By Mike Willis
For those who are new to towing RVs, the thought of pulling a trailer can be a little overwhelming. Large trailers require a little extra thought and preparation, but after reading over the following considerations, you’ll be ready for your maiden voyage.
Know the height and length of your trailer. Low bridges can catch you off guard and create panic for those who don’t know this dimension. Campgrounds designate maximum trailer lengths for camp spots as well.
Check your lights. Not only will this save you from getting a citation, but it will also ensure that people can anticipate your moves as you attempt to navigate through traffic.
Keep tire pressure up and wheel bearings greased.
Make sure that the trailer is not too heavy for your vehicle. Inside your driver’s side door, there should be a sticker that indicates your vehicle’s towing capacity. The trailer will have a dry weight indicated on a sticker as well (trailer’s weight minus cargo and fluids). I prefer to tow at about 75% of my vehicle’s rated capacity. Obviously, you can go higher, but this margin ensures that you (and the truck) are comfortable during transit.
Always make one last walk around before towing. Make sure that slide-outs are in, antennas are down, stairs are stowed, and everything inside is secured. All items should be tucked away into drawers and cabinets before heading down the road. Also, be sure to shut off any appliances that you don’t need to run during transport.
Keep in mind that water is extremely heavy (approximately 8.34 lbs. per gallon). A 45-gallon freshwater tank could boost your trailer weight by 375.3 lbs. That’s a lot of weight to be sloshing around in a plastic “value-engineered” reservoir. Freshwater tanks are also positioned at the front of the trailer, directly impacting your tongue weight. Experienced RVers will fill their freshwater tank at their final destination. However, this may not be possible if camping in a remote location without a water source.
Make sure that you have a jack that will work for changing tires. Trailer stabilizer jacks are not sufficient and should never be used for changing tires. Your truck jack SHOULD work, but make sure of it before heading off on any long trips.
Enable the Tow/Haul mode anytime that you are pulling a trailer. Tow/Haul mode changes the way your vehicle shifts and ultimately protects your transmission while towing. Failure to use the Tow/Haul mode is a costly mistake that continues to keep transmission shops thriving.
On the Road
Be prepared for trailer sway. Trailer sway can be a little nerve-wracking until you get comfortable with it. High winds and uneven road surfaces can cause the trailer to drift to one side then the other. The electronic brake control is your best friend for correcting any nuisance trailer movements. Simply bumping the brake control lever will straighten your rig out and keep you in control.
Make sure that your electronic brake control is adjusted correctly. You should feel your trailer lightly pulling back on your vehicle when applying your brakes. Do not crank the brakes up so much that your trailer wheels lock up when stopping.
A quality set of sway bars are a great addition to your trailer. If you don’t have sway bars, do some shopping and pick a set up. You will immediately notice a difference in the performance of your truck and trailer. Not only does the trailer sway less, but it also keeps the back of your truck from sagging as much.
Whenever you stop, touch your tires and feel for unusual amounts of heat. Excessively warm tires can indicate that a blowout is imminent.
Leave yourself plenty of margin with your speed. Never forget that your vehicle will take longer to stop when loaded. If your vehicle is not equipped with an engine brake, downshift when descending steep grades to avoid having a “runaway truck.”
Never ride your brakes the whole way down a long hill or grade. You could damage your brakes by overheating them and potentially even cause them to fail in extreme circumstances. Remember to downshift and “pump” your brakes to control your speed.
When going up steep hills, use your flashers if you are not able to maintain highway speeds. It is very dangerous to surprise vehicles that are approaching from behind you. Using your flashers gives everyone a chance to pass safely.
Monitor your gauges. Your engine temperature and transmission temperature (if equipped) gauges are essential for identifying issues BEFORE experiencing catastrophic/expensive failures.
Anytime you enter a parking lot or campground, look for overhead obstructions. In residential areas, the tree canopy can often hang low into the road. Always be mindful of how tall you are to ensure your RV maintains its resale value.
Start paying attention to gas station amenities. You will be surprised by how many have a water spigot for filling fresh water tanks. There are also a lot of gas stations that have a blackwater tank
cleanout for a small fee. Speaking of fuel, you will be using a lot more of it! Make sure to top off before passing that last gas station.