By Dave Kendall
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:
- Do you know what kind of fuel your truck uses?
- Do you know how to measure your tire pressure and what the pressures should be?
- How often should you check tire pressure? Can you do it?
- Do you understand how a tire pressure monitor works and what it tells you?
- Do you understand your truck engine’s RPMs and when the engine is working hard?
- 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…)
- Do you know how to read engine or transmission temperature?
- Do you understand engine and transmission temperature and can you determine when they are running hot?
- If your engine and/or transmission are running hot, do you know temporary techniques to reduce their temperature?
- How many feet do you think it takes to stop your rig? Can you visually describe how far that is?
- What techniques do you use to manage your rig’s speed on downhills?
- Do you know how to adjust trailer brake gain?
- Do you know when you might add or subtract trailer brake gain?
- Do you know how to test your trailer brake adjustment?
- Do you know how to visually inspect truck wheels for excessive brake pad wear?
- When you see a sign on a hill that reads, “Cars may need to turn off their A/C,” why is that?
- 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
- Triple towing: Is it legal? is it safe? Should you do it?
- Safe towing speed—How fast is too fast for towing?