Towing? Here Are Safety Tips and Tricks

IMG_6654 II

By Matthew Barnes

Hauling heavy loads or towing a heavy trailer are complicated tasks; in fact, they are more complicated than they look. Key to safe towing or hauling is knowing your vehicle's weight limitations and having your vehicle properly equipped.

Heavy loads or a heavy trailer can make the back of your vehicle sag, and that can seriously impact safety by shifting your vehicle's center of gravity and making it more difficult to control. To compensate for sagging, many automakers and aftermarket parts manufacturers offer load-leveling systems.

These systems raise the rear of the vehicle back up to its unloaded height. Besides balancing the vehicle's load, this also helps level out the headlights so that you aren't blinding other drivers at night. Driving with an unlevel load also can cause other problems such as uneven tire wear, higher fuel consumption and greater strain on the axle.

We're going to look at two of the most common ways to level a load — airbags and self-leveling shock absorbers — and offer some tips on how to tow as safely as possible.

Leveling Your Load

Available from automakers and aftermarket suppliers, airbag systems are offered in two different configurations. One type uses airbags as an extra support spring to standard leaf-, torsion- or coil-spring suspension systems. The other airbag system is a complete air suspension, meaning the vehicle uses airbags in place of other springs. Air suspension systems are usually found on premium vehicles and trim packages. Four-corner air suspensions can be had on the Ram 1500 pickup truck and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV; it can also be ordered as a supplemental spring for tow-hungry pickups such as the Ram 3500.

Ram airbags 1 IIRam 3500 supplemental airbag (left); Ram 1500 rear four-corner airbag (right)

Self-leveling shock absorbers are a less popular way of leveling a vehicle. Self-leveling shocks replace standard shocks and generally work with a specifically designed leaf or coil spring. These self-adjusting systems use the force from bumps and dips in the road to adjust the height of the vehicle; the current-generation Ford Expedition SUV is offered with this type of shock absorber.

Many automakers offer one or both systems, especially on vehicles capable of towing. The Chevrolet Tahoe [JB5]and Suburban SUVs; GMC Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs; Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups; Toyota Sequoia and Land Cruiser SUVs; Ford Expedition; and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs are among the vehicles that offer load-leveling systems.

They also can be found on high-end SUVs such as the Lexus GX and LX, Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and BMW X5.

However, both systems can hide how much load or force is being placed on the vehicle, creating an unsafe situation. If your suspension always looks level, even if it's overloaded, then you won't know if you have the right amount of weight distributed over the trailer axles or the maximum suggested weight on your hitch.

The Risk You Take

If you do not follow your trailer's or tow vehicle's weight limitations and distribution recommendations, and your load-leveling technology hides the situation, you could face several serious consequences.

  • The rear axle weight rating of a vehicle can be exceeded without the driver noticing. This can add more wear and tear to the axle, tires and brake components, and potentially lead to a catastrophic failure.
  • The load-leveling components themselves might be damaged from overloading scenarios. When airbags or self-leveling shocks are overloaded, they both run the risk of internal damage by generating excessive heat. Both have valves, reservoirs and seals that can leak or break when the vehicle is overloaded.
  • Improper load distribution can impact the front axle and affect steering. Most people don't think about this when towing, but when a truck pulls a heavy load the rear axle becomes a pivot point, reducing the load on the front axle. This can be dangerous as it decreases the ability to steer and brake in predictable ways. Often a driver won't notice the reduced weight on the front axle until driving over a bump, which causes what's called steering "float." Reduced weight on the front axle also can create braking issues during hard or emergency braking; the front wheels can lock up or trigger the antilock braking system quickly without sufficiently slowing the vehicle.

There are solutions to these problems; here are five things that we recommend.

 

Measure Your Tongue Weight

Tongue Scales 1 II

Tongue weight is the downward force that the tongue of the trailer applies to the hitch of the tow vehicle. If you have any question about what the tongue weight is on an empty or loaded trailer, then it needs to be measured.

There are a few ways to do this. One is to buy a scale built specifically for measuring tongue weights. It is placed under the tongue jack of your trailer. Depending on the size of your trailer, you can also use a bathroom scale with the fulcrum and lever. Other options include going to a commercial scale to measure the tongue weight or buying a hitch-ball mount with a built-in scale.

A good rule to follow is to load the trailer so that the tongue weight is between 10 and 15 percent of the total trailer weight. If you are towing a car trailer, you might have to move the vehicle a little bit forward or back on the trailer or change where the Dutch oven and extra water tanks are stored in your travel trailer. Make sure everything is strapped down.

