Five Considerations for Finding, Towing a Travel Trailer

Here are five tips -- five key considerations -- for new RVers who are considering towing a travel trailer behind their vehicle, to help you travel with safety, peace of mind, and ease.

1. Towing Capacity. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is how much weight your vehicle can tow. Most driver's manuals -- or even dealerships -- should have that information. While some experts disagree, I like to follow the 80 percent rule: I want my fully loaded trailer (NOT just the trailer weight) to be no more than 80 percent of my towing capacity; you can go higher, but it dramatically affects driving and wear and tear on the tow vehicle. For example, my 2016 Chevrolet Colorado has a GCWR (gross combined weight rating) of 12,000 pounds, which means that my fully loaded truck and trailer cannot exceed that amount. My maximum towing weight is 7,000. My truck's weight is supposedly 4,000, but when I weighed at a recycling center, it came out at 4,500. The trailer we are buying has a factory weight of 4,200, but is closer to 4,600 at the dealership. Add 600-900 pounds that the average RVer carries in their trailer (water, propane, supplies), and the trailer weight is closer to 5,500 (which is under its GVWR of 6,500, and almost exactly 80 percent of my 7,000 towing capacity). My total GCWR is about 10,000, which is slightly above 9,600, the 80 percent of 12,000, but close enough for my comfort. Some suggest also examining your rear GAWR (gross axle weight rating) and making certain the tongue weight of your trailer does not exceed 10-15 percent; our trailer tongue weight is 410 pounds, which is below 495 pounds, 15 percent of the GAWR -- and well under 700 pounds, which is 10 percent of the maximum towing weight of 7,000.

2. Trailer Weight and Balance. If you are hitting the road for an extended period, you can easily add much more weight than you imagined, from camping gear, tools and maintenance items, sports equipment, patio furniture, food and cooking supplies, toiletries and first aid supplies, clothing and shoes/boots, water, propane, and more. A good idea is to first lay out all the materials in your garage or other location -- so you can truly evaluate what items are essential for your trip -- before simply loading them in the trailer. When loading your trailer, try and stick to the rule of putting about 60 percent of the load in the front half of the trailer. Luckily, our trailer's main storage area is a pass-through at the very front of the trailer, and where many of the heavier items will be stored.

3. Hitch Receiver, Hitch Ball, and Sway Bars. Your hitch receiver, the welded tube under your rear bumper that holds your hitch ball, should be rated for carrying the weight of your trailer. And it is always better to go higher, even if you are thinking a smaller trailer. Receivers are available in the aftermarket if your tow vehicle did not come with one. Do not rely on the bumper hitches, which are for lightweight only. Our Colorado has a Class IV receiver, which is rated for 6,000-10,000 pounds -- and more than able to pull the full 7,000 pound towing capacity. The hitch ball should one that can carry the weight of the trailer and match the size needed for the trailer's tongue. For hauling trailers, consider using a weight distributing hitch with that uses spring bars to help provide a smooth and level ride. When used with sway bars/control, it helps correct vehicle sag and improves steering and stopping. Safety chains should always be used to hold the trailer up in case other components fail.

4. Driving With a Trailer. When towing a travel trailer, it is best to think in terms of trailer-time, which means that you must adjust your thinking about speed and travel times; plan for all your trips to take longer than if you were not towing a trailer; slow and safe should be your mantra. Fairly obvious, but driving -- and especially starting and stopping -- with a trailer is quite different than driving without one. Everything you do when towing a trailer should be done at half the speed as when driving without one. You should also give much more space/distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you when driving on the road. Keep your eyes much more focused on the distance so that if you see congestion or other traffic issues, you have plenty of time to slow down safely or change lanes. Towing a trailer may increase the distance you need to stop by 50 percent. Some experts recommend the 4-second following rule -- leaving at least 4 seconds of distance between the vehicle ahead of you and your vehicle -- regardless of your speed. Finally, towing a travel trailer requires full attention to the road and your vehicle, so avoid all distractions, such as navigation, cell phone, etc.

5. Back Up Like an Expert. After watching countless folks back up their trailers with ease, I quickly learned that backing up with a trailer is counter-intuitive -- at least for me. You have to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of how you want the trailer to move, but by placing your hands on the steering wheel at the 5 and 7 positions and learning that when you want the trailer to move to your left, simply turn the steering wheel by moving your left hand upward; same logic for turning your trailer to the right when backing up -- turn the wheel by moving your right hand upward. Remember to watch the trailer with your side mirrors. It's also a good -- and fairly inexpensive -- idea to invest in a backup camera for your trailer if it does not come equipped with one. Of course, even more ideal is having your camping partner help direct your maneuvers by standing near the area and signaling you with hand gestures.

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