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Happy Hauling: Top 5 Towing Tips for the Novice Trailer Pilot

A truck towing a trailer

If you own a truck or an SUV, it likely has towing capabilities. The same is true of certain cars. Not every vehicle is properly equipped to tow, however. Before you fasten that trailer, boat or camper to a vehicle, it’s important to take some time to prepare. If you’re new to towing, check out these towing tips.

1. Check Your Manual

Well before you hitch a trailer to your vehicle, you need to determine whether it is tow-rated. Consult your owner’s manual for that information. For vehicles that should not tow, the manufacturer will make that point clear by including such language as “this vehicle is not recommended for towing” in the manual.

For all other vehicles, you should find a “vehicle-towing capacity” section outlining various weights by category.

2. Know Your Vehicle’s Weight

car towing a trailerThe first weight you’ll find is the gross vehicle weight (GVW), which states how much your vehicle weighs empty. The second weight is the gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR. Comprised of two numbers, the GVWR includes the GVW and vehicle payload. The payload adds passenger and cargo weight to the vehicle weight, along with accessories and fluids. Thus, a truck weighing 4,500 pounds with a payload of 1,500 pounds would have a 6,000-pound GVWR.

3. Know the Trailer Weight

The third weight is the gross trailer weight (GTW). If you’re pulling a boat or anything else sitting on a trailer, you need to know the trailer’s weight plus the weight of what it’s carrying. Thus, the GTW would represent the empty weight of the trailer along with the weight of the boat and anything placed within the boat, including food, supplies and equipment. A trailer weighing 1,200 pounds and a boat and motor weighing 4,750 pounds, along with 250 pounds of gear, equals a 6,200-pound GTW.

4. Factor in Tongue Weight and the Maximum Trailer Weight Rating

Lastly, you need to know the tongue weight, which is the amount of downward pressure placed on the fully loaded trailer on your vehicle hitch ball, according to GMC. The proper tongue weight is between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total loaded trailer weight. In the example of the 6,200-pound GTW, the tongue weight would be between 620 pounds and 930 pounds. Again, consult the owner’s manual, as it will list the tongue weight limits for a weight-carrying hitch. If the tongue weight is too high, you may need to switch to a weight-distributing hitch.

Don’t forget to consult the manual for the vehicle’s maximum trailer weight rating. The manufacturer determines the number based on the vehicle’s size, engine, transmission, frame, whether it is two- or four-wheel drive, and its rear final drive ratio. As long as the truck or SUV has a tow rating exceeding the weight of what is being towed (GTW), then it should be safe to tow. That also means all other numbers are set within parameters and legal limits.

5. Install Special Equipment and Drive with Care

When towing, you may also need special equipment, including tow mirrors, towing lights, a trailer hitch ball or a wiring harness. Properly inflated tires and working lights — on the vehicle and trailer — are also essential.

Keep in mind that stopping distances are longer and turning radiuses are wider when trailering. Additionally, allow extra room between vehicles, change lanes with care, and understand that crosswinds can affect vehicle control.

As summer approaches, you may be itching to take that new boat or camper out for an adventure, but before you try trailering, remember to follow all the towing tips carefully and take special precautions to maintain vehicle control and safety.

Check out all the towing products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on towing tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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