RV 101® – Is your Dinghy Towing System Safe to Tow Behind your Motorhome?

Dinghy Towing System

Today I want to discuss an important safety topic most people don’t think about. The topic is, how safe is your towing system when towing a vehicle behind your motorhome?  I’m talking about towing a vehicle with all four wheels down.

Tow Bar on Motorhome

There are lots of components that make up your dinghy towing system. You have the hitch receiver on the motorhome, a drop hitch if required, the tow bar, and the baseplate to connect the tow bar to the towed vehicle. In addition to all this hardware, there are safety cables, pins, clips and a wiring harness.

When was the last time you inspected all of the components in your dinghy towing system? I mean really inspected all of the components. We as RV owners and RV operators have a responsibility to keep the towing equipment in good operating condition, and to perform thorough inspections on all of the components in the towing system. This should always be done prior to towing the vehicle down the road.

Disconnecting Tow Bar

If you are like me, you probably connected and disconnected your towed vehicle a hundred times. We start to take things for granted after doing the process over and over again. When I worked for an RV dealership, we saw all kinds of problems with towing systems. We found broken welds on hitch receivers, loose hitch receivers, rusted hitch receivers and lots of loose bolts and mounting hardware.

Towing System Components

Download my Free Towing Systems Inspection Checklist

It only takes a couple of minutes to inspect your towing system prior to leaving on a trip. This quick inspection can protect you, and others traveling on our roads. To assist you with your inspections, I am including my downloadable RV 101® – Towing System Inspection & Safety Checklist Click on the link to download my checklist and keep it in your tow vehicle for easy access.

Blue Ox Baseplate

Tow Vehicle Baseplate Kits

That brings me to the main topic of the article. Today I want to talk about towing baseplate kits. Baseplate kits are components installed on the towed vehicle so you can connect the tow bar to the vehicle. It’s a component in the towing system most people don’t think about after it is installed.

One Individuals Real World Scary Towing Experience

I want to tell you the story of one individual’s harrowing experience, and what we can possibly do to prevent it from happening to somebody else.

We will refer to him as”the RV owner”

The RV owner has a 2015 Tiffin Open Road 36LA, and tows a 2019 GMC Canyon. When he arrived at his camping destination in Florida he did what all of us do, he disconnected the tow vehicle from his motorhome. But this time, he discovered the driver’s side baseplate was very loose. Not sure what to do he called Roadmaster, the manufacturer of the baseplates. They immediately told him to go to the closest RV dealership and have his baseplates inspected. They also suggested if his baseplates were loose, the bolts might have lost their integrity and should be replaced.   

This was good advice, but the question is, why was the baseplate loose to begin with? I have installed numerous towing baseplate kits, and I understand how important it is to follow all of the installation instructions “To a T”.

Damage to crossbar where the baseplate was mounted to

The RV owner took his vehicle to the nearest RV dealership in the area, and the shop foreman went out to inspect the 2019 GMC Canyon baseplates. The RV owner said “The shop foreman’s first statement will haunt me for as long as I tow a vehicle behind my Class A – “You are lucky to be alive and even more lucky you didn’t kill others!”

That gives me the shivers! Here is how the RV owner explained the rest of his experience at the dealership.

The RV owner said, “When the shop foreman saw the astonished look on my face, he went on to point out that I was missing bolts. Then he showed me how loose my baseplate was. He said, Loctite Red should have been used on every bolt, and that without disassembling the front end he could almost guarantee no Loctite Red was used on the nuts and bolts.”

Me using Loctite Red on baseplate installation

In my past life I was an automotive maintenance technician. If you don’t know what Loctite Red is, it is a liquid you use on the threads of bolts and nuts to permanently lock and seal the fasteners from any shock and vibration. Roadmaster and Blue Ox both emphasize (more than once) in the instructions, the importance of using Loctite Red when installing baseplates.”

The RV owner said, “There is a lot more to this story—and $2,500 in repairs, and a trip to a body shop. But, let me quickly say that my Roadmaster tow system was installed by so-called professionals at a well-known RV dealership who not only told me they ‘never use’ Loctite Red, but refused to help with my repairs because I failed to bring my vehicle back to them. This dealership told me it was my fault for not checking my baseplates, and that I bore responsibility for not having my installation checked by them every 3 months “just like an oil change.”  Interestingly, this was NEVER brought to my attention before, during or after the installation.”

Note: If you read the Roadmaster and Blue Ox installation instructions, they both say the installation should be done by a professional. Blue Ox offers a list of dealers authorized to install Blue Ox products.

As a past certified automotive maintenance technician, I know a professional installer would not only use Loctite Red on all of the fasteners, they would also use the proper grade bolts and torque all of the bolts to the specifications shown in the installation instructions. For them to say “we never use Loctite” is totally inexcusable in my opinion.

Motorhome towing a Jeep Wrangler

The baseplate is the component used to connect the tow bar to the vehicle. It is the only component used on the towed vehicle to safely tow tons of weight down the highway. Can you imagine the devastation caused if the vehicle separated from the baseplate while going down the road? By law you also have to install a safety cable, but even with the cable the tow vehicle would be all over the road until the motorhome comes to a is stop.

