Summer has just about arrived here in the US, bringing with it outdoor activities that can require heavy equipment. In preparation for trailer towing, I have compiled my top five towing tips specific to boating and camping for both experienced and new trailering drivers.
- Make sure you know all your weights and capacities.
Besides trailer weight rating and tongue weight rating, there are several other ratings for the tow vehicle – gross vehicle, axle and gross combination weight rating – and it is the operator’s responsibility to stay within all of these. It is much more common for people to underestimate the weight of the trailer and its contents so, before your trip, visit a truck scale with your loaded trailer to know for sure. Travel trailers tend to use weight distributing hitches at weights above 5000 lbs. and boats almost never use weight distributing hitches. General Motors light duty vehicles allow up to 7000 lbs. of loaded trailer weight before weight distribution is required, but in all cases, check trailer manufacturer’s recommendations and requirements.
- Develop a trailer hookup process and inspection checklist to make sure everything is properly connected and secured.
This is not your typical every day driving so don’t try to remember it all. Feel free to use and/or build off my trailer towing checklist. You’ll see from my checklist that it is important to note the max height of your RV trailer, including the A/C. Avoid any overpass with less than 1 ft. clearance. I recommend writing the height on a card to keep on your sun visor or console to reference on the road.
- Don’t be in a hurry.
Many states have lower speed limits for vehicles towing campers or boats, but in any event, higher speeds (above about 65 mph) make braking and handling more difficult. Trailer sway is speed related and can become a concern. Higher speeds also increase drag significantly and burn more fuel. I know spots can be tight especially at a campground or boat ramp and the pressure to be done and out of the way can be great but rushing will not improve results. Also, trailering taxes a driver more than every day driving so be sure to take breaks from time to time.
- Drive smooth and anticipate what other drivers will do.
Avoid abrupt or hard steering maneuvers. Leave at least twice as much room ahead of you to allow for the additional reaction time needed with your much longer and heavier load. Wide travel trailers or boats can be 102″ (8 1/2′) wide, which can take up just about the entire lane width on a 2-lane rural highway. When driving on grades, crest the hill no faster than you want to descend. Most GM products with trailering capabilities over 3500 lbs. have tow/haul and engine grade breaking, which help greatly with this task. If your vehicle doesn’t have these features, manually downshift on downgrades to maintain speed. At all times, anticipate what might happen around you. Many drivers do not want to be behind trailers and may drive aggressively.
- When backing up, have a spotter help if possible and survey the area before you start.
Try to pick a reference object on each side to work from. Start with one hand at the bottom of the wheel and to make the trailer back to the left, move your hand left. Conversely, move right to back the trailer right. Small corrections are best but if you have to make larger maneuvers at any point in the process or if you get confused, simply put one hand at the bottom of the wheel and start again. If you are close to jackknife, pull forward a few feet to straighten out and restart. Be sure drive wheels have traction, especially when retrieving a boat.
This is a lot of information to remember when driving so practice as much of this as you can in a large, open space to get comfortable with towing a trailer before heading out on the main roads. Treat every trip as another time to practice and further improve your skills.
Robert Krouse is a General Motors trailering engineer. For over 20 years, Robert has designed most trailer hitches for GM and assists in setting trailer rating specs for most vehicles. He also chairs the Society of Automotive Engineers committee working to standardize the trailer rating process for the industry and helps represent GM’s trailer towing interests outside of the company.