Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Addition

When we bought the Chinook we did so because we wanted a small agile motor-home that could go places a big rig could not.  It also seemed to eliminate the need for a toad (tow vehicle).  And in practice so it did.  In fact, toad-less we have traveled these past 5 years, 10 months, and 19 days, for the most part very happily so.

Recently however we've found ourselves moving on less, staying put more.  Last summer we put down roots in Sequim,WA for three months; and recently we were in Kingwood, TX from Thanksgiving through New Year.  In these circumstances, even though I'm not exactly enamored with the idea of towing, it seems to us that a toad would be a welcome addition.

With a rear door and an electric step I was a bit concerned with the practicality of hitching a vehicle to the Chinook, but a visit with the good folks at Hitch Crafters in Costa Mesa showed otherwise:
Knowing that the hitch fits (just), sent us in search of a suitable toad, which today we found ... a sweet little Honda Fit ... how very (ahem) fitting!


Next step, a visit to Hitch Crafters for installation of base plate, hitch, electrical connections, and braking system.  More anon.

16 comments:

  1. Exactly why I chose the Chinook, I wanted to avoid a toad. I was thinking a Smart Car if anything, but the Fit seems like a good choice.

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    1. Tommy
      Yes I thought about a Smart Car (and I also considered a Chevy Sonic and a Chevy Spark) but chose the Fit for several reasons: It has MUCH more carrying capacity than a Smart or a Spark and quite a bit more than a Sonic. I'll keep our folding bike in the Fit instead of having to put it on the Chinook's roof rack. Also the Fit is big enough to take the dogs with us. IMO the Fit drives much better than a Smart. I have read that some people have experienced issues towing a Smart that they have had to resolve by using bungee cords on the steering wheel. Lastly we have a great mechanic who only works on Japanese cars. Hence my choice.
      Andrew

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  2. I'm just getting a toad too (I also have a 21' Chinook). Like you, I want to combine staying put (in my case typically at 14-day boondocks) with exploring and etc. in a small vehicle. I'll drive the Chinook just about anywhere (so nimble), but it's more a matter of wanting to set up camp and yet still zip around and then come back to a longer term camp.

    I did tow a car a few times previously (a few years ago). A friend bought a new tow car and needed someone to baby sit his old one until other friends came to pick it up. Thus I had a temporary toad. And it was a Honda Fit. Towed like nothing (so light). I'm going to end up with something else because I want more ground clearance; but other than that it was ideal. Fun to drive, fantastic gas mileage, surprisingly capacious, and light to tow. I bet you'll love it!

    I was interested to see how the tow bar lined up with your electric step. I have the manual step so it's slightly different back there. Am still deciding which tow bar. The Blue Ox RV mounted are nice, but I'm not sure I want to wrestle that "schnozzle" and attached heavy tow bar in and out of the under step receiver (and I can't extend my lower step with it in place). So was looking at the Blue Ox Acclaim. It's the same on the car end, but on the RV end it fits over a typical drawbar/ball. So the drawbar could be inserted first (much lighter!), then the Acclaim fits over it. The Acclaim can either be stowed on the front of the car, or removed just like their other tow bars. So two pieces, but each one lighter and more stowing options. Haven't decided for sure yet though.

    And of course one can still take some trips "toadless" if desired.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll take a look at the Acclaim.

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    2. As a follow up, I looked into the Acclaim: a draw bar / ball coupling does not work well with my electric steps. There's not enough clearance, at least with "normal" long length extensions. Maybe there's an extra long bar that could solve the problem? Anyway for my rig I'll stick with the unit I'd planned, but I sure appreciate the suggestion to check out the Acclaim.

      Inserting and removing the tow bar is not difficult; on mine you can use the bottom electric step as a rest when wiggling it into or out of the receiver.

      With a light car like the Fit not sure how the extra weight of storing the Acclaim unit attached to the front of the car would work out from a driving perspective. Probably better suited to a Wrangler? Also wondering how you lock the Acclaim to the car.

      With the unit I'm using it can be swung to the driver side to allow easy ingress / egress during overnight stops, or obviously can be removed altogether when planning to stay longer in one spot. Storing it on the RV when decoupled from the car would be OK when traveling but not so good if you wanted to use the back door. In the locked position it has to point to the passenger side and then only allows the rear door to open part way.

      I'll post photos of the setup in a new blog entry once I get everything done (hopefully next week).

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  3. I just noticed your notes. Interesting to read your observations.

