. The function of the tow bar is the same regardless of model or manufacturer. The differences between tow bars lie in the type of mount (how it’s installed), towing capacity (how much weight can it tow), and basic design (shape and functionality).Beyond those aspects, there are a wide variety of features associated with the various models, all of which are discussed in detail in our Roadmaster, Blue Ox, and Demco tow bar feature articles.
Flat Tow a Vehicle - Tow Bar Setup

How does a tow bar install?

The primary difference between tow bars is how they are mounted, as called "installed," on either your RV or dinghy.RV-Mounted Tow Bars: This type of tow bar inserts into your motorhome's trailer hitch receiver, secured with a hitch pin and clip. That’s it. As you’ll understand when you read about vehicle-mounted tow bars, there is significantly less work that you must do to install an RV-mounted tow bar.Using a locking hitch pin can secure the tow bar to your receiver, so you don’t have to worry about someone running off with your expensive tow bar.The benefits of an RV-mounted tow bar include:
  • Sturdy, stable connection - Because you don’t have a coupler on this style of tow bar, there’s one less point of potential uncoupling from your RV or dinghy.
  • Safe, secure storage - Once you’ve installed your RV-mounted tow bar to your RV’s hitch receiver, it can stay there. And it’s easy to keep safe by using a locking hitch pin.
  • Less hassle - Because your tow bar stays on the back of your RV, you don’t have to lug your tow bar out of storage every time you want to flat tow. It’s just sitting on your RV, ready to be used whenever you’re ready to hit the road.
  • Easy to adjust - As I’ll discuss later, your tow bar needs to be practically parallel to the ground. With a hitch receiver high-low adapter, you can easily get your tow bar level.
Hitch-Mounted Tow Bar
RV-Mounted Tow Bar
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bars: Vehicle-mounted tow bars were the first type introduced to the towing and RVing market. They function the same as an A-frame trailer, attaching to the trailer hitch ball on your RV with an integrated coupler. With the ease and popularity of RV-mounted tow bars, you see fewer manufacturers coming out with new models of vehicle-mounted tow bars.The benefits of a vehicle-mounted tow bar include:
  • Budget-Friendly: Tow bars are pricey, but vehicle-mounted tow bars are the more economical tow bar option. I would recommend this type of tow bar only for the occasional RVer.
  • Security Feature: The integrated coupler can be locked to your hitch ball for security, keeping your tow bar out of thieves’ hands.
  • Coupler Flexibility: You can find tow bars with couplers or lunette rings for 2" to 2-5/16" balls and pintle hitches.
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bar
Vehicle-Mounted Tow Bar

What are my options when looking at tow bars?

The first qualifier for choosing a tow bar is one that is compatible or can be adapted to your base plate kit. Generally speaking, a tow bar and base plate kit from the same manufacturer will be compatible.Next, when comparing tow bars, there are many options to choose from, so while the basic function of the tow bar remains the same, you may find you prefer certain features or materials more.Here’s a breakdown of the common choices you have when selecting a tow bar. Steel vs Aluminum: Traditionally, tow bars were made from steel; however, more and more modern tow bars are being constructed out of aluminum with reinforced steel welds. Aluminum-constructed tow bars generally have a higher towing weight rating than all-steel constructions. But the best benefit of aluminum tow bars is how much less they weigh than steel tow bars. Steel tow bars can exceed 50 lbs, which can be a lot of weight to lift around. One of my favorite aluminum tow bars, the Demco Dominator, weighs only 30 lbs. That’s one lightweight tow bar!Crossbar vs. Hidden Brackets: Some tow bars include a crossbar that mounts between the arms near the connection point between your tow bar and dinghy. This is designed to lend extra support for your towing system; however, not all tow bars require this additional support. Some base plate kits are made to attach to your dinghy's frame in such a way as to provide enough support for it to be towed without the aid of a crossbar. If you have a chosen a crossbar base plate kit for your dinghy, you need a tow bar that can connect to a crossbar. This style of tow bar will be labeled as “crossbar” or “direct connect.” Fixed vs. Telescoping Arms: Some economical, car-mount tow bars are made with rigid arms that don't adjust. These types of tow bars are called “fixed arm tow bars.” Tow bars with adjustable arms are easier to hook up. You don't have to drive your dinghy into a precise position to connect your towing system; rather, you pull the telescoping arms out, or push them back in, to get the length you need to attach to your base plate.

