Getting Hitched: Towing Tips for Novices

Tow Basics wd cross chains setup II

By G.R. Whale

Pickup truck owners tow for work and fun, but you never want it to become a chore. The following sequential procedures serve as a primer for those who've never towed and apply to ball-pulled recreational vehicles and boat, utility or car trailers. Before beginning, you should know your truck's gross combined weight rating (the maximum weight of a loaded tow vehicle plus its attached loaded trailer), weigh your truck (like a trailer, it will rarely weigh less than when it left the dealer), and thoroughly read your pickup's owner's manual and the manufacturer's trailering guide. Then follow these common-sense steps when trailering for the first time. 

For convenience sake, we've listed the information below in easy-to-absorb bullet points. Where applicable, we've identified the numerically corresponding photo at the end of the story to more clearly emphasize the point being made. If you think you'll be towing at some point in the future, feel free to keep this handy. 


Attaching the Trailer

  • Check truck fluids, brake fluid if the trailer has it and tire pressure, including spares, cold. Undriven, sunny-side tires are typically 3 to 5 pounds per square inch higher than shaded.
  • Install correct size and weight-class tow ball mount. If you'll be using a weight-distributing hitch, which half-tons often require for any loads more than 5,000 pounds, measure the fender height at front and rear axles. (1)
  • Jack up the trailer coupler so it's higher than the tow vehicle tow ball (or lower an air-suspended Ram to entry/exit mode).
  • Reverse the truck using a backup camera and/or human spotter so the tow ball is under coupler. When lined up, put the transmission in neutral and set the parking brake. (2)
  • With the ball lock out of the way, lower the trailer jack until the coupler seats. Secure the latch and lock, retract the jack and rotate, lock or stow as applicable.
  • Attach and install weight-distributing bars and trailer-sway controls as needed (see lead photo). Most hardware comes with good instructions; online videos can help too. (Once you've towed a while and found the most comfortable setting, mark the links for next time you use your trailer.)
  • Attach the safety chains, crossed under the ball; make sure they're long enough to turn but short enough that they don't drag. (3)
  • Attach a breakaway cable to the hitch or the truck, not the ball mount or the safety chain. Check to ensure it won't get cut or pinched in the hardware or when making tight turns.
  • Connect the trailer's electrical plug. Check all the lights on the truck and trailer (bad trailer wiring can blow truck fuses) and make sure the controller reads "connected" for electric brakes.
  • Stow trailer wheel chocks and blocks for tongue or trailer leveling jacks.
  • Extend and/or adjust mirrors. You should be able to see trailer tires and the areas behind them. If your truck has seat memory settings, consider creating one setting for towing and another driving without a trailer.
  • If fender height measurements have changed, adjust vertical headlight aim or you'll be lighting up trees and oncoming traffic instead of the road. Even pickups with high-intensity discharge low beams are not likely to have automatic aim adjustments like most cars. (4)
  • Plan and research your route ahead of time. Some tolls, lane limits, bridges and tunnels will restrict your use with propane onboard - it may require route alterations.


On the Road

  • For contemporary trucks, set info screens for trailer sway, trailer name, trailer weight and so on. Correlate onboard checklist with your own. If you don't have a transmission temperature gauge, a newer truck will likely allow you to show it in the information settings. (5)
  • Set the brake controller gain. Roll to 20 to 25 mph and apply the brakes firmly. If the trailer tires lock or skid, lower the gain; if not, add gain and repeat. You want impending lockup at the trailer tires when the truck invokes its antilock braking system. Adjustments may be required as speeds increase or surface friction changes (rain, dirt roads, etc.). (6)
  • For reversing, hold the steering wheel at the bottom and turn it in the direction you want the trailer to go. As the trailer pivots, move the steering wheel back toward center, or beyond, for desired trailer trajectory. Watch the area between the truck and trailer to avoid jackknifing. (7)
  • Modern automatic transmissions are quite smart. Drive in D; engage Tow/Haul if your combination is 70 percent or more of GCWR.
  • Look up before you leave. Most hard-side RVs and boat arches are taller than your truck and topped with easily damaged vents, antennae, speakers, air-conditioning units, etc.
  • Look sideways before you leave. Many trailers are 8 feet 6 inches wide; dualie fenders are not that wide. Fully extended tow mirrors are often a good indicator of lateral fit issues. (8)
  • Leave twice the normal space in front of you; that buffer zone will be welcome when some bozo cuts you off. Modern trucks have trailer-sway control built into their vehicle stability program, but antilock brakes and electronic stability control aren't on small trailers yet.
  • Smooth and moderated inputs deliver the most stable, comfortable ride. Remember to turn wide as your effective wheelbase has gone from somewhere between 130 and 170 inches to beyond 300 (think of a full-size bus) with even a moderately sized trailer.
  • At known summits, crest the hill no faster than you want to go down the other side. A brake tap on most current-generation Tow/Haul mode systems engages engine braking to control speed. Use service brakes in short-duration increments so they can cool in between. (9)
  • Pass with lots of space. If your truck does 45 to 65 mph in four to five seconds empty, it could take as long as 12 to 15 seconds with a 7,500-pound trailer. At 60 mph that's an extra 650 to 1,000 feet just to speed up, and your vehicle has an extra 15 to 40 feet behind you to get around slower traffic.


