Towing a travel trailer isn't as stressful as you might think, and you'd be surprised at what you are capable of when you understand the techniques.
Generally, most people feel comfortable with towing a travel trailer when they have done it a couple of times, and with constant practice, your performance will get better.
This article will focus on the easy tips to be implemented when towing a travel trailer, and in a short time, you'll become a PRO.
Why Understanding How to Tow a Travel Trailer is Crucial?
Knowing the right way to tow your trailer ensures both you and your friends are safe on your road trip. Wondering how?
Putting too much weight on the rear side of your trailer will cause it to have an unbalanced movement, so you need to know how much weight your tow vehicle can carry and proper towing techniques so you can tow safely.
When it comes to towing travel trailers, you need to be familiar with the different regulations, or you are at risk of breaking the law, thereby leading to penalties and fines.
So, when you understand how to tow a trailer properly, it'll be easier to stay safe and feel confident on the road.
Is it Hard to Tow a Travel Trailer?
No, it's not a hard task to tow a travel trailer.
Several factors might make it look scary to tow a trailer - like weather conditions and rough terrains - but when you figure it out the first time, you'll have an easier time towing a travel trailer.
It's important to note that, the heavier a travel trailer, the more challenging it can be to tow, so you might want to keep that in mind when purchasing your tow vehicle.
What Should You Know Before Towing a Trailer?
To use your towing vehicle properly, there are a lot of things to be considered, and it all boils down to your trailer's dimensions.
Take this section as a towing guide and a ticket to improving your towing experience.
Your Trailer’s Size
Being overly familiar with the size of your trailer is very important as it'll come in handy in tight spaces.
One of the most stressful things in parking a large travel trailer is the number of turns and obstacles you have to maneuver against, before getting it right.
So, naturally, when you know the size of your trailer, you'll have a better understanding of where to park it if the need arises.
Height of Your Trailer
Not knowing the height of your trailer is dangerous, because how do you know when an overhang is too low or the right height?
Relying on the owner's manual is not advisable, as they don't put extra accessories into consideration when giving the height of your trailer. The last thing you'd want is your travel trailer getting stuck at an overhang, because not only might it cause damage, things could get even worse - probably an accident.
It's much more convenient for you to get the right height of your trailer, so you can move on the highway without worrying about anything.
The width of your trailer will come in handy, especially when you want to make turns or sharp bends. As with any large vehicle, you'll need to give yourself a lot of space when turning. So the larger your trailer, the wider your turns will be.
The length of your trailer is as important as its size, mostly because to parking. Your trailer will not fit into every empty parking lot if it's very long.
So, if you just purchased a new trailer, it's best to get familiar with the length, and with constant and good practice, you should be able to maneuver your way into most parking lots.
Know Your Vehicle’s Tow Rating
Knowing your vehicle's towing capacity is necessary, or else you might end up exceeding the maximum load weight.
To prevent damage both to the trailer and tow vehicle, you need to make sure the tow capacity is not compromised. Because you'll have to deal with your trailer swaying as a result of being unbalanced.
You can find the towing capacity of your vehicle on the manufacturer's manual, so your fully loaded trailer should not go above that figure, or else you are putting your life in danger.
To have perfect stability when on the move, there must be proper weight distribution. Most trailer owners use weight distribution bars and hitches to help distribute cargo weight (or whatever the trailer is towing).
For example, if the rear side of the trailer has more weight than the front, it'll cause the trailer to sway, and this will be dangerous when driving on terrains or rough roads, plus controlling the steering wheel will be a lot harder.
So, if you have the intention of carrying very heavy items in your tow vehicle, make sure they are evenly distributed to maintain stability.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
This is the maximum weight your tow vehicle can handle without any difficulty. For new Rvers who are unfamiliar with the "towing world," it's best to start with smaller trailers, before moving over to towing bigger trailers.
How much weight your tow vehicle can carry is indicated on the owner's manual, so do not exceed it, no matter what.
