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September 16, 2015 practical

Toad Trials

Our decision to bring our 2010 Honda Insight with us on the road, not unsurprisingly, led to even more decisions. This post will be detailing our decision process and the research we did. Just want to see our tow dolly comparison sheet? Here it is. To be able to sort/filter this sheet, click the funnel to the left of the View Only” notice and select Create new temporary filter view.”

Filter/sort tutorial gifFilter/sort tutorial gif

On to the details!

The Details

Quick vocabulary/term lesson:

  • Tow vehicle - the one doing the towing
  • Toad - towed” (get it?) behind vehicle - the one being towed

Typical tow options include a 4-down flat tow: 4-down

2-up tow dolly: 2-up (or 2-down, depending on if you're an optimist or pessimist)

and 4-up tow dolly: 4-up - this is not our car :(

All of these options require a hitch on the tow vehicle. The flat tow requires a tow bar set up, which normally includes a bar going between the towing and the toad and a bracket on the toad for the bar to attach to. The toad is then pulled behind with all four wheels touching the road. A tow dolly, by contrast, lifts either just the front or all of the wheels onto a platform.

Tow bar: Still not our car

Tow Bar Bother

We started off wanting to tow 4-down, because it would be easier to back the RV with the Insight attached, and it would be fewer pieces to keep track of. We weren’t able to find much in the online forums about 4-down with our specific make and model, so I decided to…

  1. Call the service department of the original (Acura) dealership where our Insight was purchased last year. They told me they’ve never installed a tow bar on our make/model, and to…
  2. Call the Honda dealership down the road. They also said they had never installed a tow bar and knew nothing about it for our make model, and to…
  3. Call a Uhaul nearby. I search Google Maps for Uhauls near the park where we’re staying for a couple weeks and call the nearest. They tell me that they don’t work with tow bars, and I need to…
  4. Call a specific Uhaul - apparently the appending of Moving & Storage” makes this one special? The lady who answered the phone said that yes, they sell and install tow bars! But the manager (Josiah) won’t speak over the phone - instead I need to…
  5. Go in to talk to him in person. Christian and I swing by on an errand run and get an excellent primer on the tow bar options. The big choices to make for tow bars is how compact you want the bar to be and how noticeable you want the bracket to be (the main components). Based on these choices, the cost can range from $800-$3000. The two main companies according to Josiah are:
    1. Roadmaster and
    2. Blue Ox. Josiah needs to contact the dealers to get current pricing, and agrees to…
  6. Email us on Monday with pricing. Monday comes around and the email pops in, only to find out that the two main tow bar manufacturers don’t make the mounting bracket for our car. :(

Back to the Drawing Board

Now we’re evaluating choices based on cost vs. effort (fixed and repeating). Our choices include:

  • Get a different car that works with a tow bar. This option is high effort now, but less effort for hookup/driving later. For example: a Smart fortwo would require the trade-in of our current car, and Carmax lists some nearby around 9K. We got our car a year ago for ~13K. The tow bar set up for the Smart car (cost estimate from Josiah at UHaul) would be ~2.5K. After trade-in and before tax, assuming no depreciation of our Insight (hey, we can dream!), we could leave with 4K in pocket. That means after tow bar we would still have 1.5K to spare, which let’s be real is probably going to be eaten up by tax/title/depreciation. Call it a draw, so the monetary cost would be negligible.
  • Jerry-rig the Insight to work with a tow-bar. I was able to find one post on a forum of someone who had done this, but it seemed difficult and dangerous to be messing around with something we know absolutely nothing about. This one rates high effort now, less effort later, and less cost, but high risk.

    so, i towed my insight with a tow-bar. it helped that i had already removed the front bumper-cover, and all the aerodynamic underbody engine cowling and air-dams. FYI, that stuff is structurally all interconnected. once you remove the mounting bracket for the tow-hook loop thingity, it turns out that the holes in the bumper line up very well with the tow-bar bracket mounts. i DO thoroughly recommend cutting a backing plate out of the same stuff as the tow-mounts are made of. i just think that’s a really good idea. - chrislaskey

  • Tow the Honda with a dolly. Less effort now (we won’t have to mess with the car itself, just get a dolly), more effort later (can’t back up Harvey with toad attached, have to drive up on tow dolly each time, separate piece to store/lock up at campsite). Of all the options left to us, this one was the most attractive, which means it’s once again time for research.