Extra Features of Tow Bars:

  • Non-Binding Release Latches
    • What is it? These are easy-to-grab latches that you lift up to release the tension in the tow bar's arms after flat towing.
    • Why do I want it? The built-up tension in tow bar arms after flat towing can make it near impossible to disconnect the arms. A release lever relieves a significant amount of tension, making it easier to disconnect the arms.
  • Self-Supporting Arms
    • What is it? These tow bars have a tension mechanism at the base of the arms that holds the arms wherever you place them.
    • Why do I want it? Tow bar arms are heavy, so self-supporting arms make the arms easier to lift and connect into the base plate.
  • Self-Aligning Arms
    • What is it? The arms lock into the safe and aligned towing position just by slowly driving your RV forward.
    • Why do I want it? Self-aligning arms are more forgiving than other tow bar designs since you can attach them when your dinghy isn't perfectly aligned to the back of your RV.
  • LED-Lit Arms
    • What is it? The Roadmaster Nighthawk tow bar has LED strip lights along both arms.
    • Why do I want it? The LED lights illuminate the flat towing components for easy disconnection at night. No ramming your shins into the arms or losing parts on the ground.
  • Pivot Joints
    • What is it? Pivot joints allow the tow bar's arms to individually swivel around, allowing for easier hookup on uneven ground.
    • Why do I want it? If you RV at mom-and-pop campsites or backcountry, the ground won't be level, which makes connecting a tow bar difficult. Pivot joints allow the tow bar to be connected on uneven and inclined terrain.
  • Safety Cable Management
    • What is it? Tow bars with a cable management system have either clips or channels along the arms to secure the safety cables and/or light wiring.
    • Why do I want it? Loose safety cables can hang low to the ground. Low-hanging cables create a safety concern especially if taking your RV off paved roads.
Tow Bar with Telescoping Arms
Crossbar-Style Tow Bar
High-Low Adapter
High-Low Adapter
When your dinghy is connected to your motorhome, the tow bar should be within 3", up or down, of being level to the ground. If it is not within this acceptable range, also called “the safe zone,” you will need to use a high/low hitch adapter to safely connect to your base plate. Click here to learn more about high/low adapters.Why does this matter? Improper leverage can cause stress and wear on the tow bar and base plates. When braking, stress is applied to your towing system and to the frames of your RV and dinghy because of the downward braking force placed on both vehicles. This can cause flexing at the base plate installation points and adversely affect both the frame and suspension of your towed vehicle.
How do you know if you need a high-low hitch adapter? Here’s a quick tutorial on measuring your hitch receiver and base plate.
  • A: Measure the height from the center of your hitch pin hole on the RV to the ground.
  • B: Measure the distance from the center of your dinghy's draw bar arms (when installed in frame brackets) to the ground.
  • A - B = C: Subtract the difference (A - B). If there is more than a 3-inch difference, a hitch adapter is needed.
Measuring from ground to hitch receiver image

Safety Cables

What are safety cables?

Safety cables are two steel cables connecting your RV to your dinghy, like how a tow bar connects both vehicles too; however, their purpose is to ensure that your dinghy does not fully detach from your RV if your tow bar somehow uncouples from your RV or dinghy. These cables are crucial for any tow bar setup and required by law in most states.

How do I use safety cables?

The proper way to connect your safety cables is to crisscross them underneath the tow bar. One cable will attach to the left side of your RV and the right side of your dinghy. The second cable will attach vice versa. Two crossing cables create a basket under the tow bar in case it becomes uncoupled. This basket keeps your tow bar from dragging the ground or falling on the highway to rip up the undercarriages of your dinghy and other vehicles on the road.
In most towing setups, safety cables link two or three components together. The long cable connects the RV hitch to the base plate arms on the dinghy. If your base plate is a quick-connect style and has removable draw bar arms, you may also add a small cable that connects the base plate arms to the frame-mounted brackets on the dinghy.

What are my options when looking at safety cables?

