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Towing a load behind your
vehicle involves a lot more than hitchin' up and movin' on down the road
. . .
It sounds simple enough, but
towing a camper, boat, trailer or another vehicle safely involves a lot
Learn the Lingo - Towing has a language all its own.
GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating - Despite what it sounds like GVWR is something different than just the weight of a vehicle, for example. GVWR is the combined weight of a vehicle with all its passengers and cargo added in, and it's a key number to know before you start to tow.
GCWR Gross Combination Weight Rating. This is the maximum allowable weight of the loaded-up trailer and the tow vehicle - with all its passengers and cargo, too-added together. It's a key measure for you to check to ensure you are not putting too much of a burden on your tow vehicle and risking costly damage.
TW Tongue Weight. It relates to the amount of trailer weight that presses down on the trailer hitch at the back of a tow vehicle. Having too much or too little tongue weight can affect the safe handling and driving of your tow vehicle.
Use the Proper Vehicle
You need to know the tow capacity of your vehicle and make sure it's sufficient to tow the trailer, boat or camper.
First, determine the approximate weight of the trailer or boat. Include the weight of any equipment, cargo and fluids the trailer or boat will have in or on it. Some tow experts advise that you add 10 percent or 15 percent on top of this, just to be on the safe side. This is the Gross Trailer Weight (GTW).
Then, check to see if the tow vehicle - the truck, sport-utility vehicle, van or car you plan to use - has enough towing capacity. Vehicle manufacturers provide a tow rating in their owner's manuals. Cars tend to have lower tow rating than trucks, and light-duty trucks have lower tow rating than do heavy-duty models.
If you are purchasing a new vehicle that will be used for towing, review the available options to see if you want to add a transmission-oil cooler, a heavy-duty battery, heavy-duty shock absorbers and other tow equipment. These kinds of items can help your tow vehicle manage the stress of a heavy load, and oftentimes some or all of the items may be available as a towing package.
In addition, consider adding trailer mirrors for the front doors of your tow vehicle. These larger mirrors can improve a driver's view out to the side and back of the trailer when compared with standard vehicle mirrors.
No matter if your tow vehicle is new or old, keep the owner's manual and vehicle manufacturer towing guide handy. They contain many of the important numbers - tow rating, GCWR, etc.- that you will need to know.
Have the Right Hitch
There are many hitches for towing, covering several rating classes. You need to find one that will fit your needs.
Obviously, your hitch has to be able to handle the GTW you plan to tow. For example, a Class I hitch can handle up to 2,000 pounds GTW and up to 200 pounds of tongue weight.
Hitches also differ in how they mount on a tow vehicle.
Weight-carrying hitches bolt on the tow vehicle's frame and/or bumper, and are commonly used for small- to medium-size trailers.
Weight-distributing hitches, used with hitch receivers, distribute the load among the wheels of the tow vehicle and the wheels of the trailer to provide improved steering and braking. Ford's RV and Trailer Towing Guide notes that these hitches "are only 'required' for Class IV applications" and generally aren't used for loads under 5,000 pounds.
The fifth-wheel hitch is uniquely mounted inside the bed of a pickup truck and puts more of the trailer weight directly over the tow vehicle, rather than behind it.
Hitches may need to be supplemented for improved sway management of your trailer. Hadeer A. Konja, supervisor of Dodge Truck vehicle development and synthesis, encourages anyone towing more than 3,000 pounds to consider adding a stabilizer bar that hooks to the hitch and the receiver. The stabilizer can reduce trailer sway, he said.
It is important to think about weight distribution as you pack your trailer or camper. The goal should be to properly position weight to keep your vehicle and trailer as stable as possible. Therefore, refrain from piling heavy items on the sides of a trailer or camper. Also don't load everything into the back of a trailer. According to Ford's RV and Trailer Towing Guide, you want 60 percent of the cargo weight in the front half of the trailer and 40 percent at the rear, within limits of the tongue weight.
"The key is to not exceed the tongue weight," Dodge's Konja said, adding that tongue weight is determined by the manufacturer of the hitch.
Secure items in and on the trailer tightly. You don't want them to break loose or jostle around and affect weight balance and handling.
Is Towing Safe?
The answer to this question is "Yes"...and "No". Let me explain.
Towing a trailer can be dangerous to your emotional and physical health, as anyone who has towed a poorly built, unstable trailer will readily testify.
A uncontrollable trailer can push you down unintended paths, break away and select its own direction, snake erratically all over the road, and perform spectacular feats -- land crosswise, on its side, upside down, whatever. It will most likely end up being totally destroyed, taking you with it!
However, a trailer, which is properly designed and correctly loaded, can be a delight to own and tow. However, how do you know whether your trailer is in this category? Pre-trip safety checks and a regular maintenance schedule will go a long way toward making your trailer friendly...assuming, of course, that its basic design is inherently sound. Inspect your trailer thoroughly before each trip to make sure that its mechanical systems operate correctly. These pre-trip inspections will reveal which parts need attention before something happens.
