Saturday, December 9, 2023


If you can’t answer these questions, you shouldn’t be towing

By Dave Kendall

Dear RVtravel,
I’m writing this about trailer towing because it has become dear to my heart, and is probably the most important issue for towing RVers. What really stimulated my thinking is my experience towing a travel trailer for 22,000 miles and towing a 5th wheel for about 15,000 miles, all in the past five years. We recently returned from a trip across the U.S. – north into Alberta and British Columbia, down the West Coast and back to Virginia. I towed through just about every terrain: mountains to plains, sunshine, wind and rain. I’m still learning.

Even more, I am writing because I have become aware that various organizations offer towing classes that only teach people how to back up a trailer. That’s good, but it greatly concerns me to think that once someone is given instructions on how to back up an RV, that they are now “trained” to tow. Occasionally a person will tell me, “I hand the keys to my spouse and then I sleep!” Out of curiosity, I might ask a very basic question and realize that the driver knows very little. Someone hooked up the trailer and did all of the checks and then handed the keys over. Considering my experiences towing, that’s a scary thought!

Towing 6,000 to 18,000 pounds is serious business with potentially serious consequences. I’d rather ride with someone who does not know how to back up a trailer than someone who doesn’t understand towing, doesn’t observe road conditions, is impatient, and passes other vehicles frequently. Backing up might be only 5 percent of what a person should know.

The most dangerous aspect of towing comes when we’re driving, understanding what the tow vehicle is doing, what it is capable of, and what the trailer is doing. Driving a tow vehicle with no understanding of what’s going on is dangerous. Towing is physically tiring, requiring 100 percent of your attention. You’re constantly listening to your tow vehicle, watching the road ahead, avoiding obstacles, keeping the trailer tires on the road, being aware of your truck brakes, being aware of your trailer brakes, watching for overhead obstacles, watching traffic behind you, knowing where you can pull off, knowing the height of your trailer, knowing about tire pressures and tire loads… whew!

Here’s a quiz. If a driver cannot answer these basic questions, they are at risk for problems:

  1. Do you know what kind of fuel your truck uses?
  2. Do you know how to measure your tire pressure and what the pressures should be?
  3. How often should you check tire pressure? Can you do it?
  4. Do you understand how a tire pressure monitor works and what it tells you?
  5. Do you understand your truck engine’s RPMs and when the engine is working hard?
  6. Do you understand the transmission options for shifting gears on your truck and when to use them? (Regular automatic shifting, tow/haul mode, manual shifting…)
  7. Do you know how to read engine or transmission temperature?
  8. Do you understand engine and transmission temperature and can you determine when they are running hot?
  9. If your engine and/or transmission are running hot, do you know temporary techniques to reduce their temperature?
  10. How many feet do you think it takes to stop your rig? Can you visually describe how far that is?
  11. What techniques do you use to manage your rig’s speed on downhills?
  12. Do you know how to adjust trailer brake gain?
  13. Do you know when you might add or subtract trailer brake gain?
  14. Do you know how to test your trailer brake adjustment?
  15. Do you know how to visually inspect truck wheels for excessive brake pad wear?
  16. When you see a sign on a hill that reads, “Cars may need to turn off their A/C,” why is that?
  17. What should you do when you see a sign on a hill that reads, “6-degree grade next 10 miles”?

For experienced people who tow, I watch as they zoom past in the fast lane, merging in and out of lanes, exceeding the speed limit for RV tires. I feel my own 5th wheel being affected by road conditions (wind, bridge approaches, rough roads) and watch as their trailer sways like the Mayflower sailing ship… and they don’t slow down. I watch as they zoom downhill at 65+ mph on steep grades, unable to see the turn ahead, wondering if their rig is going to be the next viral trailer towing YouTube accident video.

I really wish the RV community would promote “Towing 101.” If we don’t educate our drivers, the government will eventually do it for us.

— Dave Kendall, Fredericksburg, VA



RV Travel
RV Travel
Our goal at, now in our 22nd year of continuous online publication, is to provide a comprehensive source of quality news, advice, and information about RVs and the RV lifestyle. Our writers are all (human) RVing experts who write for you, not advertisers, stockholders or Google rankings. You won't find more valuable information about RVing anywhere else—and with no spam, ever.



4 15 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Joe (@guest_242515)
5 months ago

Funny timing, I felt the same way as the author an some of the commenters here about how many unsafe rigs are out there on the road so made this video discussing all the issues with tow weights, how to measure your tow vehicle/trailer combo, and the principles of how to measure if your weight distribution hitch is setup right.

I hope this helps some folks.

Gilbert (@guest_242443)
5 months ago

Great post Dave!

Irv (@guest_242410)
5 months ago

The biggest lack of knowlede is the “Tire and Loading Information” sticker on the driver side door jam.
“The combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed” with a weight listed.

That weight includes passengers, dogs, personal effects, cargo, plus the tongue weight of the trailer. My F150 sticker says 1768 lbs.

With the tongue weight at 10% to 15% of the ready to camp weight of the trailer, it’s very easy to exceed the safe weight.

Truck stops with scales are your friend.

KellyR (@guest_242372)
5 months ago

I have witnessed, two times, trailers going over and taking the truck with them. I think one of the most important things to know is how to get out of a tail wagging the dog situation.

M Snyder (@guest_242331)
5 months ago

REALLY need to address the ‘tow vehicle’ part of the discussion. SUV’s, mid-sized trucks (Ranger/Colorado etc…) and even 1/2 ton pickups (Tundra/Titan are 1/2 ton frames no matter how big your deer guard is) should NOT be towing any size of RV. Yes, when the dealer tells you that you can ‘pull’ the rig with your vehicle, he is technically correct, but there is a more important factor of stopping that beast, and the possibility (especially with the poor driving mentioned in your article) of the trailer ‘winning’ the battle to be in front of you. When those occur, you need a Heavy Duty truck capable of keeping you in control.

Left Coast Geek (@guest_242355)
5 months ago
Reply to  M Snyder

nonsense, lots of trailers those vehicles can tow, for example 16-17 foot Scamps and Casitas are all under 3500 lb GWR, my 21 foot Escape fiberglass trailer is 4500 lbs GWR. I won’t tow with a ‘crossover’ SUV as these are front wheel drive even when they are ‘AWD’ (the rear wheels only engage when the fronts lose traction), and they don’t have any sort of frame, but a light truck like a Tacoma or Colorado, or a similar 4WD-centric SUV (4Runner, early not current Explorer) can tow these just fine.

Now, if by ‘any RV’, you mean the typical 36 ft overloaded monster sunblocker with its triple slideouts, sure, I agree whole-heartedly, Super Duty pickup truck /only/ when you get much over 5000 lbs trailer GWR, and a 350/3500 with dualies when you push 10000 lbs.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles (@guest_242406)
5 months ago

Thank you, Left Coast Geek. My LilSnoozy molded fiberglass trailer weighs under 2500 lbs and since I’m of an ultralightdisposition myself it comes in fully loaded at about 3,000 lb. I was doing fine till question 12 and then I was going Huh? My Durango frame Citadel van is rated for up to 10,000 lbs and I can NOT imagine buying anything over 5,000 lbs. But if I ever do, rest assured I will take a class that will specifically address trailer weight gain. And hopefully I’ll find an affordable pull that has a stick shift. That’s about the only thing I would change on my current vehicle-if I could-I was told that stick shifts just aren’t available anymore.

Conni (@guest_242397)
5 months ago
Reply to  M Snyder

🤣🤣 Is it Apil fools day?

Herman (@guest_242306)
5 months ago

We drive a small motorhome. Many of these questions apply to motorhomes, not just those towing. The ‘Sail’ factor is a biggie, knowing what the wind can or will do. For years we drove across NE New Mexico and often would see wreckage of all kinds of RVs along the east side of the two-lane highway. Have personally seen two towing rigs lose it, escaping a head-on crash by a distance of few feet.