Tow Dolly Details

Switching to a tow dolly with 2-down instead of a tow bar with 4-down meant that we needed to readjust our judging criteria for the dolly itself. This was a helpful guide to choosing a tow dolly that touched lightly on several characteristics that vary from dolly to dolly. Here’s an expanded summary with additional resources, and the comparison spreadsheet at the end:

  • braking
    • Does it have brakes? This seemed like a no-brainer to me (why wouldn’t you want the 300+ pound hunk of metal with a 3,000+ pound car on top of it to be able to stop itself?), but some dollies do not actually include a braking system. I am not a lawyer, but word on the web is that brakes are required to be legal in all 50 states. Maybe if you’re just using your dolly to go a short distance it wouldn’t matter if it had brakes, but in our scenario brakes were a necessity. The tow dollies we looked at fell into four categories based on the combination of electric vs. hydraulic and disc vs. drum.
      • electric vs. hydraulic (surge) - hydraulic are easier to work with since they’re self-contained, while electric brakes need a brake controller which can be expensive (and need you to run wiring). For tow dollies, both hydraulic and electric depend on the towing vehicle. As I understand it, hydraulic brakes activate based on pressure as the front towing vehicle slows (meaning they would activate from the brake pedal being pressed AND from letting off of the gas without engaging the brakes), and electric brakes are communicating directly with the braking system of the towing vehicle. Here’s an old-school explanation of automobile hydraulic drum brakes:
      • disc vs. drum TL;DR: brakes work through friction, which creates heat. Disc brakes allow that heat to dissipate more rapidly, making them more’ effective’. However, both disc and drum brakes are safe and have improved greatly since the beginning of brake technology. According to the edmunds article linked above: a well-designed, modern drum brake is all that’s required for most rear wheel brake duty.”
  • lighting
    • Does it have lighting? Do you need an additional separate light bar? Does it hook into the lights of the towed vehicle? Some models also include LED options. This is another decision that depends on your use-case for the dolly - only driving during the day? Maybe you don’t need lights. For us, the safety aspect meant that lights were necessary.
  • maneuvering
    • center pivot vs. pivoting wheels. It was harder to find information about this for the dollies on our list, but it is something that can be taken into consideration. We really had no preference! Here are some pictures showing the difference in manueverability with pivot options: Center pivot with a swivel platform (car wheels turn)

Pivoting wheels (car wheels remain stationary, only tow dolly wheels turn)

  • other considerations
    • tow weight. Our car is a whopping 2,734 pounds (curb weight), but we were still careful about the limits of the pieces in our set-up. Be aware of the:
      • capacity of towing vehicle
      • capacity of connecting hitches/dolly
      • weight of towed vehicle. Check the curb weight of your toad to be sure! But here’s a quick average curb weight table just to give you an idea: From http://cars.lovetoknow.com/List_of_Car_Weights
    • foldable/removable ramps. These just make it easier to store the dolly, and the manufacturers who include removable ramps claim that it decreases damage on the underbody of the towed vehicle.
    • height of tow dolly. We’ve got a pretty low car, so a lower tow dolly (for the front two wheels only) means that it’s less strain on the chassis of the towed vehicle .

Whew. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a tow dolly, so guess what I made for comparing them? Yup, it’s spreadsheet time! The information on this sheet was pulled from manufacturer websites, calls with local dealers, and Acme Tow Dolly’s (warning: video autoplays on this page) comparison chart. Spoiler alert: this is the dolly we wound up selecting. Is it because their product meets our needs? Yes. Is it also because I respect anyone who uses a spreadsheet appropriately, aka for organizing and comparing data? Also yes.

To be able to sort/filter this sheet, click the funnel to the left of the View Only” notice and select Create new temporary filter view.”

Filter/sort tutorial gif

So without any further ado, here is our final tow-dolly set-up (with Amazon affiliate links):

*not actual size

The delivery process was painless - Christian had to hop up into the truck to help pivot the crated dolly around, but then the delivery truck operator was able to use the liftgate to lower it down for us.

Delivery So fetch

Christian undid a few bolts and rolled it out, then re-did some bolts to attach the fenders. We picked up a few pins and locks, as well as an adapter for the lights (4 pin round to 4 pin flat), and the set-up was complete!

Stay tuned for updates as to how it performs once we’re all loaded up and actually driving with the thing o_O.

Did you find a different solution for your towing situation? Did I completely misrespresent the difference between hydraulic and electric brakes? Do you have any tips for securing the dolly when we get to our campsite(s)? Leave us a comment!


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Inspection Let’s pick up where we left off - just before Memorial Day weekend of 2015, we’ve found our top choice candidate and are moving to the next step:
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Fall Foliage Day 1 - Coppell, Texas, to DeGray Lake, Arkansas This trip has been dubbed the “Fall Foliage Tour.” Our plan is to: weave up through the Midwest, visiting family and friends through: Arkansas,