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Nearly 5 Years of Flat Towing a MINI Cooper Behind our Motorhome

When we first started off full timing, we used a Jeep (and then eventually a truck) to pull small travel trailers. When we were settled into a camping spot the house was unhitched, and the tow vehicle became our local transportation.

Our Jeep & Oliver Travel Trailer Combo

Our Jeep & Oliver Travel Trailer Combo

That lasted about four year. And then we got a motorhome, or more precisely, a vintage bus conversion.

While we were getting used to motorhome life, we opted to go without a toad (RVer lingo for towed behind vehicle) for our first several months. We had enough on our plate figuring out what we had gotten ourselves into with a vintage bus.

After a few months, we decided we were ready for a second vehicle – and it just so happened our dear friends Karen & Ben were getting ready to trade their MINI Cooper in for a newer one.

It was already setup to flat tow and it matched our bus quite nicely.  There really wasn’t much more to the decision than that, even though it might seem it was more purposeful to pick something that matched the bus so well.

Parked with our friends Ben & Karen.. and realizing their MINI matched our bus.

Parked with our friends Ben & Karen.. and realizing their MINI matched our bus. Hmmm…

Easy and simple transaction, we just needed to purchase a Blue Ox tow bar to interface with the base plate they had installed. We figured it would be a great small starter toad for us, and we could figure out our ideal later.

It’s ultra important to note – flat towing is not officially supported by MINI – doing so will void the transmission warranty. We bought ours used and almost out of warranty anyway, so it was a small risk we were willing to take.

However the manual transmission version has been flat towed by many before us without problems requiring no modifications other than a base plate. Our friends had done so with this one for nearly 2 years. Since 2011, we’ve simply hooked up the tow bar, put the car in neutral and taken the parking brake off – and have not yet had any problems.

The automatic version however can not be flat towed and will require a tow dolly or trailer.

We filmed a quick little 5 minute video this week about our MINI, discussing the pros and cons:

For those video adverse, here’s a quick recap of our experience:

Things we love about our MINI:

  • zephyr_pixelIt’s small and lightweight – weighing in at just over 2500 lbs. In most states, this means supplemental braking is not required (but it’s still a good idea to have, and is required to drive in those states that have lower limits). Since it’s essentially a roller skate, our bus barely even feels it being pulled behind – except on long uphill grades. We noticed no significant drop in fuel economy when we added it on.
  • It’s practical for driving around town, parking in urban areas and for lengthier road trips.
  • Mini motoring adventure to Glacier National Park!

    Mini motoring adventure to Glacier National Park!

    It’s fun to drive, can fit four adults fairly comfortably (after the getting in and out of the backseat part) or haul an amazing amount of cargo with the seats down.

  • The fuel economy is great – we get 30-32 mpg with city driving, and 40-42 on the highway. This balances out the 7-7.5 of our bus quite nicely.

Things we wish we could magically change:

  • When we’re out west, like we are now – we do wish we had something a little more off road capable. We regularly push our low clearance limits taking her off road to discover great boondocking spots. Many times, we’re picking spots based on where the MINI can go, as the bus sometimes has more options. (But, we’re not out west all year long.)
  • When we’re on longer road trips we do wish for something more comfortable. Driving from Elkhart to St. Louis several times this past summer in the MINI, stuffed to the gills and a cat on our lap the entire time was a pain.
  • Our MINI is about as base of a model as you can get. We’d like some fancier features – like cruise control, and maybe a sunroof or convertible for touring.
  • A manual transmission is fun while motoring and touring around, but we both find it to be a pain when stuck in traffic. Sometimes, we both wish for an automatic.
  • While roomy inside for tall people, Chris does have trouble seeing traffic signals and has to duck down. He’s only 5’11”.

On the road…. Photo by Becky Schade / Interstellar Orchard

On our short list of potential toad upgrades on our dream list: A higher end MINI, a Jeep or a Ford C-Max (hybrid that can be flat towed). If we upgraded, we’d likely purchase used again to both save money and well, it just makes no sense to put a brand new vehicle behind a big old dirty bus.

But all and all, our MINI continues to meet our needs. While we regularly contemplate an upgrade, we keep coming back to our MINI being just fine for now. It’s paid for, we know it well, it’s already endured 6+ years of being behind buses (and has the knicks, scratches and 40-w oil stains to prove it) and it’s awfully cute.

Related Posts:

  • To Tow or Not To Tow? – Our experience going toad-less, tips for navigating life without a vehicle while RVing and the reasons we decided to get a toad.
  • A Mini Addition – The story of how our MINI came into our lives, and my solo cross country road trip to get (having never driven a manual transmission before!)

Shopping for a toad yourself? We recommend starting with MotorHome Magazine’s Dingy Guides to find the vehicles officially recommended for flat towing.

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35 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. I have a 2015 Mini Cooper that I want to tow behind my RV. I have the Roadmaster hitch installed but I am wondering about the steering on the Mini when towing. there is no ignition key on my Mini, so does the steering track OK when there is no power steering ?

      • Hi,
        Thank you for your prompt response
        We have a round key system and push button. If engine is not running…Without being fully locked, the steering wheel rotates only with great force. (I assume that the power steering is a off)
        When you pull your car, is the resistance in your steering wheel is the same as when you drive your mini.

