Dinghy? Toad? Even Our Vocabulary is Rebooted

Once we figured out that we’d be driving a big Class A motorhome around the country, we learned that we would need to tow a car behind us. This wasn’t something we had originally considered. In our fantasy world, we pictured a small RV that we’d drive around everywhere we needed to get to, park at the supermarket and get groceries, and use our bicycles for exploring.

In reality, and especially with larger coaches, you set up your RV at your campground, and don’t move it again until you’re ready to depart, hopefully at least a week later. When camped, your slide-outs are extended, hydraulic leveling jacks are deployed, awning is opened, water and electric are hooked up, and interior is arranged for living instead of driving. And the thought of driving and parking a 35-foot rig for a quick trip to the supermarket is not a relaxing thought. As for exploring, while a campground can be a destination in itself, more often it’s a home base for exploring a region. Keeping your house stationary for a week or two and exploring a 100-mile radius in a small car opens up a lot more options. In fact, most RVers we read about put far more miles on their towed car than their motorhome!

And in the RV community, a car that’s towed behind you is called… a toad! Or a dinghy. The terms are completely interchangeable and used about equally. We haven’t decided yet which term we’re going to use. I’m leaning towards toad since it’s one syllable. Efficiency!

Digging a little deeper, cars can be towed in three ways: 1) on a trailer; 2) with the front wheels on a small dolly and the rear wheels on the ground; or 3) with all four wheels flat on the ground. For a variety of reasons, but mostly because “less is more” when it comes to RVing, flat towing (option 3) is the nearly universally preferred option. There are two main considerations when flat towing. First, only certain cars can be towed flat for a significant distance without damaging their transmissions. Second, each motorhome has a weight limit for what can be towed behind it. Fortunately, Motorhome Magazine publishes an annual Dinghy Guide: a list of all flat-towable vehicles for the model year, including each vehicle’s weight, fuel economy ratings, and any special instructions needed for flat towing.

After a quick scan of the guides, we learned that our 2012 Kia Optima is not towable, but our 2005 Honda Pilot is. However, after some thought we decided that the Pilot would not make a good toad for us and would need to be replaced. We’ve been extremely happy with the Pilot, but it delivers about 18 MPG overall. Since most of our driving will be in the toad rather than the RV, we’d like to improve our fuel economy significantly. The Pilot also weighs in at around 4,400 pounds. While a gas-engine motorhome can tow up to 5,000 pounds, anything over 4,000 tends to cut into the amount of cargo you can carry inside the RV. A heavier toad also means worse fuel economy for the RV that has to pull it.

With the understanding that we’ll be giving up both our cars, and shopping for a new car, our research shifts towards what that car will be.


Michael Fischer

After a high-tech career spanning software development and systems administration to leading hundreds of engineers across cities and continents, I'm now slowing things down a bit. Traveling full-time in an RV with my awesome wife Kathie and our two big dogs Max and Opie, I'm now pursuing smaller personal software projects while seeing North America up close.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *