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Prepping the Toad for the Road

A couple years into our RV life, we purchased a new toad. To clarify, we decided to ditch our Mini Cooper for an off-road capable Xterrra to tow behind our motorhome aka our new toad. Unfortunately, cars just don’t come ready to be towed four wheels down. We already knew that we preferred flat towing as opposed to a using a tow dolly, so it became a matter of choosing the right tow bar and braking system and then having installed. 

WHEN SEARCHING FOR A NEW TOWING SYSTEM, WE HAD SOME REQUIREMENTS WE HOPED TO MEET:

  1. The tow plate can’t interfere with off-roading
    Some companies’ tow plates protrude from below the bumper. I didn’t like this option as I knew we’d be off-road and I didn’t want the lowest part of the front end to be the critical tow plate. I was sure I would end up damaging it by bashing it into a rock on one of our adventures.
  2. A clean appearance when not hooked up
    When the Xterra is not being towed, I didn’t want too much gear hanging off the front end. Again, I didn’t want to risk damaging something when out having fun.
  3. A good braking system
    We needed a brake system to help keep the Xterra’s 5000 pounds from pushing us down the mountains. We also needed a brake system to make towing it legal in all 50 states and Canada.
  4. A simple interface
    We wanted as few connections as possible and to be able to quickly remove the car from the RV if needed. Sometimes you must drop the motorhome in a cool town and do a little impromptu exploring. We wanted to be able to unhook quickly without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
  5. A new tow bar
    We needed a new tow bar as well. Our previous towbar was purchased used and only after we had it did we notice that it had been damaged and welded. It worked ok for the lightweight Mini, but we preferred to have a new one with a hefty SUV so that we could feel safe.

After a bit of research, we settled on a system that gave us a mid-bumper placement tow plate. This keeps the connections up out of harm’s way when we go off-road. If I manage to damage them, then I’ll have bigger problems than a bent tow-plate!

THE NEXT MAJOR CONCERN WAS THE BRAKE SYSTEM.

  • The simplest portable box system works well for most people. But if you move often, it can get a little tiring having to position it and remove it for every trip.
  • The air braking system works beautifully mimicking the exact brake pressure from your motorhome. Of course, you need air brakes in your motorhome for it to work.
  • The Invisibrake is hidden and no fuss once installed. The install is a little more complicated, though.

We chose the Invisibrake for its ease of use once installed and portability to another RV with or without air brakes. The system activates automatically when we hook up the car. When stopped, there are no extra parts to remove beyond the tow bar set-up before we can jump in and drive. When switching RVs, the toad remains unchanged. The only add to the new motorhome would be the LED on the dash and connection to the RV plug that alerts you to the braking of the toad when the system is in use.

A nice benefit to the system is that it also acts as a trickle charger to keep the toad battery charged when on the road. This is great for people who have to leave the key in the ignition to keep the steering wheel unlocked. With this little feature, there are no worries about arriving at the final destination with a dead battery.

We installed the tow plate on our Mini and doing that once was enough. This time we turned to professionals to get our new purchase ready for his new life on the road. Our tech spent the first day pulling the Xterra’s face off and removing some of its under bits to properly fit the base plate to the frame.

We had to take his face off!

The baseplate installation was straightforward. Remove the front fascia, remove some of the existing metal components, bolt on the baseplate, trim some plastic here and there, and re-assemble.

Gary at Nolan’s RV preparing to install the Invisibrake system

The next step was installing the Invisibrake system. The first thing was to find a place for the controller. The manufacturer recommends installing the control under one of the front seats. For the Pro-4x model this didn’t work because there is a subwoofer under one seat and the navigation computer under the other. Instead, we decided to mount the controller in the storage compartment under the floor in the trunk. This will keep it protected and out-of-the-way.

After completing the installation on the Xterra, we brought in the motorhome to verify everything worked and install the brake light in the dash. We went over the connections to our motorhome and hooked everything up for his first tow.

HERE’S A QUICK DESCRIPTION OF the NEW CONNECTIONS:

  1. Receiver for tow bar connections to drag the SUV down the highway
  2. Safety cable connection in case it tries to escape
  3. Power plug to send power to the brake lights, turn signals, and brake controller – This plug also sends the signal back to the motorhome dash LED.
  4. Emergency brake away connection – In case the car manages to escape, this pin will pull out and the brake controller will apply the brakes to try to bring it to a stop before it hurts anybody. This is the last line of defense that we hope to never use.

The professionals did a great job of setting the Xterra up and troubleshooting our old plug on the back of the RV. Since we left, we made some slight adjustments to the brake controller to dial in the braking power and haven’t had any issues. This system has provided us with many miles of service without us having to do anything but hook up normally and hit the highway!

Author

Brandon Hatcher

Brandon & his wife Kerensa hit the road in January of 2014 and haven’t looked back. After years of moving for jobs, they decided to go where they wanted and take the jobs with them. They left with their two dogs and cat in a motorhome to explore the country after an extensive research and planning period. He joined the Escapees team as Branding Director.

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3 Responses to “Prepping the Toad for the Road

  • Robin MCFaddeb
    1 month ago

    Thanks for the great and detailed Information!

  • Keith Barghahn
    2 weeks ago

    What was the cost of a complete install like that?

  • Lou Schneider
    2 weeks ago

    Quite often when you hitch up the toad, only one of the tow arm extensions will fully extend and lock in place. I make a quick little back and forth turn in the motorhome (left then right) when I start out so both tow arms extend and lock in place.

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