Safely and properly towing a trailer is comprised of many factors. The tow vehicle and trailer need to be properly matched, you need all the correct hitch components and you need a thorough understanding of topics like tires, weights, hitching and unhitching and actually towing the trailer down the road.
Today I want to look at five towing mistakes RV owners make in an attempt they don’t happen to you.
#1 Matching Tow Vehicle and Trailer
Number one and possibly the most important mistake is not properly matching the tow vehicle and trailer.
The first step is to determine exactly how much weight the tow vehicle can safely tow. This information can usually be found in the vehicle owner’s manual. If not, there are published towing guides from manufacturers available on the internet. When you use these towing guides it’s important to know how your vehicle is configured, and you pay attention to any footnotes.
After establishing the vehicle’s tow capacity, you need to make sure the trailer you plan to purchase is compatible with the tow vehicle. This is where you can get into trouble. Lots of people look at the trailer’s dry or Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) and assume they can tow the trailer. The problem is after you load all of your camping supplies, and account for water, propane, tongue weight and any dealer installed equipment like a battery the tow vehicle is overloaded.
The best scenario is to find a trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) that is equal to, or less than the tow rating of your tow vehicle. There is typically a substantial difference between the dry weight and the GVWR. This way, even if you load the trailer to the maximum GVWR the tow vehicle is still rated to tow the trailer.
#2 Consider Weight Added
Next, and this is another weight issue, lots of folks don’t consider any weight added to the tow vehicle itself. When vehicle weight ratings are established the manufacturer bases ratings on an empty truck, with full fluid levels and a driver weighing 150 pounds.
Let’s say your tow vehicle is rated to tow 5,000 pounds. Now let’s add three passengers for a combined weight of 400 pounds, 150 pounds of cargo in the bed of the truck, 100 pounds of aftermarket products added to the vehicle, and 350 pounds of tongue weight for a total of 1,000 pounds. This reduces your 5,000-pound tow capacity to 4,000 pounds.
Any weight you add to the tow vehicle reduces the towing capacity by that same amount. You can see how easy it is to get into trouble with weights.
#3 Under-inflated Tires
Number three on my list is trailer tires. Lots of people you talk to say tire blowouts on a trailer are caused by faulty tires, when the real causes are old weathered tires, overloaded tires or under-inflated tires.
By old tires I mean tires damaged by the elements, usually sun related damage. Tires stored outdoors need to be covered and owner’s need to inspect tires for any sidewall cracking or checking. Never tow a trailer with any of these tire conditions.
Trailer tire weight ratings are based on the amount of air pressure in the tire. You should familiarize yourself with tire load and inflation tables that tire manufacturers publish. After you are more familiar with these tables you need to have the fully loaded trailer weighed to see if any overload conditions exist.
For accurate tire information you need to weigh each wheel position individually. This is hard to do unless you are at a rally or other organized event where this weighing service is being offered.
The next best thing is to weigh each axle separately and then together. This will tell you if you are within the axle weight rating, but you won’t know how that weight is distributed from side-to-side. At a minimum it gives you a better idea of tire inflation, based on axle weights.
Number four is not using the proper hitch-work. For starter’s it’s important you understand that every component in a towing system has a weight rating, and your towing system is based on the weakest link in the chain. What I mean is, if your vehicle is rated to tow 6,000 pounds but the hitch ball you are using is rated for 5,000 pounds the most you can tow is 5,000 pounds.
The hitch receiver, hitch ball, ball mount, safety chains and every component in the towing system have weight ratings. If all of that checks out, next you want to make sure the trailer tongue weight is 10 to 15% of the loaded trailer weight for trailer’s weighing more than 2,000 pounds. Too much or too little tongue weight can have adverse effects on how the trailer tows.
Your vehicle owner’s manual will usually specify at what amount of trailer tongue weight you need a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH). A WD hitch uses additional hardware to distribute a percentage of the travel trailer’s tongue weight to the axles on the tow vehicle and the axles on the trailer. WD hitches are used to tow heavier trailers and improve the tow vehicle’s handling. If the trailer you are towing has brakes you need an electronic brake controller installed to activate the brakes and you should always use some type of sway control on any trailer you are towing that weighs in excess of 2,000 pounds.
#5 Not Performing Pre-Trip Checks
Number five on my list is not performing pre-trip checks prior to pulling the trailer. Lots of preventable towing related incidents happen because you didn’t make pre-trip checks. It’s a simple matter of using a checklist to make sure nothing was forgotten or overlooked, on the trailer or the tow vehicle, prior to leaving on a trip.
We offer an entire e-book with checklists on every RV topic imaginable at www.rvonlinetraining.com