Towing Volt on a Dolly- Lessons Learned
After towing the Volt 1400 miles with the Demco dolly, there are important lessons to be learned for those considering dolly transport. First, and this is for those who just ‘shot from the hip’ with my last post without knowing anything (or reading the manual), YES, IF YOU TOW THE VOLT, ITS FRONT WHEELS MUST BE OFF THE GROUND. This concept applies to any EV, or hybrid, where electric power is applied to wheels. My 4 wheel drive hybrids cannot be towed with ANY wheels on the ground. Now, onto Volt specifics.
For previous discussion on my towing aspirations, check out http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread….et-on-the-Road
The towing dolly restrains the front tires in place by straps, primarily, and with safety chains as a backup. While it is a hassle to get underneath the vehicle to wrap those chains around the front wheel supports, it must be done. Due to Volt eccentricities, the straps cannot be relied upon completely. One of my straps fell off THREE TIMES during the journey. Hopefully, with parts being sent to me by Demco, I will alleviate future issues. The center of the straps is supposed to align with the centerline of the tire, but the standard issue ratchet cannot accommodate this. According to Demco, my Volt issue is the first of its kind. You see, the Volt’s (front) ground clearance is so low that it does not permit the ratchet handle enough upward motion to click the ratchet to its next increment. The only way for the ratchet to work is to slide the winch outward (it sits in a track and is able to move laterally) until the front bumper begins its precipitous change in angle from front to side. This, of course, means the strap is off center of the tire. This prevents symmetric support with the two strap hooks that engage the dolly on the other side of the tire from the ratchet. Repeated vibration during a several hundred mile journey is enough to disengage, first one, and then both, hooks- and the strap is left to flail along the ground at 55 mph (my chosen speed).
When the strap hooks tinkle along the ground, they make a not-unpleasant musical sound, such that they might be confused with songs playing on the radio. I was definitely glad I had the window ajar to catch the noise. The second time that the straps disengaged, after I thought I was secure, it took the blaring of a passing motorist’s car horn to tell me that my troubles were continuing. In this case, it was at night, but the dolly contains significant lighting to highlight the undercarriage, and my once-again-mobile strap. By the third time, I was watching for any sign of mobility in my rear view mirror and was actually able to pull over before the strap completely hit the ground. In each case, it took hundreds of miles before the strap was jarred loose.
My presumed solution is in the mail from Demco (at no extra charge). They make a winch whose handle is already angled downward. This should mean that the top ‘click’ on the ratchet is now clear of the bumper, but I won’t know till I tow the Volt again- which won’t be for quite some time. I can, therefore, hopefully move the winch back to the centerline of the tire and help to alleviate my strap issues.
Demco is also sending me a strap to secure the steering wheel while the Volt is in transit. It would make sense that laterally mobile front wheels also contribute to my problem- AND THE VOLT’S FRONT WHEELS (AND ITS STEERING COLUMN) CANNOT BE LOCKED IN PLACE!!!! After communicating with Demco, and checking my own vehicle, I contacted my Volt advisor. I grew up with the concept that after the ignition was locked (and key removed), a slight turn of the steering wheel locked the steering column in place- and those front wheels along with it. After checking with the engineering folks and checking one out in their garage, the advisor confirmed that it was not possible to lock the front wheels. An excerpt from her response: ‘From what I am told this is becoming the standard in American vehicles. If the dolly company is stating it is required to lock the steering wheel to tow the vehicle, then they may be running themselves out of business. I also inquired if there is any way to change it so the steering wheel does lock and the answer I received was “NO.”’
An excerpt to my reply: ‘…these vehicles must be towed with FRONT WHEELS UP...& therefore, a dolly will be used. With a dolly, you must strap down those front tires. It is inherently a bad engineering decision to allow those front wheels, in this scenario, to be mobile…. the Engineers MUST offer a way to secure front wheels on (future) front wheel drive ELECTRIC POWERED wheels. The catastrophic nature of a vehicle slipping off a dolly AND KILLING THOSE IN VEHICLES BEHIND YOU is a ridiculous price to pay because of a trend the industry has taken. Hybrid penetration is small right now, but we are headed for MUCH more implementation (Start/Stop or whatever you call it). How much does it take to put a doggone lock on the thing? It is no different than a parking brake for the steering wheel. The response you gave me has DEADLY consequences.’
I asked that she forward my discussion and she wrote that she would. I must say that this is the first time I have been truly aggravated with GM over anything about the Volt. ‘Becoming the standard’ is never a justification for anything and smacks of old GM. If other members here would bark at GM over this matter, it would go much farther than my lone voice.
In any case, nothing they do to future Volts will help me and I will have to use this primitive method of steering control- a leather strap- to help prevent my twenty first century technological marvel from falling off the dolly and killing people behind me. Yes, I still use the safety chains (and now you see why it is so necessary), but the principle is important.
So, after I can immobilize the front wheels from steering movement and center the straps, I expect my future dolly towing of the Volt will be less stressful. While towing a dolly is not radically different than towing trailers or boats, there is one important exception- which I had read about ahead of time and avoided. NEVER TRY TO BACK UP WITH A VEHICLE ON THE DOLLY. It is hard enough to back up with an empty dolly (because its low profile keeps it mostly out of view of…well, everything…mirrors, looking over your shoulder, etc). However, there is an added pivot point (to help cornering) that makes backing a dollied vehicle like ‘pushing a rope’. Therefore, never take your Volt on a dolly into a parking area where you cannot pull ahead to leave. This may limit some fueling and restaurant stops, and does necessitate using the truck area of rest stops.
Btw, the posted photo shows I am a traveling Chevy advertisement, with the 2008 Green Car of the Year towing the 2011 Green Car of the Year…in (close to) matching colors. I expect that it caught some attention just for the snazzy appearance of my ‘Eco Caravan’. The photo was taken at my favorite stop along the way- the Russell Stover Candy Outlet in Wildwood, FL. I always park across the street from the parking lot to keep my dog in the shade (enlarge the photo and you’ll see him in the driver seat- black with pink tongue), so I knew this same spot would allow me to pull forward to leave. My 55 mph speed netted me 19.7 mpg from the Tahoe Hybrid over the course of the 1400 mile journey. GM’s wonderful two mode design enabled much of my level towing of over two tons to be ON FOUR CYLINDERS, with cruise control on. I wish more folks had seen the merits of GM’s design for large hybrid vehicles. Of course, you can’t get four cylinders to do the job when you insist on driving 75 mph, with our without something to tow. There is an old adage that people would do well to remember, “Patience is a Virtue”.
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