Whether you have a sweet little retro teardrop, a gently used pop-up, or a head-turning new fifth wheel, here are a few things to know before you hitch up and go.
#1. Get Hitched
Proper hitching is a topic (and guide) unto itself, but here are three basic pointers:
- Match your hitch and tow bars to your vehicle’s towing capacity and your load.
- Practice hitching a few times, so it becomes second nature.
- Stop about an hour into your trip to check your hitch, just to make sure everything is still secure.
#2. Know Your GVWR
That’s gross vehicle weight rating for you towing newbies—the maximum weight of your vehicle. Your towing vehicle must have a GVWR higher than the weight you are towing. That means you need to know your GVWR and the weight of your trailer, fully loaded. If you’re not sure what your trailer weighs, head to a truck scale for an accurate measurement. Make sure that number is lower than the GVWR of your towing vehicle. Lots of vehicles that appear like they would be perfectly fine for towing, like SUVs (“Hey, it came with a hitch!”), can have surprisingly low GVWRs.
#3. Get Even
Weight distribution is extremely important in towing. If your trailer is back-heavy, you increase the risk of swaying and jackknifing—the major causes of towing accidents. The weight of the trailer should be evenly distributed from front to back and side to side. Move heavier items to the front of your trailer. It’s okay for the front to have a little more weight than the back. (But note: too much weight in the front of your trailer will cause your tow vehicle front to rise, making steering difficult, if not impossible.) A good rule of thumb is 60 percent of the weight to the front of your trailer, 40 percent to the back.
PRO TIP — Weight your trailer 60% to the front and 40% to the back.
#4. Weigh Your Tongue
The one on your trailer, of course. Tongue weight is the downward force of the trailer tongue and should be about 10-15 percent of your GTW (gross trailer weight). Tongue scales are handy and only cost around $100-$150. That’s a pretty good return on investment, compared to losing your trailer or ripping the hitch off your truck.
#5. A Chain Will Do You Good
Once you’re properly hitched, distributed, and weighed, add a safety chain for extra security. Cross the chain around the tongue and hitch so it will hold if the hitch detaches. Make sure you buy a chain with the proper rating for your trailer weight.
#6. Know How Your Trailer Measures Up
Always measure the height of your trailer yourself before you drive anywhere. Don’t just rely on the owner’s manual, which doesn’t account for any accessories you added—or that kayak you strapped to the top! Keep a note of the height in a place that’s easy to see while you’re driving, so you can double-check before heading under any overhangs.
#7. Mirror, Mirror Helps You Haul
After your trailer is hitched, sit behind the wheel and check your mirrors. Can you see to the end of your trailer and a decent distance out to the sides? If not, consider getting extension side mirrors. If your trailer doesn’t have a backup camera, you might want to add one. Maximizing your visibility not only makes driving safer, it can make parking and backing up much easier.
#8. Give Yourself a Brake
Braking while towing can take some getting used to. Take your trailer to a safe location and practice braking at low speeds. Get a feel for it. Adjust your trailer brake controller until you feel the trailer braking just a little bit more than your vehicle. Your trailer needs to stop first unless you’d like it in your backseat. Before traveling, it’s a good idea to check your brake battery with a voltmeter to make sure it starts with a decent charge. It will recharge as you drive.
While driving, remember these braking basics:
- Allow yourself extra room. With your trailer, you’re heavy! You need more time to stop. It’s best to double your usual following distance. For a few tips on distance, check out our guide to Driving Your RV for the First Time.
- If your route has hills, braking on the downslope can be tricky. Brake gradually to avoid sway. Take your trailer to hilly local roads to practice climbing and descending.
- Never brake suddenly. Sudden moves with a trailer are an accident waiting to happen. If you feel sway (which can be alarming) remember not to panic. Slow your trailer down gradually until the vehicle and trailer get back into alignment.
- Look down the road for possible issues and be alert so you have time to make moves or corrections.
PRO TIP — Leave at least 400 feet between you and the vehicle in front of you. To determine 400 feet, when the vehicle in front of you passes a point of reference (for example, a mile marker) start counting to four. You should reach four before you reach the mile marker.
#9. Know Before You Go
Did you map out your route with your trailer in mind? Check your route for low overpasses, tight turns or exits, roundabouts, and any other tough-to-maneuver areas. Whenever possible, adjust your route to avoid these trailer-testers.
#10. Take Your Turn
Slowly and widely, to be exact. Your trailer needs room, especially for right turns. The longer your trailer is, the more room you need. Watch for cars in adjacent lanes and give yourself plenty of space.
#11. Relax, You’re on Vacation
Remember that traveling with a trailer takes longer. You won’t be able to go as fast. You’ll likely be driving in the right lane a lot. You may have to take the long way to avoid challenging spots (see #9), and it might take you 20 minutes to park. Allow more space and time for everything you do. Take a deep breath, adjust your travel time expectations, and enjoy the journey.
#12. Expect a Learning Curve
Driving with a trailer feels different, so look at it as a skill you’ll gain through practice. Take your trailer to an empty parking lot and practice backing up and parking. Go for a drive on a lightly traveled road where you can go slowly and get familiar with your vehicles. Practice towing on local roads similar to those you’ll encounter on your trip. Confidence makes for better, safer towing, and practice builds confidence.
Towing doesn’t have to be tough. With preparation and practice, you’ll soon be trailer-blazing your way to new adventures.
We hope you’ve found this Togo RV Guide helpful. Please share it with your RVing friends and point them toward safe travels.