For anyone pulling a Toad (vehicle in tow) behind your bus, or any type of RV, you should always use a checklist for connecting it properly, lest bad things may happen like in the photo above.
I was attending the FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) rally in Tucson in March of this year and most of us were parked out in a field. Shore power cords were running from big commercial generators to an electrical distribution system to our rigs. We were dry camping for five days and took shuttle buses or walked from our rigs to the various venues. The weather was great all week and everyone had a great time.
At 9:00 AM on the last day, they shut down the generators, signaling that it was time for us to pack up and leave the fairground and head out to our next destination. Everyone put their antennas and satellites down, picked up their shore power cords, and packed their rugs and lawn chairs away in their rigs. I was watching my neighbors pack up while I was doing the same. One of my neighbors hooked up his toad and everything looked fine. I walked back over to the vendor building to visit one of my friends.
After I returned about an hour later, I could immediately see that my neighbor apparently had no checklist for hooking up their toad, or if they had one, they did not check all of the boxes. By the looks of the tracks, they either forgot to release their toad parking brake or forgot to take it out of gear and dragged their car out of their parking space. They even dragged the power cable a little on his way out.
This would be hard for me to do because I use a pre-flight checklist to ensure that my bus is ready for travel and all of my tow bar pins are in, my safety chains are connected, my tail lights power cord is plugged in, my emergency brake activation cable is hooked up, and my rock guard Tow Defender cover is on. (You can read more about my Roadmaster Tow Defender here. https://www.busconversionmagazine.com/bcm-blogs/roadmaster-tow-defender/)
I also check to be sure the toad parking brake is released, my transmission is in park, my Superior Driveline driveshaft disconnect is in the released position, and my toad’s ignition key is in the “On” position so my steering wheel will not lock and will turn freely.
I can’t say I am perfect because I have been rushed before and forgot one time to turn my cars key on. I drove about 100 miles. When I went back to do a walk-around and check my toad connections, I noticed the smell of burning rubber. I looked at my front tires and they were pretty chewed up.
The steering wheel turned and locked a bit off-center probably on the first turn and it dragged my front wheels a bit sideways after that, scuffing both front tires. I turned my key to the “On” position and traveled about another 1,000 miles until I got to my destination and bought a new set of front tires for my car. That was an expensive lesson learned. But it could have been much worse.
Another time when leaving a campground, I put my bus in gear and released the parking brakes. My bus should have slowly idled ahead. I always start off like this. The bus did not move as it should have.
I gave it a bit of throttle and it did not move forward as it felt like there was a big invisible hand holding me back. I was on gravel. I immediately let off the throttle, put the bus transmission in neutral, set the parking brake, got out of my bus, and went back to see what was holding me back.
I noticed that my toad wheels were dragging in the gravel like in the previous photo, but only for about a couple of feet, so I immediately knew I forgot to disengage my Superior Driveline driveshaft disconnect. I disengaged the driveshaft then went back to the bus, slipped it into gear, released the bus parking brake, and the bus immediately rolled forward freely.
I know from experience that if I have to give my bus any throttle at all to get it moving initially on level ground, then I immediately suspect that something is not right. So, when I do have to give it much throttle to get it moving on level ground, I pay close attention to what is going on as it could possibly be a rock or something under a wheel.
If I leave from a paved parking lot, then it is harder to drag my toad and it would take a lot more RPMs than usual to start moving if the parking brake was set on the toad or if I forgot to release the driveline disconnect, so that would be immediately obvious.
The other thing I always do is when I pull out for the first time after hitching up my toad if there is room, to take a left and a right turn in an “S” pattern and look in my mirrors to ensure that the wheels are both rotating and turning left and right to track behind the bus. If that is not happening, then I know something is wrong.
After I moved out of the field where we all parked for the FMCA rally, I drove my bus, about a quarter-mile to their full hookup campground where I stayed for three more days to get caught up on some business and do a few loads of laundry.
They were closing the RV park down on the third day and everyone had to leave so they could prepare for the Pima County Fair.
On the third day, I was sitting in my bus, watching my neighbor getting ready to travel and I paid particular attention as I always do when people pull out of a campsite. I noticed immediately that he too was dragging his car out of his space. His wheels were not turning. These are the skid marks he left behind in the gravel.
I ran out of my bus almost spilling my beer and waved frantically in his mirror for him to stop. He stopped and got out and said he was watching in his mirror and also noticed the toad wheels dragging. Maybe he too does like I do, watch the mirrors when pulling out to see if the wheels were turning and noticed there was a problem.
He was in a new-to-him rig that he traded for at the rally, so he may not have noticed a problem with the bus not starting to move as it should, like someone that have been driving the same rig for years. Thankfully he caught it in time and got out and went back and did something to his toad, then he was able to leave with wheels turning. Presumably, no damage was done to his toad that day.
As I tell everyone, you should have a checklist and use it and it may prevent something very bad from happening to you. If anyone is talking to you when you hook up your toad and go through your pre-flight checklist, then go back and check it again before you leave, as you may have become distracted and missed a step. Likewise, if you are with someone that is hitching up their toad, do not distract them with stories about where you are heading next. Wait for them to complete their trip preparation then talk to them.
If you travel with a passenger, both of you should go through the checklist as a second person may notice a mistake the first person made. Also, it is good for both people to take turns hitching up the toad. If both people are familiar with the procedure, they both will understand it better. Who knows, there may come a time when the main driver is incapacitated and the second person may have to hook up the toad and even drive the bus.
Also, after hooking up your toad, do not give your rig any throttle, just shift it into gear, release the brakes, and inch forward while idling, or give it as little throttle as possible to start moving. If the toad wheels are locked up, then you should have a clue that something is not right, and then is the time to find out what is going on and fix the problem before moving further.
If you continue to drive with either the parking brakes set or the engine in gear, then bad things can quickly happen. At the minimum, you may find that your brakes are all worn out when you arrive at your destination requiring a brake job.
Or if you left your transmission in gear, you may very well over-rev the engine, destroying it from the inside out. That can be very expensive to replace.
Or even worse, if you drag your tires down a paved road, the tires may catch on fire and the fire will probably be too hot to disconnect your car from your bus by the time you notice it, sending your bus up in flames too before the fire department can arrive.
You can potentially mitigate this risk if you have a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitor System). A good TPMS will sound an audible alarm and provide a visual indicator when a tire overheats, hopefully before it bursts into flames, and if you pull over immediately, you may be able to catch it in time.
If you do not have a TPMS, you may get lucky and see smoke billowing out from behind you or a passing motorist may flag you down, and if caught early enough, you may be able to get close enough to your tow bar and unhook your toad and drive your bus out of harm’s way.
Warning, if you use padlocks to connect your tow bar hitch pins to prevent them from being stolen, then you will probably never be able to disconnect it in time in case of emergency, so I do not recommend you do this. It is better to use regular hitch pins and check to see if they are still there every time you stop for a break.
If you carry a big fire extinguisher, bigger than most people would carry in a bus, then maybe you will get lucky and be able to extinguish a tire fire if you catch it early enough and if know what you are doing. See Buses Really Burn for more information about burning buses and Fire Extinguisher 101 on our Blog for more information about the best fire extinguisher to buy to carry in your bus.
I hope if you have a toad, you either have a pre-flight checklist or will create one the next time you hitch up your toad and use it every time you leave on a trip so nothing is missed. This may save you thousands of dollars in repairs or fire damage as this happens more often than you may imagine.