New to tow dolly

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Thread: New to tow dolly

  1. #1
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    New to tow dolly

    I will tow my 1993 Nissan 240SX with a 2005 Toyota Sienna FWD from my home to race track (about 300 miles) about once a month. The max tow capacity of Sienna is 3500lbs and 240SX is 2700lbs. The tow dolly should be around 500lbs.

    Total tow should be 2700+500 = 3200lbs. I think it should be fine with 6 extra rims/tires in the back trunk of Sienna.

    I know getting a pickup truck and a trailer is my best solution, but I don't have enough garage space for storing a trailer. So, tow dolly is my best option right now.

    I am very new to towing/tow dolly. Could you confirm these are all I need for towing my 240SX with Sienna?

    1) 2005 Toyota Sienna tow receiver (Part number: 78270) $149.95
    http://store.uhaul.com/hitch_detail.aspx?id=3698

    2) Class II Ball Mount 3-1/4" Drop $19.95 (I am not how much drop is needed)
    http://store.uhaul.com/master_produc...il.aspx?id=264

    3) 2" Hitch Ball, 2-9/16" Shank Length $10.95 (Shank diameter 3/4")
    http://store.uhaul.com/master_produc...il.aspx?id=424

    4) T-One Vehicle (Custom Fit For The 2005 Toyota Sienna Van) $43.89
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-118304.htm

    5) Magnetic Towing Light Kit, 20 ft. Long Cord $39.95
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-C-ATL20A.htm

    6) DEMCO TOW-ITâ„¢ 2 TOW DOLLIES $1799.99
    http://auto.sears.com/Item.htm?media...atalogId=10625

    Did I miss anything? Will my setup work? Any other suggestions?

    Another question that I have is the hitch pin? Do I need it?
    http://www.amazon.com/5-Hitch-Pin-Sp.../dp/B000B6CSEY

    Thanks!

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  3. #2
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    Re: New to tow dolly

    I'm going to apologize in advance for the length of this reply...

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    Total tow should be 2700+500 = 3200lbs. I think it should be fine with 6 extra rims/tires in the back trunk of Sienna.
    Yes, if there isn't too much other stuff, the towed load plus cargo should be within the Sienna's limits.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    1) 2005 Toyota Sienna tow receiver (Part number: 78270) $149.95
    http://store.uhaul.com/hitch_detail.aspx?id=3698
    Sure, that or any other hitch receiver. U-Haul doesn't make hitches so this is one you can buy from just about any towing shop. Since a tow dolly does not use a weight-distributing hitch system, you don't even need a 2" receiver box, so just about any Sienna hitch will work.

    There are hitch selection factors (mostly ground clearance, fit, and appearance) which have nothing to do with whether it will work to pull the car on the dolly - I suggest browsing the many topics already in the forum on this subject for details.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    2) Class II Ball Mount 3-1/4" Drop $19.95 (I am not how much drop is needed)
    http://store.uhaul.com/master_produc...il.aspx?id=264
    That's a 1.25" ball mount; the size of the square shank of the ball mount must match the hitch receiver, which can be 1.25" or 2". For most trailers and tow dollies, the top of the ball will need to be significantly higher than the top of receiver box, so the ball mount needs to be turned up (for "rise") rather than down (for "drop")... and needs to be a ball mount design which allows use in the rise position (not all do). How much rise? This one is likely about right if turned over, but most people just get all the other parts then see which ball mount will make then fit together.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    3) 2" Hitch Ball, 2-9/16" Shank Length $10.95 (Shank diameter 3/4")
    http://store.uhaul.com/master_produc...il.aspx?id=424
    The ball size obviously must match the size of the coupler on the dolly... but I don't know if that is 2". Check the dolly specs, get the ball to match, and note that balls can have 3/4" or 1" diameter shanks, so you need to match the ball to the mount.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    4) T-One Vehicle (Custom Fit For The 2005 Toyota Sienna Van) $43.89
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-118304.htm
    Right, that will convert the lighting signals.

