marks-rv-garage-all-about-tow-dolliesAfter my article on towing a vehicle with four wheels on the ground I received several requests for more information on towing a vehicle with a tow dolly.

What is a Tow Dolly?

A tow dolly is a two wheeled trailer used to transport the vehicle you are towing with the drive wheels off of the ground. Tow dollies are a good choice when the vehicle you are towing cannot be towed with all four wheels down or if the vehicle would require expensive modifications to tow with all four wheels down.

Watch the tow dolly video

Selecting the Right Tow Dolly:

Tow dollies are manufactured to accommodate a certain size vehicle. They must be able to handle the width and the weight of the towed vehicle. Like everything else tow dollies have maximum weight ratings too. When you purchase a tow dolly make sure that it is designed to support the weight and size of the towed vehicle. Some dollies are adjustable, meaning the same dolly can be set-up to tow different size vehicles, and others are made to tow just one size vehicle. Normally the width of the towed vehicle determines the size tow dolly. Check with the tow dolly manufacturer before making a purchase.

Note: Matching the wrong vehicle and tow dolly can result in damage to the towed vehicle.

Some tow dollies come equipped with brakes and others do not. Check with State or Province laws and the motor home chassis manufacturer about the requirement for a towed vehicle braking system based on the amount of weight you will be towing before you purchase a tow dolly.

Loading and Unloading the Tow Dolly:

Before loading the vehicle unto the tow dolly make sure the tow dolly coupler is properly attached to the ball mount and that you are using the proper size hitch ball for the coupler. Use a safety pin or clip to secure the locked coupler. Attach the safety chains or cables making sure they are crossed, “X” to form a saddle that would prevent the coupler from contacting the road surface in the event of a separation. Plug the light cable in and check all of the lights for proper operation. Follow the tow dolly manufacturer instructions to determine the proper hitch ball height.

Note: Because tow dolly manufacturers have different operating instructions it is essential that you follow the tow dolly manufacturer’s specific instructions for proper loading, unloading, and vehicle tie down procedures.

Tow Dolly Pre-Trip Checklist:

Perform these checks before each travel day.

* Check and adjust tire pressure to manufacturer recommendations. Check when tires are cold before traveling more than one mile.

* Check wheel lug nuts. Tighten to manufacturer specifications.
* Check that wheel hubs and bearings are properly adjusted and lubricated. Follow manufacturer instructions or have them checked by a repair facility.

* Check that all nuts and bolts are properly tightened. Do not use the dolly with any loose or damaged hardware.

* Check that the coupler is properly secured to the ball mount. Note: Follow manufacturer instructions for adjusting coupler tightness.

* Check the safety chains for proper attachment.

* Check all lights for proper operation.

* Check that the tow vehicle is properly secured to the tow dolly. Note: Follow manufacturer instructions.

* Make sure the towed vehicle parking brake is released after it is properly secured to the dolly.

* Stop after 10 miles of travel to check the tie down straps. Readjust as required. Check every 100 miles afterwards as a minimum.

* Do not attempt to back the tow dolly when vehicle is loaded on it!

Some Tow Dolly Towing Tips:

* Perform all pre-trip checks before using the tow dolly.

* Make turns wider than you are accustomed to. Do not attempt to make sharp turns or U-turns. If you turn to sharply the vehicle you are towing can come in contact with the tow dolly fender causing damage to both the towed vehicle and dolly.

* Do not attempt to back the loaded tow dolly. Backing can damage the tow dolly and the towed vehicle.

* Allow a safe following distance, and anticipate all stops in advance.

* Do not speed, drive at a safe speed and keep in mind the dolly is wider than some vehicles towing it. Stay centered in your lane of traffic.

* If you experience excessive sway it may be caused by an improperly loaded tow dolly. Stop when it is safe, check and retighten the tie downs, or reload the vehicle. Check tie down straps every 100 miles at a minimum.

* The towed vehicle should always be facing forward on the dolly. A towed vehicle loaded from the rear can contribute to trailer sway.

* Never allow any passengers to ride in the towed vehicle.

Our Checklist’s for RVers E-book has over 90 pages with 40 checklists covering all RV related topics.

Happy Camping & Travel Safe,

Mark J. Polk

RV Education 101

RV University

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  4. Robert Edwards

    I also have a Stehl tow dolly. I bought it used, 2010 model. It had good tires and low mileage according to the seller. 1st trip was about 400 miles roundtrip and there was no noticabletire wear. The dolly and my 2001 Town & Ciountfry van tracked very well. I took a 1200 mile trip to NY. recently and no noticable tire wear. From NY. I headed to the Gulf of Mexico in Fl. Aout 600 miles I saw severe tire wear on both the inside and outside of both dolly wheels. It was imperative they be replaced as the cord was showing in places. In addition there were little chunks of rubber left in wear area. The flat surface was not showing any wear at all. The 700 miles since they were replaced did not show wear on the new tires. It sounds like after reading the above Stehl might have a mfg. issue. I have writtten and r quested them to address my concerns, but they have not replied.

  5. I bought a Stehl tow dolly in Tucson in March of 2011. I am on my second cross-country trip with it towing a Acura TL. After the first trip, I noticed excessive wear on the outside tire treads. I had the tires flipped and balanced. Now – halfway through my second trip, the tires are wearing on the outside again. I agree with above comments. There is no caster/camber to adjust. Bad manufacturing. I’ll have to buy new ones on the way back.