 

Properly Load the Trailer and Tow Vehicle

Do not exceed your tow vehicle/trailer weight ratings. Find out the tow vehicle's axle ratings, gross vehicle weight rating (the weight of the vehicle plus how much it can carry in passengers and cargo) and gross combined weight rating (maximum allowable weight for towing a trailer, including passengers and cargo). The first two will be on the door tags; the third you'll have to find in the owner's manual, from dealer or on the manufacturer's website. Often, a load can be shifted between axles or between the tow vehicle and trailer to ensure that none of these ratings are exceeded.

 

Level the Trailer

If a trailer has more than one axle, it needs to be level when being towed. Adjustable trailer hitches and ball mounts are quite helpful since they can be set to the proper height. To level the trailer, park it on flat ground and measure from the bottom of the frame to the ground at the front of the trailer and at the rear of the trailer. These two measurements should be the same when the trailer is attached to the tow vehicle. Having a level trailer ensures that the trailer axles and tires wear and distribute weight evenly; it also will improve how the trailer tracks behind the tow vehicle.

 

Measure the Height of the Fender

The distance from the front fender to the ground is a rough indication of how much weight is on the front axle. The actual measurement is vehicle specific as it depends on the spring rate of the front suspension; spring rates can vary for different packages on the same vehicle and model year. It may take several times towing different tongue weights before you figure out the height at which your vehicle will be most comfortable and safe. Take this measurement before and after coupling the trailer in the same location every time.

Sequoia Air Suspension II

 

Use a Weight-Distribution Hitch

Most vehicles require the use of a weight-distributing hitch when towing more than 5,000 pounds; check your owner's manual. A weight-distribution hitch, especially one with built-in sway control, is always the best option when pulling a heavy trailer.

Setting up a weight-distribution hitch takes a little more time when used with a load-leveling suspension, but when set up properly, it distributes weight between all the axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. This includes restoring or even increasing the weight on the front axle of the tow vehicle. A weight-distribution hitch usually will provide better handling and better braking ability than a normal hitch or ball-mount setup because it does a better job of distributing the weight over a wider area. Weight distribution is so important that many automakers require a weight-distributing hitch to reach the maximum towing capacity of the vehicle, as in the case of the Ford Expedition.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes

WDH Equalizer II

Weight-distributing hitch bar designed to redistribute heavier tongue weights.

 

Rear Fender Measurements IIRear fender unloaded, loaded without leveling the rear and loaded with the rear leveled.

 

Rear Tires Sequoia IIRear tires of a Toyota Sequoia, unloaded (right), then loaded (left).

 

Sequoia Air Spring IISequoia rear air-spring at full compression when loaded. 

 

Ford Expedition Rear Nivomat Shock IIFord Expedition with a rear Nivomat self-adjusting, load-leveling shock absorber. 

 

Comments

Decent article, one thing to note on the weight distribution, is the hitch itself, I have witnessed folks who tow a heavy trailer with the wrong class size hitch but think they are ok because they have WD bars...point is make sure the rating of your hitch is in the lines of what you are actually towing. Also a common mith is adding leafs or leveling system INCREASES your tow capacity...not true, the stick is what it is on the truck and cannot be changed no matter what you do.. Actually adding anything reduces the carrying capacity not increases.

things have changed a LOT since I started doing this.

In the old days we always checked:

1. to be sure we had enough ice and beer.
2. we had a functional spare tire (optional)
3. both headlights were working
4. had a tow rope (or chain) in case we get stuck

@papa, sounds like you owned a Chevy, or you would only need the ice and beer.

I rememeber the old days, but I don't think most F-150 buyers would be interested in a midsize truck, but the composite beds are very tough. Honda does put a lot of thought into their products and those that own the prior generation of Ridgelines are very satisfied with them. The few Honda products I have had whether its lawn equipment or cars have been very reliable. You don't see the fit and finish problems with Hondas that you still see on some Fords, GMs, and FCAs. Hondas are not cheap but overall they are very good and over the long run you get your money's worth.

If you operate a Ford just be aware that it has been overrated by the manufacturer by approximately 30%. Never tow or carry near what Ford says you can.

Don't tow with Fords!

Simple enough.

Don't tow with Fords!

Simple enough.
Posted by: Sierra | Apr 17, 2017 12:20:44 PM

Yeah. That's my motto!

If you operate a Ford just be aware that it has been overrated by the manufacturer by approximately 30%. Never tow or carry near what Ford says you can.
Posted by: GMSRGREAT | Apr 17, 2017 12:12:53 PM

Don't tow with Fords!

