What’s up campers?
Have plans to tow your vehicle behind your RV? If so, what are you doing to protect your car from scratches, chips, dings and windshield damage while on the road?
Did you know that in less than a hundred miles of towing, your motorhome can kick up enough rocks, gravel and debris to cause thousands of dollars in damage to your vehicle?
The good news is that it’s not too late to protect your car with a tow car shield (also known as windshield rock protector). Your next questions are probably:
- What is a tow car shield?;
- What does a tow car shield protect against?; and
- Do I need a tow car shield?
We’ll help you answer these great questions below. If you’d like to jump right to our recommendations for the best tow car shield, you can get those right here.
What Is A Tow Car Shield?
A tow car shield is a protective covering that attaches to the outside windshield of your tow vehicle or attaches to your front bumper. The purpose of a tow car shield is to protect a vehicle from flying debris on the road such as rocks, gravel and other small flying objects.
The benefits of a tow car shield are very straightforward:
- Protects windshield from cracks;
- Protects from scratches, chips and dings;
- Prevents exhaust residue from getting all over the front of your car and windshield;
- Protects your vehicle’s resale value.
If you are on the fence about getting a tow car shield, consider the long term maintenance and resale value of your vehicle. While each chip, dent and scratch may be small, they can add up over time costing you thousands of dollars to fix before you sell.
If you are asking yourself Do I need a tow car shield? – the answer is you probably need one. It’s a very simple equation: protect now = save later.
Does Towing Damage A Car?
If carried out properly, towing your car behind an RV should not damage your car in any significant way. Tens of thousands of travelers tow their car each year and only a small fraction will experience any sort of significant damage.
However, that doesn’t mean towing a car is worry-free. It’s important to recognize that your vehicle can suffer mechanical damage such as transmission failure if you do not set up your towing correctly – you can learn more about that here.
The most common cause of damage to your towed vehicle is cosmetic. These can include scratches to the paint, dents, damage to the wheel and tires and cracks in your windshield from flying debris on the road.
This type of damage should not affect the performance of your vehicle, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be costly. Restoring paint, repairing a dent or replacing a windshield can run anywhere between a few hundred to $1,500-$2,000.
Cosmetic damage is largely unavoidable, but a tow car shield can help prevent most costly cosmetic damage.
If you are in the market for a tow car shield, there are a limited, but very effective range of tow car shields on the market. You can go for a standard front bumper tow car shield or a custom-made shield that fits specifically to your vehicle.
Below you can find our recommendations for our preferred tow car shields:
For Blue Ox Tow Bars
The Blue Ox KarGard Protective Shield is one of our favorite tow car shields on the market. It is compatible with the industry leading Blue Ox tow bar that is available in different weight ratings depending on the weight of the vehicle you are towing. The Blue Ox KarGard does a workman-like job of protecting your vehicle from rocks and other hazardous flying debris on the road.
For Roadmaster, Blue Ox or Demco Tow Bars
If you are searching for a lower-priced, but rock-solid option, the Roadmaster 4000 Guardian Rock Shield is our top pick. The Guardian is made from high-impact polyethylene to absorb the impact of rocks, gravel and road debris, instead of ricocheting it back at the motorhome.
The Guardian is super easy to attach and remove and fits all can be attached and removed in seconds. It fits all Roadmaster tow bars equipped with quick-disconnects. The Guardian can also be used with a tow dolly to help protect your towed vehicle by using the Guardian bracket
The Roadmaster 4750 Tow Defender is our tow car shield choice for compatibility with Roadmaster tow bars, Blue Ox tow bars or Demco tow bars. The all-weather, heavy-duty screen is effective at deflecting rocks, gravel and road debris down and away from your vehicle. The lightweight (14.5lbs) Tow Defender offers a generous 20 square feet of protection and is easy to install and remove.
Custom Tow Car Shields
If you are in the market for a custom tow car shield, check out the offering from RV Toy Store. These custom-fitted car shield covers up to 80% of your vehicle and can be installed or removed in minutes.
Does Towing a Car Put Miles on It?
A related question about towing your vehicle behind a motorhome is: Does towing a car behind an RV put miles on it?
Despite the oversimplification you may find on the internet, there is no simple “YES” or “NO” answer to this question. Generally, in 2021 most cars will not put miles on while towing, but this is by no means a catch-all answer.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that will determine whether your car will put miles on it while towing.
Dolly Towing vs. Flat Towing: A Comparison
One of the prevailing factors to determine if towing a car behind an RV will put miles on it is to distinguish between two types of RV vehicle towing: (1) dolly towing, and (2) flat towing.
What Is A Tow Dolly?
A tow dolly is a small, 2-wheel trailer designed to tow carry the front wheels of a car while the back wheels remain on the road.
A tow dolly is typically connected to the RV by a trailer hitch. To operate the dolly, you drive the front wheels of the vehicle onto the dolly and anchor them down with special anchor straps. This leaves the rear wheels of the vehicle on the ground.
RV tow dollies work best with front-wheel drive vehicles. In front wheel drive vehicles, the drive trains stay motionless. Since the front wheels of the vehicle are stationary on the dolly no mileage is being recorded or accumulated.
