I almost lost my Toad tonight. After being with Tricia and I for many miles, my Toad made an attempt to escape. She was connected to the RV with a quality tow rig. Then, the failure occurs on one side of the rig. This could have been a disaster even at the slow speed of 35 miles per hour!
If not familiar with the RV community and Toads, some may be confused. To explain- the vehicle towed behind an RV is referred to as the Toad, slang for “towed vehicle”. Our Toad, a Jeep Wrangler is designed to be “flat-towed”. A flat-towed vehicle is a towed vehicle with all 4 wheels on the ground, no dolly or trailer is needed.
Our Toad History
For the past two years, our Jeep has been towed from Louisiana, to Kentucky, to Colorado, to Texas, on various shorter trips, and now to Key West. Unexpectedly, the tow rig failed after more than 7,500 miles over smooth highways, rough roads, small hills, tall mountains and after easy slow stops and one ‘stand-on-the-brake’ stop. The tow rig used today is the same rig we started with; no changes.
Part 1- Tow Rig Failure Details
We are 32 miles from the campground; traveling at 35 mph. Tricia and Susan are sitting upfront with John and I, glad that we are close to the end of a long day. Suddenly, as Tricia looks at the rear view camera, she says, “Something’s not right with the jeep!” Then more loudly, “The tow bar’s disconnected; on the left!” At first I don’t see anything wrong, then…maybe I do, or is it the street lights or an optical illusion. I pull over quickly and we all pile out to investigate. All of us look; I push and pull on the tow bar and on the jeep. What a relief; both sides are firmly connected, the lights are playing tricks. We agree that we are tired and need to keep an eye on the jeep as we travel the last few miles.
Now, I’m accelerating, 5, 10, 15, 25mph…it’s no optical illusion! All four of us watch as the driver side connection breaks away. One of the two tow bar connections is separating from the jeep. “Ohh $^#!, the jeep’s about to drive off on its own.”
I slowly pull over a second time as I watch the rear-view camera, clearly seeing that there is a failure. Now, I am outside the RV looking at two broken welds and an angle-iron bracket that is in two pieces. Evidently, when stopping and checking the first time, the tow rig was forced back together when braking hard, pushing everything back into place, hiding the failure.
Follow this link to read about our Key West Adventure; when the failure occurred.
Where was the failure?
The purchased tow rig did not fail. A custom angle-iron bracket made to connect the tow rig to my after market bumper failed.
How did the failure occur?
The failure occurred when two horizontal welds cracked on the gusset plates, allowing the angle iron bracket to flex and break length wise, in the ‘angle’. I do not believe the failure occurred immediately, but over some period of time and miles. As I type this, I question if my ‘stand-on-the-brake’ stop I experienced 1500 miles ago was the initiating event, possibly creating cracks in the welded gussets.
Why share the story of this failure?
Obviously, I share for awareness, hopefully preventing others from repeating a similar experience, or a worse experience.
How to prevent the experience?
- Inspect your tow rig often. Check all attachment points, including fasteners, pins, all components, all welds.
- Inspect your tow rig when connecting and disconnecting the tow rig.
- Inspect your tow rig at every fuel stop (every stop) while traveling.
- At a minimum, inspect your tow rig pins if you have lost sight of your Toad while stopped. I have read about one RVers possible sabotage experience. They sustained damage to their RV and TOAD.
- Immediately inspect your tow rig after any hard stops.
- Perform a what-if failure exercise on your tow rig. At a minimum, ask:
- If the tow rig fails, are the safety chains/cables strong enough?
- If the tow rig fails at any point, from the RV to the Toad, are the safety chains/cables connected at a location that assures that the Toad will be connected to the RV?
- What is the weakest link/part in the tow rig?
Final thoughts-part 1
Most, but not all of the 6 points listed above were used by us in the past.
In hindsight, I wish that I had inspected the tow rig after the ‘stand-on-the-brake, take-the-shoulder’ stop. I’m sure some engineer could calculate the enormous force exerted on the tow rig. AND- the scariest final thought- if my tow rig had failed at both brackets, I would have lost my Toad! The safety cables would have remained fastened to the RV and to the failed brackets, not my Toad.
Part 2- Tow Rig Upgrade
The immediate fix?
It’s early the next morning, after the failure, when we look for a local shop to replace our broken and damaged brackets. Luck is with us, a shop across the street from the campground will make a new bracket and re-weld the other bracket. This will get us back home, to Louisiana, a 1024 mile trip.
The long-term fix?
We are home, and I start searching online for D-ring adapters. I want to eliminate the angle-iron bracket, the cross-bar connector and the crossbar. A D-ring adapter will enable me to connect directly to the after-market bumper; eliminating multiple failure points. I eventually find the part I am looking for.
As described above in ‘Final thoughts- Part 1’, the original safety cable set-up would not have secured the jeep to the RV for this failure. A new safety cable connection point is needed. A local welding shop fabricates two connection points (pad-eyes) which are bolted to the top of the bumper.
Final thoughts- part 2
As I write this, I am hoping that this post helps others prevent this failure! Share this with others.
Also, as I boondock at a friend’s house in Kentucky, I am thinking about my next “failure” post. Recently, as we traveled North, my old worn Jeep ignition, decided to lock the steering column in a slight right turn, while rolling. As the RV rolled straight ahead, the Jeep continued to turn right. No injuries, but a tire is now damaged and needs to be replaced. Another story and lesson to share!