Jeep Upfit & Toad Test Run
This is a long post...By Whiskey
Learning the “Jeep Wave” I never liked Jeeps. I drove an early-Wrangler 2-door model from New Jersey to Ohio in 1988 or so and swore I’d never get in another Jeep. Things change. The Jeep is ubiquitous in the world of motorhome flat towing dinghies. In fact, now that we have one, we've noticed that the Jeep is ubiquitous…period. We wanted a vehicle we could flat tow behind our motorhome, a 2019 Thor 24FE on a Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis. Towing capacity was the prime concern. We took a hard look at the Mini Cooper and couldn’t believe how expensive they are, and we shopped for the Fiat’s that are a bit comically small. Somehow, Wine convinced me to look at a Jeep. Well, she was driving and so she pulled into the dealer’s lot and convinced me to get out of the car and look at a silver 2019 model 2-door Wrangler that was for sale with low miles. I was impressed. This bared no interior resemblance to what I remembered from that 1988 model. So, I started shopping. First for upfitted dinghy vehicles, a.k.a. “Toads” rhymes with towed. I think. I already knew it is roughly $5,000 to upfit a “vehicle” to be able to be flat towed, including the tow bar that fits the receiver hitch on the motorhome. I thought these would be readily available. Nope. But Jeeps are many and apparently hold their value well because they cost almost as much as a new one if they are only a few years old with decent mileage and great condition. I used all the conventional online auto trader sites, probably primarily “Auto Trader” and started doing research on these vehicles: Winter Package? What is that? Heated seats in a Jeep, that’s a real thing? On June 13, 2023, I built an MS Excel spreadsheet for 19 Jeeps that were in the running for our dinghy. The oldest was a 2013 and newest a used 2023. The columns were year, color in, color out, mileage, distance from home, trailer hitch, winter package, top (hard/soft), and of course, price. There was a 2020 model that checked all the boxes, literally, and it was for sale about 20 miles away, in New Hampshire. I called, it was actually there, and we could come take a look. Wine and Whiskey traveled over and took it for a test ride. The salesman drove it up front and we both said, “wow, that’s blue!” in unison. I couldn’t believe how well it drove and how quiet it was. So, we took it behind a nearby Wal-Mart and took it apart to see how all the features work. We took it home a few days later. Then we discovered the blue color is an exact match to one of the decal colors on our motorhome! Like we planned it that way. The first thing to do was remove the back seat. Our dog Bell will live back there - a human (a full sized one) cannot possibly get back there or get out of there anyway - and it relieves some weight. Then the soft top, relieving more weight.
Once on the road in said Jeep, be ready to have a tired hand for all of the "Jeep waving". Seriously, it's a thing. This is the point when you realize that every 5th vehicle you pass is a Jeep Wrangler. Things I did not know...still learning at my advanced age.
Wine's note: Whiskey LOVES the Jeep stereo.
First dinghy vehicle upfit for this first-time motorhome owner. When you start shopping you quickly learn that Blue Ox and Roadmaster are the kings of all things relative to a flat towed vehicle. Ours is a 2020 2-door Jeep, chosen for the towing capacity of our 2019 Thor 24FE class C motorhome on a Sprinter chassis. To prepare for this flat tow upfit, I first removed our trailer hitch for a thorough inspection because everything on our motorhome that was not painted by Mercedes is flaking and/or rusting, so, to assess what looked like cracks in our trailer hitch, I removed it, stripped it, wire brushed it, used a die penetrant test kit to reveal whether there were cracks, discovered there were none, and primed it, undercoated it, and reinstalled it with new grade 8 bolts torqued to spec. I did not paint the surface of the hitch where it mounts to the frame of the motorhome, I wanted nothing to interfere with the mating surfaces there. I think the hitch was more tedious than the flat tow upfit. I intended to buy everything from etrailer.com because I am a repeat customer and have been completely satisfied with their products and service. And they have multiple videos of most of their products. I watched a ton of videos on their site and their YouTube channel before settling on the following:
The base plate was first. I chose the eTrailer Invisible Base Plate Kit because you don’t need to drill holes in the frame of your Jeep like you do for most others. This mounts behind the frame brackets for the bumper so it is impossible to pull it off, and after you fuss with a perfect air dam cutout it is nearly invisible.
The XHD Non-Binding tow bar was chosen because the regular capacity one only cost a few dollars less and this one doesn’t weight too much more. And Xtra Heavy Duty sort of makes one feel a little better when this is the second most important link in the chain…the most important link of course being your trailer hitch.
The wiring kit was easy after watching several videos. I didn’t have any Synflex tubing like the techs used to snake the cable inside the frame, so I used coax cable I had laying around and it worked the same because it is stiff enough to push and it's flexible. I installed the taillight connections while watching the video on my laptop in the back of the Jeep and all went perfectly.
The breakaway switch for the Patriot Brake system is easy to install through a hole in the firewall that looks like it is there just for this purpose.
I bought a hard wired 12V outlet kit because our Jeep’s battery 12V outlet is in the back, but I opted for an extension cord instead of installing the hard wired one.
With all components installed, I found the Patriot Brake unit to be great. This is expensive but you don’t want to cheap out on the unit that applies the brakes in a panic stop situation. Remember, everybody wants to get out in front of that slow poke motorhome.
We have a nice garage that I could have done this job in if it were not for the fact that the property is a vacation rental and was occupied of course, because summer. Don't get me wrong, this was not a fun project. I wouldn't dream of doing it on a vehicle much older than this, and it certainly would be easier on a new Jeep. That said, every nut and bolt I touched was installed with thread lock (LockTite or similar), so it was a struggle to the bitter end to remove everything.
Finally - Well, Whiskey, how much did it cost? How much did you save by doing this yourself?
base plate $ 438.26
tow bar $790.72
wiring kit $ 184.87
patriot brake system $1,780.90
12V outlet ext. cord $8.45
Time spent 10 hours.
The savings in labor was worthwhile. And it was done in a manner convenient to my schedule and I didn't have to be without the Jeep for days or more. So if you are at all handy, this is a definitely a DIY project.
P.S. Thank you, YouTube creators, for sharing your experience and knowledge!
Here is a video of two obsessive overthinkers going through the process of the toad setup.
The Jeep is versatile and fun; it's a great choice for us. We love the convertible(ish) top and the 4-wheel drive for winter in NH. Whiskey is driving it as his main vehicle instead of his big pick-up truck.
Got these instructions from a Jeep Facebook group. This is how to put the Jeep in neutral for flat tow.
Jeep 2020 JL neutral shifting instructions PDF
Videos we watched to learn: