Ray and Dani's Towing System

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Ray D

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We will  ?finish up? our traveling system with a new tow bar to tow our new toad behind our new motorhome! Well, all new to us, anyway - -

Our traveling system now consists of one 2005 Damon Challenger; one Suzuki XL-7 toad, and two little red scooters. Happy with all, so far. Towing capacity of coach is 5,700 lbs. Class III hitch capacity is 5,000 lbs. Toad, actual scaled weight, ready to go - loaded for bear - 3,700 lbs.

Yes, I know this is not the finish, but the beginning - or the finish of the beginning. The spending never ends. I suspect that no matter what one has, one always needs at least one more thing! (And yes, we already have more than one, ?one-more-thing,? on the list!  ::) )

We are leaning toward a particular tow bar system, after a good deal of preliminary study, most, but not all of it, here. Nothing is final, at this point. I am hoping that you folks will pick our current position apart, and help us make the right decision.

First, ?Do It Yourself? has been eliminated. We are not capable.

We have three, good, local dealers to choose from. Dealer C is pretty much out of it as least competitive. B is still in the mix, quite competitive. We are leaning toward A, as we have done best with them, more frequently, in the past, considering quality, service and price. They are the most aggressive, in pursuit of a sale - and I like aggressive salesmen. They make me feel appreciated. We bought the motorhome there.

All three sell and service, pretty much, the same major brands of tow systems. Suppliers, now in the running, include Roadmaster, Blue Ox and Demco. I am unable to distinguish an important difference in the quality or selection, between those brands. The list is not closed. Recommendations for additional brands are appreciated.

We are leaning toward the Roadmaster brand, at this time, the ?Sterling All Terrain? model. It is a very slight preference over Blue Ox, mostly because the manufacturer is in the Northwest, much closer to home, for us. Partly because I like the looks of that model. (I hate it, when ?looks? becomes an issue with me! Is it shallow character?  ;) )

The Sterling features:
It has 6,000 lb capacity. (All of the systems we have looked at are adequate.)
It is the lightest, at 35 lbs. I can lift it, easily. Weight is an issue for us, the lighter the better.
A separate channel, inside the towing tube, carries the wires and safety cables, for a neater and safer operation.

We also like:
Aesthetically pleasing. (It?s rather pretty.)
Storage latch, to hold it in place, when not towing.
Includes three locks for theft and vandalism prevention.
?Freedom Latch? for ease in releasing the towed, if the bar is ?bound.?

Dealer A is featuring several ?Turn Key? systems, now. The Sterling system is $1,949.79. That includes everything but sales tax, installed, operating, out the door. It is the highest priced system we have looked at. I have looked at a few systems a little more than half that and ruled the much cheaper ones out. Those still in the running are within 10% of that, locally.

From experience, I believe that when I start negotiating, I will knock the soup out of their asking price. I?ll do better than 10% below that - or any other system I purchase, locally. Possibly as much as 20%. Remains to be seen. I haven?t started negotiating, yet. Target date for installation is April 1rst. Service manager has already said he would ?deal? if I get it done before March 1rst. (He wants the work!)

Additional issue. I will buy and install the braking system at the same time. The brand of the towing system will have the inside track for the braking system. It won?t be a slam dunk, but close to that. Braking system advice is also solicited.

Thanks.  ;D

Ray D
 

Ned

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All 3 manufacturers have good products, and Blue Ox and Roadmaster, in particular, are noted for excellent after sale service.  The Sterling is a good tow bar, but far from the lightest.  The Blue Ox Aladdin weighs in at <23 lb. and is rated for 5,000#.  The price for the Sterling sounds high, unless that includes the base plate and toad light wiring, all installed.  For comparison, our GMC Canyon baseplate and light kit was $735 installed.  I don't have current pricing on the Aladdin (ours is 10 years old) but I recall it was about $700 list when we bought it.  There is no installation required for the tow bar.

As for service, both Roadmaster and Blue Ox have service techs at the major rallies and we even got ours serviced at Quartzsite last year.  Blue Ox has replaced just about every part on the tow bar over the years, including on complete replacement after we trashed one in an accident, and have never charged us a dime.  Roadmaster has similar service and I'm sure others will relate their experiences, if you ask.
 

Tom

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Ray, Roadmaster and Apollo make good tow bars, but I don't know anything about Demco.