Bob Amoroso (@guest_242263)
5 months ago

I would add; Do you know to check the ALL the fluid levels? Brake Fluid? Coolant? Power Steering? Transmission? Engine Oil? etc.

Also wouldn’t it be interesting to have an RV rodeo, where you can show off your driving abilities, backing up, and with an RV knowledge test.

And, here in California the Highway Patrol have awesome truck inspection facilities, why wouldn’t they commit to, even one day a month, bring in the RV’s and inspect them, weigh them etc.

Last edited 5 months ago by Bob Amoroso
Alan (@guest_242224)
5 months ago


Ray (@guest_242209)
5 months ago

Good article. I would add the question, How often do you check the temperature of your trailer’s wheel bearings and when? or check the undercarriage to ensure the suspension is intact?

Vince S (@guest_242659)
5 months ago
Reply to  Ray


Point a heat gun at your spindle bearings and let them share their observations instead of waiting for what they endure to become your “unforeseen” catastrophe. They can indicate discrepancies in loading, cornering, speeding, tire sizing and pressures, braking, tracking, and certainly inadequate bearing preload/lubrication.

Jim Johnson (@guest_242208)
5 months ago

Yes, I pass your towing quiz. Well written I might add. As for towing 101, I am a former adult educator. You don’t teach adults, you help them learn. And if they are dead set against learning for whatever personal reason that might be, an educator isn’t going to help them. Even if the class is mandatory and includes written or proficiency tests. They will go off and do as they please – – until gravity and other physical laws help change their mind. Hopefully without injury to themselves or worse, innocent bystanders.

Jon (@guest_242194)
5 months ago

My co-worker told me how he recently was driving with his wife to a wedding in the Midwest. They came upon a driver actively towing a travel trailer down the road with a dog attached to the camper by a leash and being dragged down the road. He immediately tried to signal to the lone female driver/occupant of the tow vehicle to pull over but she refused. She came to a stop at an intersection and he immediately drove around to the front of her vehicle and blocked her in. He got out and started yelling to her that she was dragging her dog. She initially seemed angry that he had blocked her in. After she exited her vehicle and saw that she was dragging her poor dog she stated “Oh my God!” My co-worker helped get the dog in her vehicle. The dog had road rash and was breathing hard, presumably from being dragged by his collar! My co-worker thought the dog likely would survive and the woman left with the dog inside her tow vehicle. Some people are too stupid and irresponsible to be towing!

Susan (@guest_242280)
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon

Before we take off, both my husband and I walk all around the trailer and truck checking that jacks are up, doors are shut, look underneath for anything, etc. It only takes a few minutes. That poor dog!

Conni (@guest_242399)
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon

Funny, but I’ve seen various versions of that story all over the internet for 20 years.

dave (@guest_242422)
5 months ago
Reply to  Conni

National Lampoon

LauraC (@guest_242543)
5 months ago
Reply to  Conni

Yeah, well there’s all kinds of dumb out there. I was sitting on my front porch and saw a guy driving a car, same situation. His dog had been tied to the rear bumper and he forgot about it (beer involved) and was driving down the street dragging that poor dog. We ran him down and stopped him, but poor doggy.

Bob P (@guest_242177)
5 months ago

Surely you jest, are you suggesting retired executives of companies who never drove anything larger than their Mercedes should get training in their 45’ class A with their Mercedes’ behind them? They’re the same, both have steering wheels, brake pedals, etc.. or the driver of that crew cab long bed dually pulling that 45’ 5th wheel should not drive that rig like they drive their Fiat 500? Now you’re asking a lot. Lol It’s up to campground owners not to have 90 degree turns or boulders protecting things alongside the road. IMHO RV dealers should be required to provide instructions on the handling characteristics of RV’s with every sale, it should be offered at least.

Conni (@guest_242400)
5 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

RV dealers should be required… Seriously? When did peronal responsibility go away? Every one is responsible except the person that should be.

Tom E (@guest_242175)
5 months ago

And the one I learned this past trip from the midwest to the NE was: Do you know if your truck and trailer tire lug nuts are torqued? How often should you check the lug nut torque. And have the lug bolts been over torqued?

