The Wrong Motorhome Tow Car Dilemma

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I can still remember the pit in my stomach as I sat in my RV and looked at the screen on my laptop. Transfer case? My Jeep doesn’t even have one of those….oh crap.

One month earlier we had bought my wife’s dream car of a 4-door Jeep Wrangler to be pulled behind our RV. I looked for months for a deal and found one that was close to us.

We test drove the Jeep, amazed at all the other Jeep drivers who waved at us as we drove, and soon discovered it “must be a Jeep thing.”

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Jeep bolted up, wired, up, but not able to be towed ūüôĀ

But here we were a month after buying the Jeep. Sitting for the 4th hour of our stay in a parking lot of an RV repair shop. We had driven almost an hour in the Jeep and our motorhome to have the Jeep lights wired up and baseplate bolted up before we tested it on our drive back to the campground behind our RV.

While the technician was wrapping up, I decided it was time for me to look up exactly how to safely set the Jeep to be towed 4 down without messing up the transmission. Give me credit, at least I knew you couldn’t just throw the Jeep¬†in neutral and take off down the road.

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On the left is where the transfer case shifter should have been

That’s when I remember feeling sick as I read more and more. Shift your transfer case in neutral. Check your manual for the full procedure. So, I checked my manual. Absolutely nothing about putting it in a “towed mode”.

I also saw nothing controlled¬†the transfer case.¬†I read online, but the only shifting I could do was for the gears. That’s when it hit me. This thing is a 2WD automatic. It¬†can’t¬†be towed 4 down.

About the time I realized this, the technician waved me over. He proudly waved his right arm toward the Jeep like one of Barker’s Beauties as the curtain opened on one of the Price is Right showcases.

I tried to let him know it looked great, but all I could do was feel sick about it. All that time buying the Jeep. All that time buying the parts. Driving to have it installed. Installing it. And now this. A Jeep with 10+ hours and $1000+ dollars into the research/parts/labor that could not be taken with us.

I double checked with the technician to make sure the Jeep couldn’t be towed. I hoped I was wrong. I wasn’t.

He let me know he had done over a dozen Jeeps but didn’t know they even made a 2WD Automatic model. “Well, buddy, they do. And I bought it.” I thought.

He helped me out and took the time to give me options, which I am thankful to have. The top two options are

  1. Install a pump that will circulate oil with the Jeep off to keep the transmission from frying
  2. Install a driveshaft disconnect that can be operated with a lever from under the driver’s seat

Out of the two, the driveshaft was by far the preferred option. It was a few hundred more expensive than the pump at $1200, but had a much better track record of lasting.

However,¬†here’s the problem. Since the driveshaft was custom made, it would take about 4 weeks to get the driveshaft in.¬†We were leaving our current campground for a planned outing at¬†Disney, the Florida Keys, and Naples in 10 days.

As you probably know, you can’t just pull up to these areas and say “Hey, I’m here for 10 days. Where do I park?” We had booked Disney 6 months in advance. The Keys were booked 3 months in advance. We needed to use the times we had booked or not even mess with it.

These spots all ranged from 700-1000 miles from our current spot, so driving the Jeep separate was not a great option for us if I didn’t want to be kicked out of the bedroom onto the couch for the next month. I did gather myself and come up with a few other options though:

Renting a car was an option, but my wife loved this Jeep. We bought it specifically to take with us behind the RV. We would also be moving every 5-8 days so the thought of the time and expense of messing with a rental car each time was not appealing to me.

Trading in the Jeep for a 4wd Jeep was an option, but doing this in 10 days along with the money I would lose on a trade-in made me not want to do this. I bought our 2008 4 door for $13,500 from an individual. I would lose way more than the $1200 I was going to put into a driveshaft trying to do a trade in for a 4 wheel drive.

Using a tow dolly could work, but we would have to tow the Jeep backwards since it was a RWD.¬†After a few calls of dolly rental companies saying “No Way” to letting me use the dolly to tow backwards, I gave up on it. Using a trailer was not an option since our gas motorhome could only handle 5,0000 lbs behind it.

Leave the Jeep running while we pulled it. This may sound like the worst idea ever, but I read of numerous people who tried this and could not find a single one whose transmission burned up in the process.

Because of gas prices, gas would pretty much be a non-issue. However, the mileage would still rack up on the Jeep and I could not use my braking system because the Jeep would brake too hard while it was running. I dismissed this option as well.

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Our Jeep’s Driveshaft

Manually disconnect the driveshaft. At first, I hated this idea. I did not want to spend my time on my back messing with something like the driveshaft at every campground we stopped at. So I dismissed it for a few days.

Then I came back to it because I couldn’t think of anything better. What would it hurt to test it out? So, I read online and called the Jeep dealer in town to make sure there was nothing special about taking out 8 bolts and strapping up a driveshaft. I bought a socket wrench set (that’s right, I did not even own a socket wrench set) and away I went.

Let me tell you, laying on your back in gravel for over an hour in a tight space, banging your knuckles against metal is not my idea of fun. That’s how long it took me to get the drive shaft disconnected from the rear axle the first time. A stinkin’ hour! And to boot, it took me about 45¬†minutes to get the thing back on.

But it got easier. I tried it again a few days later and it took me about 40 minutes to take it off and 20 minutes to get it back on. At that point, I thought, you know what, I can do this. I may have to lay on my back for an hour 3-4 times, but that is way better than the other options I have.

And reading to this point, you might be thinking “This idiot can’t even buy the right Jeep and he is going to take his drive shaft off and on 4 times in a 4 week span while a traveling in an RV?” Yup. That’s exactly what I did.

I’m sure you are half expecting me to conclude the story with “and our drive shaft worked its way loose, fell on the interstate somewhere between Atlanta and Orlando, and we spent our whole trip getting the Jeep fixed”, but that’s not how it went.

It¬†actually went smooth. I didn’t have issues disconnecting or reconnecting the driveshaft and I strapped that thing up so tight underneath the Jeep that the tires were more likely to fall off than that driveshaft come loose.

If you have fears of RVing, I’m hoping sharing experiences like this will give you confidence. Let me put it this way: if you own a socket wrench set and can¬†read a manual, you are already a step ahead of this guy.

RVing can be frustrating at times, but the end result is always better than sitting on the couch wondering “what if”.

If you can go for it, go for it. If you can’t RV yet, but you know you want to, figure out how to get there. Don’t let your fears keep you from moving forward.

1 Comment

  1. […] We fell into this third category for our Jeep. Along with my other long list of mistakes, I actually bought a Jeep Wrangler, spent money prepping it to tow, and just before we started to tow it, realized it couldn’t be towed. […]

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