Pulling an extra vehicle or trailer behind your pickup, van or SUV can be a little scary for first-timers who’ve never done it before. The trailer will sway a little, while the extra weight will pull at the rear-end of your towing rig. Even adding or removing just a few hundred pounds to your rig will change its stability and maneuverability.
But fear not, towing novice, the driving and navigating becomes easier after a few hours behind the wheel. To get started, there are three things you’ll want to remember so the next time you see a guy struggling with a trailer or camper, you can coyly ask, “do you even tow, bro?”
- Choose the right hitch
- Secure the trailer and gear
- Know your limits
Choose the right hitch
Look in your vehicles manual or search online for two important numbers, maximum tongue weight and gross trailer weight (GTW). Once you have that information, you can determine the type of hitch you’ll need.
Class 1 hitches haul a 2000 pound maximum GTW and 200 pound maximum tongue weight. These are ideal for transporting your hot new motorcycle or ATV. A Class 2 hitch hauls a 3,500 pound GTW and 350 pound maximum tongue weight. Class 3 hitches have a 5,000 pound capacity and 500 pound maximum tongue weight. Class 4 hitches have a 7,500 to 10,000 pound capacity and 1,200 pound maximum tongue weight. Class 5 hitches are the largest, primarily used for large campers and trailers.
Regardless of cargo weight, it’s best to install a hitch that matches your rig’s maximum towing capacity even if you’re only pulling a small toy hauler.
Secure your trailer and gear
Several states require an independent braking system for trailers weighing more than 1,500 pounds. This means the trailer has its own set of brakes and there are two types, electronic systems and surge brakes. Electronic systems are connected to the driver’s brake pedal so when the driver applies the brakes in a vehicle, brakes in the trailer are enacted. Surge brakes are activated by hydraulics in the hitch and automatically applied when when the trailer vehicle slows down.
Safety chains serve as an extra precaution in case the tongue and ball ever become separated. The chains should be crossed under the tongue and attached to the tow vehicle chassis. They should be loose enough to have slack when taking turns, but short enough so they do not drag on the ground. Sway controls are an excellent addition, but not a necessity. They are inexpensive and reduce sway caused by wind and other large vehicles zipping by you.
Now that your trailer is secure, make sure the gear inside it is, too. The best way to secure a motorcycle is with front wheel chocks and heavy-duty tie-down straps. The chock secures the front wheel and keeps the bike from moving side to side or back and forth. See below for an example.
Retailers like MotoSport.com sell removable tie-down anchors and straps so you can secure the straps in the trailer. Spend a little more on quality tie-down straps to prevent potentially expensive dents, dings and scratches to your bike.
Know your limits
Whether you’re moving across the country with all your furniture or taking your motorcycles and accessories to the track, the weight inside a hauler and trailer changes its maneuverability. Always keep in mind that braking and accelerating while towing takes a few extra seconds. Allow more space between you and the vehicle ahead of you on the highway.
When going down steep hills, use a lower gear or make sure your vehicle is in the “tow/haul mode” if equipped. It’s easier than you think to overheat your brakes when you’re pushing on the breake pedal while descending down a hill.
Planning ahead is another important aspect of towing. Know the height of whatever you’re hauling before driving under overpasses and bridges. Before pulling into a parking lot or any dead-end situation, make sure you have enough room to get out. The worst feeling in the world of towing is getting into a situation that requires a tow truck.
Finally, state laws vary, so know of any differences between states if you’re making a cross-country trip. However, all trailers must have working tail and brake lights and be registered with the DMV. Wondering about the best types of pickups for towing? Check out Mojo Motors’ used pickup truck reviews for finding that perfect used rig.