Safety Tips for Towing a Trailer

By | April 6, 2017

Whether it’s your first time driving your new travel trailer or you’re heading out for your thousandth family getaway your goal is to reach your destination safely. It’s important to remember that towing a trailer isn’t the same as driving your regular vehicle. You’ve got a lot of weight behind you so stopping accelerating and turning will all be different.

#1 Have the Right Hitch

To maximize stability and make it easier on your vehicle you want the right hitch. Look in your owner’s manual to find the gross trailer weight and maximum tongue weight that’s right for your vehicle. Don’t forget to include water and trailer contents in your gross trailer weight! The gross trailer weight is how much your vehicle can pull and the tongue weight is the downward force that the tongue of the trailer applies to the hitch of the tow vehicle helping keep the trailer stable. These number will tell you what class of hitch you need:

  • Class 1 – 2000 lbs gross trailer weight and 200 lbs tongue weight
  • Class 2 – 3500 lbs gross trailer weight and 350 lbs tongue weight
  • Class 3 – 5000 lbs gross trailer weight and 500 lbs tongue weight
  • Class 4 – 7500 lbs gross trailer weight and 750 lbs tongue weight
  • Class 5 – 10000 lbs gross trailer weight and 1000 lbs tongue weight

You’ll want an equalizing or weight-distribution hitch if the rear suspension on your vehicle isn’t very good. Hitch drawbars come in two sizes: 1.25 inches suitable for lighter pop-up trailers and 2 inches for everything heavier. Hitch balls come in 17/8 inches 2 inches and 25/16 inches. Generally the bigger the hitch ball the more weight you can tow. You can get stabilization bars for additional stability as well.

Once you’ve got your hitch make sure everything fits well together. Practice putting on your hitch and hooking up the trailer. You’ll want to cross your safety chains in an ‘X’ pattern. Be sure that the chains don’t drag on the ground. Don’t forget to plug in your electrical and your wire for your breakaway brakes if you have them.  

#2 Max Out Your Tire Pressure

Check your trailer’s owner’s manual for the maximum recommended tire pressure. This is where you want to run your tires at for increased fuel efficiency and reduce tire problems.

#3 Secure Loose Items

This doesn’t just mean tying down loose items in your truck bed it also means securing everything inside your trailer. As you drive things may get rattled around so ensure your cupboards and drawers are secured with zip ties or bungee cords. You can also store things in bins and unpack at the campsite if you’re worried about your things breaking. Also make sure your propane appliances and water valves are closed power lines are disconnected and all vents awnings and doors are shut properly.

#4 Empty Your Water Tanks Before Hauling

If these are empty the trailer will be lighter and therefore easier for your vehicle to haul. You’ll increase your fuel efficiency too! You can fill the water tank just before you get to the campground or at the campground itself if it has the facilities.

#5 Visual Inspection Before You Go

Once you’re all hooked up do a visual inspection of the hitch wiring and tires. Make sure everything is connected and in the right spot. Check your tire pressure is at the maximum level recommended. Next you’ll want to touch the tire brake-drum and wheel-bearing temperatures by placing your hand on those areas. If any one area is hotter than the other you may have an issue. You can also use a non-contact infrared thermometer if you happen to have one lying around. Check that all your lights are working by flashing the hazards. If you have someone helping you check the brakes and reverse lights as well. Adjust your mirrors and double check the emergency braking system and trailer braking system are connected and functioning.

#6 Stop and Check

About 15 minutes or so into your drive you should stop somewhere safe and do a double check your hitch wiring tire pressure tire temperature and that everything is still secure.

#7 Avoid Trailer Sway

Trailer sway is when the trailer moves side-to-side. This is especially common at higher speeds. You may need to adjust your cargo to be more balanced. Checking your tire pressure is also important as unequal pressures can contribute to more trailer sway. You may also need sway control or weight distribution system like stabilization bars.

If you find yourself in a situation where your trailer starts to sway or fishtail gradually reduce your speed keep your wheel steady and apply your trailer brakes. Don’t slam on your brakes don’t increase your speed and don’t try to steer out.

#8 Give Yourself Additional Time and Space to Accelerate and Stop

You have additional weight and length behind your vehicle which means you’ll take longer to accelerate and longer to stop. This means you need to give yourself more following distance between you and the vehicle in front generally at least 4 seconds. Trailer brakes are an excellent option to take the strain off of your vehicle’s brakes and increase your safety.

#9 You Need More Room to Turn

You’ll feel the extra length in the turns as the trailer won’t follow the exact path as the vehicle. You’ll need to make a wider turn to accommodate this.

#10 Use a Lower Gear up Long or Steep Hills or on Gravel

This helps out your engine and increases your fuel efficiency.

#11 Beware of Potholes and Bumps

These can damage the vehicle trailer and hitch.

#12 Stay in the Right-Hand Lane

You’re going to be going slower so make sure you stay in the right-hand or ‘slow’ lane. If traffic builds up behind you pull over when it is safe to do so and let everyone pass.