Sometimes it's easy to compromise, especially when you are not towing a travel trailer to a long distance, but that's all shades of wrong. That "extra weight" might be the reason why your truck stops just out of the blues, and you'll have a really hard time fixing your towing vehicle.
So, when choosing a tow trailer, don't just consider what the trailer weighs, but its gross vehicle weight rating as well.
Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
The gross combination weight rating of your tow vehicle includes everything that goes into it - passengers, accessories, cargo, and the weight of the vehicle.
Every tow vehicle has its GCWR, and that total weight must not be exceeded, or you might face a big problem while on the road.
Generally, when you exceed the GCWR of a tow vehicle, it becomes really hard to control the road, and this will put everyone around you at risk.
After fully loading your tow vehicle, you can take it to weigh station to get the actual weight, if you are unsure whether you have overloaded it.
The hitch weight of your tow vehicle needs to match the weight of the load on the hitch. If you overload the hitch of your vehicle, it'll cause it to sway on the road; this is where the weight distribution hitch comes in.
Weight distribution hitches help to spread the weight from to back to the front, thereby giving you better control of the vehicle. However, if your tow vehicle is still swaying after this, consider using the trailer brakes before the hand overrides, as this will help stop the swaying motion. But to avoid this totally, just use the correct hitch!
Tongue weight is the downward pressure exerted by the tongue of a travel trailer.
When the tongue weight of your tow vehicle is exceeded, you'll experience difficulties when making turns or sharp bends because the rear tires, brakes, frame, and drivetrain are affected.
Equally, if the trailer's tongue weight is too light, there'll be zero balance. So, a trailer tongue weight needs to be balanced for optimum performance.
The maximum tongue weight for a trailer with an attached hitch ball is about 15% of the gross trailer weight
Your trailer's axle weight and that of the tow vehicle need to be within the limit or you might put yourself in trouble with the law.
The front axle and rear axle are both expected to have a maximum specified weight and the weight of all the axles combined including the tongue weight, must not exceed the GVWR of the trailer.
The payload capacity of your tow vehicle is the maximum weight it can carry. Payload capacity is always lesser than the tow capacity. Think about it; it's far easier for your vehicle to tow a trailer of over 3000 pounds, than carrying the trailer.
Adhering to the payload capacity as indicated by the manufacturer is one of the important things that either make your towing experience a smooth or dangerous one.
Understanding Towing Laws and Regulations
Towing regulations vary per state, and you need to familiarize yourself with the towing laws of your state before you think of towing any trailer.
It's easy to get carried away, especially when you are excited about towing a trailer for the first time, but best believe that if you aren't fully prepared, you'll get into trouble.
Generally, when towing a camper trailer or large vehicles, there are certain safety precautions you need to put in place. For instance, ensure that you have a strong safety chain that connects the trailer and tow vehicle, so it doesn't get detached even when in windy conditions.
Each state has its height restrictions when it comes to towing. In some states, the maximum height for trailers is 14 ft, and some states are even way lesser.
Other laws to put in mind include;
The maximum speed limit that shouldn't be exceeded
Making sure your tow vehicle and trailer are both insured
Use of tailed lights on the towed trailer
For extra safety, the use of breakaway or auxiliary brakes
Are towing regulations the same for every state in America?
No, they aren't. However, the majority of the regulations are all the same, so you won't have a hard time getting used to the laws when in a new state.
How to Safely Tow a Travel Trailer?
To safely tow a trailer, you need to understand weight distribution, as that's very vital. Towing safely isn't only for your advantage, but for other drivers on the road as well.
To improve your towing safety, there are certain procedures to put in place;
Hooking Up Your Trailer
Each trailer has its hitching style, and if you don't know how to do it, you'll end up damaging your tow vehicle in the long run.
Most trailer hitch setups incorporate the use of anti-sway bars to ensure the trailer and tow vehicle are both solid on the road while traveling. You can even adjust the weight distribution hitch of your trailer (if it comes with one), to help distribute the weight on the tow vehicle evenly.