    There are extra long drawbars. I believe the Chinook used to come with one stock. But of course I'm sure some of them got lost along the way (or maybe it was an option). The best source I have found for "oddball" drawbars is etrailer.com In addition to having a good selection, they will respond quickly by actually going and measuring, and then posting a sketch if you need more info. Here is a link to a search for "extra long ball mount" (what they call drawbars) on their site:

    https://www.etrailer.com/s.aspx?qry=extra+long+ball+mount

    With the manual step, I only need the long drawbar (vs, the extra long), but I don't have that nice "resting spot" for putting the schnozzle of the towbar in. I figured if I went with the Acclaim I probably wouldn't stow it on the car (such a big lump on a nice new car), but would remove it. I just thought it would be easier to only have to fit the relatively light drawbar into the receiver, and then be able to plunk the Acclaim on separately. It also has some flexibility on down angle (they specify the range). But I still could not put my step down without removing both the Acclaim and the draw bar, so not exactly perfect. (With the manual step the lower step somersaults up and over and flops down on top of the top step to become the new top step. So it's no longer down below when towing. But that makes it a big step down to the ground. I sometimes tow a boat so I'm used to that, but I wouldn't want to live like that for long periods of time when not towing the car. I see that with the electric step the lower steps stays lower, and just slides in and out on a horizontal plane.

    Without the lower step to rest the schnozzle on, I have a hard time putting the one piece Blue Ox towbar in solo (used a friend's Blue Ox one piece towbar when towing the Fit temporarily).

    Another one I would like to try would be the Demco Dominator. It's one piece, but since it is partly aluminum it is under 30# (!). Also the arms don't flop down, but stay rigidly out (nice when hooking up). It either hinges to one side, or one arm to each side to stow. It also has some built in up/down adjustability.

    It's a bit more expensive than the Blue Ox (but then making it lighter costs more), and I'm not SURE it would fit -- the underside of the top step might get in the way. If I can find one to try without being forced to keep it if it doesn't work, I'm going to. It's an interesting design that might not work, but if it does it might be really nice.

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    1. Blue Ox also makes an aluminum tow bar ... weighs about 28 pounds I believe versus about 41 for the steel version.

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  4. PS: I meant to mention that my friend's Blue Ox towbar will lock when flopped over to either the left or the right, in case that helps. If you are interested I could find out which model it is. It was purchased in summer 2014. I do remember it was not the one with the "ball" in the middle, because the place installing it said they had had some problems with those. He had upgraded from a Roadmaster towbar purchased around 2009. I'm sure Roadmaster makes other models, but comparing the Roadmaster bar he had with the new Blue Ox, the Blue Ox was easier/better to hook up -- just little things but they added up to an overall better experience.

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    1. Yes the one I'm getting locks when flopped over to the side ... on the Chinook it has to be stored to the right (pointing towards the passenger side) because of the spare wheel. In this position the rear door only opens part way, so it's not a good option when camped.

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  5. Well I finally went ahead and ordered the Demco Dominator. I made sure to do so from a vendor that would allow returns, as I can't tell for sure (just by looking at the website) whether or not it will fit in the receiver/step area without actually trying it. Should be here in a few days.

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  6. What were your reasons for choosing the Demco Dominator?

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  7. Well of course it remains to be seen if it will fit, what with the rear door/steps, etc.

    But the reasons I chose it were these:

    1) Relatively light weight (just under 30#).
    Even if it fits, I'll want to remove it any time I'm camped more than a night, so I can put the step down. Getting my friend's much heavier Blue Ox in and out was tough. Not just the weight, but it was like moving a mattress, you know, the weight plus the general floppegement.

    2) The arms stay rigid in the horizontal plane.
    On my buddy's Blue Ox, the arms flop up and down. This means that when I was holding the arms in order to guide the "tongue" into the drawbar hole, the tongue also flopped. I'm thinking that job might be easier with "rigid" arms, so I can drive it in like a wheelbarrow (if that makes sense).

    The real purpose of the non-floppy arms is to make it easier when hooking up the car. That's not a necessity, but having hooked up said buddy's car a number of times, I think it will be a nice luxury (the arms just sit there, pointing horizontally, vs. flopping down in the dirt).

    3) There is a built in way to have the arms vs. hitch tongue be higher or lower. If (big if) it fits this might be an advantage.

    4) Getting more and more minor here, but they look to have a nice system for clipping in some of the cords.

    I give it a 50/50 chance of fitting (due to the fixed upper rear step). If it does fit I think it might be really nice. If not, I'll send it back and likely go with the Blue Ox Acclaim. I won't stow the Acclaim on the car, but the purpose would just be to enable me to first put the regular drawbar/ball in (small and light) and then put the Acclaim onto that (heavier but out in the open). I don't have the lower step to use as a "slide" like you do (manual step rides on top of the upper step when not deployed).

    Blue Ox does make an aluminum one (the Aventa maybe - their names always blur in my mind). But I think it's a bit heavier (they added some steel because they were failing sometimes), and plus the arms don't stay "wheelbarrow rigid" like the Dominator.

    Anyway, this is all just from looking at drawings/web pages/videos. The only ones I've actually used were the older Roadmaster and the newer Blue Ox (but just regular steel). The Blue Ox was preferable to the Roadmaster (at least the particular two models I used), but I would still have a hard time with the Blue Ox one on my Concourse. How easy the folks with side doors have it (obviously they never build any character ;) ;)

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  8. Thanks for all the information. I'll be very interested to hear how things work out.

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  9. Well, I received the Demco Dominator and tried it out (not towing, but just in the receiver, for fit). Sadly, it's not going to work for my Chinook, but it might in yours.