On the braking system, check out this illustrated article in our library for a comparison of several systems.  *
 

Ray D

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Thanks, Ned and Tom. I did go to the brake article, again, in the Library. I plan to do some more study on the brake system and decide that at the time I do the tow bar etc. I will have more questions on that.

I'll jump the gun, and put one question out, now. My uneducated mind tells me that a proportional braking system should be at least somewhat superior. In reading here, I have sensed little enthusiasm for proportional braking systems. The sevice manager, yesterday, seemed ambivalent at best, and I bated him a little bit, on the subject. I could elicit no enthusiasm! ("Yeah, they're fine." is not enthusiasm, in my book!) Why isn't everyone going proportional? Is the value of proportional braking overblown? What am I missing?

The price for the Sterling does include the base plate and all wiring from the existing coach wiring, back, all installed and working. It's a turn key system. The weight includes the safety cables and the wiring, as used in service on the coach. (The service manager recommended that they be left on the coach, locked, when not in use.) I particularly like the lock for the receiver. It is a pin that inserts through the receiver, into the lock. It could be defeated, but only with a lot of trouble, something thugs are not into, usually.

The service manager told me that the only accessories I could buy would be a cover for the tow bar while attached to the coach, a brush or flap hanging from the coach for rock protection, or a "Tow Defender" rock screen. He was not optomistic about the effectiveness of the brush or flap type rock deflector, and ambivalent about the screen. Said he recommended the the tow bar cover for appearance and a bit of added security - at $50. (I'll get that thrown in, in the negotiating session.)

I'll expand further on rock protection. The service manager is pretty negative on all rock protection systems. Tells me he doesn't think any of them are terribly effective and the problem is usually not a big one, particularly with larger motorhomes that rarely go on "back roads." Me, I don't know. He was enthusiastic about a 3M coating on the front of the toad and including the windshield. They don't sell it! ??? I hadn't run across that, yet. Suzuki, here in Boise, is trying to sell me something similar, for $200, but not including the windshield. Anybody know what gives, here? ???

I am very interested in service and durability issues on any system, from experience, here.

Thanks, again.

Ray D
 

John From Detroit

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Blue Ox has tow bars rated at 5,000 and 10,000 lbs.  I have a 10,000 model and managed to break it.  NOTE: the brake was not due to defect in any way, nor was it their fault, Though I can think of someone who might share some blame. but I've addressed the issue my way, it will NOT happen again. (I fixed the cause)

They replaced it.  FED-EX overnight, No questions asked. No charge.  Now that, I've got to respect
 

Marsha/CA

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Ray,

We have the Sterling tow system you are looking at and have had it for the past 4 years.  I really like it.  I drive and hook up/unhook the tow car as much as my husband does.  It's light weight and I can handle it without any trouble.  We like that all the cables are in the sleeve.  We put a locking pin into the hitch receiver so that no one can steal the unit.  It stays on the coach.  We also have locks on the tow bar which is on the car; and, we have cables connecting the tow bar to the sleeves of the base plates.    We also invested in the cover which helps keep dirt out.  I think the cover is important.

Regarding the proportional braking system.  I may be wrong here, be we have US Gear braking system and I believe it is a proportional braking system.  I can adjust just how much brake is applied in the tow car from the motor coach as I drive.  I have pulled horses for many years and the US Gear acts like my electric braking system on my horse trailers.  I can adjust just how much brake is applied or reduce it if necessary. I know there are various opinions and everyone likes what they have; but I personally like being able to adjust how much brake is used and I'm very happy with the US Gear.  We had it removed from our last tow car to our new one and it costs about $400 to have it removed and installed.

Probably more than you wanted to know.

Marsha~

 

Karl

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Ray D,

A couple of comments. I have the Sterling and, quite frankly, would probably not buy it again. It's been replaced once at an FMCA rally, and repaired once - all for the same problem: The extending shafts tend to bind after a little use no matter what you do to them. That makes it difficult to hook up, stow, or unhook. Really, really difficult. No charge either time (except for shipping), but I'd rather not go through the hassle. Also, they use cables with swedged ends and not chains. Don't really trust them. If you happen to drag them while driving on rough terrain, they will chafe and fray too.

