One of the most important decisions we’ve had to make as we prepare to enter full-time RV life has to do with what auxiliary vehicle we’re going to use while we’re on the road. Those vehicles are commonly referred to as “toads” because they are typically towed behind the RV, usually Class A and Class C motorhomes.
While there are many RVers in smaller rigs who don’t use a tow vehicle, most of those with rigs of our size or larger do have a toad. It just makes sense to have a vehicle that can be used for running errands or sight-seeing while the large motorhome is parked at a campsite, possibly connected to electric, water, cable and sewer service. Nobody wants to disconnect all that just to run to the grocery store!
We’ve considered several different scenarios as we’ve made our plans for full-timing. We actually did consider not using a toad–but only for a few minutes, and then moved on. Last year on most of our trips, including our week-long trip to Tennessee for the RV Rally, Andy drove the RV and I followed behind in our Prius. We did not want to invest any money in a tow dolly for the Prius since we had no plans to use the Prius as our toad in the future. The only drawback to using a separate vehicle is that we did get separated once or twice when driving in heavy traffic around Chattanooga, and the walkie-talkies were no help at all once we got over a mile or so apart.
After doing a lot of research we decided that we definitely wanted a vehicle that could be towed flat, also known as “four down”, since it seems to be less hassle and less expensive than using a dolly or a trailer. We found out that not every vehicle can be towed flat (neither our Prius or our Tacoma pickup qualify), so we started looking into the possibility of buying a used Jeep and selling our current vehicles.
Jeeps are well-known for being reliable, easy-to-handle toads. Both the manual and automatic transmission models can be easily put into tow mode, unlike most other vehicles. We originally decided on the Jeep Compass, but later became more interested in the Jeep Wrangler Sport. Andy even visited a Jeep dealership to check out a few, and we found one on CarMax that looked very interesting. We were just about ready to pull the trigger.
But part of our transition to this new lifestyle is learning to look at our spending and purchasing decisions much more critically, especially when it involves thousands of dollars. While we would be able to pay cash for a Jeep and the towing setup, it would be a big chunk of change. We have to remember that my retirement income stream will not start for several more years, and while we have enough savings to be comfortable until that time, we don’t want to burden ourselves unnecessarily.
So after we discussed it further, we changed direction again, and this time it’s our final answer (unless something totally unforeseen happens!). We are going to use our Toyota Tacoma Pre-runner as our toad, but we’re not going to tow it. One of us will drive the RV, the other will drive the truck.
Here are some of the advantages that we see in this decision:
- The Tacoma is a 2004 model with less than 100,000 miles on it. It has always been very reliable.
- It has a camper shell on the back which will provide us with more storage space while we’re on the road.
- It has the off-road package which will allow us to do some of the back-country exploring that we were planning to do with the Jeep.
- The cost of insurance and registration will be lower for an older vehicle.
- It already has a tow hitch on it in case we ever need it for anything.
- When looking for boon-docking sites in the desert or on forest roads, the Tacoma can go ahead as a scout vehicle to make sure it’s safe for the RV to follow.
- There will be less stress on the RV engine when climbing mountains, and less weight on the brakes when descending.
- RV will get better gas mileage if it doesn’t have to tow anything. And the Tacoma will get better mileage traveling in the slip-stream from the RV.
The downsides to this solution are:
- We don’t get to ride together when moving from location to location–but we’ll be together every other minute of the day, and we don’t plan to make many long drives anyway, probably a max of 250 miles in a day. Most days we won’t be moving at all.
- If one of us gets too sick or injured to drive, we could be stuck in a location for longer than anticipated if we can’t figure out how to move both vehicles with one driver.
The only thing that needs to be upgraded in the Tacoma is the audio system. It currently has a radio/CD player, but we’ll be replacing it with a system that includes Bluetooth connectivity so we can connect our iPhones for music, audiobooks, navigation and hands-free phone conversations.
We’re not the first couple to decide to use an un-towed toad. Here’s a link to a great video from Duet Justus that explores all the options for toads.
So, it’s nice to finally have that decision made so we can move on to the other 999 decisions that we still have to consider this year! We’re so antsy to get on the road!