    If you don't use electric trailer brakes (see below), then this is all you need electrically in the Sienna.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    5) Magnetic Towing Light Kit, 20 ft. Long Cord $39.95
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-C-ATL20A.htm
    Sure, if you don't want to tap into the Nissan's wiring to use its own tail lights, you need something like this, since the back of the car is far behind the lights on the dolly.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    6) DEMCO TOW-ITâ„¢ 2 TOW DOLLIES $1799.99
    http://auto.sears.com/Item.htm?media...atalogId=10625
    The Sears site really doesn't say much. Try the Demco page for Tow-It2 for more detail. There are also other brands of tow dolly, and other models from Demco.

    There are two general types of tow dolly: ones which steer with a turntable (such as the Tow-It2), and others which caster the dolly wheels (I think the Demco KarKaddy3 is an example) - I don't know which is better, but anyone about to buy one might want to think about this. There also other possible features, such as brakes, folding or removable loading ramps, fixed for tilting load bed, fixed or foldable (for storage tongue), et cetera.

    I like that this model has sealed bearings, and available surge brakes.

    The Sears prices suggests that it is for a version without brakes. The Sienna requires brakes on a trailer even 1/3 of the weight of the Nissan and dolly, so I strongly suggest budgeting the extra $600 for surge brakes, or a similar amount for electric brakes and an electric brake controller in the Sienna.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    Did I miss anything? Will my setup work? Any other suggestions?
    If you add brakes (surge or electric), those are all the pieces. Specify the brakes, match the receiver size to the ball mount size, get the right ball mount rise, and it looks to me like it will work.

    Since the dolly plus the portion of the car on the dolly will be only about 2000 lb of the 3200 lb towed rig, that means it doesn't have as much braking ability as ideal, but I don't see it as a problem, and braking only the dolly wheels is probably appropriate.

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    Another question that I have is the hitch pin? Do I need it?
    http://www.amazon.com/5-Hitch-Pin-Sp.../dp/B000B6CSEY
    Yes, the hitch pin keeps the ball mount from pulling out of the receiver. I suppose the question is really "do I need to buy it separately": sometimes ball mounts come with pins, and if the one you choose doesn't just buy the pin. Many people use a locking pin anyway (so their ball mount doesn't get stolen, and so a trailer locked to the ball is less likely to be stolen by someone taking it complete with the call mount), and that would typically be a separate purchase from the ball mount. Although I use a locking pin sometimes, I don't think this is a big deal, and I would leave it until after I had a working towing rig setup.

    Pins come in two diameters - the smaller one used with 1.25" receivers and mounts, the larger with 2" receivers and mounts, so again the right one is the one which matches the other components chosen.

  4. #3
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    Re: New to tow dolly

    According to the manuals, all three models of Demco dolly use a 2" hitch ball. One of the other models (not specifically the Tow-It 2) has a hitch height of 18" to the top of the ball; on a Sienna, that will require lots of ball mount rise, maybe 5".

  5. #4
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    Re: New to tow dolly

    I would be very careful about using a tow dolly (or car dolly) for towing. I used one to haul an old Duster back from Tennessee and ended up totalling my 1999 Sienna. I had towed much bigger cars with it (like a 1977 Pontiac Parisienne) previously and did not have any problems what-so-ever. However, once a dolly starts to fishtail, the back end of the Sienna isn't heavy enough to keep the van stable. Brakes on the dolly would probably be a very good option to have if you absolutely must use a car dolly.

    Towing Your Car Home
    2002 Sienna CE

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    That's an interesting article. Here is a key set of statements from it:
    A car dolly is a two-wheel trailer where the towed vehicle's front tires ride on the trailer.
    Essentially true, particularly for the turntable style of dolly, although the combination of dolly and towed car can (especially in the castering wheel type of dolly) be considered a "full trailer".

    This is dangerous for many reasons. The first is that tow vehicle is usually too light to tow a car trailer so the owner settles on a dolly instead.
    Towing beyond rated limits is potentially dangerous, regardless of the trailer type. In the current proposal, the loaded weight of the car plus dolly is within the Sienna's limits.

    The second is that the loaded dolly doesn't put enough weight on the rear tires of the tow vehicle.
    True, but perhaps it doesn't need to. The portion of the weight of the trailer which is carried by the hitch provides traction for the tow vehicle, but with the car and dolly tires providing cornering force and control the tug doesn't need to apply as high forces (as would be required for a conventional trailer of the same weight), and so the low hitch weight may be appropriate and adequate.

