One of the great things about owning a truck camper is the ability to tow things like boats, trailers, and Jeeps. With several trips planned for the winter and spring, getting our 2004 Jeep Wrangler rigged for towing was a high priority for us. These preparations included the installation of electrical wiring for the Jeep’s tail lights, purchasing a Class III adjustable tow bar, mounting the tow bar brackets and safety hooks to the Jeep’s OEM front bumper, and purchasing an 18-inch-long hitch box extension for my Ford F-250.
After researching this topic, I decided to flat tow the Jeep or tow it “four-down.” It wasn’t a hard decision, actually. The Jeep Wrangler is built to be towed four-down and is one of the few vehicles built to be able to do this (I considered buying a small trailer to tow the Jeep, but I didn’t want to deal with the additional tongue weight as I’m 200 pounds over my GVWR already with a fully loaded truck camper). A tow bar is the main piece of hardware that you need to tow four-down. After looking at numerous tow bars, I decided to buy a simple Reese Class III adjustable tow bar for around $110. I could’ve spent $700 for a fancy Blue Ox, but why? My Reese tow bar is rated to tow 5,000 pounds, which is more than stout enough to tow my 3,450 pound TJ.
1. Tow Bar: Installing the tow bar brackets on my Jeep’s OEM bumper was pretty simple. First, the bumper had to be unbolted from the Jeep using a T-55 torx fitting. Before installing the brackets you’ll first need to remove the two bumper pads from the bumper (if you’re lucky, like me, you’ll be able to use the existing bumper pad holes for the tow bar brackets). The installation instructions state that the tow bar brackets should be mounted between 24 and 41 inches apart on the bumper and mine are centered about 35 inches apart–perfect! Some TJ owners question the strength of the 1/8-inch-thick bumper and its ability to support bolted tow brackets and withstand the forces that will be exerted against them. That’s a valid question and one I had, too. No, the bumper metal isn’t very stout, but if you reinforce the backside of the bumper with support plates, such as the ones that were included in my tow bar kit, you’ll be fine. Many TJ owners who have gone this route over the years have towed for thousands of miles with zero problems.
2. Safety Chains: Having just a tow bar isn’t enough when flat towing–safety chains are also needed as an emergency backup in the event that the tow bar or hitch fails while in-motion. In order to use safety chains, I needed two attachment points on the Jeep. These can either be tow hooks or D-rings. Unfortunately, my Jeep had neither, so I had to find something that was suitable that bolted to the Jeep’s frame. Fortunately, a pair of Curt tow hooks can be purchased for $7.99 at Harbor Freight that mount directly to the top of the bumper (see pic below). Rated for 10,000 pounds, these hooks are pretty beefy and also include a retainer clip. You can also purchase Curt Tow Hooks on Amazon.com. In addition to towing, these hooks can also be used for recovery in the event that you ever get stuck while off-roading. Getting stuck is something that happens to every Jeeper, eventually, so having a good set of tow hooks provides extra peace of mind.
3. Towing Lights: You can go two ways to meet this legal requirement: buy a set of removable tail lights–the quickest and cheapest option–or permanently tap into the Jeep’s tail light wiring using a hard-wire diode kit. I chose to go with the latter as I wanted a more permanent, “hidden” solution. What’s the purpose of the diodes? They prevent the truck’s electrical impulses from being back-fed and causing damage to the Jeep’s electrical components. I do have one recommendation when hard-wiring: make sure that the wire run through the Jeep’s engine compartment is protected with flex tubing as this area can get pretty hot during vehicle operation. I should also point out that the common four-wire system is used for towing lights. As for the length of my umbilical (the cord that connects the Jeep to the truck), mine is 80 inches long and is protected with flex tubing wrapped in insulating tape.
4. Supplemental Brakes: Since Arizona law doesn’t require a supplemental braking system (click here to see if your state requires one), I’ve decided to forgo the purchase of a Brake Buddy or similar braking system for my Jeep. No doubt, a few will question this decision. But my F-250 has a towing capacity of 12,400 pounds and is equipped with beefy, Super Duty brakes and a transmission braking system that is second to none. Most of my towing will occur here in the desert Southwest where the terrain is relatively flat, so I feel pretty good going this route (I’ve been able to confirm this decision on a couple trips already. Most of the time I didn’t even know the Jeep was behind me and this included during quick stops).
5. Hitch Box Extension: This piece of towing hardware isn’t needed in all cases, but it was for me as I usually tow with a truck camper which extends 2 feet beyond the rear bumper. In order to get this added clearance, I decided on an Reese 18 inch long hitch box extension. With both the hitch and extension installed, the total length from the rear bumper to the hitch ball is 26 inches. Along with the tow bar’s length of 41 inches, this provides me with the required amount of clearance between the Jeep and camper even on sharp turns. Here are a couple tips when choosing your hitch box extension and hitch. First, if you need an extension with a length greater than 40 inches, you’ll want to make sure that the extension has support chains to prevent side-to-side movement (this may require that a special plate be welded to the extension to accomplish this). For the hitch itself, you’ll want to make sure that the hitch ball is the correct size and that the shank is large enough to support the weight of your Jeep. You’ll also want to ensure that your tow bar is fairly level when hitched up, especially if a supplemental braking system isn’t being used. Doing so will improve handling and stopping.
6. Jeep Wrangler Flat Towing: The Jeep Wrangler is one of the few vehicles built specifically to be flat towed and it does terrific in that role. Flat towing a TJ Jeep Wrangler is fairly simple, but it’s critical that you have everything set up properly before you roll. Note that the transfer case must be shifted into Neutral (N) and that the transmission MUST be placed in gear (I like to place mine in second gear) so that the transmission can be lubricated while the Jeep is being towed (your transmission will burn up if you don’t). According to the owner’s manual, here are the steps for flat towing a TJ Jeep Wrangler with a manual transmission:
- Depress the brake pedal
- Depress the clutch pedal
- Shift the transfer case into N (Neutral)
- Start engine
- Place manual transmission into gear (second or third gear are the most popular. Don’t make the mistake of putting it into Neutral as this will prevent the transmission from being lubricated and it will burn up while being towed.)
- Release brake pedal to ensure no movement
- Shut engine off and place the ignition key into the unlocked OFF position (this allows the steering wheel to turn while being towed).
- Apply parking brake
- Attach Jeep to tow vehicle
- Release parking brake
Note: Tow bars have no speed limitations. They can be used at any speed (but are subject to local highway speed towing laws, of course).