Wolf's Motorhome Modifications
... and Other Stuff
Towing a Saturn
Towing a Saturn is easy. There is nothing to do but hook the car up and go. There are no speedometer disconnects (the odometer on the Saturn does not show towed miles). There are no special pumps or lock-outs (Saturn designed the car for towing). The only real problem you might face is disinformation.
Disinformation: The Amount of Disinformation is UNBELIEVABLE!
There are a bunch of people on the newsgroups that give opinions without having much experience upon which to draw their opinion. There are still quite a number of people out there who are unaware a car, be it a Saturn or a host of other cars, can be towed without a trailer. They will tell you it is "terribly dangerous" and you'll ruin your transmission in the first few miles". Others will tell you you can't hook into the Saturn's lights. I even had someone tell me that the problem with hooking up the lights in a Saturn is that there was super-secret wiring that was not even in the service manuals! What poppycock.
Verify what you here with people who are towing Saturns. Your first question to a know-it-all should be "are you now or have you ever towed a Saturn". The normal reply will be to ignore your question completely and quote an expert they read in some news stand magazine.
About a Tow Dolly
For two years (and I camp a lot) I towed my wife's Nissan Sentra on a tow dolly. It was GREAT having a car! The tow dolly was another issue altogether. Not only do you have to disconnect the car, but you also have to man-handle the darn dolly (and it is HEAVY) around your site. Normally, the only good place to store it was behind the motorhome. It was a PAIN.
The Tow Plate
No matter what you tow without a dolly, you will need to install a tow plate. A tow plate is a piece of heavy metal that attaches to your car (in a number of places and varied ways) and allows you to hook up a tow bar to your car.
Attaching a tow plate to the Saturn was no big deal. I used a Blue Ox bar and plate. The plate came with detailed direction but was sorely lacking in pictures. Those sure would have helped! There is quite a bit of minor but involved disassembly of the front end of the car. You have to pull out the headlights and their mounts and the plastic pan cover below the car. The pan cover has to be modified by cutting notches in it. Don't throw it out! I saw on the Saturn newsgroup that the plastic pan cover is integral to cooling the Saturn. It took me about eight to ten hours and that involved quite a bit of head scratching time.
You end up with two black tow points sticking out from the grill. That's all!
I cut a hole in one of the fog lamp covers to allow it to accept a Pollack-brand six-pin tow jack. I wired the jack directly into the Saturn's lights. The turn and parking lights were wired to the light assembly by the fog lamp cover. The brake light line I had to pick up under the back seat.
I would guess I have 15,000 towed miles on my 1996 Saturn wired in this way. It works fine despite the super-secret wiring!
See the section entitled "What I Needed To Change", too.
The Tow Bar
I use a Blue-Ox tow bar. See the section entitled "What Needed To Change" before buying yours! The bar mounts directly into the hitch.
The Safety Cables
Have you ever checked into the tensile strength of safety cables? The ones they give you with a tow dolly and the ones they sell for towing with a bar would snap in an instant. I built my own cables out of coated cable. Each will handle 10,000 pounds. I just couldn't put a commercially made set of cables on my vehicle that could hold, at most, 500 pounds!
I use stainless steel links that I've only seen at the Dayton Hamvention. The stainless links are almost required if you do any winter camping. Otherwise you have to change links every two seasons.
What I Needed To Change
I do quite a bit of winter camping. The picture on the left is typical. We might wait to make SURE the winter storm is going to hit before we leave!!! There's just no sense packing the sled if there isn't the snow to sled it on.
You have no idea how hard winter camping is on your equipment, such as the tow bar, that hangs out in the salt.
The tow bar was hopelessly rusted within ONE season. There are a number of ball bearings that were rusted onto the steel of the bar itself. A simple shot of silicone spray doesn't help that!
I had to disassemble it, refinish all the parts and reassemble it. I was sure I was going to have to buy a new bar. I began HEAVILY lubricating all parts of the bar each time I hooked up. The bar is now a grease covered MESS. I can not help but get grease all over me when hooking up. It's working MUCH better but the grease just isn't worth it.
The NEW Tow Bar
The people at Automatic Equipment were gracious enough to allow me a way to upgrade to their all aluminum Aladdin tow bar. It sure does seem like this bar was made for northern Ohio! As I have always cleaned and lubed (with silicone) both bars, I bet this aluminum bar will be the answer.
One thing to notice on tow bars ... they are constantly improving them.