    The third is that there are too many pivot points.
    Yes, in the case of the turntable type of dolly the result is a complex system which can pivot in interesting and unwanted ways, especially if the tug is expected to provide braking force by pushing back on the dolly tongue... a reason for brakes on the dolly.

    The fourth is that car dollies generally don't have brakes.
    I agree, but this is not a concern if the dolly does have brakes. Again, this would apply to any trailer.

    Besides being dangerous, some jurisdictions do not allow car dollies which means that you are in the inconvenience of finding a car trailer anyway to get through that jurisdiction.
    This is certainly a possible concern, although in this particular case it would be easy to check for legality. In some jurisdictions, I believe that a car dolly is only legal for non-commercial operators if the tow vehicle is specifically a motorhome.

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Thanks for the help. I will do more research on tow dolly brakes now.

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Many people use car dollies and absolutely no problems with them. However, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my first-hand experience with one.

    As for the weight aspect of the rear-end of the Sienna, I found that when the Duster started fishtailing (as soon as we reached ~60 mph), it was able to push the back of the Sienna around and it was impossible to control. At one point, the Duster was beside the Sienna (still attached to the dolly) travelling backwards. Steering through a skid is one thing but steering an articulated vehicle through a skid is another. It was very scary but we escaped with only a few bruises.
    2002 Sienna CE

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    Thanks for the help. I will do more research on tow dolly brakes now.
    Sounds like a good plan.

    If there are any trailer braking questions, just ask!

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    Many people use car dollies and absolutely no problems with them. However, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my first-hand experience with one.
    Absolutely!

    A Duster is not small by today's standards, but probably wasn't as heavy as a current car of the same size (vehicles were simpler then). Is the weight of this one known? I realize that the weight alone was not the problem, given that heavier cars didn't cause the same problem.

    Like most cars of its day, the Duster had a leaf-spring rear suspension. When a car is put on a dolly, the nose is raised significantly, changing the rear suspension geometry (the angle from horizontal of the line through the spring eyes is the key parameter). I wonder if the Duster was inherently unstable, either due to the nose-up attitude forced by the dolly, or perhaps the extended spring shackles which were often added to cars like this by drag racers and wannabes, to accommodate big tires.

    Demco does not provide any guidance about weight distribution in their manuals (for any of their four models), but the rental version warns not to tow rear-engined or mid-engined vehicles. I think this is just a reference to drivetrain protection (in those vehicles, there is no driveshaft to disconnect), but those vehicles would also be rear-heavy. I wonder if there are issues with the relationship between dolly loading and towed vehicle rear axle loading? I wouldn't expect the Duster to be a concern in this respect, but there must have been something about it which contributed to instability.

    I am also curious about the dolly type. I would expect the caster-steered dollies to be more stable than the turntable units, but less maneuverable and more likely to push the tug around; they also have different ways to go wrong in setup. Which type was used with the Duster?

  11. #10
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    Re: New to tow dolly

    The Valiant.org Specifications shows the 1974 Duster (slant six) listed at 3060 lbs. This was a completely stock with no extended lift shackles. Also, my dolly had a turntable.

    I'm not sure if the rear suspension was a contributing factor. I know that the car towed fine for about 20 minutes on the relatively twisty county roads between the junkyard and the highway. I suspect that one factor might have been the air pressure in the rear tires. I didn't check the pressure as I was behind schedule and wanted head home asap. We had an appointment to tour the Corvette plant in the afternoon (we were just outside of Murfreesboro, TN) and the tires did not look underinflated. I was planning to double-check the load and the tires once we got to Bowling Green.

    The reason I was behind schedule was because the road vibration from the trip down caused one side to break off. I had to find a welding shop to repair it before I could pick the car up. This set me back over 4 hours on the morning I was planning to return home. This brings up a good point. If you have a turntable-design dolly, clamp each side of the turntable down onto the axle if you have to tow it unloaded any distance.