Simple enough.
Posted by: Sierra | Apr 17, 2017 12:20:44 PM

Yeah. That's my motto!
Posted by: GMSRGREAT | Apr 17, 2017 12:37:45 PM

Safety first. I hate Fords. Don't buy Fords.

Dont tow? Is it because sierra and GMSRGREAT are the same person, so you have to agree with yourself? Kinda like the twins trying to beat Ford but cant

^ Agreed if you don't wanna die towing don't get a Ford, they still get numbers by radio, bumper, bed, spare tire deletes. You load a ford a quarter of its rating the head light point to the sky and the rear bumper nearly drags on the ground.

http://cars.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451b3c669e201b8d1939fa5970c-pi

http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2016/01/whats-the-best-light-duty-truck-for-towing-2016-texas-truck-showdown.html

We all know most people go over the limit of thier trucks towing/payload weight rating, So when peopel dont listen, something or someone gets hurt! Saftey first as always.

Don't tow with Fords!

Simple enough.

Posted by: Sierra | Apr 17, 2017 12:20:44 PM

Don't forget, don't carry anything with them either.

I towed a two horse trailer with two big horses in it half way across the country with my 2002 Tundra. The trailer (a Featherlite aluminum straight load) probably weighed somewhere under 3,000 pounds and the two horses together somewhere under 2,500. So even with a water tank and some tack I'm sure I was under 6,000 pounds at all times.

The first generation Tundra is only rated to haul 7,100 pounds, but the rig balanced nicely with no visible squat in the rear and no sway, even in the mountains around Glacier National Park. Closest thing I had to a tense moment was some fierce side winds in North Dakota while a semi was passing, but nothing happened.

So I don't really get the whole weight distribution hitch thing. Seems like if you really need it, maybe you're hauling more weight than your rig can handle.

If I were hauling horses a lot I would prefer a gooseneck trailer behind a long bed 3/4 ton. Seems like it would be a lot safer in a true emergency situation.

Ford isn't SAE J2807 certified, they never stopped deletes for payload/towing.

"GM will use its actual trim-level base-model curb weights to calculate maximum and listed payloads to stay in line with industry practices. Ford, which also deletes certain parts when calculating towing and payload numbers, has not said it will stop the practice."

http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2014/08/gm-commits-to-standard-payload-calculations.html

"Ford said it excluded items to calculate payloads on just its Super Duty pickups -- the F-250, F-350 and F-450. GM excluded items on its light-duty pickups starting in the 2014 model year. It excluded items in heavy-duty lines starting in the 2015 model year.

“As this story unfolded, we took a look at how the whole industry does this, and almost everybody uses base curb weight,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said. “We thought the best thing to do was line up with the rest of the industry to make those comparisons as easy as possible for consumers.”


For the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and Silverado 1500 and the GMC Canyon and Sierra 1500, which go into production in the fourth quarter, GM will use “maximum payloads based on base curb weights” in its advertising, catalogs and media materials.

GM also will update already-published specifications for its 2015 heavy-duty pickups to show payload ratings based on their base curb weights. The trucks were launched in January.

GM’s reversal was first reported earlier today by Yahoo Autos.


Ford has said that it deletes the weight of items such as the spare tire, jack, radio and center console to set the payloads only on its Super Duty pickups.

“We have made no changes to the way we determine maximum payload ratings for Ford F-Series Super Duty,” a Ford spokesman said today."

http://www.autonews.com/article/20140808/RETAIL03/140809807/gm-to-stop-removing-truck-parts-to-maximize-payload-ratings?cciid=email-autonews-blast&r=2661H8042245E4V

Look like who ever try use my name didn't do their home work. But that's most Ford people dumber this dog ^&*^.

http://www.autonews.com/article/20140808/RETAIL03/140809807/gm-to-stop-removing-truck-parts-to-maximize-payload-ratings?cciid=email-autonews-blast&r=2661H8042245E4V

"Ford said it excluded items to calculate payloads on just its Super Duty pickups -- the F-250, F-350 and F-450. GM excluded items on its light-duty pickups starting in the 2014 model year. It excluded items in heavy-duty lines starting in the 2015 model year.

“As this story unfolded, we took a look at how the whole industry does this, and almost everybody uses base curb weight,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said. “We thought the best thing to do was line up with the rest of the industry to make those comparisons as easy as possible for consumers.”


For the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and Silverado 1500 and the GMC Canyon and Sierra 1500, which go into production in the fourth quarter, GM will use “maximum payloads based on base curb weights” in its advertising, catalogs and media materials.

GM also will update already-published specifications for its 2015 heavy-duty pickups to show payload ratings based on their base curb weights. The trucks were launched in January.

GM’s reversal was first reported earlier today by Yahoo Autos.


