If you’re on social media and follow our Speedhunter regulars, chances are you’d have seen the ‘!!RIG CHECK!!’ caption flying around on posts for a little while now. Well, you can thank our own Ryan Stewart for it.
Back in 2021, Ryan needed a way to transport his then newly-acquired AE86 to events up and down the country and over to Ireland without having to drive it. He needed a tow vehicle, and blindly dove into tow truck ownership.
The truck in question was a mid-2000s Ford Transit flatbed, painted a mysteriously fetching shade of Nardo Grey. “It was a piece of turd; a rotten thing from a dodgy camp site, but I really loved it,” says Ryan.
“At first I wasn’t very experienced with strapping cars down, so I would check the load frequently, stopping to check the straps and stuff, making sure it hadn’t moved.” Every now and then, this pitstop would be made at a scenic location where Ryan got to take a step back and enjoy the view. As any car guy would, he would pull out his phone and snap a photo.
He would then chuck it up on his Instagram story, with the caption: !!RIG CHECK!!.
Before I knew it, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed to find every other one of my friends with a trailer on tow posting their own photos, all with the same caption.
Naturally, people with impressive tow car and trailer loads were starting to get involved. And so a little trend was born.
Last year, when I attended Dorifest up in Scotland, I found myself walking about with my camera in my hand whilst everyone was packing up after a weekend of skid-car action.
Most of these people towed their cars in, and as they were loading up it dawned on me that what was a drift event for the whole weekend suddenly became a rig gathering to close things off.
I was at a weird melting pot of this new trend, almost feeling left out because I didn’t have a car or a trailer of my own there. But I did what I always do and started to snap away, capturing the backdrop images for this post.
Anyway, for some the tow rig is a work tool, whilst for others it’s a hobby and passion. I spoke to two of my towing pals, Austen and Latham, who sort of fall awkwardly in the middle of the two categories in regard to what they value in a tow car and what they can’t live without.
Austen drives an F15 BMW X5 30d, the black one loading up the green Chaser in the photos.
“I wanted an X5 because they look sick,” started Austen, but he then went onto explain that besides the looks he needed something economical and reliable. There were bigger engines on offer, the 40d or 50d, but those came with more turbos and potentially more problems. “Can you imagine trying to work on that engine bay if something goes wrong, with two or three turbos in the way?”
Economy and reliability is key as the X5 is also Austen’s daily. Beyond towing, it needed to do normal car things. It needed to be comfortable enough for trips to the shops, have a window line low enough for his dog to hang out from, and be big enough to get all his mates about in it.
Realistically though, a lot of vehicles can do that, so we go back to its towing abilities. “One thing I can’t live without is the self-levelling rear suspension,” says Austen. “It allows me to load the front of the trailer up to get better overall balance of car and trailer together. It’s safer, helps to avoid snaking and the car isn’t squatting as a result of it.”
I guess this is where modern technology trumps older, more conventional methods. Austen’s previous car, a BMW E39 saloon, didn’t have self-levelling on the rear, and it seems to be one of those things you can’t go without once you’ve had it.
Latham’s approach to his tow vehicle of choice was a little more utilitarian: “It was all about towing capacity for me,” he says. This was the key to the perfect rig check for Latham. In December 2021, the UK law on towing changed allowing your everyday Joe to tow a trailer and load adding up to 3,500kg without having to pass any sort of additional qualifications or tests. A normal driving licence is simply enough.
Each car has their own tow limit set by the manufacturer. This is an important thing to note when you’re choosing your own rig, as it really impacts what you can actually do with it. “If you want to tow anything with a combined weight of two tonnes, you really need a three-axle trailer and those can sometimes weigh a tonne themselves,” Latham tells me.
Latham has a catering business, selling tacos from his own food truck, and because of this he needed to tow the maximum amount of possible, meaning regular cars were out the question. An E46 330d Touring has a tow capacity of around 1,800kg; the equivalent X5 of the same generation (E53 30d) can tow nearly 1,000kg more. Modern AWD SUVs, such as the BMW X5 30d Austen has, have a towing capacity of 3,500kg. Again, in the rig check land, the classics simply get out-trumped by the modern kit.
So, Latham knew he needed a modern enough SUV to tow his business around.
The obvious place to start was German options – the X5, Mercedes-Benz G Wagon or ML, Porsche Cayenne or Volkswagen Touareg – all of which are reliable enough and pleasant enough inside to live with on a daily basis. While the Japanese options such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and Mitsubishi Shogun have a great reputation for reliability and a growing image, their interiors just aren’t as nice as those found in their German counterparts.
American trucks are a bit odd ball here in the UK. They have huge running costs in terms of fuel and tax and they’ve got the steering wheel on the wrong side. They also don’t keep up with interior qualities in the German cars. The last option is British stuff: Jaguar Land Rover Discovery, Defender and the like. However, if you don’t have a warranty on those models you’re asking for headaches. Most of the time they’re a quick way to burn through some cash.
Now, some people do use vans, Ford Transits and Volkswagen Transporters being popular options. All fit the bill, however sometimes these require specific insurance policies which aren’t cheaper than a car. Of course, if part of your brief is the ability to daily your rig, a van really restricts this. I’m sure there are thousands of T5 owners who would argue against me and die on that hill, but luckily for us this is my article. They’re great for moving stuff about, but not quite the perfect daily driver as an SUV is.
So, where did Latham end up? With a VW Touareg. He’s a calculated man and the math added up for him. That, and they’re famous for towing a Boeing 747 jumbo jet on Top Gear, which is probably the coolest accolade to have on any CV. A taco van should be no problem then.
So, you maybe wondering, does Ryan still own the crusty Transit? Well, no, he doesn’t. Ryan too did the maths, and whilst his AE86 is probably as far from a Boeing 747 as a car could be, he also couldn’t resist the Touareg.
I’ll leave you with a question: What’s your tow vehicle of choice? I’m sure some of our American readers will embarrass us Brits here…
Additional Photography by Ryan Stewart