What to Know Before you Tow

4
What to Know Before you Tow

Making sure that your trailer is properly prepared can mean the difference between life and death for the family in the minivan behind you.

For that and so many other reasons, it’s important to take towing seriously. There are some simple rules to remember when hooking up so that your trip doesn’t end up a disaster, many of which apply from the largest car carriers down to the smallest scrap haulers.

It All Starts With Your Vehicle

First, you need a properly equipped vehicle. Just about any car on the road can be fitted with a hitch and it is important to consult the owner’s manual of your particular vehicle to find out how much it is rated to tow. Ideally, you shouldn’t be pulling more than 75 percent of the listed maximum for a safe feeling load. Hitting or exceeding the maximum weight not only puts extra strain on your vehicle, but it also makes driving more dangerous. That is why pickup trucks and SUVs are commonly used for hauling, because their heavy curb weights allow heavier loads to be controlled more easily. Powerful engines and body-on-frame construction also qualify pickups and SUVs over cars, but they aren’t essential for all hauling jobs.

SEE ALSO: Why Your Pickup Truck’s Tow Rating is BS

Towing-Profile-Shot_edited-1There are also different types of hitch receivers ranging from class I to class V, with each designation representing how much a hitch can tow, how that particular hitch is set up and what type of specific hardware must be used. Class IV hitches are the most common and can be found on most new half-ton pickup trucks like the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.

SAE says that a Class IV can tow up to 12,000 pounds gross-trailer weight and 1,000 pounds of tongue weight. It must use a two-inch hitch receiver opening, which has to use a five-eighths inch pin to secure the ball mount in place. The ball itself must be a minimum of 1.25-inch diameter.

Starting with the proper hardware for your hitch is essential, and getting the right size hitch ball is a big part of that. Different trailers call for hitch balls ranging from one and seven-eighths of an inch up to 2.5 inches. Making sure the ball is the right size for the receiver will ensure a safe connection between your vehicle and the trailer, but that’s only the beginning.

Even Weight is Essential

Weight distribution is one of the most important factors to consider. As you increase weight on the tongue of the trailer, the rear end of the vehicle will sink, causing the front end to lift. That puts more strain on the rear suspension and reduces contact between the front tires and the road. In turn, that means less stopping power and reduced steering ability. Tongue weight – the actual amount of downward force being put on the rear end of the tow vehicle – should be between 15 and 20 percent of the overall trailer weight, though that can be tough to measure accurately. The easy way to check for proper weight distribution is to eyeball your rig and make sure that both the vehicle and trailer are sitting flat.

2014-Toyota-Tacoma-main_rdax_646x396There’s more than one way to combat poor weight distribution. Ideally, you want about 60 percent of the weight on the trailer to be on top of or in front of the axle, distributed evenly from side to side. If you are hauling an ATV or a snowmobile, this is easily achieved by simply moving the machine until the weight is centered. With something like a travel trailer or a load of gravel, where you can’t simply shift the weight around, there are still ways to achieve proper weight distribution.

Hitch height is an important part of this. Measure from the ground to the top of the hitch ball on both your vehicle and trailer to make sure your tow vehicle isn’t too tall, or too short for your trailer. If the two numbers are different, the difference can be addressed with a drop hitch. Some drop hitches are actually adjustable, which is an ideal setup if you plan to pull more than one trailer with the same vehicle. These adjustable setups will usually also accommodate a trailer this is taller than your tow vehicle as well, although that isn’t as common.

If your hitch height is perfect but you near the vehicle’s maximum tow rating, odds are the rear end of your vehicle will still be sagging, the solution for which is a weight-distributing hitch. This type of hitch will spread the weight on the tongue out onto the trailer axle and to the front wheels of your tow vehicle, helping to achieve a flat ride.

Slow Down

There are several rules to keep in mind while hooking up your trailer, but one reigns supreme: never rush. Taking the time to double check connections and tie downs can mean the difference between arriving safely and going to the hospital.

With that in mind, the next step to hooking up is backing your vehicle up to the trailer. You always need a spotter to guide you into position with your hitch ball sitting underneath the hitch ball housing. Once lined up, open the handle on the ball housing and drop it onto the ball using the tongue-mounted jack. Close the handle on the housing and your trailer is now hooked up. But you aren’t ready to hit the highway yet.

Chains-CrossingAlways use safety chains to ensure that your trailer will remain attached even if the ball somehow becomes disconnected. The key thing to remember with these chains is to cross them. The left-mounted chain on the trailer goes to the right side hookup and vice-versa. That way, if the tongue of the trailer falls off, the chains will act as a cradle and keep it from dragging on the road.

Once the chains are on and the tongue is hitched, it’s time to connect the lights. Most modern pickups and SUVs are fitted with receivers for both four-pin and seven-pin connectors. Adapters are available to make sure you can hook up the lights if your vehicle isn’t fitted with the right connection.

Smaller trailers generally use the four-pin setup, while larger trailers tend to use seven-pin. The difference is that larger trailers usually have their own brakes.

As a side note, make sure the connector is off the ground and covered to prevent it from rusting when the trailer isn’t in use. If your connection isn’t working, try spritzing it with WD-40. Sometimes that’s enough to solve the issue.

Always Double Check

Trailer-from-Behind

So now your trailer is properly balanced, the safety chains are on and the lights are connected. That means it’s time for a circle check.

Commercial vehicle operators are required to walk around their entire truck before driving on the highway and it’s a habit that is important for personal vehicle owners as well.

Start by double-checking all of the connections at the hitch. Then walk around the trailer looking for any problems that may arise. Specific things to watch for are tire pressure , anything loose on the trailer or debris lodged in or around the axle. Make sure to check that all of the lights functions are working properly as well. Finally, make sure that whatever it is that you are hauling is secured properly to the trailer.

And that’s it! You’re ready to haul. Whether you’re taking toys out for a weekend adventure or hauling a load of scrap to the dump, towing can be hugely helpful and even fun as long as you remember to take it seriously.

  • shirt1

    Great on the powerstroke site you use a Chevy.

  • J Mac

    Is that better or worse than a Ram?

  • TruckinAngler

    Great info in here! Thanks.

    I can’t wait to get my boat on water.

  • http://FifthWheeSt.com/ David Gray

    ” Ideally, you shouldn’t be pulling more than 75 percent of the listed maximum for a safe feeling load.”

    I don’t entirely agree with that statement. Modern trucks in the last 5 years or so have plenty of safety margin built into the load ratings. The important and most common overlooked issue is the overloading the rear axle – especially unique to F250s and 2500s. I strongly encourage anyone to read “Before You Buy RV…” at http://fifthwheelst.com/before_you_buy.html

« Back
SWEEPSTAKES – OFFICIAL RULES, TERMS AND CONDITIONS

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.

1. NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES. AGE/RESIDENCY RESTRICTIONS, VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.

2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked