New Year - New Toad!
Happy Belated New Year to all our friends and family at Parental Parolees! We hope everyone had a safe and joyous holiday season, and that you're ready to hit the road.
I know WE are.
We're about to end our 3-month stay at Leisure Acres Campground in Cleveland, GA, and while it's always nice to be here to be near friends and family (and to feed the ducks at the campground) staying in one place for anything longer than 2 weeks gets on this RV-er's nerves. However, we got to see Jace for an extended period of time during this stay, as we had him for Thanksgiving break, Christmas and New Year's break – these kids get 2 weeks straight – a 4-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day, and a short remote learning stay of 2 days when his school system couldn't open due to COVID-related personnel shortages. Nice to be around to help out family, but it's time to get some bugs on our windshield!
And being stuck in North Georgia, we also don't get to enjoy the much warmer weather of Florida or Arizona, and it's been unseasonably cold this winter. Three months, and three tanks of propane have been used, and we had one snowstorm which dumped 5-6 inches of the Devil's Dandruff on us. Jace enjoyed it, finally being able to make his first (very small) snowman, and have a snowball fight (he lost big). Too many nights where the overnight temps dropped into the mid-low 20's, and we even lost power for almost 10 hours over the snowstorm.
Fortunately, we keep our generator in good shape and filled with oil, so we weathered the outage enough to run some space heaters to minimize our propane use during our time without shore power. We were even able to help out a fellow camper across the street, who used one of our outside electrical outlets (and a few extension cords) to run a space heater for him and his cats.
But our stay wasn't just sitting around trying to keep warm, or watching Jace.
We got us a new TOAD!
As our fellow Parolees know, we've been dolly towing a Mini Cooper convertible since we began this journey 2 years ago, and it has served us well. Dolly towing wasn't a big deal for us, and the Mini was sure fun to drive, especially in warm weather with the top down. But it was getting up in miles (more than 78,000) and we felt is was getting to the point where maintenance was getting very expensive on things that were due to break down based on our usage. A new battery cost us over $350, not because of the battery itself, but because the stupid computer on the Mini needed to be reset to tell it that a new battery was installed. Apparently, it's a “smart system” that doesn't allow the Mini's alternator to charge a battery (new or used) to anything higher than it's previously lowest charge state. That's not smart – it's dumb. Fortunately for us, we had invested in our NOCO charger / jump starter the previous summer, so jumping the Mini was no problem.
In addition, our front brake pads were down to minimum (allegedly) and they not only caused us to need new pads, but new front rotors as well (again, allegedly). I've grown to distrust our local Georgia Mini service department for their ability to “find” problems, but we did know the pads needed replacing, and the rotors “could” have been scored. But now we ended up spending over $700 for pads, rotors and brake sensors – oh, and maybe the engine mounts might need to be replaced in the future.
So, given it's higher than normal mileage for a 4 year-old car, and expensive repairs staring us in the face, we decided it was time to consider another car, and this time look at flat-towing something.
The natural choice (for many RV-ers) is a Jeep product. There are quite a few cars in the marketplace that can be flat-towed, although their numbers are dwindling as certain manufacturers are decommitting from supporting flat towing, and Jeep seemed to be the most prevalent. But as usual, not every Jeep is capable of being flat-towed, so it was time for me to get into research mode again.
Jeep Wranglers are the usual vehicle of choice to flat tow, probably because many people who RV like to go 4-wheeling off road somewhere. They're boxy looking, have tops that can be removed (a plus for us), but they are absolute pigs on gas mileage. Talked to a neighbor and asked if his really got between 15 MPG and 20 MPG on the highway, and his reply was, “On a good day. With a heavy tailwind.”
Okaaaaay. With gas going over $3 per gallon, dropping down from an average of 34 MPG to an average of maybe 16 MPG was not in the cards, especially since I knew we wouldn't off-road in any Jeep.
My research uncovered many Jeep products, but some helpful friends on the Tiffin RV Network of long-time Tiffin and RV owners made sure I realized that just because a certain Jeep had 4-wheel drive, it didn't automatically mean it could be flat towed. In fact, we had to start looking for a Jeep with the Active Drive II system. This is a 4-wheel drive system that allows the Jeep to have it's transfer case placed in neutral to allow for flat towing. This complicated our search, as some Jeeps (we were now looking at Cherokees) have the ADII system, but many do not, and most used car dealers don't know a thing about it so they don't list it on the car's options. Grand Cherokees have ADII, as do Cherokee Trailhawks, but both are more expensive Jeep models and the Trailhawk is in particularly high demand, so every time we thought we found one to look at, it ended up being sold the first day online.
Since used car dealers don't know what to look for, we had to rely on pictures of the interior of the cars in their ads, and specifically those of the shifter. If it had a little button on the shifting console with an “N” next to it, it could put the transfer case into neutral and be flat towed. As luck would have it (and after many disappointments in lost Trailhawks), I'm looking at a particular Jeep Cherokee with surprisingly low mileage, and there it was! The little button on the console, and even a picture of the back of the car with a plate showing that Active Drive II was installed!
We rush down the the dealer, test out the ADII to make sure it works as advertised, take it for a test drive, and we're ready to make a deal. It's two years older than our Mini Cooper was (2015 vs. 2017) but it had 25,000 less miles on the odometer. It had a minor fender-bender which hadn't been properly repaired, but the damage was minor and really can't be seen except up close. Needed new tires all around, but got the dealer to take off $500 for those and got my own set put on. Sold the Mini outright to an AutoNation dealer, sold the American Car Dolly to a nice young couple just starting out RVing, and began the next stage of flat towing.
Setting up the Jeep to be flat towed.
Flat towing is easier to hook up to the RV, but it is far more expensive. Our American Car Dolly cost us just under $2,000, and that was all that was needed to tow the Mini. Now, our Cherokee needs to be modified with a base plate for attaching the tow bar, – also an expense – a wiring kit to drive the lights while towing, an umbilical plug to run power to the Jeep, and, because Jeeps for years suffered from a syndrome when being towed called a “Death Wobble”, a kit to keep power to the power steering when the car is turned “off”.
Base plate - $530
Up-rated Blue Ox tow bar - $1,300
Wiring kit - $50
Umbilical and plug - $100
Death Wobble fix - $450
Trickle charger for battery to drive Death Wobble fix - $125
Install of Base plate and wiring - $300
Total - $2,855
And that doesn't include the future purchase of a brake assist module for about $1,200.
No more moving around a dolly at a campsite, and just a 3-5-minute setup to get ready to tow. But though all this (and thank goodness we were here for 3 months to get this all done), the payoff was our 30-minute test drive that showed that everything was working as advertised and that we're in great shape for our exit from here on January 31st with two quick stops; one for a check on our Safe-T-Steer module, and one in Red Bay for chassis and generator service.
Our ultimate destination is Tucson, AZ (more on THAT stop in my next post) and then on to Phoenix for a month of warmer weather and a visit with my brother Doug.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.