    Regarding the comment about towing rear-engined cars, I would have to agree that this is a concern. I don't recall the reason now but, at one time, I had towed a 1965 Mustang backwards with this dolly. That is, the rear wheels were on the dolly and we tied the steering wheel so it could not turn. We had a bad pendulum effect even at slow speeds, which caused us to take backroads and drive very slowly.
    2002 Sienna CE

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    The Valiant.org Specifications shows the 1974 Duster (slant six) listed at 3060 lbs. This was a completely stock with no extended lift shackles. Also, my dolly had a turntable.
    The car is substantial, but perhaps not unreasonable for the Sienna, or for the towed car's wheelbase; a short car would be less stable in tow, and the Parisienne was a couple of inches longer in wheelbase (although it would have been heavier as well).

    The 1993 240SX is a sports coupe with a relatively short wheelbase of only 97.4"

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    Also, my dolly had a turntable.
    I have been exchanging correspondence with Demco, and they state that with the caster-steered designs (their KarKaddy models) "the dolly and vehicle will follow in the exact path as the motor home", and that the "turn table design is better for towing empty but will not trail as well". (They are assuming the typical use to tow a car behind a motorhome). For the caster-steered units I don't think they really mean the same path in a turn - that's not true - but simply truer tracking down the highway. I can believe that the caster-steered design is more stable - but will also push more in a turn - than the turntable designs; I also believe that when empty having the caster steering is undesirable, while the empty turntable unit is just a plain short trailer (normally without suspension!)

    The Tow-It 2 is a turntable design.

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    I'm not sure if the rear suspension was a contributing factor. I know that the car towed fine for about 20 minutes on the relatively twisty county roads between the junkyard and the highway. I suspect that one factor might have been the air pressure in the rear tires...
    Even without modification the suspension may have been an issue, but that's just my wild speculation. I have heard of trailers exhibiting poor behaviour when tire pressure is low, or (perhaps worse) uneven from side to side, and I agree that is an issue to watch, especially in combination with vintage-style high-profile tires.

    The 240SX apparently has a relatively sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, so hopefully it will tolerate the nose-up tilt well. It will presumably be on modern low-profile tires which are very stable.

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    The reason I was behind schedule was because the road vibration from the trip down caused one side to break off. I had to find a welding shop to repair it before I could pick the car up. This set me back over 4 hours on the morning I was planning to return home. This brings up a good point. If you have a turntable-design dolly, clamp each side of the turntable down onto the axle if you have to tow it unloaded any distance.
    Another comment from Demco is "If this is a rental use or dealer use where it is towed empty 1/2 of the time then the turntable design is better as in our rental units or the Tow It", but the manual also notes that with any dolly without suspension, empty ride will be rough. I think the idea of clamping down the turntable is an excellent tip.

    It doesn't sound like supra33202 will be towing the dolly empty for any significant distance.

    Quote Originally Posted by fraso
    Regarding the comment about towing rear-engined cars, I would have to agree that this is a concern. I don't recall the reason now but, at one time, I had towed a 1965 Mustang backwards with this dolly. That is, the rear wheels were on the dolly and we tied the steering wheel so it could not turn. We had a bad pendulum effect even at slow speeds, which caused us to take backroads and drive very slowly.
    The Demco manuals all state simply not to tow backwards. I think the primary issue in this case is steering stability, rather than weight distribution; even if the steering is locked it has some play, and castered steering suspensions (meaning any normal car) are inherently unstable in reverse, so the wheels will move within whatever play the lock mechanism allows. Tow trucks do routinely tow backwards, but typically not fast, not for long distance, and not with a car approaching the truck's own weight.

    The typical reason to want to tow a rear-drive car backwards on a dolly is to get the drive wheels off the ground, and thus avoid a possible need to disconnect the driveshaft; if the rear axle or differential is broken, even disconnecting the drive shaft won't be enough. For supra33202 and his Nissan 240SX, this is a reminder that to tow the car on a dolly, either the driveshaft must be disconnected or the transmission will be turning the whole time (this may be okay, as this is presumably a manual transmission car).

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Quote Originally Posted by supra33202
    I will do more research on tow dolly brakes now.
    Since I was corresponding with Demco, I asked about brakes, too...
    I asked:
    The optional braking system is a surge-activated hydraulic setup. This makes perfect sense for rental equipment, and I'm sure it works fine, but is there any particular reason not to use an electric brake system instead? I will have a brake controller anyway on any tow vehicle I use, electric brakes are less expensive (because the actuator is not required), and electric brakes can be driver-activated in case of towed rig instability.
    ... and the response was:
    We use the surge brake unit because we have not designed or found an electric unit that we can feel totally certain about that it will work all the time.
    That logic makes sense to me, and is one reason that surge brakes are the normal practice for rental trailers (such as U-Hauls).