  2. We are currently towing our mini with our 2005 class A motor home, travelling from west TX to TN. The mini is a 2011 clubman, manual transmission. Although today we had to unhook the mini to squeeze into a gas station, found that the battery had died and had to push it to one side and then hook it back up. Surely just the ignition being on had not killed the battery after driving maybe 400 miles today?

  3. Hi there. Possjbke mini transmission issue? Just bought a low-mileage 2006 Mini Cooper S convertible for a toad in large part due to your write-ups and video, and tow with a Blue Ox system, behind our 2006 Monaco Safari. Towing such an itty-bitty car behind such a big rv is sort of comical–and I love darting around in the mini after having lumbered down the road all day in the big rig. But after our maiden voyage if several days–Fargo to Atlanta–the mini smells like burned clutch. We turn the ignition to the the first click–the dash lights come on, but the fuel and oil needles stay down. The Blue Ox system aparently charges the mini as we drive. Any idea whether this is the correct key position? We were able to unlock the steering wheels with less of a key turn, but on our first day out, the key returned itself back to off, and just before getting onto the hughway, we found were draggjng tbe mini sort of sideways, it was squeeling and skidding along–our first hair-raising experience! Does anybody have ideas? Thanks!

    • I haven’t a clue Doug.. our MINI has one of those little round disc keys. We just take it out, put the MINI in neutral and take the parking brake off. Nothing else required, and thus far (knock on wood) no problems. Sounds like yours is setup differently.

  4. I also had an issue with the, quite literal, pain in the neck low ceiling of my Mini. Stop lights were particularly annoying. But, a Mini forum had an easy cure. I bought one of these: http://www.lightinsight.com/ It’s a cheap little lens that static clings to the top of your windshield. (I put mine at the very top, just left of the rearview mirror.) Easy-peasy. No more bending over at stoplights.

  5. Flat towed my Cooper for 4K miles. Flawless. Not to mention it has a full race suspension and I use it on the track also. 😉

  6. They sure are cute, and look even tinier behind the big ol’ bus! It’s hard to move on when something is both paid for and works just fine. Our 2007 Cherokee is trail rated so we love having the option to play out in the boonies, but the 17/mpg is sucky. We’ll keep it ’til it gives up 🙂

  7. I’ve got a Chevy Tracker 4 door 4wd automatic as my toad. It doesn’t have much ground clearance, but it goes everywhere my motorhome does and quite a few my motorhome doesn’t. It gets about 25 mpg highway.

  8. Hey Technomadia team, good write up ion the toad. Keep up the good work. You’re living my dream and I follow you religiously. I currently have a 34 foot 5th wheel towing with a 2103 GMC 2500 diesel. We average about 50-75 nights a year in it. I am regularly drooling over bus conversions and similar rigs. One I found I particularly like are the 1980’s models of Newell motor coaches. Love your stuff, again keep up the good work.

  9. We bought a Fiat 500 to tow behind our coach and love it. It has all the latest technology and is a convertible as well. See you on the road!

  10. Great information. “Paid for” which are words my husband I remind ourselves when we think of new purchases. We hope to see you out on the road after my husband retires in September. Can’t wait to see where our future brings us but we love to explore! Safe and happy travels.

  11. We regularly tow our 1971 Steyr-Puch Haflinger (on it’s trailer). It’s a very offroad capable vehicle but not so warm in the winter/wet months 😉 I figure if we ever do some extended stuff where I’m not worried about backing up regularly I’ll flat-tow my 1969 VW Beetle (which I have ample headroom in, even at 6’7″). It’d be nice to have the little extra storage space too for larger items on the long trips.

    Glad the mini continues to serve you guys well. If you see anything of interest in the Portland area when the time comes to replace it, happy to have a look for ya.

    • A vintage WV Beetle was on our original short list of toads.. but we decided having one vintage vehicle in the household would be enough of a new challenge for us. Besides, we do like having air conditioning in our daily driver. 🙂 But they are super cute.

  12. We have a 2011 Jeep Renegade that we love. Easy to tow, one button push to put in tow mode. It can take us off road to great hiking spots. Downsides are weight at nearly 4000#, mileage at 17 and comfort on really long trips is soso due to lack of foot well room.
    Like everything in life, there are compromises.

    • Indeed.. it’s always a compromise. We loved our diesel Jeep Liberty we towed with, it was a nice balance between being off-road capable, comfort and fuel economy (25+ when not towing.) And we loved having a Wrangler when we lived in the USVI, such a fun vehicle (but only got 10 mpg, hardly better than our bus.)

  13. Nice read- I too consider getting a motorhome and a toad- I think it would have to be something with 4wd as I plan to boondock 365 days if possible! That spot you were in in QS had me jittery that my hitch would bottom out on my truck, not to mention a toad!!

  14. I wonder if you did much research on what states require supplemental braking systems on towed vehicles. Also many insurance companies will deny a damage claim on a towed vehicle without operating supplemental braking. In a panic stop, its still 2500 pounds pushing you farther in stopping distance.

    • The app we wrote, State Lines, covers the towing laws for each state – so yes, did do the research. However, our agent hasn’t warned us of any insurance requirements of having supplemental braking, but I will inquire with her to make sure we’re ok.

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