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The Advantages of Towing a Used Dinghy

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Buying a used dinghy vehicle to tow behind your motorhome offers a number of benefits over flat-towing a new model.

When shopping for a new dinghy vehicle, there’s something that many of us don’t consider: a used one. Certainly, if you’ve got the wherewithal to purchase new, and you want something shiny to go with your motorhome, by all means, go for it. But there are many advantages to buying used.

First and foremost is price. Most vehicles don’t have great resale value — so you can save thousands on a vehicle that’s only a few years old and has low mileage. Our annual Guide to Dinghy Towing goes back more than two decades, making it easy for you to find out which models/years are towable. Then it’s just a simple matter of going to a website like Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) to find out what you should expect to pay in today’s market. For example, the Jeep Wrangler has always been a towable favorite, but a new model clocks in at $33,290 for a base model at press time (not including tax and license). But after hopping on kbb.com, we find that we can get a base 2015 Jeep Wrangler Sport in “very good” condition for around $19,000 from a private seller. That’s nearly half off!

2015 Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is a perennial dinghy-towing favorite, and a model as new as this 2015 will save you thousands of dollars.

Another, equally compelling reason to buy used is that your dinghy will almost certainly incur damage, no matter how careful you are. Remember, it’s essentially tailgating your motorhome, and may do so for thousands of miles during its lifetime. Even if you have a rock protector on your motorhome and a shield on the vehicle, small rocks, gravel, tar, fresh paint and other nasties are bound to find their way to your dinghy’s paint, glass or both. There’s also no accounting for rogue weather in some areas of the U.S., and you’ve likely seen what hailstorms can do to an exposed car. Of course, you don’t want your “new to you” vehicle to get damaged, either, but it’s easier to stomach when you haven’t paid top dollar.

2016 Ford Explorer

Thinking about towing a Ford Explorer? You’re out of luck if you want a 2020 model, but a 2016 model like this one is towable and readily available on the used-car market.

Believe it or not, shopping for a used dinghy vehicle may also offer more choices. Most new vehicles are not available with a manual transmission (which usually makes dinghy towing easier), and those that are equipped with automatics may be of the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) variety, which are not towable in most cases. In fact, the CVT has made many a popular dinghy untowable in recent years — not the least of which is the Honda CR-V.

As newer vehicles become more complex, they often require more steps to make them towable, including (but not limited to) disconnecting the negative battery cable and a variety of fuses.

Older vehicles, with fewer sensitive electronics and simpler drive systems, usually only require that the transmission be in neutral and the key in the accessory position so that the steering wheel doesn’t lock (when in doubt, always check the owner’s manual to see what’s required; these can often be downloaded online, or ordered from a dealer’s parts department). Fewer do-dads and gadgets can also mean that older vehicles are often lighter than their contemporary counterparts.

Roadmaster baseplate for dinghy towing

Baseplates like this Roadmaster model are readily available for earlier models — in this case, a 2015 Jeep Wrangler.

As you may have ascertained by reading MotorHome magazine, preparing a vehicle for dinghy towing often requires modification, which can be extensive depending on the vehicle. You may not want, for example, someone sawing into the front fascia of your brand-new SUV in order to make a baseplate fit, whereas this probably wouldn’t be as painful (and maybe not even necessary) on an older, previous generation model.

Sterling tow bar for dinghy towing

If a baseplate is available for your vehicle, so is a tow bar, and there are a variety of models to choose from.

Finally, an older dinghy-towable vehicle has equipment available for it right now. Companies like Blue Ox, Demco and Roadmaster all offer fit lists on their websites that will help you quickly determine what’s available for the vehicle you’re considering. On the other hand, you may have to wait until some model-specific components are available until you can tow your brand-new model.

With a little research and careful shopping, you can find a used dinghy that will fulfill all of your travel needs at a much lower cost, and probably with less hassle.

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