Long, straight cables: Designed for tow bars with integrated cable channels
  • Note: Cables should be wrapped around Blue Ox tow bars with protective rubber boots. This will interfere with the rubber boots’ functionality and cause them to prematurely wear.
Long, coiled cables: Won't drag during towing, great if your tow bar doesn't have an integrated cable management system
  • Note: Do not use coiled cables with tow bars that have safety cable channels. You won't be able to the feed the coiled cables through the narrow channels.
Short safety cables: Required when using the Roadmaster EZ or XL base plates.
Safety Cable Diagram

Safety Cable Tip

Use quick links. Place quick links on the RV's rear frame and the dinghy's front frame to make clipping on safety cables quick and easy. No awkward hookups—just a clip that attaches to the cable hook.

Tow Bar Wiring

What is tow bar wiring?

You are required by law to have a lighting system on your dinghy that functions in sync with your RV's tail lights. More specifically, when you brake, use a turn signal, or turn on your hazard lights on your RV, your dinghy’s lights should do the same thing. You have several light wiring options available to you. These systems all perform the exact same function. The only difference is how they’re installed. Some solutions are temporary (needing to be installed and uninstalled anytime you’re flat towing), and others are permanent (installed once and remain on your dinghy). Additionally, some wiring systems are universal and can be used with any dinghy, while other systems are custom to your vehicle.

What are my wiring installation options?

Removable Exterior Light Kits: Magnetic towing lights and hitch-mounted light bars. This is the most economical wiring solution, but you will have to install and uninstall this system every time you flat tow.
Magnetic Tow Light Kit
Bulb and Socket Kit: Mount inside vehicle's taillight housing and bypass dinghy lighting system. This is another economical solution, but it means you have more bulbs to maintain over time.
Bulb and Socket lighting kit image
Hardware Diode Kit: Wires in-line with dinghy's existing taillight bulbs. This is the most common method for syncing your lights. The best benefit of this system is that once it’s installed, you don’t have to reinstall it. Also, it uses your dinghy’s bulbs instead of you needing to add an extra set of bulbs. This is a great solution for your light wiring; however, this is an installation you should have a professional do because it involves more complicated electrical work.
Magnetic Tow Light Kit
Custom-fit, Plug-In Wiring Harness: This is the most recent technology for towing wiring, and more and more people are choosing this wiring method. This system consists of a light harness that plugs directly into your dinghy’s existing taillight wiring harness. This is a solution you can install at home with the same benefits and functionality as a diode lighting system.
wiring harness product image

Extra Wiring Accessories You May Need

If you are unsure about wiring systems that will work for your dinghy, we have a custom fit-guide to help you choose the best solution for you. When you enter in your vehicle’s make, model, and year, you may be recommended a few extra parts.Two common wiring extras are wiring extensions and charge line kits. If these parts are suggested to you, they are not optional and are required to get your dinghy flat towing-ready.Wiring Extensions: Connect towed vehicle wiring to motorhome wiring. Most installations require a wiring extension.Charge Line Kits: Connects to 6-way or 7-way plug and allows RV to charge vehicle's battery while towing. Prevents the vehicle's battery from being drained if being used to power a braking system. A power line must be present on the RV. If there is no power at the 6-way/7-way plug, a charge line kit for RVs must be installed. Here are some testers you can use to see if you’re getting power.
If you'd like more detailed information on the types of dinghy light wiring options available, click here.

Supplemental Braking Systems

What is a supplemental braking system?

Required in most states and Canadian provinces, a supplemental braking system synchronizes your dinghy’s brakes with your RV’s brakes. While you may think this is an optional component for your flat towing rig, most likely you will RV in a state that requires this system. You might as well plan for this component beforehand.This braking system has benefits too. A supplemental braking system can decrease braking distance up to 30% on some towing setups. It also minimizes wear on both vehicles and smooths braking. Plus, many RV manufacturers will only honor your warranty if a braking system is in place when towing.

What are my braking system installation options?

When looking at supplemental braking systems, you have two general categories to choose from: fixed systems and portable systems.
Fixed Braking Systems: A fixed braking system works by tapping into your RV’s and dinghy’s braking systems and requires a professional to complete this installation. A great benefit of this system is that once it’s installed, you don’t have much work to do when prepping your dinghy to flat tow.
Fixed braking system product image
Portable Braking Systems: A portable braking system is a simple braking solution for people who don’t want to bother with advanced mechanical work; however, this system has to be installed and uninstalled every time you flat tow.
Portable braking system product image
These systems all perform the same braking function but with different perks and drawbacks. There are many more aspects to braking systems when choosing one for your rig. If you'd like to learn more about supplemental braking systems, click here.

