How To Simplify Trailer Towing

Perhaps you, like many drivers, are reluctant to tow a travel or fifth wheel trailer. When towing, your vehicle becomes heavier, slower, and will require a greater stopping distance.

However, even though several aspects of your normal driving experience may change, towing a trailer does not need to be a stressful experience. In fact, with the proper equipment and adjustments, towing can become almost as convenient and easy as normal driving.

With the right equipment, some practice, and a healthy amount of confidence, towing can be almost as easy as regular driving. Pictured above travel trailer camping at Irins RV Resort, Valemont, British Columbia. © Rex Vogel

With the right equipment, some practice, and a healthy amount of confidence, towing can be almost as easy as regular driving. Pictured above travel trailer camping at Irins RV Resort, Valemont, British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hook up an RV trailer or even purchase a trailer hitch, you should first consider towing capacity. How much weight is your vehicle rated to tow? How much does your trailer weigh?

An understanding of the terminology and acronyms used to describe vehicle and trailer towing capacity is essential to finding the towing capacity of your vehicle and how to measure the crucial weights involved with towing.

The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum loaded weight of your tow vehicle, as determined by the vehicle manufacturer. If you exceed this weight, the vehicle’s engine, transmission, brakes, tires, and other systems may be loaded beyond their design limits.

The gross axle weight rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight that can be placed on your front or rear axles. The vehicle manufacturer gives each axle its own rating. If you exceed these weight ratings, the vehicle components may be loaded beyond their design limits.

The gross trailer weight (GTW) is the total weight of the travel or fifth wheel trailer and its cargo. It can be determined by putting the fully loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.

Source: Curt Manufacturing

Source: Curt Manufacturing

Tongue weight (TW) is the downward force exerted on the back of a tow vehicle by a trailer or towable load. The tongue weight is greatly affected by where cargo is positioned and is important for maintaining good control of the vehicle. Proper tongue weight should be about 10-15 percent of the GTW.

The best means for determining your tow vehicle’s towing capacity is to read your vehicle owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will provide detailed instructions and limitations, usually accompanied by tips for safe towing.

Towing Tip: In general, 2WD vehicles have a higher towing capacity than comparable AWD and 4WD vehicles. This is because 4WD models are several hundred pounds heavier than equivalent 2WD models, having a transfer case, extra drive shaft, and extra axle.

After familiarizing yourself with your vehicle’s weight capacities and general towing capacity, it is time to look at trailer weight. Your trailer should have a VIN plate (Vehicle Identification Number). This plate not only carries the trailer’s serial number, but it will also list the trailer’s unloaded GTW, maximum GVWR, and GAWR for each axle.

Source: Curt Manufacturing

Source: Curt Manufacturing

The only way to be sure of the gross trailer weight is to load the trailer as you expect to use it and weigh it on a vehicle scale. Such scales are sometimes available to recreational users at state highway weigh stations, refuse transfer stations, and commercial truck stops.

The advantage of using a vehicle scale is that you learn the actual weight of your loaded trailer. Be sure to call ahead and confirm that you are welcome to use these scales before driving over.

After finding the tongue weight and comparing it to the gross trailer weight, you may realize you have too much or too little. Remember, an ideal tongue weight is 10-15 percent of the gross trailer weight.

The best way to achieve proper tongue weight is by distributing the weight of your cargo. If you place more weight in front of the trailer axle, you will generate more tongue weight. If you place more weight behind the axle, the tongue weight will decrease. A good figure to follow is 60 percent in front and 40 percent behind, unless otherwise specified by the trailer manufacturer.

The leading cause of accidents both in towing and in normal driving situations is driver error, not faulty equipment. Pictured above travel and fifth wheel trailers at Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The leading cause of accidents both in towing and in normal driving situations is driver error, not faulty equipment. Pictured above travel and fifth wheel trailers at Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have too much tongue weight, your tow rig may not be as responsive as it should be. If you do not have enough tongue weight, your trailer may be more likely to sway. Always follow the tow vehicle and trailer manufacturer’s instructions for tongue weight.

With the right equipment, some practice, and a healthy amount of confidence, towing can be almost as easy as regular driving. Yet safety should always be one of your highest priorities when towing an RV trailer. No matter how comfortable you may become with towing, the fact is that the combination of your vehicle and trailer weighs more and does not maneuver or stop as easily as your vehicle alone.

Source: Curt Manufacturing

Worth Pondering…

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

—Albert Einstein

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