To Tow or To Rent? That Is The Question.
Posted June 2012
When you need a get-around vehicle at your destination, which is most cost effective, towing or renting? Since every situation is different, that is a personal decision for every RVer, like whether they should wear socks with sandals.
What should the first-time RVer consider when making this decision? Finding a rental agency is not hard to find in most towns and cities, but they are rare where the buffalo roam. Renting a car has the obvious rental costs and sometimes insurance costs to be considered, but preplanning and discount coupons can make getting a rental for a day very affordable. Unless you are taking your extended family with you and you need an SUV, or you are visiting highly patronized tourist stops where cars are in short supply and expensive, rental cars can usually be found for reasonable costs.
If you are taking a long trip and plan to make many stops where you need a vehicle, the costs can add up quickly.
Towing has the obvious benefit of having your own personal vehicle with you at all times, particularly when you have a mechanical problem. The costs for towing include buying the tow bar or dinghy and the extra fuel required to pull the extra weight. There are, however, a few potential hidden costs to towing, which are not necessarily financial.
Some cars are not made to be towed and can be damaged by it. Some cars’ warranties can be voided by towing. Check your owner’s manual to find out if towing is verboten for your car.
Since the car’s engine is not running while it is being towed, it and other parts are also not being lubricated. This can cause damage or overheating, particularly in the joints, which could lead to fire. Towed cars need to be turned on periodically to stay lubricated. A flat tire on a towed car can also overheat and catch fire. A towed car needs to be watched—at least to make sure it arrives at the destination with you—so a camera or mirror system is needed to keep an eye on it.
Backing up with a car hitched is best saved for a bucket list. Maybe try to do it once before you die.
You must plan your stops carefully and even where you get gas. As expert RVer and author Jack Kean says, “A tow dolly is a pain in the rear.” A tow dolly adds extra length to your rig so you have to plan ahead.
Of course, after you buy a tow bar or a dolly, you have to find a place to store them when not in use.
Another drawback is the undriven miles that a towed car racks up on the odometer, unless you disengage it for every trip.
You will also need to check with your insurance agent to make sure your insurance covers road damage to the car or damage caused by the car if it becomes detached.
Today, many RVers favor towing their own vehicles, as you can see on the highway every day. There are many videos on YouTube about how to tow a car, and they can help you make a decision. In addition, there are lots of old hands in the campgrounds who can tell you stories that will either encourage you to tow or scare the dickens and the idea right out of you.
(Last Photo: courtesy of Jack Kean.)