Ten Towing Tips
Here are some important towing tips for increased safety and
enjoyment in your RV travels. Know how to tow before you buy and every
time you head out on the road. You will have less hassles, more fun
and will help promote RV safety. Here are ten towing tips to get you
Understand the basics:
Start at the beginning. Read our tips on managing RV weight. Understand
the weight definitions and the importance of weight distribution in
towing. Do this before you buy.
Do the math: Get the specific numbers for your prospective combination of RV and tow vehicle.
Obtain and carefully read manufacturer’s manuals and product-specific
towing tips. Make sure you understand their definitions of
weight-related terminology. If you are planning to tow a trailer or
fifth wheel, the major truck makers have Towing Guides
that include model-specific details.
Develop a realistic estimate of fully loaded weight, and do the
calculations to make sure you end up with an RV and tow vehicle
combination that will meet your
needs. Don’t forget any options or accessories you had added (or plan
to add). Remember to consider passengers, belongings, full water and
This is time well spent to avoid poor purchase decisions, costly repairs
and unsafe travel.
Distribute the Load: Weight
Distribution is critical. Know your Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWR), obtain measurements of
specific wheel position loads and set tire pressure appropriately.
Keep the center of gravity low.
Keep cargo secured to prevent shifting that could cause a loss of control.
Distribute weight between right and left and front to back per
the specifications for your particular RV and
tow vehicle. Trailer towing requires the right amount of tongue weight.
Tap into the expertise of hitch and trailer specialists for towing
tips on your particular configuration.
Determine if you need a weight distribution system (generally recommended for trailers over 5,000 lbs. fully loaded.)
Hitching Your Wagon: Select hitches and
tow bars that are rated to handle the load, in conjunction with the
actual towing capacity of the towing vehicle. The maximum towing
capacity is determined by the lowest-rated element in the chain of hitch
For trailer towing, this chain consists of the trailer rating, the ball
hitch rating, the hitch rating, and the towing capacity of the vehicle.
The weakest, or lowest-rated, element in this chain always determines
the maximum safe towing capability of the entire chain.
For a motorhome towing a dinghy, the same principle applies. You must
consider the towing capacity of the motorhome itself, as well as the
ratings for a tow bar, cables, and connectors.
Hitch up and unhitch a few times to get the steps down. Use a towing tip checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. Hook up and un-hook on smooth level surface.
When towing a dinghy, manufacturer towing tips often state that the
receiver hitch of the motorhome should never be more than 4 inches
higher than the baseplate attachment points — use an appropriately
sized and rated drop receiver.
trailers and tow vehicles should be level (parallel to the ground)
during travel. Check for manufacturer towing tips and instructions to
correctly set up your
combination of vehicles.
Built for Two: When you connect a
towing and towed vehicle, you need to make sure that the two can operate
together effectively, safely (and legally in some cases). Brakes – Many states require a separate braking system on towed
vehicles with a loaded weight of more than 1,000 – 1,500 pounds. Legal
reasons aside, a separate functional brake system for towed vehicles is
recommended for increased safety.
Include a breakaway option, in the event the trailer or toad is
separated from the towing vehicle.
Lights The law also requires that the towed vehicle have
operable lights. The brake lights, tail lights and turn signals of the
towed vehicle must operate in sync
with the towing vehicle.
Oh say, can you see? Make
sure you have adequate mirrors to give you the visibility you need for
safe RV driving and towing. If your mirrors aren’t adequate, change
them. If you are
towing a trailer, you should have extended side-view mirrors to see rear
and side-approaching traffic.
Rear-vision cameras may be included in your motorhome, with a monitor in
the driver’s cockpit. These provide a view of the dinghy and immediate
roadway in back, and
help when passing or changing lanes. They are available as an after
market add-on, and there are rear-vision cameras that work with towable
Ready, Set, Go?: Well, maybe not yet.
Another good towing tip – practice first. Before you head out on your
first trip, practice driving, turning, stopping (and backing up for
towable trailers) in an area away from heavy traffic. Make sure you
know your roof clearance. Try out your mirrors.
Driving: When starting out, accelerate slowly and steadily.
The addition of a trailer or dinghy adds weight and length. More weight
means more time.
Determine how long it takes you to accelerate and come to a stop.
Allow extra time for changing lanes, stopping and passing other
Pass on level ground with plenty of clearance. Avoid sudden moves. When turning, allow room for the towed vehicle to clear.
Get in the habit of looking ahead – a good rule of thumb is to
look as far ahead as you will travel in 12 – 15 seconds. Obviously, this
distance will vary depending on how fast you are going. Give adequate
notice of your intentions with turn signals. If you are going to come to
a stop, a few taps on the brakes might give a clue to the driver behind
you. Watch traffic signals and anticipate light changes so you can
stop in time.
Backing: For motorhomes, don’t try to back up with a
dinghy attached. The key towing tip here is to avoid getting into a
spot where you have to back up in the first place. Or disconnect the
dinghy before backing.
For towable trailers, back up slowly, with
someone spotting near the rear of trailer to guide
you. It’s a good idea to agree on a set of hand signals beforehand, so
you can communicate clearly with the spotter. Move the steering wheel
in the direction you
want the trailer to go. Make small steering movements so you can get
the hang of it. Slight steering movements result in much greater
movement in the rear
of the trailer.
Swaying in the Breeze:
Hopefully not. Appropriate attention to weight limits and distribution
in setting up your tow configuration will help avoid problems with
sway. Sway control options are available to help with trailer sway, and
a weight distributing hitch system is recommended for large towable
If you do experience trailer sway from a gust of wind, downgrade or draft from a passing truck: remember to gradually
reduce speed, steady the steering wheel and only apply the
trailer brakes. Do not slam on the brakes since jackknifing could
occur. Do not try to steer out of a sway, increase speed or make sudden
moves – it will only make things worse. Do not tow a trailer that
continues to sway – determine what is wrong and correct the problem.
No passengers: You should never have passengers traveling in a towed trailer or dinghy.
An Ounce of Prevention: Avoid serious
problems by adopting a “checking it twice” mindset. Use towing tip
checklists as handy reminders. Before long trips, make sure your
maintenance is current on both the towing and towed vehicle. Follow
manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance on your towing apparatus.
The first time you tow, a general towing tip is to stop after 50 miles
to check towing
connections, tires, etc. Make regular stops to stay fresh at the wheel
and during these breaks, check around the RV and tow to make sure all is
well. General advice is a stop every two hours.
Now don’t forget to check out the