As far as brand loyalty goes, just because you like a particular towbar, doesn't mean their brake system is the best for you. Mix and match to your hearts content. It's not like buying a Ford and then going to GM for replacement parts. Whatever toots your whistle. ;D
 

Ron

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At least your Sterling hasn't broken on you like a couple Blue Ox hitches have that I know of.  Seen two broken BO and  took pictures of one of them.  We have the Roadmaster Falcon II and are very pleas with it.  Excellent service.
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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The latest "All Terrain" version of the Roadmaster tow bars should eliminate the binding problems of the older models. Or at least that's what Roadmaster promises. And they (and Blue Ox too) are outstanding about honoring their promises and even the implied promise of a trouble-free product.

If weight is the main concern, the Blue Ox Aladdin is for you, hands down. Lightest by far and easy to use.

$1700+ for a complete tow bar, base plates, wiring, etc. is about the list price + typical labor. I would hope they would knock that down a substantial amount, though. There's a LOT of profit in those list prices and plenty of labor dollars too.
 

Tom

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Ray D said:
..... a proportional braking system should be at least somewhat superior.

Several companies claim to have "the only proportional braking system". When you read the details you find that "proportional" means different things to different companies.
 

Ray D

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OK, thanks everyone! This is what I was hoping for.

Marsha, not more than I wanted. Just about right and more is appreciated.

Karl, thanks. I will address those issues with the sevice manager. I'll ask about about the binding issue. I don't want that problem. And, I do intend to consider other braking systems. I do like to keep things simple, but not to the point of being naive about it. Hopefully, I'll like the braking system I eventually get. Asking here is the start, for me. Gives me issues to discuss with the sales staff and things to check during and after installation.

RV Roamer. Appreciate your confidence in my leading contenders. It's reassuring. Weight is a "heavily weighted" consideration, but if I can lift it, not the over riding one. I did mistate that concern in my initial post. (Made more sense when I wrote it than it does, now.) I don't mind paying a reasonably profitable price. I do mind contributing more than my fair share. I expect a pretty good discount, in view of their need to keep their employees busy at an unbusy time of year. I'll probably meet his March 1rst hopes. Might try a wild offer, before that. Play it as I go.

Tom: I hope proportional means what I think it means. I'll double check that. Thanks.

Appreciate all the responses. Keep them coming. Thanks all.

Ray D 
 

Ned

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I don't feel that proportional braking is an advantage in a toad brake.  It means that every time you apply the coach brakes, you're applying the toad brakes, and causing additional wear on them.  We use the Apollo brake and it applies when we really need it, in a rapid or panic stop, but not under normal braking when the coach brakes can easily handle the load.

As for breaking tow bars, we have broken our Aladdin by applying a load far in excess of the design load and in a manner the tow bar was never intended to support.  The fault was not in the tow bar at all.  The other case that I know of where a Blue Ox tow bar broke was again, when forces were applied in a manner the tow bar was not designed to endure as the tow bar was being used in an installation outside of the design parameters.  Any tow bar would have broken in both of these cases, so no fault can be placed on the manufacturer.  To the credit of Blue Ox, our tow bar was replaced at no cost, even though the fault was all ours.

We also use chains and not cables, as cables have swaged ends that I don't believe are as strong as chains.  Karl has also addressed this issue, and we have both experienced the ease of failure of a swaged fitting.
 

Ray D

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Ned: Allow me to paraphrase you, in my own words.

The toad brake is not needed for an ordinary stop at a traffic light. One wants it to operate only in the event of an unanticipated fast stop, such as a car pulling out of an alley in front of the motorhome, necessitating a fast stop.

How did I do?

Then, what about a long downhill grade. Are the toad brakes needed, then, and if so what tells them to operate? Can you explain that, for me?

Not a challenge - I don't know what I'm doing!

Thanks

Ray D
 

Ray D

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My previous reply generated an afterthought. Suppose I'm on a down grade and I am using the grade brake to control speed. Do I need to downshift, further, to compensate for the weight of the toad, or does the grade brake handle that,too? (Since I'm not braking the motorhome, the toad brakes aren't working, either.)

Ray D
 

carbuff34

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Hi Ray,
I have the Blue Ox, Alladin model and the Brake Buddy braking system.  It is my first year with the toad but, so far so good.  I prefer aproportional brakes, allowing me to set the system to my liking. I figure it is much cheaper to change the brakes on the toad than on the motorhome.  As for pricing, none of it is cheap as long as it is RV.  lol  ;D  Just my opinion.
Leo
 

Ned

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Ray, on a downgrade, the exhaust brake is doing most, if not all, of the braking.  Why would I want my toad brakes applied for the duration of the grade?  You don't ride your brakes in normal driving so why would you in towing?  I think you have a good understanding of how I use my toad brakes and why I don't see any advantage to the so-called proportional braking systems (which seldom are).
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Suppose I'm on a down grade and I am using the grade brake to control speed. Do I need to downshift, further, to compensate for the weight of the toad, or does the grade brake handle that,too?