After the Trip

  • An inexpensive infrared thermometer aimed at the trailer wheels and hubs right after towing will show if any brakes are dragging or bearings need service.
  • Before parking your trailer, check out tire maintenance and storage tips in the RV guide at
  • Unhitching is essentially the reverse of latching it up. Use caution releasing the tension on weight-distribution bars.
  • You seldom have to check the truck lights, but think about re-aiming any headlights you previously adjusted.
  • Lubricate the tow ball, coupler recess and weight-distribution friction surfaces to minimize corrosion buildup and to have them ready to go next time. Putting dielectric grease on exposed plugs is also a good idea. (10)



Tow Basics fender measure II


Tow Basics Ball under coupler II


Tow Basics Hitch assembly no WD II


Tow Basics Hdlt aim classic truck II


Tow Basics Ford checklist II


Tow Basics Brake controller II


Tow Basics Backup wheel II


Tow Basics Mirror view II


GMC Towing 1 II


Tow Basics lube wd heads II



very helpful information thank you.

Still no explanation for the lame towing section in the 2013 light duty challenge?

You said NOTHING about how confidently they actually tow, then rated them based on manufacturers figures, which are NOT all based on a set standard?!? This negatively impacted the Tundra, and possibly the Ram and GM twins, if they have chosen adhere to the J2807 standard, but not published.

To maintain your credibility, you should rerate, restate, or rewrite that section.

Good info,but most will just hook up and roll,jump curbs,bang signs and bump the trailer into other peoples vehicles.Thats how my ill-brained brother in law does it ! With his overloaded trailer,plus truck box full of heavy stuff and underpowered late 90's 6 banger Ford !
Yeah,he bought a mint 1 owner 98 f-150 was just as new V-6,auto,extra cab and get this 23,000 original miles ! Now 8 months later at 33,000 miles she knocks like a box of marbles,dents everywhere and the trans slips...It really was a true rare find,maroon/grey and was just like new..
He never checks or changes oil for that matter,so far 7 vehicles in 10 years of my knowing the clown..All his vehicles suffered engine failure from no oil..His best was his 97 Dodge 2500 244,000 miles and 20,000 was with no engine oil,yes he owned it for 3 years those 360's were real good ,And he never added or changed oil I replaced a rad hose on it for him,and 6 months later the engine was gone,when I changed the hose it was just barely reading on the dip stick ! When I got my truck to tow his truck,I checked the oil and none on the stick.Some people are truly stupid.

Take 100 more points off for all the whiny Tundra fans and not having an integrated trailer brake controller. You lost. If he wanted to he could have talked about how crappy the Tundra actually was.


@ jason

Tow with a tundra and then you will understand why Tundra owners have a gripe. I OWN a 2010 Tundra crew max, AND an 02 Duramax. The tundra tows more confident as far as sway goes and the brakes arent even close, the Tundra has TWICE the braking power even when using the Allison trans brake in the Tow/Haul mode. I assure you if you line my tundra 4x4 (with K&N and TRD Exhaust 305/45/22's) up next to our duramax ext cab 4x4 (which has magnaflow 4 inch, drop in K&N and a Banks 6 gun on 315/70/17's) each with a 10k trailer the tundra will run away from the duramax (to clarify not that the duramax isnt capable of towing more than the tundra for all you haters that wanna chime in) the tundra feels more stable WITHOUT airbags than the diesel does WITH firestone bags on it!

Tow with one and you'll understand


Tundra dead last in brakes:

The only point I found odd was using a different seating position for towing.
A correct seating position is going to work for all of ones driving.


This guy has a loaded HD dually Ram and a Teamsters license plate. PRICELESS!!!!

@UncleBud - good eye, maybe he knows were Jimmy Hoffa is?

Saved for later.

Wow! Even in an article that has nothing to do about a certain make, you fan boys cannot get of your favorite manufacturers e-peen. It must suck to have a life that all you do is wait for the next article on PUT.Com to come out just so you can praise a manufacturer that doesn't give two shnits about you and dog another that you truly now nothing about since you only drive your holier then thou make. They have to pay some of you guys because it is a sad existence of a life if they didn't.

I want all of you to get out of your chairs and go to the computer and type I'm as mad as hec about the 2013 light duty challenge and I'm not going to take it anymore! Things have got to change but first you got to get mad!

