Pulling a vehicle behind an RV is known as flat towing. It is also sometimes called four-down or dinghy towing. But is it okay to do this with a Toyota Tacoma?
Can a Toyota Tacoma be Flat Towed?
According to the manufacturer, a Toyota Tacoma cannot be flat towed. It states specifically in the owner’s manual that it may result in severe damage to the transmission. This prohibition against flat towing goes for most model years.
In this guide, I will explain the reasons why you should avoid flat towing your Tacoma. I will also show you why circumventing the manufacturer’s recommendations is a bad idea. And finally, what towing methods are acceptable for the Tacoma.
Why the Toyota Tacoma Cannot Be Flat Towed
There are several reasons the manufacturer won’t let you tow the Tacoma with all four tires on the ground. Some of them take into account the vehicle itself while others may directly affect your wallet. Here are the main points:
The center differential and transaxle aren’t designed to spin freely when the engine isn’t running on the Tacoma. This feature protects the transmission and drivetrain. The engine has to be running for the fluid to circulate; otherwise, the transfer case will overheat.
Other Components may be Damaged, Not Just the Transmission
The speedometer is connected to the Tacoma so that it may damage the gauges during flat towing. It may also report false mileage on the odometer.
Because towing their vehicles carry more risk than driving them, many car companies take a hard line on what they consider safe practices. And Toyota is no exception. Sometimes, it is just better to say no to flat towing outright than to risk further liability for the company.
Why Trying to Get Around Manufacturer’s Recommendations is a Bad Idea
There are ways around Toyota’s prohibition of flat-towing your Tacoma. Some solutions can be complicated and expensive. But, for the most ardent of rule-breakers, there are always options. Here the most saught-after remedies:
Driveshaft Disconnect Devices
A driveshaft disconnect is just how it sounds. It decouples from the rear axle so it can spin freely while being towed. And disengaging the driveshaft will help prevent damage to the transmission components.
With a disconnect device installed, you no longer have to crawl under the vehicle every time you want to tow your truck. There is now a way to disconnect the driveshaft from the driver’s seat using a long cable.
Once you pull the knob attached to the cable, it engages a mechanical clutch to release the driveshaft near the axle. It is then free to rotate without engaging the transmission or driveshaft components. To re-engage the driveshaft, simply push in the control cable, and you will be able to drive the truck again.
One of the reasons you can’t flat-tow your Toyota Tacoma is the lack of fluid to the transmission while being towed. The pump doesn’t work when the engine is off. If the transmission isn’t lubricated while the drivetrain is in motion, it will overheat and burn out.
An external lubrication pump helps resolve this issue. It sends transmission fluid through the system at approximately the same pressure as the engine pump. The result is a pressurized lubrication system for the transmission while the truck is being towed.
Supplemental Braking Systems (Dinghy Brakes)
Supplemental braking systems give your Tacoma a way to brake in tandem with the vehicle towing it. They work automatically through pressure sensors that detect when the towing vehicle slows down.
You install the device externally, usually somewhere around the tow bar. It connects via an electrical wire to a coupling at the brake pedal. Every time you apply the brakes, it sends a signal to the unit to slow your Tacoma down along with the towing vehicle.
The combined weight of a motorhome pulling a pickup truck behind it is significant. A single braking system for the towing vehicle may not be enough to avoid an accident. The need for added braking capacity is why most states require a supplemental braking system for these types of towing operations.
Why These Systems May Fail You in the Long Run
So, let’s say you decide to go against the manufacturer’s recommendation and flat-tow your Toyota Tacoma behind your motorhome.
By the time you get done installing new driveshafts, lubrication pumps, and supplemental braking systems, you’ve spent a lot of money. With all you have forked over to go against the manufacturer’s recommendations, you could have bought the proper equipment for towing.
If you break anything on your Tacoma while towing it, the dealer won’t have much sympathy. It could also negate the vehicle’s warranty. You will be stuck with the costs of all repairs going forward.
Most insurance companies will deny an accident claim if they suspect a breach of their terms. In this case, it would be because you flat-towed your Tacoma despite Toyota’s warning against it in the owner’s manual. It does not matter if it is liability or comprehensive insurance. Neither claim would be paid.
A judge and jury may be unsympathetic if your vehicle causes an accident while towing an unauthorized vehicle behind it. The worst case is when there is a death involved. There may even be criminal penalties handed down to you.
Knowing all this, if you are still willing to flat-tow your Tacoma, at least seek counsel first. It is a good idea to start with insurance agents.
Give a call to a few in your local area. Be upfront with them and let them know your plans. Ask them about the specific liability issues. In most cases, you are probably not going to like what you hear.
How to Tow Your Toyota Tacoma the Right Way
The biggest problem following the owner’s manual is that it only provides general guidance for towing during an emergency. The instructions are geared mainly for commercial tow trucks. And in no way does it say to use a four-down approach.
With that in mind, the only way to safely tow your Toyota Tacoma long distances is on a flatbed trailer with all four tires off the ground.
Using a Flatbed Trailer
If you think the investment is too great, consider all the equipment you would have to buy for flat-towing. As mentioned earlier, you can easily spend more on all those accessories than you would on a quality trailer.
You will first need to find a trailer that is rated for at least 5,000lbs. It’s also a good idea to consider one that already has a supplemental braking system installed. That way, you don’t have to worry about tearing up the brakes on your motorhome or another towing vehicle.
Words of Caution
I can’t stress enough the risks you take when flat-towing your Toyota Tacoma. Not only does the manufacturer forbid it, but you may also get into some hot water with your insurance company.
The other consideration is towing equipment malfunction. If any of that stuff you installed on your truck fails, it will probably lock up the transmission and cause irreparable damage.
So, the best thing I can recommend is to carry your Tacoma on a flatbed truck when hauling it behind your RV. The other option is to leave it home.