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What to Know Before You Tow

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It is finally summer, and the rain seems to have abated, which means it is time to hitch up the trailer, or maybe the ATV, and hit the open road and reconnect with nature -- with some of the conveniences of home of course.

But towing shouldn't be taken lightly, and requires a driver to develop a whole new set of skills. Even the process of hitching and unhitching a trailer from a tow vehicle requires a bit of know-how.

Here is our run down of what you need to know before you tow.

Towing Capacity

How much can your vehicle actually tow? Your vehicle will have a maximum towing capacity, the most weight it can town behind it. This will be listed in the owner's manual. This will help you decide if that new trailer is just too big.

Your vehicle's max towing capacity includes passenger weight, added accessories, any liquids in the tank and any cargo (bikes, clothing, kitchenware, games, etc). For example if you have an RV over 8000lbs you would allow for an additional 1000lbs in cargo/liquids, RVs between 5000-8000lbs you would calculate an extra 750lbs and RVs smaller than 5000lbs add an extra 500lbs. g v w r

When looking to purchase an RV be sure you understand the following terms:

  • Dry Weight/Shipped Weight: The weight of the RV as shipped from the manufacturer without any passengers, liquids, cargo or dealers added accessories.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVM): The current combined weight of the RV (dry weight) plus passengers, cargo, liquids and accessories.
  • ross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The maximum allowed weight of a Vehicle/RV, including passengers, cargo, etc.
  • Tongue/Hitch Weight: The weight/pressure applied from the trailer tongue/coupler to the conventional/bumper hitch on your vehicle.
  • Pin Weight: This is often referred to as the weight/pressure applied from the fifth wheel king pin to the hitch in the bed of your truck.
  • Pay Load Capacity: For trucks the amount of weight you can safely add to the bed of the truck. Your fifth wheel hitch weight or pin weight plus the actual weight of the hitch plus any other accessories you have in the bed of your truck. You must not exceed the Payload Capacity limit.
  • Max Towing Capacity: The maximum weight limit that can safely be towed by your specific vehicle. This weight is calculated by adding the RV's GVW with the weight of all passengers, cargo and liquids in your tow vehicle.

It's important not to max out your vehicle's towing capacity… leave some wiggle room. If you plan to head into the mountains, towing in extreme inclines or declines can add extra stress on your engine. Also, you may find you pack more things for longer trips and consequently more weight, so keeping your trailer under your max tow capacity leaves room for the extra cargo. Refer to your manufacturer's owner's manual for towing specifications or talk with one of our expert team members.

The Right Gear

Do you have the hitch for your load? What about safety chains? A lighting harness and rear-view mirrors that allow you to see around the trailer? These are just a few things you need before you hit the road with a trailer or other towed load.

For instance, safety chains help if the hitch should fail for any reason. If the hitch fails, the tongue of the trailer will drop into the cradle instead of right down onto the ground. The chain should be crossed underneath the hitch to form a sort of cradle.

If your trailer is wider than your tow vehicle, tow mirrors will help you see the trailer's blind spots while driving and to aid rear visibility when backing up.

Match the Hitch Ball to the Trailer

Make sure the ball on your tow hitch is the same size as the coupler on your trailer. Incorrectly sized hitch balls are the No. 1 cause of trailer accidents. Typically, hitch balls come in three sizes: 1 7/8 inches, 2 inches, and 2 5⁄16 inches.

Check Trailer Tires

A lot of people check the tire pressures on their pickup truck, but they forget to check the tires on the trailer. Even if the tires appear to have plenty of tread, they age over time and that can lead to tire failure. Your tow vehicle's tires may require a higher pressure for towing, as outlined in the owner's manual. Consult your tire expert at the Quick Lane if you have concerns about your trailer's or tow vehicle's tires.

And, don't forget the spare tire, for both your towing vehicle, and the trailer. You don't want to get stuck on the side of the road on your holiday.

This is also a great time to inspect the trailer tires for dry rot and cracking, especially if the trailer is stored outside and hasn't been used for months.

Tow Vehicle's Maintenance

Towing puts additional stress on the tow vehicle, so before heading out on a towing road trip, be sure your truck has recently gone in for regular maintenance. This includes oil and filter change, checking the brake pads to make sure they have plenty of life remaining, making sure the engine coolant is filled to the proper level in the reservoir, and topping off the transmission 20trailer 20back 20up 20assist

Lastly, be sure to set your vehicle's drive mode to "Towing", if available. This will help your engine shift gears and perform optimally for towing. Enhanced performance to aid in fuel efficiency and proper torque settings. Some newer vehicles, like the Ford F150, have Max Towing options that include intelligent features like trailer pro-backup assist that will allow the truck to ultimately self-drive in reverse. If interested in more information, our sales team would be happy to showcase this for you.

Check trailer lights

Before hitting the road, double check to make sure the trailer's electrical wiring system is properly connected to the tow vehicle. With a partner, visually confirm the trailer's running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights are all working in correlation with the tow vehicle. At the Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center, our experts can perform a quick trailer plug inspection and test to help make sure everything is operating properly.

It's a good idea to have your trailer's brakes (if it has them) checked and adjusted, and keep the wheel bearings greased.

Towing is not overly difficult, and it takes no special license. But it's not a trivial pursuit. Make sure you are ready to hit the open road with a safe vehicle and a properly maintained trailer. The friendly and knowledgeable staff at the Quick Lane are ready to get you and your family back out into nature, at least until the snow flies again.

Contact Quick Lane

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