Prepping the Toad for the Road

Toad = Towed behind vehicle for you non-RV types.

After we bought Rex, we had to get him ready for our life on the road. This included organizing what we considered a huge trunk. We wanted to carry gear to be ready for any adventure that popped up. But first we had to figure out how we wanted to tow him behind the motorhome. There are a few different companies that provide options for both pulling the vehicle as well as stopping it.

When searching for a new towing system, we had some requirements we hoped to meet:

  1. The tow plate can’t interfere with off-roading
    Some companies’ tow plates protrude from below the bumper. I didn’t like this option as I knew we’d be off-road and I didn’t want the lowest part of the front end to be the critical tow plate. I was sure I would end up damaging it by bashing it into a rock on one of our adventures.
  2. A clean appearance when not hooked up
    When the Xterra is not being towed, I didn’t want too much gear hanging off the front end. Again, I didn’t want to risk damaging something when out having fun.
  3. A good braking system
    We needed a brake system to help keep Rex’s 5000 pounds from pushing us down the mountains. We also needed a brake system to make towing Rex legal in all 50 states and Canada.
  4. A simple interface
    We wanted as few connections as possible and to be able to quickly remove Rex from the RV if needed. Sometimes you have to drop the motorhome in a cool town and do a little impromptu exploring. We wanted to be able to unhook quickly without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
  5. A new tow bar
    We needed a new tow bar as well. Our previous towbar was purchased used and only after we had it did we notice that it had been damaged and welded. It worked ok for the lightweight Mini, but we preferred to have a new one with hefty Rex so that we could feel safe.

After a bit of research, we settled on Roadmaster gear to get Rex ready for the road. The driving factor was the Roadmaster tow plate and its mid-bumper placement. This keeps the connections up out of harms way when we go off-road. If I manage to damage them, then I’ll have bigger problems than a bent tow-plate!

 

The next major concern was the brake system.

All options have their pros and cons:

  • The simplest portable box system works well for most people. But if you move often, it can get a little tiring having to position it and remove it for every trip.
  • The air braking system works beautifully mimicking the exact brake pressure from your motorhome. Of course, you need air brakes in your motorhome for it to work.
  • The Invisibrake is sleek, hidden, and no fuss once installed. The install is a little more complicated, though.

 

We chose the Invisibrake for its ease of use once installed and portability to another RV with or without air brakes. The system activates automatically when we hook up the car. When stopped, there are no extra parts to remove beyond the tow bar set-up before we can jump in and drive. When switching RVs, the toad remains unchanged. The only add to the new motorhome would be the LED on the dash and connection to the RV plug that alerts you to the braking of the toad when the system is in use.

A nice benefit to the system is that it also acts as a trickle charger to keep the toad battery charged when on the road. This is great for people who have to leave the key in the ignition to keep the steering wheel unlocked. With this little feature, there are no worries about arriving at the final destination with a dead battery.

We installed the tow plate on our Mini and once was enough. This time we turned to the professionals at Nolan’s RV in Denver to get Rex ready for his new life on the road. Our tech Gary spent the 1st day with Rex pulling his face off and removing some of his under bits to properly fit the Roadmaster base plate to the frame.

We had to take his Face Off!

The baseplate installation was pretty straightforward. Remove the front fascia, remove some of the existing metal components, then bolt on the baseplate, trim some plastic here and there, and re-assemble.

Gary at Nolan’s RV preparing to install the Invisibrake system

The next step was installing the Invisibrake system. The first thing was to find a place for the controller. Roadmaster recommends installing the control under one of the front seats. For the Pro-4x this didn’t work because there is a subwoofer under one seat and the navigation computer under the other. Instead, we decided to mount the controller in the storage compartment under the floor in the trunk. This will keep it protected and out-of-the-way.

After completing the installation on Rex, we brought in the motorhome to verify everything worked and install the brake light in the dash. We went over the connections to our motorhome and hooked everything up for his first tow.

Rex’s new grill

Here’s a quick description  of Rex’s new connections:

  1. Receiver for tow bar connections to drag Rex down the highway
  2. Safety cable connection in case he tries to escape
  3. Power plug to send power to the brake lights, turn signals, and brake controller – This plug also sends the signal back to the motorhome dash LED.
  4. Emergency brake away connection – In case Rex manages to escape,  this pin will pull out and the brake controller will apply the brakes to try to bring Rex to a stop before he hurts anybody. This is the last line of defense that we hope to never use.

If only this happened automagically

The guys at Nolan’s RV did a great job of setting Rex up and troubleshooting our old plug on the back of the RV. Since we left, we made some slight adjustments to the brake controller to dial in the braking power and haven’t had any issues. Hopefully, this system will provide us with many miles of service without us having to do anything but hook up normally and hit the highway.

Organizing the Junk in Trunk

The next thing we needed to do was organize all the new storage space we had. Since we always carry our scuba tanks in the trunk when towing for safety reasons, we needed a way to get the tanks in and out of the back without having to take everything else out too. We decided to build a simple, strong box with cubby holes for gear and a big flat top for the tanks.

Rex’s trunk organizer built on a picnic table in Leadville, Colorado

We built the box strong enough to support the weight of our scuba tanks and connected to the rails in the floor of the Xterra with strong ratchet straps to keep it in place. The whole box is easily removable if we need the extra space.

 

Now we can keep the trunk stocked and ready for whatever adventures may come our way.

Both of these modifications have made Rex a roadworthy option for all our adventures. We can tow him to a great spot, disconnect, drive up a dirt road, and then go hiking with the equipment in our fully stocked trunk. We can’t wait to take Rex to the rest of the country!

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