    And since I have mentioned U-Haul... their dollies are intended for use behind their substantial trucks, and are not equipped with brakes.

    By the way, I am considering a dolly to tow a car (not the Sienna) behind a motorhome (not the Sienna), and so I am currently particularly interested in the dollies. The alternative for me is to flat-tow the car (on all four of its own wheels), rather than using a dolly.

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    Now I am thinking about getting

    1) Class III Round Tube Receiver Hitch (Toyota Sienna Van; 2" Hitch Opening)
    http://www.etrailer.com/hitch-2005_T...Sienna+Van.htm
    2) Ball Mount 2-3/4" Rise or 4" Drop, 6,000 lbs
    http://www.etrailer.com/pc-BM~2753.htm
    3) Hitch Ball with 2" Diameter and Medium Shank, 6,000 lbs GTW - Chrome
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-19247.htm
    4) Trailer Hitch Receiver Lock - Padlock Style for Class III, IV and V Trailer Hitch Receiver
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-5201.htm
    5) T-One Vehicle (Custom Fit For The 2005 Toyota Sienna Van)
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-118304.htm
    6) Magnetic Towing Light Kit, 20 ft. Long Cord
    http://www.etrailer.com/p-C-ATL20A.htm
    7) 2009 American Car Dolly
    http://americanmotorhome.us/inv/Amer...dolly_desc.htm

    Reference:
    http://www.americancardolly.com/Default.htm

    2009 American Car Dolly comes with electric brake. I just left a voicemail and e-mailed the vendor regarding how to wire the tail lights and EZbrake controller. Hopefully I can get an answer soon.

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    American Motorhome just called me back, and he said I just need a regulator flat 4 trailer connector. I believe it is the same connector that I will use for the towing light.

    http://www.etrailer.com/p-118304.htm

    Do you know where I can find a flat-4 Y adapter? So, I can use it for both brakes and towing lights.

    Thanks!

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    Re: New to tow dolly

    That looks like a decent list. Some comments:

    The ball mount rise will need to be confirmed: a mount with 2-3/4" rise plus a typical 2" diameter ball totals about 5" of height above the top of the receiver box, or less than 16" off the ground. The American Car Dolly does appear to have a low coupler, so that might be just fine. Ball mounts are readily and cheaply available in local stores anyway, so its not worth worrying about whether or not a different rise is needed.

    The remote-mounted "EZ Brakes" brake controller is interesting. Cequent's version of this is the Prodigy RF. I understand the appeal of the remote mounting - not requiring any wiring in the Sienna - but there are some consequences which need to be handled properly:
    • Power supply
      • The EZ Brakes gets its power from the brake light circuit. Is that enough? A single axle set of brakes uses up to 6 amps, and the Sienna won't supply that, so the brake controller would need to be slowly charging a battery between brake applications, and I'm not sure that it's doing that.
      • An electric brake system is normally required to have a breakaway system, which applies the brakes if the trailer becomes disconnected from the tow vehicle. This is normally a simple switch turned on by pulling a plug, which is attached to a lanyard (steel cable) which hooks onto the hitch - when the trailer detaches the plug gets pulled and a battery is connected directly to the brakes. While they could be added, I don't see either a breakaway switch or a battery in the "EZ Brakes" setup.
    • Adjustment and Driver Control
      • Any electric brake controller needs adjustment to suit the load, and this one has no way to do that from the driver's seat (the Prodigy RF uses a radio-linked controller, which is why the "RF" name). It could be real pain to do a test stop, get out and tweak, get back in and do another stop, etc.
      • While not essential, many people find it useful to be able to manually apply the trailer brakes if the trailer starts swaying while driving. I assume that braking may similarly be useful when towing with a dolly, but this setup offers no driver control.
    • Control
      • Brake controls come in "timed" and "proportional" types. Timed controls apply a fixed amount of braking, regardless of how hard the stop, and so in my opinion are completely obsolete and inadequate. Proportional controls apply braking power in proportion to the rate of deceleration, and are the current normal practice. I suspect that the EZ Brake is just a timed control.


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