How to Tow a Trailer

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Towing a Trailer 101

If you are new to towing a trailer, it is important to carefully consider various factors such as the towing capacity of your vehicle and the weight of the load. It is also essential to learn how to properly hook up the trailer, pack it, and tow it safely.

To help you get started, we have compiled a list of steps to follow:

How to tow a trailer

Table of Contents

1.) Determine if Your Vehicle is Suitable for Towing the Trailer

To determine if your vehicle is suitable for towing a trailer, you need to calculate the total weight of your setup, including the weight of the vehicle, trailer, cargo, and passengers. This total weight must not exceed the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) specified by the vehicle manufacturer. The GCWR is the maximum weight that your vehicle can safely tow.

Here are some key points to consider when configuring your system:

  • Remember that SUVs and 4×4 trucks may have lower towing capacity due to increased weight. If you don’t need 4×4 capability, a rear-wheel-drive vehicle may be a better choice for towing.
  • Vehicles with longer wheelbases generally have higher towing capacity and better control when towing a trailer.
  • Diesel trucks generally have higher towing ratings due to their higher torque, while gasoline-powered vehicles may have lower ratings.
  • The axle ratio of a vehicle can affect its towing power and fuel efficiency. A higher ratio may provide better pulling power but may also result in lower fuel economy. A lower ratio may result in better fuel economy but may have lower pulling power.

2.) Select an Appropriate Trailer

There are many different types of trailers, and some are more suitable for certain uses than others. Some common types of trailers include:

Flat Deck Trailer

A flat-floor trailer may be a good option if you need to tow a car, ATV, or other items. A single-axle trailer is sufficient for lighter loads that weigh less than 2,500 pounds. We recommend double-axle trailers for heavier loads.

You can also decide between an enclosed trailer or an open trailer. Enclosed trailers are suitable for transporting general cargo, but they tend to be heavier than open trailers.

Travel Trailer

If you want to bring your home with you on your travels, a travel trailer, also called a camper, maybe a good option. These trailers are attached to regular hitches and come in a range of sizes, from 2,000 pounds to over 10,000 pounds. Another option is a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer, which has a special hitch that makes it easier to tow.

Choose Your Hitch

3.) Choose a Hitch and Ball that are Suitable for Your Needs

There are five classes of conventional hitches, each of which is designed for towing a specific weight range.

  • Class 1 hitches are rated for a maximum weight of 2,000 pounds.
  • Class 2 hitches are rated for a maximum weight of 3,500 pounds.
  • Class 3 hitches are rated for a maximum weight of 8,000 pounds.
  • Class 4 hitches are rated for a maximum weight of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class 5 hitches are rated for a maximum weight of 12,000 pounds.

If you have a car, it likely has a hitch that is no higher than Class 3. However, is possible for some larger SUVs and trucks to have hitches that fall into the Class 3 to Class 5 range.

All conventional hitches have receiver tubes that accept the ball and ball mount. The hitch class determines the size of the receiver tube. Class 1 and 2 hitches have receiver tubes with a diameter of 1.25 inches, while Class 3 hitches have receiver tubes that are 2 inches in diameter. Class 4 and 5 hitches may have receiver tubes that are either 2 or 2.5 inches in diameter, depending on the specific configuration.

The trailer must sit level from front to back. your trailer is not level, you can purchase an adjustable ball mount to adjust the height of the ball to the desired level. The size of the ball needed for towing the trailer is usually marked on the coupler and will depend on the weight of the trailer.

The size of the ball is usually indicated on the coupler. The size of the ball needed for towing a trailer depends on the weight of the trailer. Standard ball sizes include 1 7/8, 2 inches, and 2 5/16 inches. Ensure that the weight capacity of the ball exceeds the weight of the fully loaded trailer.

If you need to tow a load that exceeds 12,000 pounds, you will likely need to use a heavy-duty truck and either a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch. In a towing setup with a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch, the ball and hitch are located in the bed of the truck, either in front of or behind the rear axle.

Fifth-wheel hitches are typically able to handle a maximum weight of 25,000 pounds.

Gooseneck hitches have a ball-type setup and generally have a maximum weight capacity of 30,000 pounds.

4.) Properly Connect the Trailer to Your Vehicle

If you are new to towing, it is normal to refer back to this list multiple times before you get it right. To safely attach a trailer to your towing vehicle, follow these steps:

  • Insert the ball mount into the receiver tube of your hitch.
  • Position your vehicle so that it is directly in front of the trailer coupler, making sure that the coupler is higher than the ball.
  • Slowly back up until the ball is directly beneath the coupler. If your vehicle has a backup camera, use it. If not, ask a friend to help you position the vehicle. Once you are directly beneath the coupler, put your vehicle in park and set the parking brake.
  • Lower the coupler onto the ball by turning the twist handle on the tongue of the trailer. This handle operates the jack, the metal bar that supports the trailer when it is not connected to the vehicle.
  • Attach the coupler to the ball using the latch or cotter pin.
  • Check the connection by lifting the tongue to ensure it is secure.
  • Raise the trailer jack so it is entirely out of the way.
  • Attach the safety chains to your vehicle using a criss-cross pattern and ensure they do not touch the ground.
  • Test the trailer lights by plugging in the electrical connector and checking the turn signals and brake lights.

5.) Load Your Trailer in a Safe and Balanced Way

Proper weight distribution is crucial when loading your trailer. If the weight at the back of the trailer is too heavy, it can cause the trailer to swing or sway side to side, known as fishtailing. On the other hand, if the front of the trailer is too heavy, it may cause your vehicle to sag, negatively impacting handling and braking performance.