    Impressions:

    Nicely made piece of kit. Anodized arms, adjustable clips to hold the safety cables, would be pleasant to hook up due to the arms that stay horizontal (vs. flopping into the dirt). I like that they just swing to the side to stow, vs having to lift them up, align with a slot, and then flop over to stow.

    Issues for my Chinook application:

    1) The clips that hold the safety cables are nice, but that means the safety cables are always on the tow bar. So the nice sub-30# tow bar now has pounds of safety cables and hooks taking away from that. Of course one could just use coiled safety cables, or modify the clips somehow to allow the cables to be removed, so that wasn't a show stopper. And for most people who leave the tow bar in place all the time of course it is all benefit, and no downside.

    2) The dominator has a nifty way you can raise or lower it via the receiver depending on your rig/toad. In the "upper" setting, it wouldn't work on my rig, because my top (fixed) step is too low relative to the hitch receiver. In the "lower" setting it fit fine, but I probably wouldn't be able to drive anywhere without it dragging the ground (that's bad enough already!).

    But it might fit on your Chinook. Reason I say that is that looking at photos, the Chinooks with the electric step have the upper (fixed) step placed higher than their manual step sisters. If you look at the triangularish "side walls" of the step area you can see that. Whereas my top (fixed) step is about 5-1/2" below the entry threshhold, it looks like yours is nearly flush with it. So on my rig the top of the receiver tube (i.e. the Chinook built in hitch) is just about as close as it can be to the underside of the top (fixed) step. What I don't know is if yours is at the same level (and hence might be a few inches below the underside of the higher top step?), or if they took the opportunity to move the receiver up the same amount. The Dominator *almost* fit my hitch in the Dominator's upper position, but because part of it just (barely) contacted my upper step before it got to the hitch pin holes lining up, it didn't. Wouldn't take much more space for it to fit.

    I could modify my steps to make it work, but since the Roadmaster Acclaim should fit just fine as is (that's my next trial order!), I don't have much motivation to make the mods (even though the Dominator seems so nice).

    I got the Dominator through Amazon, so no problem to return it (I knew I might have to).

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    1. Shame it didn't work out. Good luck with the Acclaim.

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  10. Re: The Acclaim. Back to the drawing board! Once I noticed that the car hookup points have to be 7" lower than the center of the ball in the hitch I realized that would never work. In my case the bottom of my hitch is around 14" off the ground (IIRC, can't tell for sure right now cause I'm parked on a hill and blocked up in front), and the car I'm mostly likely going to use for a toad has the baseplate brackets at 16-3/4" That's a nice matchup as long as you don't want to use an Acclaim (most tow bars say flat is best, but you can go 3" up or down).

    I hadn't actually shipped off the Dominator yet, so I decided to do some experimenting.

    Where I'm parked right now the bottom of my hitch receiver is 10" off the ground, (due to my angle which is not how it is when driving), but I could still do some comparisons.

    First, I dragged my buddy's Blue Ox Alpha over. I have actually towed with that for around 2,500 miles, even once into a boondock, and I don't remember ever scraping. The bars sat pretty much level when hooked up. So I had that as a baseline (I was towing the car with the 16-3/4" high baseplate brackets). I fit it into my hitch, and the lowest point on the towbar was 8-7/8" from the ground, and 12" aft of the receiver end. (Sounds low, but I'm just using these numbers for comparison, since I know the Alpha worked fine.)

    Then I put the Demco in. The lowest point on that, as shipped, was 10-1/2" from the ground, 11-1/2" aft of the receiver. Based on that, I believe the Demco would have more ground clearance (I was somewhat worried about that). I would still have to modify the "schnozzle," slightly, but I think it would be fairly easy for a welder after looking it over. There is also room to raise it another couple of inches with a built in tilt ability it has, but I wasn't able to test that as I didn't have my big wrenches with me.

    The Blue Ox Alpha fits just as it comes, but it's heavy at 41#. No issue of course when you don't have to remove it (those side door folks, you know). Their Aladdin is the same design but part of it is aluminum; however it's only 4# lighter. In contrast, the Demco is only 30# (!). It was also slightly easier to put in due to the arms that don't flop.

    However, with either of those, I'd have to remove it and put it in each time, plus put it somewhere when not using it (i.e. when camped and wanting to use the step). Boo.

    So now I'm reconsidering the original towbar I was considering, which is the Roadmaster Stowmaster. Kind of a lump on the front of the car, but I'd never have to fit it in and out of the Chinook, nor store it somewhere. That might outweigh my front bumper vanity :D

    All that to say, the jury's still out. For "just buy it and stick it in and I know it works," the Aladdin would be the one. OTOH the Demco is so thoughtfully engineered and so relatively light.

    Monday, I'm going to pop into the local shop that does welding and toad-related installs, and ask a few questions.

    Have you chosen your gear yet? I don't know if your Fit is the same, but on my buddy's 2009, the Blue Ox baseplate would have come out some inches lower than the Roadmaster one, so his choice was influenced by that. May not still be the same. For either of my two toad candidates, either brand emerges in the same spot.

    Fun times :)

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