There are different types of hitches and your choice will depend on the type of tow vehicle you are driving.
The ball hitch also called ball mounts is the part of the vehicle that connects your tow vehicle to the trailer.
The fifth-wheel hitch is usually shaped like a horseshoe and it's used in towing a fifth-wheel trailer or bumper pull. All you need to do is connect it to the kingpin on the trailer, and because it's heavy-duty, it can carry very heavy loads.
The pintle hitch is perfect for towing heavy items, as it usually has a weight capacity of up to 150,000 pounds.
A pintle hitch is a receiver hitch that uses a tow ring configuration to tightly secure a hook combination.
Other types of hitches you can use to hook your travel trailer to the tow vehicle include; Gooseneck hitch, bumper hitch, and weight-carrying hitch.
Some trailer tires have their own speed ratings, and to increase the lifespan of your tow vehicle, you need to stick to it.
What is the best speed to tow a travel trailer?
When towing rv trailers, it's best to keep your speed at 60 to 65 miles per hour. If you are moving on smaller roads reduce it further, as you might need to take tight turns.
What is the maximum speed limit for towing a trailer on a motorway?
The maximum speed limit when towing a trailer on a motorway is 60 miles per hour.
Understand Your Dimensions - Height, Length, and Width
The dimensions of your travel trailer/rv are important, as it's not every campground or parking lot you can park your trailer in. Know your trailer frame so you can drive safe at all times.
To remember your trailer's dimensions with just one glance, write it out on a sticky note, and paste it on the dashboard.
Following Road Etiquette Driving a Travel Trailer
It's highly recommended that you stay buckled while towing your rv, in the event of a collision. Also, keep your turn signals and brake lights on to alert other drivers on the roadway.
Lastly, practice backing your trailer properly before going out on the road.
Check Your Visibility
Be sure that all your side mirrors are well-adjusted and working properly, as this will help you have a clearer view of the entire road while driving.
Check Your Brakes and Brake Controller
Your tow vehicle's brakes need to be in perfect condition, plus you need to know the exact amount of pressure to apply on vehicle brakes, so you don't cause the trailer to bump abruptly into the tow vehicle.
Set your brake controller to tow in a way that when you press the brakes, the trailer braking pulls on the tow vehicle without the brakes locking.
Practice braking as many times as you can, as your trailer's brakes need to be more than the vehicle's because the trailer has to stop first.
ALWAYS slow down when making turns if you are towing an rv/caravan. Keep in mind that you are moving two cars at a time, so put your legs on the brakes at any turning, and anticipate sudden stops.
When towing an rv on steep mountain passes or hills, make use of the engine braking, to avoid overheating the braking system.
What is a good rule of thumb when going up and down a hill while towing a trailer?
If you are towing a pickup truck down or up a hill, take your foot off the accelerator and set your engine in lower gear early.
Swaying happens very often with tow vehicles, it could be the trailer's weight is too much for the vehicle or the hooking-up process was done wrongly. For good measure, when you hitch your trailer, double-check and be sure that it's properly set up.
How do I stop my travel trailer from swaying?
If you are unsure as to why your trailer is swaying in the first place, use a correct hitch as it helps add the required resistance.
At what speed does THE trailer sway start?
Once you exceed the speed limit of 65mph, your trailer becomes prone to swaying. At this point, installing a hitch won't save you. So quick advice; stick to the max speed of your trailer.
Keep a Safe Distance
It's best to keep a reasonable distance when you tow an rv because when turning in a tight corner, the trailer might bump into the vehicle's back if the gap is too small.
What distance should you use when towing a trailer?
The required distance between a tow vehicle and its trailer should be 4 meters.
Fueling Up While Towing
Better fuel efficiency means you get to reach your destination faster, as you'll have lesser reasons to stop on the road.
