Six Tips for First-Time Towing

Red Ram Trailer 4

You've just bought your first camper, horse trailer, boat or cargo hauler, and now you have to tow it from the place you bought it to where you're going to store it. Don't get caught unprepared. While towing might seem intimidating at first, the following tips, coupled with the right equipment and practice, can make you a master tower.

These are the most important issues to consider when towing:

1. Weight compatibility

The most important factor to consider when towing anything is weight compatibility — cars and trucks have specific towing weight limits. Know how much your tow rig and your trailer weighs. A simple trip to the local scales will get you started. Make sure that your tow vehicle can handle the weight you plan to tow. Follow manufacturer recommendations wherever possible. Every vehicle capable of towing will have a posted maximum tow rating. Check your owner's manual first, but manufacturer websites should also have the information.

2. Understand the language of towing

Towing has a language all its own, and you need to learn it for buying, towing and following the law in your state. There are many acronyms in trailering and most have to do with weights and capacities. Below are just some of the most important:

  • Max tow rating: The largest total weight recommended by the tow vehicle maker that a particular rig can tow safely.
  • Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): This is the total amount of weight a fully loaded truck can carry safely as determined by the manufacturer. The total number should include passengers, fluids, cargo and any applicable tongue weight.
  • Gross combined weight rating (GCWR): This is the total allowable weight of a fully loaded tow vehicle and trailered vehicle that includes all tow vehicle occupants, cargo, fluids, tongue weight and accessories. One mistake often made is underestimating the total weight of your truck and trailer. Making another trip to the local scales with a fully loaded setup is recommended.
  • Gross trailer weight rating (GTWR): You should be able to find this on a metal tag attached somewhere on the trailer frame. It states the maximum allowable weight of the cargo and the trailer combined.
  • Gross axle weight rating (GAWR): This describes the maximum weight a single trailer axle can safely carry, independent of the rest of the rig.

3. Hitch balls are critical safety gear

The hitch ball is attached to the tow vehicle receiver hitch. Many vehicles come with a factory-installed receiver that are typically attached to the frame or reinforced section of a unibody. Higher-quality aftermarket hitches are available as well, but all should be clear about exact weight rating capabilities. The ball itself supports some trailer weight and couples the trailer with the truck or car. Trailer hitches are categorized by tongue weight, and as hitch numbers climb, so does the tongue weight it can handle.

Towing Mirrors II

Tongue weight, or the amount of weight on the vehicle's hitch, is an important issue. If your tongue weight is less than 10 percent of the weight of the fully loaded trailer, the trailer will probably sway a bit, making it difficult to control. On the other hand, if you have too much weight on the tongue (let's say more than 15 percent of total trailer load weight), your tow vehicle's rear tires can overload (and overheat) and push the rear end of the vehicle around; this makes stopping and handling curves and cornering difficult.

4. Always use safety chains

Nobody who wants to tow safely would fail to make sure the trailer and tow vehicle are attached, not only between ball and tongue, but also with strong safety chains. Experienced towers cross the chains under the trailer tongue so in case of a catastrophic separation, the trailer and the hitch are less likely to separate. Be sure there is enough chain slack to make turns, and always be sure the chains will not drag on the pavement.

5. Trailer load balance is important

Most manufacturers recommend you distribute 60 percent of the weight of the trailer load over the front half of the trailer. After you have the load balanced correctly, make sure that cargo is secured with straps or tie-downs. When cargo shifts, your load becomes unbalanced, making your trailer unstable and less predictable.

6. Driving with a trailer

At the risk of oversimplifying the point, driving with a fully loaded trailer — when done properly and safely — is not much more difficult than driving your tow vehicle empty. However, do not confuse the two as the driving techniques and vision strategies are very different. Most people tow a boat, a camper or perhaps a car trailer to a show or race.

First, use common sense. Second, when driving with a trailer, everything you do should be done at half the speed without the trailer. This means turning and stopping will take more time — so allow twice the distance for the increased mass. Also, remember to allow for your extra length when you change lanes. And, finally, be sure to watch for objects and/or situations far enough ahead of you to react with plenty of time. Look much farther ahead than normal so you'll have plenty of time to slow or change course if an unanticipated person or vehicle comes into your path.

Most experienced towers prefer pickup trucks over SUVs and full-size cars. Pickups generally have better power-to-weight ratios and more torque than cars, and extra power is needed for hauling trailers up hills and mountains. Generally speaking, full-size pickups can handle more trailer weight than a car or SUV mainly due to their stronger frame construction, but you'll need to weigh quite a few factors when deciding on the right vehicle for your needs.

