All motorhomes create a situation where rocks and debris are kicked up by the rear drive wheels. When towing another vehicle, this debris often causes paint to chip and glass to break—effectively destroying your windshield and sandblasting your tow car—aka the “toad.” You must protect your tow car or live with the damage.
Regardless of the protection you choose, also consider installing a truck-style mud flap behind each rear dual or tag axle. These mud flaps are available at reasonable prices from various automotive stores and truck stops.
Moving near the rear of a motorhome, a rock guard is an excellent option to help protect your tow car. A rock guard is usually attached to the RV frame in the rear and hangs almost to the ground, across the full width of the coach. When not towing, rock guards also provide protection for any vehicle following your coach. Since the purpose of a rock guard is to stop rocks and debris from hitting your tow car, why consider one that allows anything to pass through it?
There are three basic types of rock guards.
- The brush type… looks like a long thin brush hanging from the coach. It is designed so when fast moving rocks hit the brush, they lose energy and drop.
Air moves through the brush and this causes two problems. One, for highway driving, the lightweight brush will blow back allowing debris to pass under it. Two, since air can pass through the brush, so can small debris. Also, in heavy, wet snow, the brush may become matted and turn into a large frozen lump. I have seen brush-types double mounted—two under one coach—one near the rear wheels and one at the extreme rear of the coach.
- The slit type… looks solid and hangs straight down when the coach is stopped and aired up to travel height. The heaver rubberlike material is solid but flexible with vertical slits cut to form 4–5-inch-wide “ribbons” of material hanging down. However, the ribbons also allow air (and some debris) to pass between them when the coach is moving because they will also blow back. Like the brush type, heavy, wet snow, may cause the slit-type rock guard to become matted when frozen.
- The solid type… is a heavy, solid piece of rubber-type material that reaches across the width of the motorhome. Debris simply cannot pass through a solid rock guard. One negative heard about the solid type is that when the RV is leveled, the solid type may be forced to bend or twist under the coach. This will not be detrimental to the rock guard. These are generally hung with a couple of chain links to allow movement when leveling a coach.
We always ask this question in our seminars… If the purpose of the rock guard is to stop small rocks and debris from hitting your tow car, why get one that allows anything to pass through it? We have also heard people claim that the brush and slit type allow better fuel economy since they do not block the air. However, if any fuel savings actually exist due to these designs, that saving is likely so tiny it cannot be measured. Plus, that savings is instantly wiped out if a windshield is cracked. Regardless, the combination of a solid rock guard plus mud flaps is best for stopping most debris from flying out from under your coach.
Toad (Towed Vehicle) Protection
A second device can be added to the towing assembly to provide additional rock/chip protection for the toad. In the form of a screen, shield, or cover, the industry has not settled on a generic term for these. Whereas rock guards are permanently mounted, these devices must be installed/deinstalled when the towed vehicle is hooked up and unhooked. Note: Some are designed so that they only attach to the same brand of tow bar.
- The screen type… lays flat and is installed under the tow bar assembly. This creates a flexible “screen” designed to stop any debris from coming up and hitting the front of the towed vehicle. They work but make sure you understand the daily install/uninstall process. One RVer we know had to lie on his back, on the ground, to attach his.
- The shield type… is positioned vertically close to the front of the towed vehicle, sits on, and is fastened to the tow bar. The shield covers the total front of the toad from the top-front of the hood down to the tow bar. It is solid and debris will not pass through it but can be thrown over it onto the hood or windshield. I have seen homemade versions constructed from PVC pipe and screen.
- The cover type… is a tough, vinyl material that is hooked to the car at several points but without permanent fasteners. These covers are very different than the decorative “bra” used on the front of many cars. The bra is too short and allows debris to be thrown above it hitting the hood and windshield. The cover should reach from under the front bumper to over the front part of the roof. One negative with the cover type is that dust (fine dirt particles) can get under the cover and may rub the paint.
- Bubba’s Homemade version… I’ve had several RVers tell me that prior to the Alaska trip, they bought a piece of thin carpeting from the “scraps” in the carpet store. These pieces were apparently large enough that they would cover the toad’s grill, hood, and sometimes the windshield.
They would attach this to the toad by using several bungee cords (of different lengths). They would force one hook (one end of the bungee cord) through the carpet and hook the other end to various parts of the toad (underneath the front and wheel wells). Some told me they hooked bungee cords to the carpet, put the other end inside the car door, and closed the door of the car.
Apparently these held on at various speeds but stability of the cover was not part of our discussion. They said it worked, was cheap, and protected their car. It might be worth a try.
I wrote this article in the middle of Alaska. We drove our motorhome up the Alaska Highway. I talked with LOTS of RVers who had made this trip and it boiled down to this… some had protected their tow cars, some hadn’t. Some had windshield chips, some didn’t.
I had a good solid rock guard under my coach with mud flaps and decided to go without anything else. Everyone has to drive through some road construction getting up here. My first five miles of gravel along a construction site resulted in six windshield “stars” and two 6-inch cracks. Our assumption is that rocks were thrown from passing truck traffic but we can’t verify that. Oh well, you don’t know what you don’t know. Now I know.
Next time I go, I will have some type of additional protection for the front of the car.