Basics of driving with trailers in tow
One perk to owning a pickup truck or an SUV is the
ability to tow items behind the vehicle like tow boats, RVs,
snowmobiles and more. Safe and successful towing requires
knowledge of the basics of hitching a trailer and some special
rules of the road. The following are a few safety tips for drivers
unaccustomed to towing.
Know your vehicle’s tow weight capacity. The owner’s
manual will list the maximum weight a vehicle can tow
successfully, it’s important to know your vehicle’s gross combined
weight rating, or GCWR. This includes the vehicle itself,
its passengers and cargo, as well as the trailer and the
trailer’s cargo. More passengers on board reduces the amount
of weight you can pull. Another weight factor is the tongue
weight, or how much of the trailer’s weight rests on the hitch,
which should be around 10 percent of the trailer’s weight.
This helps reduce trailer sway and can improve steering.
Practice proper weight distribution. Distribute the weight
of the item being towed to make towing smoother and safer.
The cargo’s center of gravity should be low, and most of
the weight should be toward the front. Weight on either side
also should be even. These steps will help
Use the right hitch equipment. Adjust
the hitch so that the trailer being
towed is relatively level to your vehicle
when attached. Connect lights to your
trailer through the hitch system so that
brake lights and other indicators work
properly. Make sure the hitch ball is the
right size for your trailer, otherwise the
trailer might disconnect during towing.
Use a pin and safety chains to keep the
Check if extra brakes are required.
Many states require a separate braking
system on towed vehicles with a loaded
weight in excess of 1,000 pounds. Newer
trucks may have a built-in controller for
brakes or you may need to have a system
Slow down and drive more cautiously.
A vehicle towing a trailer will not maneuver
the same way as a vehicle without
a trailer attached. It may take longer
for you to brake because of the added
weight. Get used to using side-view mirrors
because the trailer may block your
rearview. Install larger, extended sideview
mirrors. Make wide turns so that the
trailer will clear curbs and not tip over.
Safe and successful towing requires knowledge of the basics.
Avoid backing up. Unless you’re experienced with driv-
challenging. Limit situations that require backing up. Park
in pull-through parking spots when possible. If you need to
back up, move slowly and with your hand on the bottom of
the steering wheel, turning it in the direction you want the
trailer to go.
Practice, practice, practice. Get acclimated with towing in
a parking lot or on empty streets before taking your trailer out
on the open road.
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