For more information about towing or products you might need to do it safely, visit Curt Manufacturing.

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams

 

Red Ram Trailer Hitch

 

Comments

I also think understanding what a secure load is.

I saw a boat that came off a trailer at a roundabout (circle in US speak).

It was 45 degrees off at the opposite side of the roundabout around 30' in. Seems the guy made two mistakes, not driving to suit the weight/balance/load of the vehicle and not securing the load correctly.

This is a good article. I have seen many dingalings towing and most of them have loads that are legal and within the vehicles capability.

Towing is so much easier now since trailer brakes have been perfected and are even on single axle trailers. Plus the anti-sway bars....

Towing is so much easier now since trailer brakes have been perfected and are even on single axle trailers. Plus the anti-sway bars....

Don't do it with a recalled ram.

Should we use a 2015 recalled Ford with defective brakes, steering, and transmission? Oh and could catch fire? lol

One thing that the manufcturers can do to increase towing safety is to post the specific Curb Weight and Gross Combined Trailer Weight Rating of each vehicle on the GVW sticker ususally located on the door post. No more guess work, no more, "Oh sure you can tow that trailer, my buddy has towed his for years without a problem" or "Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, you can tow this trailer with your vehicle-it only weighs 8,500 lbs and these truck's can easily tow that".
This is something that should be mandated by NHTSA and Transport Canada. Pickup trucks dot com should spearhead such an initiative.

This article should also state that max capacities are based on using weight distribution hitches. this is almost always unclear in the manuals. A friend of mine bragged about his 2011 silverado towing a small trailer with 8K pounds of stone, when I showed him his sticker on the class IV receiver said 5k weight carrying max trailer(meaning without WD), he was quite upset about that.

Our evaluation was conducted using a stock EcoDiesel-powered '14 Ram 1500. In baseline tests on a Dynojet chassis dyno, the 3.0L V-6 engine produced 233.05 hp and 392.64 lb-ft of torque.
With the water-methanol, EcoDiesel performance was improved by another 50.87 hp and 111 lb-ft of diesel torque, with 4.14 psi of additional boost! We noticed in our analysis of the 283.92hp/503.19-lb-ft water-meth pull (see dyno chart), the gains were steady throughout the entire 2,000-rpm-to-3,700-rpm span

Truck trend.

Consumer reports said to buy the better truck Ram. Ford was junk.

@HemiV8 - consumer reports liked the air ride better but they did not do a loaded test or a towing test. They did their testing as if they were testing a large sedan and that is exactly what a Ram 1500 is..... a large sedan.

Why don't you post Consumer Reports durability data on Ram?? or Vincentric or JD Power Data?

Why would Ram need to say they were going to release a Ram 1500 HD?

Simple - the current Ram cannot compete in the truck end of the 1/2 ton market. They can compete in the car end of the 1/2 ton truck market.

@HemiV6, where did I miss a ford recall for brakes and transmissions?? Are they buying trucks back because they are junk?? No wait, that's ram whose buying all those trucks back because they are junk. Just wanted to say Lou_BC you are so right.

GUETAS

GLORIA

RAMON

@Big Al From Oz comments are the basis of many threads of online Caravanners Forums
Stability, GAWR, RAWR, proper loading ,hitches, WDH, and ESC etc

Robert Ryan,
Even though I was a self taught person with towing, with much input by experienced people I do believe that towing should be on your licence after being assessed on load securing, backing, safe driving speeds, distance to other vehicles and hazards that present themselves on roads.

I believe it should be managed similar to a person who has an "Auto Only" drivers licence.

It is far more dangerous having an inexperience person tow than a person who has only driven an automatic and drive a manual.

Towing a trailer produces an articulated vehicle. The loads that are placed on a vehicle's dynamic performance alters greatly. Any person should have the knowledge of the effects and how to counter any situation that will produce a negative outcome endangering others and themselves.

Robert Ryan,
Even though I was a self taught person with towing, with much input by experienced people I do believe that towing should be on your licence after being assessed on load securing, backing, safe driving speeds, distance to other vehicles and hazards that present themselves on roads.

I believe it should be managed similar to a person who has an "Auto Only" drivers licence.

It is far more dangerous having an inexperience person tow than a person who has only driven an automatic and drive a manual.

Towing a trailer produces an articulated vehicle. The loads that are placed on a vehicle's dynamic performance alters greatly. Any person should have the knowledge of the effects and how to counter any situation that will produce a negative outcome endangering others and themselves.

