Tips for Driving While Towing a Travel Trailer

by | Oct 21, 2020 | RV Owner's Guide | 0 comments

Tips for Driving While Towing a Travel Trailer

So you’ve bought a new travel trailer and it’s time to hit the road. What now? At RV USA, we know a thing or two about hauling trailers, and we want to pass that knowledge on to you. Below, we’ll share some of our tips and tricks to help you have a safer haul.

Manage Your Weight

Sure, the holidays are coming up and it’s been a weird year — maybe we’ve packed on a bit more weight than we’d like to admit, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Assuming you chose a travel trailer based on your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR: the amount of weight a fully loaded-down truck can safely carry) as determined by the manufacturer, you’ll also want to make sure your cargo doesn’t max out the Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR: the maximum combined weight of the cargo and trailer) and therefore doesn’t exceed the GVWR listed above.

Maxing out your GVWR can have severe consequences including altered braking ability as well as burnt out motors and/or transmissions. Therefore, it is imperative that your cargo doesn’t exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. This is absolutely the first thing you should check before you hit the road.

When loading your travel trailer, you also need to be sure the weight is equally distributed. Just like with Thanksgiving dinner, it’s a balancing act, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up on a very bumpy ride. That being said, most trailer manufacturers suggest distributing about 60 percent of the tow weight onto the front half of the trailer. Start there, and you can adjust as needed.

Once your travel trailer is balanced, be sure everything is secure so that your cargo doesn’t shift during the drive. A balanced trailer with secured cargo will help prevent trailer sway, a common issue even amongst the most experienced towers.

Let’s Get Hitched

Tips for Driving While Towing a Travel Trailer

No, we aren’t requesting a marriage proposal, but the staff at RV USA does want you to make a commitment to safe towing, and the next step towards a successful tow is a properly hitched trailer — so let’s take a closer look.

It’s imperative that your trailer is firmly hitched to your vehicle. Whether you have a bumper pull or fifth wheel, a secure hitch is the only thing standing between your trailer detaching during the drive and “going its own way.”

For an added layer of safety during your tow, we recommend hooking up a set of safety chains (and packing a spare). If for some reason your hitch does become disconnected during your travels, the safety chains act as a failsafe to keep everything together until you can stop. While it’s unlikely for your hitch to detach, chains are such a simple precaution you can take to keep everyone on the road safer. When securing the chains, be sure you leave enough slack for turns, and make sure the chain is never long enough to drag on the road.

You may also consider investing in a trailer brake controller, especially if you purchase a trailer with electric or electric-over-hydraulic brakes. A brake controller is a small gadget you add in your vehicles’ cabin that is hooked up to the trailer to assist with trailer breaking. This will make it easier for you to stop without being pushed forward by the weight of the trailer. As an added benefit, the trailer brake controller also limits the wear and tear on your vehicle’s brakes.

Extra Tip: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Whether you just bought a brand new trailer, or you’re driving a trailer that hasn’t been in use for a while, you should check the tires, wheel bearings, and brakes before each use. A large number of trailer accidents start with the tires.

A Home Run

We’re not talking about peanuts and Cracker Jacks, because we definitely care that you make it back. That’s why we suggest taking a home run. If there is a vacant parking lot near you where you can practice, it’s much safer — and more cost-effective — to make mistakes going 10 MPH instead of 60 MPH.

Here are some things to practice:

  1. Wait for your Turn:  You’ll have to swing wider than you’re used to. It’s important to get familiar with the size of your trailer. Doing this in a parking lot and running over a curve is a much easier learning experience than side-swiping a car at a red light. The more you get in a habit of swinging wide, the safer you’ll be when on the road.
  2. Back it Up: This can be one of the most difficult lessons to learn as a new tower. When reversing, your trailer is going to move in the opposite direction of your steering wheel. Let that sink in, but don’t fret. Take a deep breath and make small adjustments to your steering wheel. It will take time for your adjustments to affect the trailer’s movement. Be patient with yourself — this does get easier.
  3. Address the Fish: Many trailer owners will notice that their trailer begins to fishtail or “sway.” If you notice this, simply remove your foot from the gas and drive straight. If you have a brake controller, you can lightly touch the brakes. If you notice you’re having these issues, you might consider purchasing a sway bar, but many trailer-towers under 5,000 lbs don’t report these issues.

Still aren’t feeling comfortable, consider inviting a more seasoned trailer tower to watch you drive the trailer and give you advice. There is never any shame in keeping yourself and others on the road safe — in fact, we’d consider that a home run.

Take it to the Streets

Now that you’re feeling comfortable driving your travel trailer, it’s finally time to hit the road. However, there are still some things you should look out for. Towing is very different from your day-to-day driving. Outside of swinging wide, thoughtful braking, backing up, and fishtailing… There are many other obstacles you should look out for when driving.

Here is a non-comprehensive list:

  1. Taking the Curve: Remember all of those yellow caution signs with trailers tipping over?  While you’ve had the ability to ignore them in the past, it’s vital that you take precautions. Follow speed limit suggestions for safe towing to avoid life-threatening accidents.
  2. Clearing the Way: Do you know how tall your trailer is including your cargo? This might prevent you from going through drive-throughs, entering tunnels, and clearing bridges. But more likely, you’ll probably hit a few low-hanging branches along your journey. Being cognisant of your trailer’s height can prevent many awkward and unfortunate incidents.
  3. Slow Your Roll: The third and most important thing is slowing down. If you have a full trailer, your speed should be half of what it normally is. You should keep more distance between you and the next vehicle. It may take you up to twice as long to stop. Allow more space for switching lanes and taking turns because you’re hauling a trailer. You don’t want to side-swipe another car or send any of your cargo flying off. Taking your time will create a safer travel experience for everyone on the road.

We hope you found this article helpful for first-time towers. In the event, you haven’t found the perfect RV, or if, after reading this article, you’re looking to upgrade to a safer trailer, please contact the team at RV USA.

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