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.
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.
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:
- It’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.
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 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.
- 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.
Update: We sold our MINI in May 2019, and got a camper van instead to use as our daily driver. Since 2017 we’ve split our time between our bus and our boat, and will use the van to be our ‘shuttle craft’ between. We won’t be flat towing any longer, and instead will caravan the bus and van for the limited miles we’ll use both at the same time.