  6. Keith

    Does anyone know if lights are required on a tow dolly in thestate of Florida? I have always heard that they are not, and most tow dollies I see around here don’t have lightson them. I got a ticket for that here in Eustis, Fl. I know the vehicle your towing has to have lights on it, but never heard ofthe dolly itself requiring lights, when I got the ticket, the dolly was empty. Only 4 days later, I asked another Eustis police officer, if I would need lights on the dolly, and he said “no”. I don’t have 116.00 to blow because of the ignorance of a rookie officer, I want to take it to court, but I can’t find any info anywhere. The cop gave me what he called a “fix it” ticket, and said I wouldn’t have to pay anything as long as I put lights on it. I put my magnetic tow lights on the dolly, and brought it to the police station, only to be informed taht I would still have to pay the fine. HELP !! Lol. I need a statute number or something to bring to court!

  7. dino

    just bought a used tow dolly. i have a question, the turn plates on my dolly moves about seven inches in each direction, when going forward and turning a sharp corner the tow dolly fenders will strike part of the vehicle that i am towing. what could be the problem? i am thinking that the turn plates should not turn so much, am i correct?

  8. Jim Mahan

    Where can I buy a ‘Lil Hitch-Hyker’?

  9. Peggy

    I am interested in towing my Honda Civic using a tow dolly. How do I know if my car will have enough clearance when loaded on the dolly to tow it successfully?

  10. Roy Buck

    Is it safe to use a braking system like the Brake Buddy on a vehicle towed using a tow dolly?

  11. Dale Gartley

    Like Mr Vollmer I have a similar problem. I have a new Master Tow dolly. I am getting a bit better mileage but not much. I have just replaced both tires after two trips from Ontario to Texas. My ties were worn off on the outside 1/3. The center and insides were nearly new. I took my dolly to a trailer specialist here in Ontario. He indicated they are welded and there is no adjustment for alignment. I also re-balanced the tires, but it made no difference. After paying over 3 grand for the dolly I am not very happy!!!!

  12. I for one have been Never had a dolly Problem! I alway’s unload the jeep before Pulling into my assigned stall & push my Dolly into the campground’s storage area & I Found a Lock like you use on a boat trailer to Deter Theift! I use Marine lithem Grease (White) water proof! keep a grease gun filled and give my Buddy Bearing’s a couple pump’s between trip’s! Haven’t blown a Rear seal Yet! I bought mine here in the k.c. MO. area K.C. Kansas really of f of 5th street & I get Real good Tire-ware nice & even! & I get way more than 800 mile’s out of a set of Tire’s! if that’s all i got out of a set i would buy another brand Dolly! Just My Opinion which are like a-hole’s everyone has one & they all stink! HEEEE! Just a Joke to lighten up this blog tonight! Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired, Avaition-Mech. Infantry & Armour!, Proud to Have served! Now drawing 100% Disability & Social security Got a Gold card for national campground’s & there Free-Non-Taxable income, & a Yorke for company she’s glad to see me & Never Talk’s Back! I thought i knew allot about Rv’ing but this blog is covering stuff i have not had to Deal with Yet! Thank God!

  13. Jim

    When you attempt to back up the tow dolly will turn but the vehicle on the dolly will try to stay in a straight line. The results are the tow dolly fender hitting and damaging the side of the vehicle on the dolly.

  14. Steve Vollmer

    To Alan Richards,
    I also have a new Stehl tow dolly and had uneven wear on the outside on both tires, not just smooth wear, but “chewed up” wear. This was with only about 800 miles on it. I had the have the tires replaced and the mechanic told me the tires were about 3/4″ out of alignment. I called the seller and also talked with someone from Stehl and they said that alignment would not caused the wear but if the pads were not greased or maybe dirty, it would not allow the dolly to swivel on turns like it should. I checked it and put more grease on the pads and it seemed to be a little better, but after another 800 miles it is still showing wear on the outside of one tire. Obviously, 800 miles should not show any wear in my opinion. I think it is not aligned correctly but it is solid welded and cannot be adjusted.
    So, I had to leave it in Omaha for a while and I will get it in June and see what the Stehl people can do for me. I would think they should pay for the new tires I had to buy and fix it so it is aligned correctly. Let’s keep in touch in case we need to “discuss” our problem with Stehl together.
    Steve Vollmer [email protected]

  15. Jim Carr

    you say, “do not attempt to back up the loaded tow dolly”. I am wondering why? What will happen? Thanxs for your reply, Jim

  16. alan richards

    Have a Stehl Tow dolly and have put about fifteen hundred miles on it. Noticed today that I have uneven wear on the tires. Is this caused by allignment or do I need to have the tires balanced?

  17. Rick

    One other thing, my dolly has a turning axle and one must remember to pull the pin to facilitate the turning axle before loading the vehicle. (Pin must be in when towing dolly empty) I forgot the 3rd time I used it when loading to go south for the winter in a walmart lot. Ripped off the rubber splash guard under front bumper along with all the fasteners. $1200 damage. Didn’t ruin trip, took some snips and finished the job and drove car that way all winter. I won’t forget that pin again.

  18. We loved our Toyota Prius and towed it on a tow dolly for around 6 mos. (full timers) but I personally could not unhook/loosen the straps to get the car off the dolly and we decided when going full timing that both had to be able to handle all the necessary things. We had to trade it in on a vehicle that we could tow using a tow bar. I have no problems with that. Made me sad tho’ to give up my Prius.

  19. The nylon tie down straps stretch when wet. If you drive in the rain it’s important to check the straps periodically and retighten them.
    We stop for a few minutes about every two hours: while my wife walks the dog, I touch each of the wheel hubs to make sure they are cool (hot would indicate failing bearings), as well as the tie down straps for security, the safety chains for security, and the nut on the trailer ball to be tight. I check all tire pressures at least each morning before getting on the road.