General Setup Tips

Before Choosing a Flat Towing Rig:

I know this sounds obvious, but be sure that your dinghy can be towed before taking it on the road. Some vehicles must be equipped with a transmission lube pump, an axle disconnect, a drive-line disconnect, hitch high-low adapter, fuse bypasses, stop light switch, brake light relay, or free-wheeling hubs before they can be flat towed. Failure to properly equip your vehicle could lead to severe damage like transmission or engine failure. Check your owner's manual or call your dealer for specific information on your vehicle.If your vehicle cannot be towed for any of the above reasons, you may be able to use a tow dolly instead.

Flat Towing Safety Tips:

Some important notes for your initial flat-tow setup:
  • Never exceed the maximum weight capacity of your tow bar or any other component of your system.
  • Always hook up on as level ground as possible. Even non-binding tow bars may be difficult to maneuver if your system is not in-line.
  • Set your dinghy's steering and transmission to "tow." Your dinghy’s owner’s manual will have a “Towing” section, which should detail the steps necessary to get it prepared to tow.
  • Check to make sure tow bar arms are locked in place before heading out.
Roadmaster Nighthawk Hitch Mount Tow Bar
Still have questions? Did we miss a need-to-know parts tip? Let us know in the comments!
About Dani S.I don't just put nice words on a page. Being a content writer at etrailer means I ask about a hundred questions everyday to our experts, installers, technicians, and product managers. I ask the question before you know you have the question in the first place. It's my job to be always learning so I can serve you better through helpful, easy to read articles. Now and then, I also like to provide a bit of comedic relief around the office.
Published On: 4/20/2021Related Articles:

Learning How to Flat Tow Article Series

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Questions and Comments about this Article

E. S.

Thank you

Donny D.

Hi, I want to tow my classic car (Old Mini Cooper) on an A frame tow bar, but my car does not have a steering lock. Must the wheels be locked obviously in the forward position or dose the car track its self in the free steering position? Thanks for your help.

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

That is something that you'll need to look up in your owner's manual. If you let me know the year of your Mini Cooper then I can try to look it up as well but you should be able to find a section in your manual about recreational towing that specifies this.

Leslie N.

We purchased a 2002 Jeep Liberty Sport to pull behind our 1997 Fleetwood Southwind Storm motorhome. With yout help we got a base plate and other accesories to go along with a Demco Excaliber tow bar. We set out on our maiden voyage and discovered we had horrible sway or fishtailing at even 45 mph. It was a constant battle to keep the moter home between the lines. After much research we added 10 extra pounds air pressure to the jeeps tires which seemed to help on our trip back home but we still couldnt go over 50 mph. We sent awaay for a 4" receiver drop to make the tow bar more level but have't got it yet to try out. My question to you is if you could possibly have any ideas on why we might be getting that much sway and what we can do to help it. We will never get anywhere at 45 mph plus it is potentially very dangerous. Thank you for your time and any suggestions

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

You definitely want to make sure that your tow bar is within the 3" safety range (see attached) so if it isn't then the high/low adapter will definitely be a good place to start. Another thing to possibly check is your anti-sway bars and steering stabilizer on the motorhome. If these are old or haven't been replaced then it would really help your driving experience overall - not just while you're flat towing. If you go through our fitguide and select the year/make/model of your motorhome chassis you can see if we have anything that fits.

Ken F.

Maybe you can help me in finding the right tow bar and base plate that I would need for our 2020 Nissan Rouge. We have a Thor Ace class a would appreciate your help thank Ken

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jason S.

As of today (1-20-2020) none of our manufacturers have determined a fit for your vehicle regarding base plates. As soon as they do, you will be able to see them on our website fit guide for your vehicle which I've linked. I recommend checking your owner's manual as the 2019 model year didn't allow for flat towing and instead required a tow dolly like the Demco Kar Kaddy 3 Tow Dolly with Disc Brakes - Tilt Bed Frame - 4,800 lbs # DM9713046 .



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