Ford has said that it deletes the weight of items such as the spare tire, jack, radio and center console to set the payloads only on its Super Duty pickups.

“We have made no changes to the way we determine maximum payload ratings for Ford F-Series Super Duty,” a Ford spokesman said today."

http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2014/08/gm-commits-to-standard-payload-calculations.html

"GM will no longer remove any optional delete parts (parts that a customer might not want included in their new truck but are typically included on most pickups) when calculating the base curb weight of its 2015 midsize and half-ton vehicles.Instead GM will use its actual trim-level base-model curb weights to calculate maximum and listed payloads to stay in line with industry practices. Ford, which also deletes certain parts when calculating towing and payload numbers, has not said it will stop the practice."

Ford clowns try to use my name proven wrong once again! Enjoy your fake Ford numbers!

FORD:Trailer and payload issues: Smith didn't like the F-150's "soft rear suspension when towing," and Sundling noted that it "squatted bad with a trailer, which changed the headlight angle." "It doesn't track nicely when loaded on the track," Bruzek said. "It was darting around at highway speeds with the nose pointed high and the rear of the truck squatting."

RAM: Ride quality: "One of the most comfortable empty," Bruzek said, and Smith said he liked the "stable ride it provides when towing." Other judges agreed.

Don't tow with Fords!

Simple enough.


Posted by: Sierra | Apr 17, 2017 12:20:44 PM

AMEN, 2017 RAM 3500 Wins Golden hitch award.

GUTS, GLORY, RAM

GUTS, GLORY, FORD FAILED yet again along with the loser Ford clowns that try to use mine and GMSRGREAT name in this comment section HAHAHAHA!

I totally agree. These are very informative tips and tricks. Also ask if the company uses background checked, trained tow truck operators. This is for your safety, the vehicle’s safety, and the operator safety

That hitch with the built-in scale, because the article declined to mention it, is the "Weigh Safe" hitch. https://www.weigh-safe.com/
I own one, know the inventor. Worth every penny.

and what's the payload limit for such trucks? https://yrcat.com/towing/arlington/aate-towing

Such a great tips here! With the right equipment and techniques, trailer towing can be an easy task. I learned that heavy loads or a heavy trailer can make back of your vehicle sag. Anyway thank you for sharing these tips!

Great Job! Your blog is so informative for me.You share some beneficial tips I really like it.It also provides the personal satisfaction of undergoing and completing a creative project. Keep it up Admin.

Good point about clearly understanding weight limits when towing a car. I'm always worried that I'll wreck my car if I tow someone. It's dangerous as well if you don't have the proper equipment. Often times it's best to call a professional. Thanks for the Article!

These are very informative tips and tricks.

Before towing a car
An 'On Tow' sign must be displayed at the rear of the vehicle being towed. And you'll be pleased to know that all Halfords tow ropes and towing poles are supplied with an 'On Tow' sign that you can use.
Inspect the tow rope or towing pole for any damage, defects or abrasion before you use it. Do not use a damaged tow rope or towing pole.
On the towed car, leave the ignition switch in the 'on' position to disengage the steering lock. Vehicles with power steering and/or power-assisted brakes (most modern vehicles) will require much more strength and effort to operate when being towed if the engine isn't running.

How to tow a car safely
The driver towing must:

Drive with extreme care, keeping speed right down to a maximum of 15 mph. This minimises the forces generated and gives the driver being towed more time to react to what is happening.
Carefully use the clutch to pull away gently, to prevent any 'snatching' of the rope, which can result in the towed car being jerked forwards suddenly. This is not only uncomfortable for the driver, but is the main reason for tow ropes breaking.
Try to avoid any sudden braking. If possible, press very lightly on the brake pedal in advance of actually braking. This illuminates your brake lights and gives plenty of warning to the driver being towed. Remember, towing poles are not designed to act as a brake for the towed vehicle.
When towing a car, indicate in plenty of time in advance of any manoeuvre, to forewarn the driver being towed and all other traffic.
Avoid any sudden changes of direction or excessive manoeuvres, as the driver being towed will find it hard to steer and brake when the engine in their vehicle is not running.

The driver being towed must:

Carefully watch the brake lights and indicators of the vehicle that is towing, for maximum notice of any upcoming moves.
Actively steer and brake your vehicle in coordination with the vehicle that is towing.
Try to keep some tension in the towrope or towing pole at all times, which will minimise any jolting. This can be achieved by applying light braking pressure whilst being towed. When using a towrope, this will take up any slack and help to extend the rope's life by keeping it out of contact with the road surface.