If your car is rear wheel drive, then yes, it will accumulate mileage as the axel and tires are moving.You should use extreme caution before towing an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle with wheels on the ground. Towing a vehicle that has a fixed AWD system on two wheels can be dangerous. This won’t just damage the transmission system, but will also damage the drive components which can run you thousands of dollars in repairs.
Benefits of Using the Tow Dolly
- No transmission or battery drain: Because the two front wheels are on the tow dolly, there’s no need to have the keys in the ignition for your vehicle to move. This means there is very little additional wear-and-tear on the vehicle.
- More vehicles you can tow: There are only a limited number of vehicles you can tow using the flat towing method. Depending on weight and size restrictions of your specific dolly, the tow dolly has much more flexibility in what types of vehicles you can tow behind your RV.
- Cheap cost to rent: You don’t have to buy a tow dolly if you are only using it sparingly. You can rent a tow dolly from U-Haul for less than $50 a day. The U-Haul website has a feature where it will allow you to enter the tow car and towing car to see if the tow dolly is compatible.
Drawbacks of the Tow Dolly
- Anchoring the wheels: You will always need to anchor your wheels down to the tow dolly. This requires a bit of extra physical labor over what is required for flat towing.
- Storing tow dolly: You will need to find an extra space to store your tow dolly both at home and on the road. Typically, most campsites will have room to accommodate, but it should be a consideration before you leave on your trip.
- Cost to buy tow dolly: Tow dollies can cost several thousand dollars. On average, tow dollies can run you between $2,000 to $4,500. The final cost will depend on factors such as car carrier capacity, materials and the type of brakes.
Bottom Line: Using a tow dolly with front-wheel drive vehicles should not add mileage to the odometer of your vehicle. If you dolly tow a vehicle with rear wheel drive then, yes, you will likely be adding mileage to the odometer of your vehicle.
Flat Towing Behind An RV
Flat towing (or “four wheels down” towing) involves attaching a tow bar to the towed vehicle and allowing it to roll behind the RV on its own four tires.
Flat towing a car behind an RV can put miles on the odometer depending on a number of variables. Let’s find out a bit more:
Pre-2000 Cars (Mechanical Odometer)
Most cars manufactured prior to 2000 were sold equipped with mechanical odometers. The Pontiac Grand Prix was the last GM car sold in the US to offer a mechanical odometer in 2003 and the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis were the last Fords with mechanical odometers in 2005.
Cars with mechanical odometers ran the odometer with a cable attached to a gear on the final drive of the transmission. Due to this setup, flat towing a vehicle with a mechanical odometer would in fact put miles on your car’s odometer.
Bottom line: If you have a a pre-2000 vehicle with a mechanical odometer, flat towing will put miles on your odometer.
Post-2000 Cars (Electronic Odometer)
Mechanical odometers were phased out of the modern car in the early 2000’s. Today, cars are made with electronic odometers or trip meters that work by counting your vehicle’s wheel rotations.
For vehicles with electronic odometers, if the transmission is turning with the ignition on, the towed vehicle will put miles on the odometer.
Most often, RVers will pull vehicles that have a transfer case that can be shifted into neutral. So long as the transmission output shaft in most cars is not turning, or the ignition is off, it will keep the same mileage.
Bottom line: If the right precautions and steps are taken prior to your trip, flat towing a car with an electronic odometer should not put miles on the odometer.
Benefits of Flat Towing
- Ease of connection/disconnection: If your car’s brake lights are hardwired, connecting the vehicle to tow is straightforward. One person can fairly easily connect and disconnect the car for towing; and
- Operating Cost: Once you have the right equipment installed for flat towing, costs are practically zero;
- Storage: Unlike a dolly tow, no additional storage needed at destination or home.
Drawbacks of Flat Towing
- Limited choice of tow vehicles: Since the majority of vehicles can’t be flat towed, you are limited in your choices. You need to carefully check prior to purchasing a vehicle whether or not it can be flat towed.
- Set up Cost: Setting up a vehicle for flat towing can cost more than twice the amount of a tow dolly. This is due to the additional equipment (tow bar) and professional installation required to allow for flat towing.
- Battery Drain: To allow you to flat tow some vehicles, you must leave the ignition key in the “ON” position to allow the front wheels to turn freely. Doing this can run the battery down unless additional equipment is professionally installed to prevent this from occurring.
Do I Need A Tow Car Shield? We Think So
If the question Do I Need a Tow Car Shield? is running through your mind, then we hope we convinced you it’s worth your while to get one.
For a few hundred dollars, you’ll be able to buy yourself peace of mind that you car won’t suffer scratches, cracks, chips and other wear-and-tear that will hit you in the wallet.
If you are still unsure about which model to buy, call around to RV parts stores and ask for their recommendations. We have always found that RV salespeople are both knowledgeable, friendly and willing to help steer you in the right direction.
That’s all for today. Questions? Comments? Leave us a note below and tell us if you have experience with tow car shields. We are always looking to learn from our loyal readers and further the conversation.
Until next time, easy travels,
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