Dos & Don’ts of Towing a Travel Trailer

Don’t confuse towing a travel trailer with driving a car—they only look the same. If you’re preparing to tow a trailer, it’s time to brush up on the basics.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Small travel trailer camping at White Tank Mountain Regional Park Campground, Maricopa County, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two of the most important things to have when you tow are basic common sense and the ability to adjust your driving. In other words, when towing, everything you do while driving needs to be done at a lesser speed when compared to driving without a trailer.

When you turn, go much slower. When you accelerate, do it much easier. When you brake, allow yourself considerably more space to stop. And when you change lanes, allow room for your vehicle and the trailer.

Towing a travel trailer requires regular inspection of the equipment, especially the hitch, brake lights, and signals.

Beginner drivers are advised to find an empty parking lot and get used to maneuvering the tow vehicle-trailer combination. Jackknifing happens to the best out there though, so don’t give up after your first try.

Regardless of the shape and size of your trailer, there are several dos and don’ts of towing a travel trailer.

Spare tire

Always travel with a fill-size spare tire for your trailer as well as your tow vehicle.

Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A flat trailer tire without a spare equates to a massive headache, especially in a remote area. Carry two spare tires: one for the tow vehicle and one for the trailer.

Check the tire pressure

Proper tire inflation is essential when towing a trailer. It optimizes handling, fuel economy, and safety. Check tire inflation and tread wear often. Inflate the tires to the trailer manufacturer’s maximum recommended cold pressure. Heat is the tires’ enemy, and a properly inflated tire will run cooler. Every morning, check the tow vehicle and trailer tire pressure, as well as the trailer lights and brakes.

Adjust the side mirrors

Available in a custom or universal fit, towing mirrors increase visibility. This makes backing up and passing other vehicles easier and safer. Adjust the side mirrors in a way that the rear of the trailer can be readily seen. That ensures a clear view of what’s behind and beside the trailer when changing lanes or turning a corner. The lower mirrors are there to help you with judging curbs.

Pictured below is the beauty of Valley of Fire at Atatl Rock Campground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pictured below is the beauty of Valley of Fire at Atatl Rock Campground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Load adjustments

Do not overload the rear of the trailer as this will lead to excessive swaying and general instability. Distributing the weight so that at least 10 percent is on the hitch.

Reversing

Position your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. As you begin looking over your shoulder, move the hand to the right to make the trailer turn right and left to make it go left. If the trailer jackknifes, straighten the trailer by pulling forward and start over again, at a slower speed.

90-degree corners

The extra length can also cause problems on turns. Because the trailer does not follow the exact path as the vehicle on turns, remember to swing out wider when traveling around bends and corners.

Braking

The addition of a trailer adds weight and length to the tow vehicle. More weight means more time to speed up and more importantly, slow down and stop. Allow for extra time when changing lanes, stopping, and passing other vehicles.

Highway driving

To conserve fuel when towing, travel at moderate speeds. Faster speeds increase wind resistance, reduce fuel mileage, and place added strain on the tow vehicle and trailer.

Do not overload the rear of the trailer
Do not overload the rear of the trailer

DO – Good Towing Practice

  • Gradually reduce speed
  • Steady the steering wheel—sudden turns can cause more sway

DO NOT – NOT Good Towing Practice

  • Do Not slam on the brake—jackknifing can occur
  • Do Not tow a trailer that continues to sway

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

BURMA SHAVE

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9 Safe Towing Tips

Whether you’re towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer, car, boat, or transporting trash to the dump, special attention to details is required.

A fifth wheel trailer camped at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A fifth wheel trailer camped at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adherence to the following nine key points will assist RVers in extending the life of the vehicle and towing safely.

The following towing tips have been adapted from those first appearing on an AMSOIL Website.

1. Weight

Ensure your net load is within the tow capacity of your vehicle. Check the owner’s manual to determine the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum load weight it is rated pull. Use the appropriate trailer hitch and ensure that it’s hitched correctly.

2. Weight Distribution

Ensure your trailer weight is evenly distributed. If you experience fishtailing or your trailer sways while accelerating, back off the fuel. If it continues when you accelerate again, stop the vehicle and recheck your load weight distribution.

3. Lights

Connect brakes and signal lights. Double check to make sure the trailer’s brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with those of the tow vehicle. Check lights daily to ensure proper functioning.

4. Tires

The tires on your vehicle are one of its most important components. (Source: hawkingevehicles.co.uk)
The tires on your vehicle are one of its most important components. (Source: hawkingevehicles.co.uk)

Ensure your tires have the recommended air pressure, sufficient tread depth, and have not aged out (NOTE: RV tires typically should be replaced due to age after six to eight years). Correct tire pressure is vital to your safety on the road. Properly inflated tires can save you up to four percent in fuel mileage, while under and over inflation can lead to premature tire failure. Ensure that you routinely check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires affect handling and grip, potentially causing irregular or unpredictable vehicle behavior. Under-inflated tires are more likely to suffer from a dangerous blowout, especially on high-speed motorway journeys.

5. Handling

Since you’re operating a vehicle combination that’s longer and heavier than normal, ensure you make some compensating adjustments in your normal driving practices. Avoid sudden turns at highway speeds.

6. Buckle Your Seat Belt

In case your tow vehicle ends up upside down and it’s the law.

7. Stopping

It’s a matter of physics. When towing, you have more momentum than you would without a trailer. Be sure you keep in mind that it takes additional time and distance to stop. Avoid tailgating and pay attention to what’s happening further down the road than you normally would.

8. Pay Attention to Details

Some states are calling for stiffer penalties when there are accidents caused by trailers that break loose. It will be criminal negligence, not a mistake. Pay attention to the details, including hitches, safety chains, signal light hookups, handling, weight, tow vehicle capacity, and tires.

9. Use AMSOIL Synthetic Transmission Fluid and Gear Lube

Towing is one of the most demanding activities on a vehicle’s drive train system. In fact, because of the heat generated, towing is probably the number one killer of transmissions. For this reason many people install an oil cooler. An alternative is to use a high end synthetic lubricant. As a result of the reduced friction, the tranny will run cooler, and transmission life will be lengthened considerably. Tests have shown that AMSOIL synthetic automatic transmission fluid provides useful service up to twice as longer as conventional fluids.

Details

AMSOIL

AMSOIL RV products
AMSOIL RV products

From the initial breakthrough 40 years ago, AMSOIL has gone on to formulate a wide selection of synthetic lubricating oils for all types of engine and gear applications, including those for specialized vehicles and severe operating conditions.

In addition, AMSOIL has developed sophisticated fuel additives, filtration systems and other companion products that supplement and extend lubricant performance.

The history of AMSOIL product introductions defines an entire industry. AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, gear lube, automatic transmission fluid, two-cycle oil and other products helped introduce a new age in equipment and engine design.

Engineers today recognize synthetic lubricants as critical to increasing the power, longevity and energy efficiency of vehicles and equipment, providing concrete testimony to AMSOIL innovation.

Address: 925 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI 54880

Phone: (800) 956-5695 (toll free)

Website: amsoil.com

Worth Pondering…

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

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