For example, the old bar connected to the car by fitting a tab on the bar between a U-shaped fitting. Sometimes I would see the connections when the car had been turned hard. It looked like the "U" was spread. The new bar has a "W" shape. The pins fit inside.
Another difference was the way the bar stowed. On the old bar you had to pull a pin. It wasn't difficult, just a little messier. I would forget the pin after laying it across the bumper. I'd find it there at our destination. The new bar has a pin machined onto an attachment bolt and eliminates the separate pin.
The bar has a longer bar that mounts into the hitch, too. The old bar had to be mounted on the outer set of holes. The new bar seems better suited to my motorhome. I bet most people needed the longer reach.
The result of changing the bar: After connecting the bar I still have clean left and right hands!
Other Things I Plan to Change
Next I am going to do away with the Pollack round pin light connectors. The Pollack jacks contain pins that are cut down the middle. They are then spread apart. They are supposed to compress into the plug. Eventually the pins don't spread back and loose contact. I end up kneeling (in the snow) and prying the pins apart. The other brand of connector is a Bargman. A Bargman uses plugs that are much like a 110 volt plug but bigger. They were much more reliable on my tow dolly. I suspect they would be more reliable on my Saturn, too.
Not sure what I am going to do with such a big jack, though. I might have to put it under the hood and run the tow wires from the motorhome, down the bar and then into the engine compartment.
What Happens When We're Camping: Getting to a Campground
We pull in and register. Nine times out of ten, we can leave the car hooked up until we get back to the camping site and disconnect there. I like to get pull through for that reason.
Then there are the smaller campgrounds. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, it is a very nice trip. There is but one campground that appears to want campers called Canyon Country Campground. It's a VERY nice place (left there this morning!) and the new owners seem like fine people. It's small, though. Their one lane entrance road leads right into the camping area and there is no where to disconnect but in that lane ... clogging everything up! It only takes a second.
You first put the car in park. Disconnecting the car when in neutral can lead the the funniest campground experience you would ever want to see. Disconnect the wires and cables. You pull two quick disconnects and pull one pin out of each tow point and the car is free. If they are jammed, sometimes starting the car will allow you to take pressure off the pin. I keep a piece of bar stock and a hammer to entice them out if nothing else works.
You collapse the tow bar and it self stores on the back of the motorhome.
At home I leave the bar in place. I cover it with a garbage bag but allow it to breathe. The steel bars weigh in at about 80 pounds. I am out too often to rassle that on and off. The aluminum bars weigh 17 pounds. I might pull that one off the motorhome between trips.
What Happens When We're Camping: Leaving a Campground
There isn't much to hooking up. You park where you're going to hook up. You pull out the bar but leave the locks unlocked. You pull the car up and hook up the bar.
Now, there is one tricky part. The Blue Ox people tell you to then drive straight ahead for so long and then check to see that both sides of the bar had expanded and locked. I don't like having the car wander around behind me until it decides to lock up. Most of the time I don't have enough room to "drive straight ahead". Instead, I eyeball the two sides of the bar and back the car up in a direction that will allow both to be fully extended at the same time. The first few times you will get pretty frustrated. After these many years I can do it within one or two tries. My old rusty old Blue Ox tow bar needs cajoling to get it to lock most of the time. I get out and with a gloved hand manually lock the locks. The new bar locks right away.
Attach the wires and the cables. I use two bungee cords (the fabric kind) and bungee the tow wiring to the bar on both sides.
CHECK THE LIGHTS. I have a small rubber coated stick, part of a kids game, that I use to turn on the brake lights. I put it between the depressed pedal and the seat.
Off you go. Where ever you go, the car will follow faithfully. At least mine does.
Other Brands of Towbars
The following message was seen on a newsgroup:
From: FOlander <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, September 30, 1998 18:29
Subject: Re: Towing a Saturn
>I have a roadmaster tow bar(Falcon0 the first time I used it I could tell it
>was not towing right I have a 97 Saturn' I called the company and was told they
>sold a 4" drop for the receiver I bought one and it tows great now. No mater
>what you tow it should be level!
I might be inclined to avoid that brand!
The Car Does NOT "Bounce Around"
Some people on the newsgroup stated they were concerned about the car bouncing around behind you. It doesn't bounce. If the car would bounce, I would guarantee that I put the motorhome into such a panicked state that the damage to the motorhome would be so great the toad's damage wouldn't compare.
Others prefer to have a ball-mounted tow bar. They state that if the motorhome turns over, you won't turn the car over with it. It should disconnect from the ball. My $50.00 says we're talking about two different ways to total a toad. I'll stay away from the ball, thank you!