Check the Tires
You'll get better fuel economy when your tire pressure is right. Driving with under-inflated tires means putting your safety and security at risk. Have your spare tires stored up too, you never know what might happen.
Check the Backup Systems
Before entering the road with your tow vehicle and trailer, check the trailer brakes, tire pressure, license plates, running lights, and safety chains, to be sure they are all working perfectly.
Upgrade Your Trailer Brake System
It's essential to upgrade your brake system for towing safety. It would help improve braking power and lower the risk of accidents.
Don't Forget to Practice
Practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when driving larger vehicles. Practice your parking, backing, and turning skills, so you won't have a hard time handling any towable rv.
More Tips for Towing a Travel Trailer
Here are more general tips to help you when towing travel trailers;
Always distribute the weight of the cargo evenly
Perfect your hitching skills
Check your trailer tires before heading out to the open road and replace them if needed
Never go on a journey without your spare tire
Pay for a roadside assistance plan
Tips for Towing in Inclement Weather
When towing an rv in inclement weather, here's what you must do;
Make sure your trailer brakes are installed
Move at a semi-slow speed
Don't use cruise control
Get winter tires installed
What To Do When It Gets Windy?
Understanding the basics of driving during windy weather will make it less scary for you when you finally encounter one. Few tips you'll find helpful;
Make smooth and gentle turns
Don't drive alongside large vehicles like RVs, campers, and big rigs
Keep your speed at a minimum to have better control of the tow vehicle
Towing in Rain
To tow your rv without any stress when it's raining;
Install bright, quality headlights
Be sure the windshields wiper blades are functioning properly
Towing in Snow and Ice
When towing in snow and ice;
Get a maintenance check
Ensure there's a great stopping distance between the trailer and the tow vehicle
Maintain your momentum
Towing in Fog
To safely tow in fog, here's what you need to do;
Drive slow and turn off the cruise control
Don't turn on high-beam lights because the light will reflect to your face
When visibility returns to normal, switch off the fog lights
Tips for Towing Through Mountain Passes
When towing trailers, remember that attaching a trailer to your tow vehicle places extra weight on its braking system, so it may take a longer time for the tow vehicle to stop.
That being said when towing your rv through mountains/hills;
Move slowly, and apply brakes with calculated force
Don't pass a route you aren't familiar with
Prep your trailer and vehicle beforehand
Use your lower gear when going up and down the mountain
Can You Tow a Trailer With a Normal Licence?
Yes, but depending on the weight of the trailer. For instance, with a Class D licence, the towing capacity of your trailer will not go over 26,000 pounds.
At What Age Can You Tow a Trailer?
You can tow a trailer if you are 18 years and above.
Is There An Age Limit For Towing A Trailer?
There's no maximum age limit for towing a trailer, if you have a valid permit, then you can.
What Size Vehicle Do You Need to Tow a Travel Trailer?
The answer to this is dependent on the size of the travel trailer you want to tow; as there's no one size fits all.
Full-sized SUVs when well-equipped can easily tow trailers that weigh 8,000 and above.
Towing a travel trailer is a whole different story if you are still unfamiliar with how trailers work. Yes, it can somewhat be challenging, but if you are determined, it's not complex at all.
As a rule of thumb; to prevent crashes and damaging your tow vehicle or trailer, stick to the maximum capacity and weight as written in your manual.
Can You Tow A Trailer In The Fast Lane Of A Motorway?
Yes, you can. The only offense is when you tow outside the motorway lane by three or more lanes.
What Causes Fishtailing When Towing A Trailer?
When the tongue weight of your trailer is not properly distributed, it can result in fishtailing.
Should The Trailer Be Perfectly Level When Towing?
Yes, to improve stability and ground clearance.
Do You Need Training To Tow A Trailer?
Yes, it's essential to get proper training before towing an rv for safety reasons. However, this is not a legal requirement "yet".
Can You Tow A Travel Trailer With A Full Water Tank?
Yes, you can, but full tanks cause uneven distribution.