We get a lot of questions about the details of our motorhome travel setup, so it seemed time to finally write a post about it. The basics should be pretty obvious from our photos: we tow a 2006 Honda Element behind our 2014 Fleetwood Bounder 33c, and inside the Element we have a pair of 2015 Honda Groms. Oh, and the Element also has our stand-up paddleboards on the roof 99% of the time. Now let’s dive into the specifics.
We were lucky to already own our Element. At 10 years old but relatively low miles (~100K when we hit the road), it’s the ideal car to pull behind a motorhome: old enough that we don’t care about rock dings and cosmetic stuff, but mechanically sound and really fucking practical! To pull it, we bought a Blue Ox Alpha tow bar to go into the 2″ receiver that came with the Bounder. It mates with the Blue Ox baseplate that was common to the Element and earlier CR-V models. The baseplate was a really involved, nerve-wracking install that involved removing all of the Element’s front body work, removing the original bumper beneath, and then drilling out the front frame to accommodate the bolt holes needed for the base plate. It took me two days, a lot of drill bits, and some knuckle scars to get done, but in the end I was satisfied and knew it was installed solidly and properly.
When it comes to towed car lights, there are two basic routes: tapping into the car’s actual brake and turn signal wiring and making the motorhome’s signals activate them, or installing extra lights with their own wiring. The latter lets you avoid having to screw around with your car’s electrical system as much, though by the time I was done with everything it wouldn’t have been any harder to do so. I picked the Blue Ox BX8869 kit that comes with new lights you install into the existing rear light housings. The Element had plenty of space for an extra bulb to poke through.
We were going to be pulling an Element whose curb weight is about 3400 pounds, and we were planning to load it up with a pair of motorcycles that would add another 500 or so, so we knew we wanted to have a braking system in the car. I read into braking systems and really didn’t like the idea of the robotic ones that sit in the driver’s side footwell and need to be set up for every trip. Just seemed like a pain in the ass. So I went with the Roadmaster Invisibrake. The advantage to this is that we never have to think about the braking system; just plug in our towing electrical cable and drive away. The disadvantage is that HOLY BALLS this is a complicated installation.
It took me about 2 weeks including the weekends on either side to get it all done. The complication? The Invisibrake works by operating a vacuum pump that activates an air driven-pulley that moves the pedal down, while simultaneously activating vacuum to simulate vacuum-assisted power braking like you’d get if your engine was on. Finding a place to install the unit that allowed routing the air and electrical lines, plus the air cylinder, getting the pulley setup lined up and dialed in…was just all very hard. After obsessing over it for a week I finally found a set of convenient holes in the back cab area to hold the unit, and settled on a spot under the driver’s set for the air cylinder, and got it all dialed in.
Tying the motorhome’s 7-pin round style connector into something that would run the Element’s tail lights and braking system seemed easy enough. At first I went with a typical Blue Ox 7-round to 4-round cable and connector and wired the lights and braking system up to it. This worked fine, BUT…the monitor light that comes with the Invisibrake didn’t get taken into account. It involved dangling a flimsy wiring connector along with the rest of the tow cables just so we could have an indicator light in the motorhome to tell us when the Element brakes were working. I’m glad we set it up, though, because on long drives we noticed that the Element’s braking system seemed to stop activating after a few hours, especially if a lot of braking had gone on (think West Virginia mountains). NOT ideal. So the braking system was sucking the battery down more quickly than the trickle charger that is supposed to be built into the Invisibrake could keep up.
So after some research I solved both of these problems by (sigh) redoing all the wiring. I realized I needed 2 more wires involved, one to provide a better charge to the Element’s battery, and another for the brake monitor light so I could eliminate that extra wire that we had dangling between the car and motorhome. Time for a 6-round connector on the car end, which meant we needed a new 7-round to 6-round cable to go between the vehicles. That yellow cable is actually really cool, as it lights up at both ends when the motorhome’s lights are on, so you know the cable is seated and you’re good to go.
For the charge line, I tapped from the pin that Fleetwood has pre-wired into the 7-pin connector for this purpose, and on the Element side installed a diode to make sure energy only flowed from the motorhome TO the car and never the opposite. For the brake monitor, I actually hacked into Fleetwood’s wiring for the motorhome’s 7-pin connector and replaced one of the unused leads (for reverse lights…which we will never use since you can’t go into reverse when flat-towing a car anyway) with the wire for the brake monitor light that I have mounted under an edge of the motorhome’s dash, visible to the driver.
By the time I got that all working, I felt like I could go into business installing toad setups into vehicles. Maybe someday.
We learned that a pair of Honda Groms would fit in the back of a Honda Element thanks to an awesome forum post that I found while searching for something about Element maintenance one day. It gave birth to the whole idea of still having motorcycles as we embarked on our road life…something we thought we’d have to give up once we decided on a Class A motorhome that was not a Thor Outlaw. The downside? We had to throw away our back seat. We debated over the wisdom of this, but in the end decided that life as a toad is probably the last major phase of the Element’s life, and we honestly hardly ever touched those back seats. So it’ll be worth a little less when we finally decide to get rid of it.
We load the bikes up with a handy folding ramp from Home Depot that cost $60. One goes in head-first, the other backwards, which is just a bit of a challenge and definitely takes 2 people. Once loaded in, the bikes are strapped down with garden variety ratchet straps to the tie-downs loops that were built into the Element’s rear cab area (did I mention this was a fucking wonderful vehicle?).
We used to carry our paddleboards with an FCS soft rack that let us tie the boards to the roof and loop some straps through the windows. That was fine for taking the boards out for a day, but far from ideal for a permanent setup where the boards would be on top of the car almost all the time, rain or shine. So we acquired the original Honda roof rack for the Element, and mated a Yakima SUPDawg paddleboard carrier to it. The SUPDawg is very easy to load and unload and accommodates 2 boards with no issue. We love it!
Let us know via a comment if you have any questions!