Always think safety first. If you have reason to believe towing the car might be dangerous — due to factors like poor weather, difficult terrain or nearby traffic — then call for assistance. If you've decided it's safe to tow, bear the following in mind:

Only cars with a manual gearbox can be towed, so if you drive an automatic you'll have to phone for help.
The car doing the pulling needs to be fit for the job — its towing capacity must be sufficient enough to get the other car moving.
The best way to tow a car's to use a specific tow strap, with hooks on either end, which easily clip onto both cars. Chains can be used but it's possible for the links to stretch and break under the strain.

Placed the 'On Tow' sign where other drivers can see it? Good. But before you set off, here's what you need to do:

Check the rope or strap, and poles, for any weaknesses or damage, as breakage during a tow could be dangerous.
Agree on a set of communication signals and plan your route. If possible, avoid built-up areas or routes that require a lot of stopping and starting.
The tow rope, strap or chain should be attached to the strong steel hooks of both cars. Don't try connecting the hooks to bumpers, as it's likely they'll get ripped off.
Leave the ignition switch on in the car being towed to disengage the steering lock. If the car has power steering or power-assisted brakes (the majority of newer cars), you'll have to use some elbow grease to operate it when the engine's off and it's being towed.

Towing a car safely
If you're towing a car:
Slow and steady wins the race, so drive with extreme caution and never exceed 15mph. Use the clutch to gently pull away — this will prevent any sudden yanking of the rope which could cause it to break.

On the road, avoid any sudden braking. One trick's to tap lightly on the brake in advance of any actual braking, as the light will act as a warning to the other driver. Never use the towing poles as a brake for the vehicle being towed.

Indicate in plenty of time to inform the other driver. Avoid excessive movements and sudden changes of direction as the other driver might find it difficult to steer and brake with you. Regularly check your mirrors to make sure everything's alright and pull over if you notice sudden changes in your oil pressure or temperature gauges.

Use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling. This engages the trailer’s brakes (if fitted) or stops the trailer if it becomes detached from the car.

Check that:

the cable isn’t worn or damaged
there’s enough slack in the cable so that it doesn’t accidentally apply the brakes
the cable won’t drag on the ground when you’re driving
Follow the manufacturer’s advice to make sure it’s connected correctly.

Wheels and tyres
Check that the tyres on both the car and trailer:

don’t have any cuts or bulges
are inflated to the manufacturer’s specification for the load being carried
Check that each tyre has a tread depth of at least 1.6mm:

across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread
around the entire circumference of the tyre
Check that the wheel nuts and bolts are tightened to the correct torque.

Check that mudguards are fitted to the trailer and they’re secure.

I just wanted to thank you for these tips regarding towing. I actually didn't know that you should find out what the vehicle's axle rating is. I wouldn't mind knowing if this is the case for heavy duty towing as well or if there are some different considerations that are taken into account for that.

Check that:

the trailer is correctly coupled to the towball or pin - follow the manufacturer’s advice
the coupling height is correct
the 7 or 13 core cable and plug isn’t damaged
Breakaway cable
Use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling. This engages the trailer’s brakes (if fitted) or stops the trailer if it becomes detached from the car.

Check that:

the cable isn’t worn or damaged
there’s enough slack in the cable so that it doesn’t accidentally apply the brakes
the cable won’t drag on the ground when you’re driving
Follow the manufacturer’s advice to make sure it’s connected correctly.

Great article! A balanced load distribution is one of the prime aspects of a safe towing exercise. The heavier cargo should always be loaded first, and the center of gravity of the cargo should be low, with almost 60 percent of the weight directed towards the front. For bigger vehicles, the rear-view mirror sizes should be appropriate, so as to allow proper vision in case the trailer being carried blocks the rear part.

Thank you for this wonderful Article!

Such a great article about vehicle, this is very informative and helpful

Excellent article, we found it really useful especially all of the information regarding tongue weights. We stress road safety for our clients and we hand out safety information for them to keep in their glove boxes in case of emergency. Too many times have we towed vehicles and boats that were improperly balanced, it's a big problem for the novice who is towing their boat or other vehicle for the first time. Thanks for sharing the article!

slack in the cable so that it doesn’t accidentally apply the brakes
the cable won’t drag on the ground when yo

I really appreciate this article this very detailed all my question are answered

I really appreciate this article this very detailed all my question are answered

This article should be made into a pamphlet so motorists can keep in on hand in their gloveboxes. Very accurate and valuable information for safety tips and tricks. We urge motorists to plan their travels carefully and to always take precautionary measures when traveling such as having a first aid kit, jumper cables, gas can, fluids, spare tire etc. Thanks for the article - great stuff!



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