At first glance, hooking up and towing a trailer or camper might not seem difficult, but the hitching process can be tough and requires patience and attention to detail. This will help confirm that your trailer or camper is secure and safe during a drive. The towing itself also requires care, particularly when it comes to turning and parking.
Following instructions about how to keep the hitch functioning properly is key. Here are some tips to help you prepare your vehicle and trailer and help you drive safely while towing.
Your pre-driving checklist for towing a trailer
Before you begin, you’ll want to go check the weight of the trailer you want to tow and check your vehicle’s owner’s manual (or search online) to see if it can handle that load. In addition, find out the gross trailer weight rating; this is the maximum weight the trailer can be when it's fully loaded to capacity with fluids and cargo. It's critical not to exceed this limit to ensure safe handling and prevent damage to your vehicle and trailer. Consult your owner's manual or contact your local trailer or RV dealership if you're having trouble determining this measurement – and to figure out if any safety accessories, like sway bars and ride levelers, can make your journey smoother.
You’ll also want to make sure your towing equipment matches the size, type, and style of trailer you're towing. Check what type of hitch you need to install and ensure you have the right size hitch ball if you're using a bumper-pull trailer. Most gooseneck hitches for use with fifth-wheel trailers have 2-5/16" hitch balls. Although you won't have many choices when it comes to selecting a gooseneck hitch, it's still important to abide by the listed weight capacities.
Once you’ve established your towing capacity you’ll need to do a thorough check before you begin driving. Essential things to look for include:
- Tires: Before you set out, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure recommended by the trailer manufacturer. This is even more important with light-duty trailers because the small tires make more rotations per mile than your full-size vehicle tires. Thus, they can overheat if not properly inflated. In addition, check the tires on your vehicle and on the trailer before you depart and each time you make a stop until you reach your destination. This helps you keep track of any issues that crop up before they get a chance to worsen.
- Lights: Each time you hook up a trailer, check that the parking lights and hazard flashers light up.
- Tie-downs: If you’re using tie-downs to keep cargo in place, double-check the tension and then inspect them each time you stop. Vibrations from the road can loosen them and make your cargo less secure.
Trailer towing tips
No matter how well you know your vehicle, it’ll drive differently when a trailer is attached. If you haven’t driven with a trailer before, or if it’s been a few years, it’s a good idea to practice driving in a large, empty parking lot before you head out on the open road.
Pay attention to how much length the trailer adds to your car or truck. You’ll need to factor that in for turning, parking, stopping for gas or pulling over. Heights are important to know if you’re going under a smaller bridge or up to a drive-thru window.
You’ll also have to get used to the extra weight, which affects your vehicle’s handling as well as your fuel economy. Monitor your gas gauge more carefully than usual, and plan for more frequent fuel stops.
The added weight changes your ability to accelerate and decelerate, so be particularly careful on inclines and declines, and take things slowly. If your truck has a tow-haul driving mode, use it while towing the trailer; this puts your vehicle into a lower gear, allowing the engine to brake itself to slow down in addition to using the brakes. If you plan to tow your trailer frequently, consider investing in a proportional brake controller. This device, which plugs into a port under your dash, senses changes in movement when you brake and responds by activating your trailer brakes at the same intensity level. Whether you choose a brake controller or not, give yourself plenty of time for slowing down and speeding up while entering or exiting the interstate and changing lanes.
If you take your time and are careful, hitching and towing a trailer can be a safe and easy task. For more information on finding the right insurance for your camper or trailer, contact a Nationwide agent today.