Our Encounter with ‘The Claw’… Our First Experience Towing a Vehicle

The Claw...

Well, we had our tow gear installed and we have headed off for the great unknown.  As rookie towers we made sure that we listened closely as Dillon at Blue Ox explained how to use our new equipment.  He stepped us through hooking up the tow bar and breaking system, which we affectionately nicknamed ‘The Claw’.  We drove back to our site, unhooked everything and waited until morning when we would have to do it all again… alone… on a Saturday… when the factory was closed… without any help from our new found friend Dillon.

“We can do this.”, we reassured each other, “We just need to do exactly what we did yesterday.  How hard can it be?”  We dove into the task at hand, making mental notes as we went along.

  1. Move the car so we could pull the RV out of the site… Check!
  2. Pull the RV out of the site and find a good place to hook up… Check!
  3. Pull the car up behind the RV… Closer… A little to the left… Now a little to the right… Closer… Woah! Check!
  4. Attach the tow bar to the vehicle using the handy, dandy connectors that snap into the base plate… Check!
  5. Attach the safety cables, crossing them under the tow bar… Check!
  6. Plug the umbilical cord into the RV and the tow vehicle and test the break lights and turn signals… Check, check, and check!
  7. Plug in the break-away cable for the braking system… Check and double check!
  8. Do the ‘RV wiggle dance’, pulling forward and weaving slowly from side to side to lock the tow bar arms.  Do three fingers fit under the pop up handles?  Check!
  9. Put The Claw on the floor of the car and hook the freaky-looking appendage onto the break pedal… Check!
  10. Dismiss thoughts of The Claw creeping out of the vehicle in the middle of the night and attacking you while you sleep… Ummmm… Check??
  11. Plug The Claw into the 12v outlet, turn the unit on and watch it as it comes to life… Check!
  12. Observe as The Claw pushes on the break pedal a few times, while doing what looks like the ‘hokey pokey’ on the floor of the car… Check!
  13. Examine your handiwork and reassure each other that you didn’t forget anything important… Check! And check?
  14. Start walking toward the RV and then turn around and give everything one last look while nodding in approval… Check!

“Pilot to co-pilot, we are ready for takeoff!”

We got in the RV, turned on the ignition, said a short prayer and crept… ever… so… slowly… forward.  We drove about fifty feet before deciding to stop and check everything again.  It was all still there where we put it, so we started off again.  By the time we were half way through the RV park we were cruising along at an earth shattering five miles per hour.

Our first stop was for gas.  We drove the two blocks to the gas station and scoped the place out thoroughly before pulling in.  Dillon’s gentle reminder was echoing in our ears, “Don’t EVER, EVER, EVER back up with the car hooked up to the tow bar.”  Was anyone in our way?  Where was the exit?  Was there room to turn around to get out of the lot?  We were used to cruising around in a relatively agile 26ft RV.  We suddenly realized that something as mundane as stopping for gas would take a lot more careful planning than it did before.  We agreed that this was a suitable gas station and turned into the lot.

As we pulled up to the pump, The Claw’s remote on the dash started beeping.  The Claw wasn’t happy.  I glanced over at the unit and saw the number four blinking in unison with the beeping sound.  Bruce went out to pump the gas and I dug out the instruction manual.  Was it tired?  Not likely.  Was it hungry?  How could it be?  Was it lonely?  Possibly, though I doubted that was the case.

A quick look at the troubleshooting section of the manual said that an error code of four meant that the car’s battery was low.  We scratched our heads and thought, “How could that be?  The car and battery were both less than a month old.  We didn’t leave something running in the car last night, did we?”  We dug out the keys and started the car.  It sprung to life immediately.  No problem with the battery.  “There must be something wrong with The Claw.  Let’s try resetting it.”  Resetting The Claw worked like a charm.  The error went away and we climbed into the RV to get on the road before it changed its mind.  We would call Dillon on Monday to see if he had any idea what had happened.  Time to get this show on the road!