Still no explanation for the lame towing section in the 2013 light duty challenge?

You said NOTHING about how confidently they actually tow, then rated them based on manufacturers figures, which are NOT all based on a set standard?!? This negatively impacted the Tundra, and possibly the Ram and GM twins, if they have chosen adhere to the J2807 standard, but not published.

To maintain your credibility, you should rerate, restate, or rewrite that section.

Posted by: the scrutineer | Jun 24, 2013 2:31:57 PM

Ford lied. The Tundra was robbed. I'm as mad as hec and I'm not going TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!

On towing capacity, Toyota wants to have it both ways. When you go into a Toyota dealership to ask about towing they say the Tundra towed 300,000 lbs - is that enough? They actually advertise this on tv.

@ the 2nd Truck who posted at
Posted by: Truck | Jun 24, 2013 8:06:21 PM
Posted by: Truck | Jun 24, 2013 8:08:08 PM

I cannot fathom how little of a life you have that you actually have to use my name so people think that I am apart of your fan boy club for what ever truck make you are for. Then again, it is sad that I am even arguing with you about it or give a rats arse what you think. I'm out. I seriously hope that you will get a life someday. Now you can use my name since I don't need it anymore.

Posted by: HEMI RAMPAGE | Jun 24, 2013 4:46:06 PM


@Lou & others - This is how comparisons should be done! TAKE NOTE.

Toyota Tundra comparison against Ford F150 by Kevin Kerth

Kevin Kerth provides a competitive comparison with the 2013 Toyota Tundra against the 2013 Ford F150. Kevin highlights the major differences between the vehicles and tells you many of the advantages of owning the Toyota Tundra such as: free ToyotaCare, day time running lights are standard, shorter stopping distance, and higher towing capacity over the Ford F150!

Watch the video and take notes PUTC. Then redo the shootout!

I also didn't see the F-150 haul the space shuttle. A stock Toyota Tundra did!

Go Toyota!

On towing capacity, Toyota wants to have it both ways. When you go into a Toyota dealership to ask about towing they say the Tundra towed 300,000 lbs - is that enough? They actually advertise this on tv.

Posted by Tony

It DID tow the space shuttle, so i'm not sure why you think they're trying to have it both ways.

@Brian - that youtube video was lame. Even more lame than Howie Long. All he is doing is picking the features he WANTS to compare to Ford. He doesn't say which Ford model, trim package etc. He just picks an F150 model that happens to have lower specs than the Tundra.
The Tundra is a good truck and it has an excellent drivetrain but like the GMT900's, it is long overdue for an upgrade.
Whine all you want about the shootout. The Tundra is close but not up to what the competition offers. The Ram beat it, the F150 V6 beat it, and the smaller 5.3 GMC siblings were close.

@Lou - Kevin Kerth rocks! And as you know it was the Tundra and not the F-150 that towed the space shuttle and 3000,000 LBS.

If you don't like that one, Kevin Kerth did one on the Fusion vs Camry!

Toyota Camry comparison against Ford Fusion by Kevin Kerth

I hope this has been informative! Kevin Kerth you rock!

I wish people would give up on the truck doesn't come eith a brake controller so its inferior cr@p. I just a brake controller in my new truck myself (had RV place install in my previous truck) and there is nothing to it - plug and play into vehiles harness. Maybe those oposed to putting one in are not so handy in the garage department. I get the controller I want for my needs and dollar and it is where I want it. Cost is like $100 for a good one and my install integrated it into dash so looks factory. Performance is excellent. Its nice to have a choice and be able to swap vehicles (or unplug and bring controller to new truck next time).

People tow different things and a factory controller that can handle all (electric/hydraulic) will cost more or not do them all forcing another controller.

re: Seating Position.

My thought was the seating position presets typically have exterior mirror positioning as part of the memory. So setting 1 for no tow/normal mirrors. Setting 2 for towing/mirrors cocked in to see trailer wheels.

"Ford lied. The Tundra was robbed. I'm as mad as hec and I'm not going TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!"

Uh-huh. And just what are you going to do about it - go crying to Mommy?

@Pablo - good point.