@Big Al From Oz, has been tossed about as an idea that needs to be taken up. You are getting New Grey Nomads, pulling a 27-32ft vehicle with Zero experience. Admittedly very few accidents, but there is going to an Avalanche of potential Grey Nomads in the next couple of years

Robert Ryan,
Trailer towing licencing could start with incremental weight increase on the load towed.

Up to 5 000lbs, 10 000lbs, 20 000lbs, etc.

This would improve road safety more than what this article is showing.

The items in this article are great, but should be a given if a person is licenced to operate and tow a trailer.

@Robert Ryan, "Grey Nomads" ha-ha, I like that. Gonna have to use that term round here in AZ.

An overlooked problem in the area of gooseneck and fifth wheel trailers is the discrepancy between towing capacity and load capacity. It's quite possible to have a fifth wheel trailer with a loaded weight well within the truck's stated capacity, and be badly overloaded on the rear axle and tires. That's because goosenecks and fifth wheel trailers put a higher percentage of the trailer's weight on the hitch than bumper pulls.

For example, a new quad cab RAM half ton with a 3.92 rear end and the hemi can tow over 10,000 pounds and has a maximum payload of 1500 pounds. Now put an extra adult and a couple of teenagers in the cab and you're down to 1100 pounds. If you have 20% of that fully loaded trailer on the hitch, that's 2000 pounds. You've exceeded your max payload by 900 pounds.

Bottom line, if you want to pull a fifth-wheel you probably need a 3/4 ton pickup, even though the half tons seem to have plenty of towing capacity.

Big Al from Oz - tow licencing varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In BC you do not need a licence endorsement for anything under 4,600 kg.

Consumer Reports: Ram is best half-ton pickup.

http://news.allpar.com/index.php/2014/08/consumer-reports-rates-ram-ecodiesel-best-in-half-tons-25865

4th place HemiV8 -
Consumer Reports wrote, “The Ram is the most civilized full-sized pickup on sale, yet it’s still plenty capable. Its coil-spring rear suspension helps cushion the ride and the spacious cab is luxury-car quiet.”

PUTC wrote: "where the Ram lost most of its points was in its limited payload, braking numbers and the ride quality of the air suspension when towing or loaded."

On one hand a magazine tests a vehicle as a car and says it is the best and on the other hand a truck magazine tests a vehicle as a truck and says it is 4th.

I'm going to go with the pickup tested as a pickup every time.

All you Ford, Ram, and GM fan boys are sad when this article is ONLY about tips for towing, nothing more or don't you people (or is it girls?) get that???

Thanks PUT for this article for first timers.

Lou BC,
I think most states and Territories in a Oz have a limit of 4.5 tonnes for towing, unless you have a semi licence.

Towing has never been safer then it is now. Towing vehicles can finally keep up with traffic, plus all the tow nanny's involved in trucks electronics is a big plus. They should start phasing out and regulating out pickup that don't have these nannies... Regulate the old trucks and limit there towing poundage to a few thousand pounds if it doesn't have electronic aids

@elkhunter,
As Australia is rarely "snowed in",most RV's are around 24/7
Very unlike the U.S. , there is a lot of Off Road Caravans,Motorhomes and Campertrailers. About 30-40% of Grey Nomads go Off Road
So normal towing precautions, are not normal here
Example of a middle of the road Off Road Caravan
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TTYJC01YxeM

@Elkhunter
Here is another one, much beefier suspension and frame and like all Off Roaders, smallish and no slide outs
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ymihDnGPCxY

Robert Ryan,
That Lotus van looks nice.

The only problem I can foresee is behind the rear axle. I wonder if it has enough departure angle?

@ Robert Ryan, yes I have seen a few of those out here in the West. But Most people out here utilize toy haulers. I do think those 4x4 campers would be a good time, but I am young and cheap enough to stick with my sxs and a tent...ha-ha.

I am missing mentioning :

Weight Distribution Bars
Sway Control Bars
Friction Sway Control Brakes

I guess, because of PUTC liability issue.

One more important advise . Do not ever pull anything with ecoboost in heavy rain. Doesn't matter what your door sticker says for GVWR and GCWR, It will choke the engine to the limp mode and you could die or worse.


@Somar,
Good Advice.

@ Big Al from OZ and @ Elkhunter
Something like this which is the top Ten of Off Roaders, has a 5 yr Guarantee on the chassis for Off Road Use these vehicles are for the extremes of towing . Same company makes Expedition Vehicles,based on MAN, Isuzu, IVECO, Unimog and The IVECO EuroCargo
http://www.slrcaravans.com.au/images/SLR%201900%20Discoverer%20caravan%20cape%20york%20(6).jpg


@Lou_BC: "On one hand a magazine tests a vehicle as a car and says it is the best and on the other hand a truck magazine tests a vehicle as a truck and says it is 4th."