OK...where do we start? How about at the beginning -- at the hitch. Be sure the hitch on the tow vehicle is adequate (plus 10% - 20% -- more is better in this case) to handle the net weight of the trailer. A 5000-pound hitch just is not going to cut it if the trailer weighs 7000 to 8000 pounds. Having your trailer going' east on I-10 while you're headed north on I-17 because your hitch broke can be kind of embarrassing
Check the hitch carefully, especially if it is the "bolt-on" variety, and make sure all connections are tight. Be certain that the big nut that holds the ball to the hitch is tight, too, for it will have a tendency to loosen, even with a lock-washer in place. Trust me; it does happen.
When you have checked that, you are ready to hook up to the trailer. Once the coupling on the trailer is centered over the ball, lower it, making sure that it drops completely down on the ball. Smearing a little grease on the ball will make this easier and will protect the surfaces that slide in relation to each other as you drive down the road. When all is secure, close the latch (locking mechanism) and lock it with a small padlock. That will prevent it from opening accidentally as well as deter vandals or thieves.
Now connect the safety chains or cables. These are very important and most states require two (2) of them to be used. Hook them to the frame of the tow vehicle, not to the hitch, and be sure to cross them under the trailer's tongue (In the event of a break-away, the chains will catch the tongue and suspend it above the roadway). Make sure that your chains are long enough to allow turns, but short enough that they don't drag the ground or allow the trailer tongue to be pushed forward into the fuel tank of the towing vehicle in case something does break (Sparks and gasoline, when combined, provide a spectacular pyrotechnic display which may be quite frightening when observed in one's rear-view mirror.).
OK. Plug in your electrical connectors and test all your lights. Now check the trailer brakes and make sure the breakaway system is operating correctly.
There are so many different types and makes of hitches available that it would be impossible to discuss all of them, so let it suffice to say that with 10% to 15% of the trailer's weight on the tongue, your tow vehicle should be level and so should the trailer. Both units should also be level with each other. Neither the nose nor the tail should be high or low.
Ahhh...trailer sway. What about it? "Sway" is one of the most serious, dangerous, and frightening conditions, you may encounter when towing a trailer. Most well designed trailers will track straight and true under almost any circumstances. However, sway lurks as an ever-present danger even so. Many folks assume that the trailer is the sole cause of sway, but that is simply not true.
There are several causes of
sway. For the tow vehicle...
For the trailer...
Bear in mind also, that the wrong tires and/or improper inflation thereof may be critical factors. Be sure the load rating of your tires is correct for your application and that all the tires are properly inflated. In addition, one other thing...NEVER mix bias-ply and radial tires on the same vehicle. Their characteristics are much too different and will adversely affect the handling of the trailer or tow vehicle.
If you discover any defects in ANY of the above, correct them BEFORE you venture out on the highways with your trailer.
"If I experience trailer sway while driving, what can I DO about it?" you ask. Good question. There are basically two types of sway...MARGINALLY STABLE and UNSTABLE.
Marginally stable sway is a fairly constant weaving from side to side by the trailer -- it's always there but doesn't get out of hand. This is often more of an annoyance than a threat. As you increase your speed, however, the weaving from side to side increases as well, eventually leading to the second kind of sway -- Unstable! This is where each side-to-side oscillation is wider than the one preceding it -- until the trailer either jackknifes or leaves the road, taking the tow vehicle, and you, with it. If you constantly drive at the upper end of the marginally stable region, you are begging for trouble. I would say that you have a death wish.
However, if unstable sway begins, DO NOT hit the brakes or try to steer out of it. Hold the steering wheel steady and firmly and back off the throttle.
If you are lucky, your rig may slow into the stable area before anything really nasty happens. Your best bet, however, is to think about all the factors that may cause sway and try to avoid them in your rig.
Besides the basics we've covered, there are several other more specific areas that you might be curious about. Let's take a look.
1. How much extra room do
I need when turning with a trailer?
2. How much does the typical
3500-pound trailer affect braking distances?
3. Why are body-on-frame
vehicle designs better for towing than unibody vehicles?
4. What can happen if I
exceed the tow rating for my vehicle?
5. What should I do if the
trailer starts to sway at a high speed - i.e. if "the tail starts
wagging the dog," so to speak?
6. How do I back up with
a trailer attached?
7. When I attach a trailer
to my tow vehicle, the tow vehicle sags significantly. What can I do to
keep that from happening?
8. Some minivans such as
the Chevy Venture are rated to tow 3,500 pounds.
9. If a tire on my trailer
suffers a blowout, are there any differences to changing a trailer tire
from a vehicle tire?
10. Do I need those extra-wide
mirrors for towing?
11. Current full-size Chevy/GMC
trucks have a tow/haul mode for the transmission. How does it work and
why don't other half- and three-quarter-ton pickups have this feature?
12. What's the best way
to ascend a mountain when towing? What about descending?
Additional Trailer Towing Information:
Additional Trailer Towing Information:
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