Electric cars are becoming more mainstream with every day that passes. As technology improves, these vehicles have not only more power but also more range. For many, the idea of having a silent ride and avoiding the gas stations is far too tempting. But, what does this mean for avid flat towers? Let’s find out in this article.
Can you flat tow electric cars?
In short, no, you cannot flat tow any electric vehicle (EV) available in the market today. The reason why you cannot do this is due to how their motors work. Flat towing an electric car can lead to considerable damage, but other alternatives can get the job done.
Electric vehicles work differently from their internal combustion counterparts. Basically, you can’t shift an EV into neutral the same you would do with a gasoline Ford F-150, for example. So, this fundamental difference makes flat towing practically impossible. But hybrid vehicles are a different story.
Does this mean that you can’t use an electric vehicle for long trips? Not exactly. It just means that you have to make adjustments and use alternative methods. We’ll cover all these questions and more in the following sections. But, first, let’s further discuss how electric vehicles work.
What is flat towing?
Driving an RV across the country is a great feeling. But, since these vehicles are so massive, you lose a bit of the charm once you move into the next town.
The small parking lots, narrow streets, and traffic can make driving a challenge. As a result, most people choose a smaller vehicle for those quick errands to the supermarket or drive-through.
The best way to take this vehicle along is by pulling it behind the RV. With so much power and torque, motorhomes make excellent towing vehicles. As the popularity of EVs increases worldwide, they might seem like a perfect option for flat towing.
But, the truth of the matter is they aren’t. Due to their design and function, you can really damage an EV by flat towing them. Let’s find out more in the following section.
How electric vehicles work and why you can’t tow them
To understand why you can’t tow an electric vehicle, let’s first discuss how an internal combustion car works. This difference is key to understanding EVs later.
In an internal combustion vehicle, the engine produces power which turns a transmission. This, in turn, rotates a differential that moves the wheels.
The differential can be in the front (in a front-wheel-drive car), the rear (a rear-wheel-drive model), or both (when it’s an AWD or 4WD). If you want to know the precise details of how each works, you can check out multiple videos online.
When we need to know for this article: the transmission sends the power from the engine to the wheels. And, in some cases, you can shift it into neutral.
This means that the clutch plate disengages from the engine. Therefore, both the powerplant and the wheels can rotate freely.
But, an electric car doesn’t work this way. Instead (and this is an elementary summary), a battery bank powers an electric motor (or several) connected to the wheels. Notice a key difference here?
Basically, electric cars don’t have a transmission as we commonly know them. Instead, EVs use electricity for braking and accelerating, so you cannot disconnect the wheels from the motor.
So, when you’re rolling an electric vehicle, you’re actually spinning the motor as well. You can do this for a short distance, with no problems. But, you can generate static energy and heat during more extended travel, two very damaging consequences for the motor.
You might be wondering what happens with the N (Neutral) position in an electric car. Well, this isn’t the same neutral as in internal combustion vehicles. All this means is that the parking brakes are disengaged so that you can push onto a platform or trailer.
But, not all-electric vehicles are created equal. So, let’s discuss these differences.
The difference between FWD, AWD, and RWD in electric vehicles and how it affects towing
Currently, you can find electric vehicles that come in FWD, AWD, and RWD. As their name states, these vehicles differ in that the electric motor powers either the front, rear, or all wheels.
Since there is no transmission, the components needed to power the wheels are less and smaller in dimensions. So, it’s no surprise to see more manufacturers aiming to create AWD EVs, something that wasn’t as common in internal combustion engines at first.
But, there are also plenty of FWD and RWD. Some of the more popular models include the Tesla Model 3, BMW i3, and Hyundai Ioniq.
In an FWD EV, the rear wheels do not have electric motors. But, some of them might have regenerative braking, which is a special kind of disc brake that helps in charging the batteries.
The same goes for RWD electric vehicles. The front wheels do not have power, but they might have regenerative braking.
How does this come into play when towing? Well, as we’ve mentioned above, there are alternatives to flat towing. So, we’ll discuss in the following section how you can about towing your electric vehicle.
Are there alternatives to flat towing an electric vehicle?
With such a blunt reality, we cannot flat tow any electric vehicle currently available in the market. So, let’s discuss some of the alternatives we could employ to take an EV with us on those long trips.
The first and safest option is to use a trailer. This way, you know that your vehicle is in the safest possible conditions. The pros to doing this are the following:
- You ensure that your EV won’t suffer from irreparable damage
- Most trainers aren’t very heavy, and your motorhome can easily tow them
- A good trailer comes with its own braking system, so you only need to supply power through electrical connections.
But there are some cons as well:
- Contrary to flat towing, you won’t be able to store your trailer
- The additional trailer weight might cause an increase in fuel consumption
- Instead of just hitching the car to the RV, you must go through the entire process of loading your vehicle onto the trailer and securing it
- A good trailer comes at a high price
The other alternative that might be tempting to use is a tow dolly. This device raises only two wheels off the ground, which seems ideal for front-wheel-drive cars. But, let’s remember that most FWD cars out there might have regenerative braking on the back wheels.
In fact, chances are that no manufacturer actually approves recreational flat towing for electric vehicles. So, if you decide to do this, you might be voiding the warranty.
This is where we can get creative when it comes to alternatives. For example, instead of an electric vehicle, you can consider a plug-in hybrid. The fact is there are some of these that you can flat tow.
Yes, they aren’t electric, but with their hybrid technology, you can be sure that you’ll have fewer emissions and fuel consumption. Ford is the only manufacturer right now that ensures that you can flat tow their hybrids.
These include the Escape and Fusion Hybrids. There are a series of steps to follow that come in the owner’s manual, and you must allow the engine to run for a few minutes every six hours of rolling or fewer.
Driving a motorhome is a great feeling, but sometimes you need a smaller vehicle to drive around town. With the increasing popularity of EVs, they might seem like a great alternative to using them as part of flat towing.
But, unfortunately, their design doesn’t allow for flat towing, not even for two-wheel towing. So, it’s best to avoid using a dolly as well.
The best alternative seems to be using a trailer. The downside of this is that you cannot store the trailer once you use it, so some might perceive this as bulky and uncomfortable.
You can also consider using hybrids like the Ford Escape and Fusion. Ford authorizes both vehicles for flat towing. So, as long as you follow the steps, you know you’re not doing irreparable damage.
For many motorhome enthusiasts out there, flat towing is a must. We hope that this article answers all your questions about using an electric vehicle for this practice.