While you are quite correct, let me ask you this: How many people driving full-sized pickup trucks today *use* their trucks as trucks? I live in farm country, with my in-Laws farmers themselves and I will agree that a large percentage of the trucks are used as trucks, yet the town in which I live and the areas I typically drive have a disproportionate number of trucks that have huge diesel exhaust stacks sticking up through the beds, hard-shell tonneau covers and high-gloss paint jobs--one neighbor with a brilliant metallic blue--that almost never carry anything bigger or heavier than a push-style lawn mower. These people are using their trucks as car. It seems the Ram is the best CAR of the bunch! (And yes, some of those 'rolling coal' trucks around here are Rams.)

I wonder how that car like Ram 1500 out handles Fords HD 1500 with a 1,000lbs ton in the bed. lol

Than where customers demand H.D. capability Ford comes up short. lol

Stay thirsty boys.

RAM KING OF BEASTS!

F-150 customers are loving the 2.7L EcoBoost. Look forward to comparing take rates vs EcoDiesel and sales promises made last year.

This is going to be good!

F-150 customers are loving the 2.7L EcoBoost. Look forward to comparing take rates vs EcoDiesel and sales promises made last year.

This is going to be good!

Gotta love those Ford pickups. Man these things are so nice! Cost a little more but you get what you pay for and you dont have to worry about a sorry truck that will be bought back cause its junk. Ford wins again!!!

I love mu wife and kids. Pickup truck is just every day appliance for me.


Just read that FCA has to recall a bunch of Dodge Chargers now. Slam the doors and the airbags go off!! Boy this junk from FCA just never ends!!

Some ford owners are obsessed with reading anything about FCA.
They must feel unsecured though.

@Scott, Ford is only j2807 on the Aluminum F 150. Ram is certified across all Ram truck line. ;-)

http://www.autoblog.com/2014/07/16/ram-trucks-sae-j2807-tow-ratings-official-video/

* and F 450

The never-ending battle among the truck brands continues, with a report from Automotive News claiming Ford will promote its 2015 F-450 Super Duty in a fall ad campaign touting a maximum towing capacity of 31,200 pounds, topping Ram’s SAE J2807 claim of 30,000 pounds for the Ram 3500. However, unlike Ram, Ford is not claiming compliance or certification to the J2807 standards for its Super Duty models until the line’s full redesign, expected around the 2017 model year.

Ram trucks

Most capable off road, Power Wagon

Fastest truck, Ram SRT 154.MPH

Most Capable one ton

Most Capable 3/4 ton

Best in Class MPG

Best in Class ride 1/2 ton 3/4 ton

;-)

F450 is j2807 in crew cab 4x4 version. For ram you have to get a stripped down uncomfortable single cab 2wd to get ram's max advertised tow rating...... Nobody wants or buys a stripper 2wd for towing. Ram prolly sells a couple a year in that configuration.

Ram trucks #1 in buybacks and recalls!

Thanks for this helpful information I agree with all points you have given to us. I will follow all of them. Thanks though, it was helpful for me to read and definitely highlights an area I need to get better at.

@RoadWhale -

How many Jeep Wrangler owners actually run their vehicles hard offroad?
How many people with muscle cars drag race them?
How many people with sports cars race them on a track?

If a vehicle is designed for a certain purpose then it needs to be evaluated with that purpose in mind.

People can spend their money or their borrowed money as they see fit.

Those 50% of buyers who don't use their trucks as trucks keep car companies healthy. Just like the 90% of Jeep Wrangler buyers that don't offroad.
People buy trucks based on the image or credibility generated by those who use them for their purpose. Same can be said for Jeep Wrangler.

You pine away for 70's era sized small trucks but unless a mix of poser buyers and hardcore buyers actually are willing to do more than talk about that market, no car company is going to bother to fill that void.

Pray for FTA's and safety and emission harmonization since imports will be the most likely way a true small truck will ever show up in the USA.
I'm sure that one could find a 70's era small truck and resto-mod it for the price of a new Colorado.

I was talking to a service center tech and he said the most common towing mistake people make is leaving the vehicle in overdrive. If your truck is has a tow/haul button, great, but taking your vehicle out of overdrive will keep you from an expensive transmission repair.

It’s an awesome paragraph in support of all the internet viewers; they will obtain benefit from it I
am sure. Thanks a lot.

WOW. Just, wow. You made my morning with this post! I finished my morning exercise, got a cup of coffee and sat down to read blogs, as I do every morning before going into the studio.



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