The trustworthy way to flat-tow
To some, flat-towing a vehicle is the ultimate form of punishment. Not only can it be notoriously difficult to hook a towbar up without an extra set of eyes, but once in motion, you’d better know how to anticipate forward progress because any attempt to reverse your direction almost always results in frustration. Conventional towing almost seems elementary when compared to the complexity of flat-towing, and this truth is no better illustrated than by the first-timer who fails to realize the importance of a few basic principles associated with such a connection.
Unlike a typical trailer arrangement, flat-towing requires that the vehicle in tow be free to coast along behind the lead vehicle. Instead of simply relying upon a set of tie-downs to mechanically secure the vehicle to the trailer, flat-towing complicates matters because it requires that the wheels, tires, axles, and suspension assemblies of the vehicle in tow are in mechanically sound condition. Additional to these concerns, you still have to worry about the same lonely hitch connection between the two vehicles to dictate speed, direction and braking force. To make things worse, you have at least two additional pivot points to fret over—not to mention safety chains. The whole process can be nerve-racking, especially to the inexperienced.
However, if your rig is equipped with a towbar setup, you may find cases where flat-towing is the best option. For example; you and your buddies are halfway through the Rubicon Trail, and despite what everyone would consider proper trail preparation, your rig suffers a catastrophic failure. Items like a broken sector shaft or a busted timing chain can leave you with no option but to have a buddy pull you and your broken rig back to the trailhead. In this scenario, a towbar greatly simplifies the task at hand. Another scenario relates to vehicles that cannot handle the added tongue weight of a trailer—like a pickup sporting a cab-over camper with an overhanging rear section. In these cases, flat-towing is a great solution, though when evasive maneuvers are required, your towbar will need to be able to maintain the connection between the two vehicles.
Most towbars are designed for lightweight automobiles and flat paved surfaces. You can usually find these devices for under $200 at any moving truck rental outfit. However, the moment you induce large variations in terrain such as are common to four-wheeling, these bars can flex and distort, offering little margin for safety. Tow-Rite towbars, on the other hand, are designed especially for trail operation and feature robust construction that won’t let you down when things get hairy. We concluded a year-long evaluation of Tow-Rite’s standard steel version on a ’95 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the product is a winner.
Here, you can see the bottom side of the head plate. This is the standard engraving each unit comes with. The top side of the head plate can be left blank, or for an additional fee, Tow-Rite can CNC-engrave virtually anything—logos, vehicle nicknames, or hitching instructions.
Tow-Rite towbars feature triple-layer construction on each lateral leg of the A-frame. This multi-layer, MIG-welded construction ensures that the unit will not twist or bend during off-highway operation.
There are many ways to mount a Tow-Rite. We opted to mount ours directly to the front face of a Hanson Off-Road winch bumper we were having installed on our donor rig. Here, you can see that the standard shackle mounts interfered with our desired mounting location. As a result, we had to grind off the shackle points and weld on a pair of custom brackets. Tow-Rite offers several options for such scenarios. It is important to consider mounting location prior to painting or powdercoating.
Tow-Rite ships every steel bar powdercoated black, unless you specify a different color or request primer only. We ordered our unit uncoated so that it would be easier to inspect the weld quality and construction. After inspecting the bar, we simply sprayed it with a high-quality spray paint.
Once painted, we installed the bar on the Hanson Offroad front bumper. This photo shows the top portion of the A-frame section of the bar when the coupler is in place sans the 5⁄8-inch hitch pin.
One of the coolest elements we discovered throughout our evaluation of the Tow-Rite is how the removable coupler makes vehicle disconnection a breeze. While Tow-Rite doesn’t recommend this on non-lifted applications, you simply disconnect the safety chains and wiring. Then, with both vehicles in Park, pull the pin on the coupler. Next, start up the vehicle in tow and back up. The coupler slides out of the A-frame receiver, and the vehicles are free from each other—no hassle with locking mechanisms or ball alignment due to uneven surfaces. Here, you can see the A-frame with the coupler removed.
When flat-towing, it is important to maintain proper towbar angle. It is advisable to keep the towbar at a slight angle up towards the tow rig. Never tow with the towbar angled down towards the tow rig, and never exceed more than four inches of height difference between the two vehicles when using a standard two-inch ball coupler. Also, remember that the farther back the towbar’s pivot point is from the tow rig’s rear end, the more vertical movement there will be at the coupler. Depending on the type of coupler used, you may encounter binding, especially in mountain areas and on dirt roads. Tow-Rite offers a pintle-style coupler for those who want to use the towbar on the trail. When using an adjustable hitch like the one shown here, bear in mind that additional leverage will be applied to the hitch’s receiver. Always check the integrity of the connection before you tow.
This photo shows improper towbar angle. While such a connection may look safe, during hard braking scenarios the front of the towed vehicle can lift, increasing the angle, which can cause the towbar to become disconnected. Always ensure that the towbar is angled slightly up towards the tor rig.
In most states, it is illegal for the towbar to block or interfere with the driver’s field of vision. Thanks to the short design of the A-frame and Tow-Rite’s patented removable coupler setup, you can leave the towbar attached to the vehicle while not in use and still be legal.