There are important things to know before you tow. Especially when you’re new to it, towing an RV can feel pretty intimidating, but with the right mindset and these helpful tips, you’ll have the hang of it in no time.
10 tips for towing an RV.
White knuckles. Every RVer has had them at some point as they learn how to tow their rig. Getting comfortable towing takes some hard work and practice. And that’s why we’re here: to help you gain some confidence. So you can loosen your grip and actually relax once you step down on that pedal.
Here are our 10 tips for arriving safely at your destination.
1. Buy your trailer or fifth wheel before you buy your tow vehicle
Not surprisingly, selecting the right tow vehicle is the biggest factor when it comes to towing safety. So choose your travel trailer or fifth wheel first, if at all possible. That way, you’re less likely to try towing your rig with a vehicle that can’t handle it. Need help in choosing your muscle truck? Check out our Best Truck for Towing a Travel Trailer guide.
2. Practice driving in an empty parking lot
A great way to ease your nerves is to drive your trailer away from other vehicles before you hit the highway. So find an empty parking lot where you can practice your turns and backing up. Take it slow and don’t try to turn on a dime. The longer your trailer is, the wider you usually need to turn; out on the road, you’ll want to keep your turns as wide as you reasonably can.
3. Don’t go on your adventure underinsured
RV insurance is similar to car insurance in that you can get liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage to protect you and your passengers in the event of an accident, injury, theft, or natural disaster. What kind and how much you need are mostly determined by the class of your RV. Compare your options online, and ask your RV buddies who they use while you’re at it.
4. HITCH YOUR WAGON WISELY.
Whether you’re shopping for a truck or already have one, you’ll need to determine which type of hitch you’ll need. There are four main types of hitches: weight-carrying, weight-distributing, gooseneck, and fifth wheel.
Mainly used for small- and medium-sized trailers, the weight-carrying hitch should uniformly distribute your trailer tongue loads through the bumper and frame.
This type of hitch works with a platform to distribute tongue load to all the trailer and tow vehicle wheels. Equalizing arms that connect to the trailer’s A-frame can be adjusted for towing performance. Spring bars bend up as chains are tightened, which lifts weight from the rear wheels and transfers it to the other wheels of the vehicle and trailer.
A gooseneck hitch attaches in the truck bed with universal or custom rails. Common for agriculture trailers, this hitch provides great stability and is suitable for heavier loads. The weight of the tongue rests directly on the truck bed, over the rear axles.
Commonly used for RVs, a fifth wheel hitch mounts in the pickup bed to put more trailer weight directly over the towing vehicle.
Once you select your hitch, you’ll need to actually get hitched. If you’re going with a fifth wheel, you’ll want to read this handy how-to article.
5. Extend your view
Standard mirrors aren’t going to cut it for RV towing because you won’t be able to see the entire rig behind you. Eliminate any potential blind spots by buying some extended side-view mirrors. You can get them permanently installed or get clip-ons you can take on and off as desired.
6. Click before you camp
One aspect of parking safety involves researching your campsite before you ever leave home to make sure the campsite you select is long enough for both your rig and tow vehicle. Most reservation websites provide details for each campsite, including its length and obstructions like low-hanging branches. Also check for any warnings for drivers with longer rigs as some campsites have some tight squeezes. Never assume your campsite will be flat. When you get there, walk around and look for obstructions before you park.
7. Know the routes of your stress
Determine exactly where you’re going before you leave home. Look the campground up on Google Maps and determine the best way to get there. Look at where the bridges are and make sure you’re going to fit under them. And buy a navigation system with a trailer or RV setting to avoid course correcting in traffic.
8. Pack light
Some RV newbies pack everything under the sun. But, not you. You’re going to grab our RV Packing List and only bring what you need.
9. Don’t feel the need for speed
Think turtle, not Tom Cruise. When it comes to driving your RV, at least. You’ve got extra weight behind you and that means it takes more time to accelerate, slow down—and, most importantly, stop. Keep 4-6 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. Also, keep to the right when it comes to your driving lane. You can keep an eye on what lane the commercial drivers are in and follow their example.
10. Brake away
Nearly all towable RVs feature electric brakes with a built-in or add-on electric brake controller that manages braking. Adjusting this controller is important—and fairly easy if you follow the instructions in your owner’s manual or provided with the controller itself. You want to set the controller so the trailer “tugs” on your tow vehicle without locking the brakes. Your tow vehicle should slow at the same time, so it’s more like one large vehicle stopping instead of two.
Test the intensity of your brakes by towing your trailer on a paved surface at about 25 miles per hour, and then fully applying your brakes using the manual activation lever on the brake control. Did the wheels lock up? Your setting is too aggressive. Can’t feel the trailer? You need more braking power. You might need to readjust your setting depending on your trailer load.
When you brake, your RV shouldn’t pull hard at your tow vehicle or rely too much on the tow vehicle’s brakes to stop. Adjust the brake control so your trailer responds well during both slower and faster stops.
Our article is coming to a stop of its own. While we hope you’ve found it helpful, we’ve just scratched the surface. Check out The Ultimate RV Towing Guide for an authoritative look at how to select, set up, drive, and park your RV.