It really seems like a simple enough process. Browse craiglist and other “stuff for sale” websites until you find a tow dolly for sale. People do it all the time. Off I click, on my merry way, to grandmothers hell we go….
I grok mechanics, I really do. I can tear anything apart and put it back together, working, 60% of the time. So it probably wouldn’t serve me well as a career choice, but I can putter with the best. When we had a sticks and fake bricks home, I had an awesome shop/barn that kept my company for many hours. I thought I had the knowledge to purchase a simple tow dolly. It turns out that some specialty knowledge is required. For example, were you aware that tow dollys have a “swivel plate” that makes backing up a job for the Mission Impossible A Team? As we found out, said swivel plate also can lock up and decide not to swivel, this also presents a unique set of issues.
In January, having found what we thought was the perfect tow dolly, from a couple we met via Craigslist (also full timers that had just returned from a trip with the dolly) I went to them and viewed the tow dolly and it looked fine to my then untrained eye. We haggled a bit and settled on $750. I was happy with this price as a new one was $1100 and this one appeared to be in like new condition, Tires were probably a good idea but the ones on it were really just fine. They were nice enough to deliver it to the house as we didn’t have anything to pull it with except the RV.
Time passes, the tow dolly waiting it’s moment in the sun patiently in the garage.
March comes around, our “leave date” fast approaching, time to pull out the tow dolly. Tires were determined to be a safe bet, so it was carted off to the tire store. They called an hour or so later and reported that they believe it needs new wheel bearings. $150 installed as they had to come from Tampa. They should have them tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and goes, no bearings. Two days later the trailer comes home, new tires, new bearings. $300 (remember that new dolly price?) But I have peace of mind.
The big day comes, we hook up the dolly, place the car, fasten down all the straps and off we go! As we go around the first corner from the house a large “BANG!” is heard. We stop, walk around – find nothing. Back in we go, a few corners later, BANG! Stop, walk around, no cause found. Well. This repeated a few more times, until the discovery was made that the swivel plate was getting stuck when it tried to swivel. We were about 120 miles out at this point and decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel for lunch as were hungry. With all the stops, it had taken us over 4 hours to go 120 miles. As we pulled into the restaurant a loud pop was heard from the tow dolly. After parking, we discovered that one of the straps holding the car to the dolly had snapped. The swivel plate not turning was putting pressure on the straps and this one had failed. Had this happened at speed, my story would probably have ended much differently.
I decided it was time for a professional. I used my cell phone to search for trailer repair and called a number. The voice asked where I was, after learning I was at Cracker Barrel, the voice asked what direction I was facing? I said North, he said look south, I did and saw the large Camping World sign right across the street. We removed the car from the dolly and drove over to the store.
The folks at CW were great, took us right in, checked out the dolly, reported the swivel pin needed to be greased about $100 and we were on our way again. They also sold us a new set of straps ($50).
We went back to Cracker Barrel, loaded the car and worked to merge back on to the Interstate. There was no BANG when we went around the corners.
We had no more tow dolly issues until we got to Colorado. There one of the strap cinches broke. I decided to replace both of them, I used trailer lock downs this time, smaller, more compact, easier to manage and use.
If you were adding up the numbers as you read, I’m sure you noticed that my tow dolly deal didn’t really add up verses the price of a new one. Lesson learned, yet again 🙂