As we headed down the road we glanced at each other.  “Here we go.”, said Bruce.  To which I replied, “No turning back now.”  We couldn’t have turned back if we had wanted to.  There was nowhere to turn around.  We started on our way to our next destination, slowly at first and then a bit faster as Bruce’s courage was bolstered by the on-the-job experience he was gaining as each minute passed.  I found myself periodically glancing at the rear camera to check if our car was still following obediently behind us, or if it had taken off on some journey of its own.  It was still there.

After a while I relaxed, settled into my seat, and started working on my computer.  Then The Claw’s remote started beeping again.  Error 4!  Error 4!  No need for the manual this time.  We knew what that meant.  We found a safe place to pull off of the road and checked it again.  The car battery still had power and resetting the unit made the error go away.  There must be something wrong with the unit.  We would definitely be calling Dillon on Monday!

We headed off again only to have the error appear again 15 minutes later.  This time we decided to let it go.  If we stopped every 15 minutes to reset The Claw, it would take forever to arrive at our destination.  The manual said that The Claw would continue to work in the event of a breakaway, but normal breaking would not occur.  It also said that The Claw could still  be used when this error occurred, but the car battery should be charged as soon as possible.  But our car battery was fully charged??  This was a head scratcher!

We drove on.  I turned up the music to try to drown out the sound of The Claw’s beeping and tried to do some work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about why The Claw was so unhappy.  Three hours later we stopped at a truck stop to take a break.  I walked around the rig, making sure that everything was still hooked up and in place.  As I glanced in the window of the car it suddenly hit me.

“Ooooh!  Ooooh! Ooooh!  Pick me!  Pick me!”,  I shouted to Bruce, “I know what is wrong!”

Our car has a manual transmission.  While we were going through our setup with Dillon we determined that the key did not need to be in the ignition in order for the wheels to turn freely.  There was no reason to leave our keys in the car, or so we thought…  Like most cars these days, the radio and power windows will continue to work for 15 minutes after the car is turned off.  What I noticed when I looked in the window was that the little red light on the 12v plug was no longer glowing red.  There was no power going to the 12v outlet.  We grabbed the keys, put them in the ignition and turned it one click.  The light on the plug started to glow.  The Claw thought for a while and then the error went away.

“Ding!  Ding! Ding!  We have a winner!  This will solve the problem.”, I said.

“I bet it will.”, replied Bruce.

We started off again and waited patiently for 15 minutes to pass.  No error…  “Woo Hoo!  We are the masters of The Claw!”  The rest of the day passed without a major incident.  We had a couple of aborted attempts while trying to find suitable gas stations and we had to unhook the tow vehicle when we arrived at our overnight stop to get into our site.  But we arrived in one piece, a little more humble but yet a little wiser, with the car still where it should be… following obediently behind the RV.

3 Replies to “Our Encounter with ‘The Claw’… Our First Experience Towing a Vehicle”

  1. Another day, another adventure! Love “the claw”. I have a relative who likes to tell the story about the wife glancing into the rear view monitor to announce “Dear! The Jeep is GONE!” His reply? “No it’s not honey, it’s just passing us on the left.” It had disconnected in traffic on a six lane highway and slowly meandered to the median strip with only a few scratches thanks to some guardian angels!

    1. Oh my! I can imagine the state of panic that I would be in if I suddenly saw our tow vehicle passing us. Amazing that it made it through with only a few scratches! I know things like that could happen to us too, but I hope and pray that it never will.

  2. I have long used a method of not depending on my memory and depending on photos to hooking up a leveling tow bar the first time by myself. With the new technology there is little reason to try to remember how the service mechanic quickly hooked everything up. Using my camera’s video mode, I made myself an instant hook-up movie to referance later following the service mechanic’s directions. I also made a video on how to operate the trailer brakes thingie under the dash. I wished I had a video on how to deploy and secure the awning. Failing to secure the “arms” to the “legs” let the whole awning turn into a sail when the storm hit. Free to fly up and over the trailer, it had us rocking and rolling in gale force winds. I also use my camera to photograph manufactures labels when going to the parts store. I show the sales person exactly what make and model and serial number I own for unmistakeable correct parts. It also works great when taking thingies apart that I have never taken apart before to help with reassemblie. Message of all this, the only thing you need to remember is the video camera …. and batteries … and turn the setting to video … and … and…

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