Safe Towing 101 with Utility and Travel Trailers

Whether you need to be your own mover or want to go “glamping” in style, hooking up a trailer to your car or truck is an affordable way to do the job. Alternatively, you might need to haul a motorcycle or supplies for a home improvement project. Either way, the art of safe towing is a skill worth mastering. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the minimum rules of safe towing, empowering you to pull loads with confidence and safety.

Understand Your Vehicle’s Capacity

Before hitching anything to your vehicle, it’s imperative to grasp its safe towing capacity. Check your vehicle’s manual or consult the manufacturer’s specifications to learn its towing limits. Exceeding these limits can spell disaster, potentially leading to brake failure, engine strain, transmission damage, and compromised control.

Armed with this knowledge, you can then select a trailer that aligns perfectly with your vehicle’s capabilities, ensuring a harmonious towing experience. It’s generally recommended you stay below 10% of the maximum towing capacity to account for miscalculation and shifting loads.1

Select the Right Trailer for the Job

Choosing the right trailer is akin to selecting the perfect tool for a job. Your trailer’s GTW (Gross Trailer Weight) will likely need to account for both the base trailer weight and what you haul inside it.2 If your GTW is 5000 pounds and the trailer you tow has a base weight of 3000 pounds, you need to carefully estimate how much cargo you’ll be hauling. For an RV trailer, this includes calculating the weight of any water, waste, or propane inside your tanks.

Hitch Up and Load Correctly

Proper hitching is the cornerstone of safe towing. Invest in a reliable hitch system that matches your vehicle’s towing capacity, paying meticulous attention to the installation process. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines rigorously when attaching the trailer to your vehicle, guaranteeing a secure and stable connection.

There are five official classes of hitches. Even if your tow vehicle has a robust hauling capacity of 8000 pounds, you need to ensure your hitch is also up to the job. Class 1 hitches max out at 2000 pounds, while Class 3 are rated for up to 8000 pounds.3

As a general rule, follow the 60/40 rule: roughly 60 percent of the load should be in front of the trailer’s axle and 40 percent should be behind the axle.4 Overloading or uneven weight distribution can precipitate swaying, fishtailing, and ultimately, loss of control.

Conduct a Pre-Trip Inspection

Before embarking on your journey, conduct thorough inspections of both your vehicle and the trailer. Scrutinize tire pressure, tread wear, and lug nut tightness for all axles. Verify the functionality and visibility of all lights, including brake lights, turn signals, and reflectors, on both the towing vehicle and the trailer.

Methodically inspect the trailer’s brakes, suspension, and safety chains for signs of wear or damage. These preemptive measures can avert accidents and breakdowns, ensuring a smooth and uninterrupted voyage.

Another important number you need to pay attention to is GCWR or Gross Cargo Weight Rating. This is the maximum weight combined of both the tow vehicle and the trailer together, including people and gear inside your vehicle. If you’re bringing 1000 pounds of people and their gear on your road trip, this can quickly put your weight over capacity with a smaller car or SUV. For safety reasons, it’s once again better not to come within 10% of total capacity.1

Always Drive with Finesse

Safe towing requires the cultivation of responsible driving habits. Bear in mind that towing a trailer alters your vehicle’s handling, braking, and acceleration. Moderate your speed, especially when negotiating turns or traversing downhill gradients. Some commercial trailer rental companies recommend a maximum speed of 55 mph with a trailer.5

Maintain a generous distance between your vehicle and others, allowing for extended stopping distances. A good rule of thumb is keeping a distance the length of your vehicle and trailer between you and the vehicle you’re following for each 10 mph of speed.6 Avoid sudden maneuvers or abrupt braking, as these actions can destabilize the trailer, precipitating hazardous situations.

Understand What’s Stopping You

Trailer brake requirements vary widely from state to state and it’s important to check your local laws.7 Many smaller rental trailers and travel trailers include surge brakes. These brakes work automatically in tandem with your brakes, activating when the driver applies pressure to the brake pedal.

For larger loads, you might be required to install a trailer brake controller that electronically controls the brakes on your trailer. Most designs include an interface in the cockpit of the tow vehicle to fine-tune the sensitivity setting of your trailer brakes.8

Professional maintenance and adjustment of trailer brakes are essential to ensure optimal performance and safety on the road, allowing for smoother stops and reducing the risk of accidents while towing.

Expect the Unexpected

Despite meticulous preparation, emergencies may still arise while towing a trailer. Equip your vehicle with a comprehensive safety kit, including a spare tire, jack, lug wrench, and roadside assistance supplies. Consider augmenting this kit with trailer-specific essentials, such as wheel chocks, reflective triangles, and a fire extinguisher.

Who is Answer Financial?

With diligence, preparation, and a commitment to safety, you can embark on your next towing adventure with confidence. But the ultimate peace of mind is towing with the right insurance. Answer Financial works with more than 40+ top-rated carriers to save our customers an average of $565 a year on insurance.Our licensed agents are ready to help you compare, buy and often save the smart way on insurance. If you’re unsure if your trailer has adequate coverage, speak with our experts before you hit the road.