Instructions telling installer to use Loctite Red

Our RV owner went on to say, “Because the RV dealership was unable to repair the broken and damaged frame bypass bar, I had to go to a body shop to have it replaced. I took a new set of baseplates with me from Roadmaster. I was able to view the installation instructions where Roadmaster states clearly the importance of using Loctite Red.”

Damaged end of the crossbar

The RV owner continued, “They also pointed out the urgency of checking the baseplates to make sure they are not loose—something that was never pointed out by my original installers. Most of us who enjoy the RV lifestyle are not professional installers of baseplates, but I believe had I taken the time to do my own installation I would have done a better job of following instructions. It is very interesting to me that the dealership who tried to help me in Florida stated had Loctite Red been used, as instructed, I would not have had these problems.”

We go to professionals to ensure a job is done correctly. If you don’t understand plumbing, you hire a plumber. After they complete the job you don’t think water is going to be leaking under the cabinet. The dealership that installed the baseplates had the responsibility to follow the installation instructions, and to advise the customer of the requirements to inspect the baseplates and mounting hardware.

Note: If the installer does not provide you with the installation instructions you can download them from the Internet. The installation instructions specify what you as the owner are responsible for.

There is more to this story; was GM already aware of the crossbar problem?

The RV owner said he was told to go to a body shop and at a minimum have the crossbar replaced, and have them inspect for any further damage to the overall frame of the truck. The crossbar was later cut off and replaced by the body shop. The RV owner said “Interestingly, the new bypass crossbar was redesigned, and was stronger than the original one according to the the body shop tech. Makes one think that I may not be the first person with issues.

What the crossbar looked like before the damage, notice the sleeves the bolts go through
This is the damaged side of the crossbar, notice the sleeves are completely gone

Now, more factors come into play. The original installer of the baseplate admittedly failed to use Loctite Red, causing the mounting bolts to loosen (some fell out) resulting in the above damage to the driver’s side baseplate. The body shop determined the crossbar had to be replaced. The technician told the RV owner the new crossbar looked like it was redesigned and stronger than the original. This was the perfect storm, where every step in the process was done incorrectly, and the vehicle potentially had a weak crossbar to start with.

Faulty crossbar that was replaced

The RV owner finished by expressing his frustration, “I also have concerns about what vehicles can be safely towed. Before buying this vehicle, I did a lot of research and looked at towing guides and purchased my new vehicle with the sole purpose of towing it behind my Class A motorhome. My GMC Canyon has pages in the owner’s manual showing how to flat tow the vehicle.   It was one of the vehicle’s recommended in the 2019 Towing Guide.  My question is, should it be towed at all?  This came about when the body shop technician put my vehicle on a lift and looked at my bypass frame. He remarked how flimsy the bar appeared to him, and questioned whether towing this vehicle was even safe.  After further discussion, he suggested they replace the bypass bar, and weld another 3/16″ steel plate over each end that attached (back/welded) to the main frame.  He also suggested changing out the number 5 grade bolts provided by Roadmaster with number 8 grade bolts, number 8 washers and lock nuts on each end.  This was done, and interestingly this only cost me $1,400 with the installation of the new baseplates I purchased. I was told by Roadmaster, and the RV dealership in Florida that I would not have experienced any problems had the baseplates been properly installed.  Is this true?  Who can we trust to properly install these?  ….to know they used Loctite Red…and do RVers know the signs to look for when they are hooking and unhooking.  How many accidents might be caused each year by towing systems that become loose, broken away and caused RVs to lose control, roll over and/or crash?  We may never know.”

Note: Bolts come in different grades. The grade of the bolt indicates the strength of the steel used in the bolt. When you install products like baseplates, the manufacturer supplies the proper grade nuts and bolts for the installation. The grade can be found on the top of the bolt.

These are all legitimate questions and concerns. There are a few things we as RV owners can and should do. When you go to an RV dealer to have the baseplate kit installed, ask the service writer if they do in fact use Loctite Red, and if the bolts are torqued to the specifications in the instructions. I would go as far as having them write on the work order that they did in fact do this when they installed the baseplates, just for your own records.  Other good signs are if the dealership has certified RV technicians in the service department, and if the dealership sells and installs products made by the manufacturer of the baseplate kit.

What happened to this RV owner should never happen to anyone, but unfortunately it did. He was lucky it wasn’t worse. We’ll never know if the crossbar would hold up to the weight of the truck had the bolts been installed using Loctite Red. What we do know is the baseplate kit was installed incorrectly, and the body shop technician said the new crossbar was stronger than the old one. I searched the Internet for recalls, and service bulletins on a 2019 GMC Canyon, but did not come up with any issues about towing it behind a motorhome. Hopefully this is not something GM is keeping from the public.

All we can do as RV owners is try to understand what questions to ask, and what to look for prior to selecting who works on our RV and tow vehicle. And now it seems as though (for quality control purposes) it is necessary to inspect the work done by the installer!

It is my hope, and the individual who went through this, that this article will prevent something like this from happening to others.

Don’t forget to download and use my RV 101® – Towing System Inspection & Safety Checklist The checklist is easy to follow, and only takes a few minutes to complete. And, it might be the difference between a safe RV trip or a disastrous trip.

To learn more about safely and properly using your RV visit our RV Online Training

Happy Camping,

Mark J. Polk

RV Education 101

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