In general, it is recommended that the weight at the front of the trailer (called the “tongue weight”) should not exceed 15% of the total weight of the trailer. This helps to ensure proper balance and stability when towing. Tongue-weight scales can help you determine the correct weight distribution, and some ball mounts even have a built-in scale to help you ensure that the trailer is loaded correctly.

Some additional tips to consider include:

  • Consider installing telescoping tow mirrors on your vehicle. These mirrors can extend outward from the side of your vehicle, providing a wider field of view and helping you to see any vehicles or objects that may be behind or beside you while towing.
  • Make sure the tires on your trailer are in good condition and properly inflated. Trailer tires are different from car tires and may require different inflation pressures, so it’s important to check the manufacturer’s recommendations and follow them closely.
  • Don’t forget to check the tires on your towing vehicle as well. Properly inflated tires can help to improve handling and reduce the risk of problems while towing.

6.) Understand Best Practices for Towing a Trailer on the Road

Now that you have properly hooked up and loaded your trailer, you are ready to hit the road. However, as you are now driving a much heavier and longer vehicle, you need to be extra cautious. If your vehicle has a tow/haul mode, make sure to activate it, as this will optimize the transmission and engine settings for towing.

Here are some additional tips for towing your vehicle:

  • Carefully plan your route to avoid potential obstacles such as construction, heavy traffic, and steep inclines.
  • Fill up your tank before towing the trailer, as it is easier to do so without the added weight.
  • Consider purchasing a roadside safety kit that includes reflectors, flares, and first-aid supplies. These items can be essential in the event of an emergency or breakdown while towing, helping to make your vehicle more visible to other drivers and providing you with the tools and supplies you may need until help arrives.
  • Remember to brake sooner as you now carry more mass and will need more time to stop.
  • Do not exceed the recommended top speed of 55 mph for towing a trailer.
  • Make wider turns than you normally would due to the increased length of your vehicle. When parking, consider the length and maneuverability of your setup to avoid getting stuck.
  • Signal your lane changes earlier than usual, and be patient.
  • Instead of relying on the brakes, downshift the transmission to help slow the vehicle and trailer. This can help to prevent the brakes from overheating and potentially failing.
  • If the trailer starts to sway or swing side to side (a phenomenon known as fishtailing), slightly reduce your throttle input rather than braking. Braking can sometimes make fishtailing worse, so it’s generally best to reduce power and let the vehicle and trailer slow down naturally.

Many newer SUVs and trucks come equipped with technology that helps to improve the handling and stability of a trailer while towing. These systems may include features such as trailer sway control, which helps to correct for any lateral movement of the trailer, or a trailer brake controller, which allows the driver to adjust the braking force applied by the trailer’s brakes.

Additionally, many automakers offer trailer tow packages that include the appropriate hitch, larger mirrors, and trailer brakes specifically designed for use with their vehicles. These packages can be a good option for drivers who plan to do a lot of towing, as they provide everything you need in one convenient package.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are new to buying a trailer, you may have many questions. To assist you, here are answers to some common questions that first-time towers often ask.

  • Do you need a special license to tow a trailer? Different states have different rules and regulations regarding the operation of vehicles towing trailers. Some states may require a special endorsement on your driver’s license to legally operate a vehicle while towing a trailer, while others may not have this requirement. Some states may also have age requirements for towing a trailer, such as a minimum age of 18 or 21 years old.

    Additionally, you may need to have additional insurance coverage in order to legally tow a car or other vehicle. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance company and familiarize yourself with the specific requirements in your state to ensure that you are in compliance with all laws and regulations.
  • Can towing a trailer damage a transmission? Towing can cause significant damage if your vehicle is poorly maintained or if you make common towing mistakes.
  • What is the speed limit for towing a trailer? Speed limits vary by state, but many have a maximum speed of 55 mph for towing a trailer. Be sure to check the laws in your state.
  • How does towing a trailer affect gas mileage? Towing a trailer can significantly reduce fuel efficiency, with the amount of weight you are hauling directly impacting the decrease in gas mileage. The more weight you are towing, the more fuel your vehicle will consume in order to move the additional load. This can result in significantly lower fuel efficiency, especially over long distances or when driving up hills or through mountainous terrain.
  • Can you tow an unregistered trailer? Whether or not you can legally tow an unregistered trailer depends on the laws and regulations in your state. In general, it is a good assumption that a license plate is required for a trailer unless there are specific exceptions that apply. For example, some states may allow you to tow an unregistered trailer if it was recently purchased and you are in the process of obtaining the necessary registration, or if the trailer is being used for a specific purpose (such as agricultural work) that is exempt from licensing requirements.
  • Does car insurance cover towing a trailer? Auto insurance policies generally provide liability coverage for a trailer if you own it and pull it with your insured vehicle when the accident occurs. However, insurance company policies and state laws can vary, so it is best to check with your insurance provider for specific coverage details.
  • Should the trailer be level while towing? It is generally recommended to try to maintain a level trailer when towing, as this can improve braking performance, ground clearance, and stability. If it is not possible to keep the trailer level, the next best option is usually to lower the nose of the trailer. This can help to improve the balance and stability of the towing setup, reducing the risk of problems such as fishtailing or swaying.

Consult with an expert at Brechbill Trailer Sales for additional guidance and information.

At Brechbill Trailer Sales, we are here to help you with any questions you may have about our trailers or delivery options. You can reach out to us through our contact form, and we will respond promptly. You can also speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives by calling (717) 262-6383.

In addition, we invite you to browse our extensive selection of towing accessories on our website.