Owning a towable RV, such as a travel trailer or fifth wheel, has clear benefits. It’s more affordable than a self-powered RV, maintenance is much easier, and once the trailer is parked and unhitched, you can use your tow vehicle to explore where big rigs can’t venture.
However, one of the greatest challenges of owning a travel trailer is towing one. If you’re new to it, towing a trailer can feel pretty intimidating. But that doesn’t mean you should postpone your dream of owning a pull-behind camper. This article will cover all the RV towing and safety information you need to travel smoothly.
Before you buy a travel trailer, fifth wheel, pop-up camper, or teardrop trailer, always ask yourself what kind of camper your vehicle can tow. Just because your vehicle has a tow hitch doesn’t mean it’s safe to haul your rig.
You’ll be surprised that even some large trucks and SUVs have a shockingly low towing capacity. For safe towing, first consult the owner’s manual for guidance on your tow vehicle’s towing capacity, then look for a camper trailer that matches the description. If possible, buy a trailer before investing in a tow vehicle.
Overloading is one of the greatest enemies of towing. It causes a myriad of problems, ranging from failing brakes, blown-out tires, broken suspensions, and overheated transmission. You even risk severing the connection. All the issues increase the risk of accidents.
So, apart from ensuring your vehicle will be able to haul a travel trailer, you need to know how much weight the rig can safely carry. Make sure you’re within the weight specified by the trailer manufacturer. Also, learn the maximum amount of weight (GCWR) both the tow vehicle and the trailer should be, as determined by the tow vehicle manufacturer.
Loading a camper trailer isn’t about how organized it looks inside. There’s a correct and wrong way to pack your items. Start by loading heavy items first and securely tie them down, so they don’t move around in transit. Load the front of the trailer first and adhere to the 60/40 rule. This means 60 percent of the weight should be forward of the front axle.
Place heavy items on the floor, lighter items higher, and make sure you do not overload one side more than the other. Tongue loads should not be more than 5% to 15% of trailer weight. You could use an equalizer hitch to redistribute the weight of the trailer over the entire tow vehicle. Just to make sure you’re on the safe side, weigh the trailer after it’s loaded.
RV and towing laws vary from state to state, and even local areas have different regulations. Imagine how disappointed you’d be when you cross state lines in your brand-new fifth wheel only to find it’s too tall or too wide to comply with the laws of the state. So, look up the towing laws of where you intend to pass through.
Knowing what is required for camper trailers is not just about convenience or avoiding expensive tickets. Following the requirements helps reduce accidents. Many states require you to have extra mirrors, taillights, safety chains, and braking equipment. On top of that, watch out for rules concerning the maximum towing speeds and the number of vehicles you’re allowed to tow.
To increase RV towing safety, there are a lot of things to check before departure. A towing checklist is the best way to ensure you don’t forget a key step.
- Check that your RV is hitched correctly.
- Verify the electric connections are supplying power to the brakes, brake lights, and turn signals.
- Connect breakaway cable or safety chains.
- Make sure all doors and slide-outs are locked.
- Check the trailer’s and tow vehicle’s tire condition and pressure.
- Verify that all wheel lugs are tightened.
- Inspect headlights and ensure all mirrors have good visibility.
- Determine that the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly.
- Confirm that the routes you’re using are convenient for your rig and have no restrictions on bridges and tunnels that could affect you.
Ultimately, only practice will help you become a confident driver when towing. Find a large parking lot in your neighborhood and sharpen your skills. Learn how to brake safely, back, make turns, and park in tight spaces. When you’re finally ready for the road, use these tips to navigate safely and avoid trailer sway:
- Take it slow when approaching corners and swing wide when making turns.
- Observe all posted speed limits and traffic signals.
- Don’t make any sudden steering maneuvers and abrupt stops.
- Always stick to the right lanes unless passing, turning, or entering or exiting a roadway
- Signal turns and lane shifts early to notify other drivers.
- More space is needed to slow down, so stay at least 4 seconds behind the vehicle ahead.
- Keep the speed low when driving in windy conditions or bad weather.
- Pull in to allow long queues to pass, especially on narrow roads.
- Only pass the vehicle in front when you are sure there are sufficient space and time to do so.
- Look further ahead than normal so you can easily react to changes in traffic or road conditions.
Towing a camper trailer is a tricky process that requires lots of preparation and a whole new set of skills. But that shouldn’t discourage you from owning a towable RV. With a little practice and our safety guide above, hitting the wide-open road in a travel trailer will be pretty straightforward.
The important thing to remember is to match your tow vehicle to the correct trailer, distribute weight according to manufacturer guidelines, hitch up correctly, learn the local towing regulations, practice before you hit the road, drive slowly, and avoid traveling in severe weather.
If you’re in the market for a towable RV, check out our inventory of new and used campers, and you could find your next adventure rig. We even offer financing to get you out on the road as soon as possible.