While some of you gripe about not having a brake control or not conforming to a towing regulation, my biggest gripe is there are fools out there with the $$$ to buy a huge boat or travel trailer and big dually and think they are a trailer truck driver all the while they can just barely drive to begin with!! yep my gripe is the fact we have folks complaining about trailer brake controller being missing, and trucks not conforming to a towing standard, but here we have dangerous drivers who have no place being out there in a heavy combo with just a standard license just because he passed a small written test, that is some instances was years ago! while a real truck driver has to pass not only a comprehensive written test, but just as comprehensive driving test, like an ally back, blind ally back, 10+ feet paralleled parking, and a real road test with an examiner! not to mention the drug tests and being held to a much higher standard than non-CLD drivers, like the fact the blood/alcohol limits are half of non-CLD drivers, even when not on duty and in their own car, truck or motorcycle! nine times out of ten all the accidents out there with trailers involved was caused by some fool with money and no experience! or plain ol knowledge of what I the hell they are doing! Instead of whining about brake controllers and towing standards there should be a licensing standard for every one who plans on towing anything! I firmly believe the best drivers out there are either C D L trailer drivers or motorcycle drivers! as either of them have to have total situational awareness and be able to use their mirrors better than all the others out there! or just to be able to survive out there, and be able to keep the rest of the other fools safe from either their own mistakes or from not being able to stay out of their way! As far as the manuf testing and designing a truck, and then rating it, as such, there are more than enough ambulance chasing lawyers out there to keep them honest in their ratings! Just in case any of you out there think I am bias? yes I do have a Class A CLD w/air brake, double/triple, Hazmat, Tanker, Jitney (buss and passenger) endorsements, and Motorcycle also, and have an excellent driving record with no accidents or violations, moving or not, and have over a million miles logged over 40yrs in wheeled vehicles

knock on wood!!!!

@Sandman4x4 - agree 100% with you on that one.
Manufacturers have made trucks much more capable and filled them with multiple electronic nannies but accident rates haven't changed much. When ABS first came out, statistics showed zero change in the severity of car crashes. Many said people had not adapted to driving ABS. The bureaucratic solution was to add more safety features to the tin cans we drive.
The reality was that people cannot drive well and when confronted with a critical situation, they make the wrong choice or were too blind/stupid to even notice a potentially dangerous situation or an evolving danger.
The answer would be simple but be political suicide - increase the depth and scope required to gain a driver's licence and add more classifications/endorsements to a licence. The other important thing would be to have mandatory retesting or proof of competency on a cyclical basis.
I had read that driving in heavy traffic required the focus and attention of a pilot landing a commercial airliner. Most people do not realize that driving a motor vehicle is the most dangerous thing that they will ever do.
I have to provide proof of professional competency on a yearly basis because my skills directly affect the lives of people. The same applies to drivers of motor vehicles.

If you need to re-align your headlights, you are towing dangerously! Your front and read wheels should both drop equally when towing properly with a WDH, period. If you ass end is dipping that bad to require changing your headlight position, you are going to kill someone!

Thanks for the share! I recently got a job as a landscaper and have to tow one of those huge landscape trailers to and from the job sites. With that being said, any tips on how to pack the trailer so that it reduces the amount of sway?

What if I drive a two door hatchback? Is there any way to get a hitch onto that car or should I just get some heavy duty towing service here in Ridgefield WA? I have a small trailer full of all my stuff that needs to be towed for my move.

It can be a bit scary for first timers but by following proper guidelines we can make the towing process safe and easy. Great article!

The information on this site is very easy to comprehend as well as easy to apply. I especially appreciated the section specifically intended for after the trip. Many of us forget to check the breaks and things after the fun is over.

Thanks for sharing this with me. I've been looking into how to get good towing. My friend said I should try checking out this site .

My husband is convinced he knows how to hitch and tow a boat. He has never done it before. This helpful list should come in handy. Now all I have to do is let him "find" it.

Elisa Jed |

My friend is out in the middle of nowhere right now, waiting to get picked up by someone. From what she said, her friend is picking her up, but we don't know who we're going to get her car back. We were thinking about getting it towed, but I think that we could tow it back ourselves! A friend of ours has a trailer, and with all of your wonderful information, I think we could tow it our self!

Sara Welsh |

Great tips! Your blog will help me a lot.
You've taught me a lot with your guide. Thanks its very useful.

I have been researching this and I am really grateful for your information. I learned so many tips, thanks for such an informative post

I appreciate the work that you have put in this page. Really good, Thanks for sharing information.

Buen dia para todos, les hablo desde Colombia, he pensado mucho en proponer un negocio sobre remolques montados en camionetas tipo 3500 como la que aparece en una foto de esta pagina, para transportes livianos como son contenedores vacios o maquinaria pequeña, ya que veo que el transporte de volumen y no mucho peso, se transporta en camiones de mas de 35 toneladas incrementando costo, tiempo y un vehiculo que es demasiado grande para esto, mi pregunta en si es la siguiente, cuanto costaria importar una camioneta tipo 3500 de doble llanta atras mas su remolque plano para 6 toneladas, para incentivar el ubso de estos vehiculos en mi pais Colombia y asi dar a conocer este tipo de transporte de carga que me parece muy util y novedoso, gracias y espero su amable respuesta.

Nice tips this is going to help me before our road trip this summer
will have these guys as backup

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