It doesn't actually compensate - it just downshifts to apply engine braking in an attempt to avoid gaining speed. To the extent that the effect of gravity on the toad causes and increase in speed, yes it tries to use engine braking to overcome that increase. But it's up to you to decide whether its efforts result in a speed you are comfortable with. If not, downshift further or apply the service brakes.  Or both

(Since I'm not braking the motorhome, the toad brakes aren't working, either.)
That isn't necessarily so, Ray. It depends on the aux brake system design and how it is installed.  For example, some aux brake systems are triggered by the coach stop lights circuit and the coach can be wired such that the brake lights come on when an engine brake or grade break is applied. Others are triggered strictly by inertia and these don't care why the coach is slowing down. Surge brake systems are in this category and so are the older Brake Buddys that have the pendulum-type inertial trigger. 

There are a couple aspects of this proportional business.  One is establishing the "proportion" of toad braking with respect to coach braking and applies to air and hydraulic systems that are driven directly from the coach brakes.  Since the coach brakes are much more powerful than the toad brakes, you generally want the toad to brake at only some percentage of the force being applied to the coach brakes. The amount of air pressure that barely slows a big coach is enough to lock up the brakes on the toad, so the "proportion" directed into the toad braking system is reduced to avoid that sort of thing.  The M&G system, for example, applies only a portion of the coach's air pressure to the toad's own brake system, with that "proportion" dictated by the air-to-hydraulic adapter installed in the toad's own brake system.

It is also possible to set this "proportion" so that the toad brakes do not apply (or barely apply) in light or even normal braking situations. That's a personal preference and basically represents a choice to reduce wear & tear on the toad brakes at the expense of increased wear & tear on the coach barking systems. Makes some sense if the coach has an effective engine brake or retarder system, since that is essentially "free" braking. Your grade brake could be considered free braking also.  Most of the auxiliary braking systems allow this "proportion" to be adjusted, but not all. The Brakemaster system, for example, has a fixed coach/toad "proportion" that is factory preset.  Sounds like a disadvantage but it seems to work well. Since the Brakemaster is a variable braking system (see below) when actively braking, it generally delivers just the right amount.  I tend to think of this aspect of "proportion" to mean the "braking threshold", i.e. the point at which toad braking begins.

Last, "proportion" can be used to describe what I think of as variable braking capability.  Ideally, when you apply a small amount of braking to the coach, you want the toad to also get a small amount of braking (as opposed to, say, the large amount that would be more appropriate to a panic stop).This is also sometimes referred to as "progressive braking".  A few simplistic systems, e.g. the Tow-V-Aire, are either on or off, so that the toad always gets the same amount of braking, regardless of whether the coach is braking hard or soft.  The Tow-V-Aire is still a "proportional" system in that the toad braking can be set to only a tiny fraction (proportion) of the coach, but it is always the same fixed proportion. At first blush that sounds as though it is a crappy design, but in fact it works quite well, providing some amount of brake assist, enough to reduce stopping distances, without any complex control systems. A  simple and reliable and inexpensive system, and that is a beauty of its own. About the only drawback to this sort of system is that the toad brakes get applied when you are forced to ride the coach brakes, as in heavy street traffic. But if the threshold or fixed proportion is set relatively low, it's not a big deal.

So, for all this verbiage it turns out that you can evaluate the available systems for their ability to provide a fixed proportion, a braking threshold proportion and their ability to provide variable braking in response to the coach's own braking rate.  Every toad brake manufacturer touts their system as the only one that does the job as it should be done, but would you expect anything else?  I won't even try to tell you which is best and you will hear all sorts of opinions here and elsewhere. You pays your money and you takes your choice. I will opine, however, that they all seem to work reasonably well as long as they are set up properly and there is no glitch, so it may not be something to worry yourself about.
 

John From Detroit

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Regarding the US gear brake system... It is purportional, you can adjust the ratio of tow vehicle to towed braking

Re Blue Ox Tow bars.. Mine did  break however it was as a RESULT not as a cause  What broke it did a couple of thousand in damage but by the time the bar broke, the damage was done
 

Tom

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Once again, Gary has succinctly and patiently explained a subject without bias or emotion.
 

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