I check my own bearings and brakes as needed. I then torque the lug nuts to specification before setting out on the road. Just after I left home this past trip two lug bolts snapped. That resulted in the other 6 loosening up and I lost a wheel within 25 miles of home. Thankfully no damage from the tire, I was told it rolled down the highway a quarter mile before bouncing to a stop in the ditch. A friendly passerby retrieved the tire.

I should have known the lug nuts were over torqued the first time I took them off. I took 2 feet of cheater bar on the end of my breaker bar to remove the nuts – well in excess of 200 ft-lb of torque on bolts rated to 170 ft-lb max. I was able to make it to my destination by stopping every 30-50 miles to check the nuts.

Johnm405 (@guest_242170)
5 months ago

I would like to see the answers to these questions also. I feel I know the answers but 7.8.9 are not always possible without adding more gauges. Number 16 means that the climb is high, and you could overheat your vehicle with the AC on. California has this sign on I 15 going towards Nev.

Calvin Wing (@guest_242166)
5 months ago

I agree with everything you’ve mentioned. What’s even more confusing is why states allow RV towing and motor home operation without requiring any additional licensing or training beyond a simple driver’s license.
Just because the vehicle isn’t used for financial gain doesn’t change the laws of physics.
Air brakes in a class A are the same system that’s used on a commercial truck or passenger bus. Both require training to make daily inspections that a CDL or bus driver has to do to prevent failure’s of the system components.
Braking, wind loading, grades, tire inspection… none of these critical factors are ever considered in non commercial licensing.
Okay, I’m putting away my soapbox now.

Pam (@guest_242360)
5 months ago
Reply to  Calvin Wing

As a commercial driver (CDL-B) who drives 35-40 ft. transit buses five days a week, I totally agree. It baffles me that we are held to such high and strict standards while Regular John or Jane Doe can hop into a vehicle just as large and dangerous without a minute of training and testing and drive off. Both of us are capable of causing catastrophic damage and casualties and the only difference is (for commercial bus drivers, anyway) is that we are carrying passengers we are responsible for.

Carolyn (@guest_242160)
5 months ago

This article covers many of my towing questions. I would really like to learn all the things mentioned in this article. Looks like a fantastic opportunity for a good how to video! Until then, I guess I’ll just rely on common sense and a huge amount of luck.

Pam (@guest_242362)
5 months ago
Reply to  Carolyn

Please don’t rely on “common sense and luck”. You could be putting your life and others’ in danger. There are plenty of YouTube videos and Google to address any questions you have. Consider the sources and look for common answers from different sources to determine is something is effective/real/safe/realistic.

Mickey Bailey (@guest_242150)
5 months ago

These are seventeen great questions. Where can I find the answers? Especially questions 7,8, and 9. What about number 16, I’ve been driving a long time and have never seen this sign.

Conni (@guest_242401)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mickey Bailey

#16 – I 15 going from southern California into southern Nevada for one.

Dan (@guest_242146)
5 months ago

All good points. The problem is that the people who need to know these things are not the people who read articles like this. They were born knowing everything they needed to know.

Tom (@guest_242132)
5 months ago

Now do a similar article on towed vehicles. We have seen a few questionable ones.

TJ Miller (@guest_242123)
5 months ago

Agreed on your article, but one needed addition:

– Do you know your vehicle’s GVWR, Max Tow, and Max Payload?

I’ve seen too many people blow past max tow because the RV dealer lied to them outright. Many half-ton trucks, even newer ones, have a max tow as low as 4400 lbs (depending on engine, gear ratio, trim level, etc), in spite of advertising saying their brand of truck can tow “up to 13,000 pounds!!!!”

Before you buy the trailer, know your truck’s maximums.

Bob P (@guest_242179)
5 months ago
Reply to  TJ Miller

I have seen several 1/2T trucks that once you put your family and 60# dog in them they only have 300-400# left in cargo carrying, a small trailer will overload it.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.