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

61

By Dave Kendall

Dear RV Travel,

I’m writing this about 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 an RV. 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 RV 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

##RVT949

61
Leave a Comment

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

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
wendy

good questions, couldn’t answer all the questions about my truck — #9 — I’ve googled until my eyes are crossing…still don’t know that answer 🙁

Jim Collins

Used to tow a 30 ft. Airstream in the seventies, with a Chevelle 4 door , luckily I had a good teacher, then we went to a suburban, at the time I was still driving a 30 ft. Straight box truck, never had a problem, probably my teacher taught me well, now I have a 29 ft. Jayco motor home.

Samuel

That was some very good questions and some answers may very some depending on the situation but number 1 thing is using common sense I had to learn every thing by myself that I know and it would have a big help would I have had some one to teach me what to check and look for as I started pulling trailers and big trucks i never had something happen but looking back there were somethings that should have been done differently to be safer I’m looking forward to seeing more on this educational and safety in towing

James

If you don’t know What type of fuel your vehicle uses I don’t think you should be driving at all .

Don Yeoman

Having been in sales at a horse trailer dealership for over 6 years I saw some very dangerous situations. When people asked the weight of the trailer in the beginning of the conversation I came to understand that, most likely, they had too light of a pull vehicle. I would ask the question “what is your towing capacity”. Probably 80% of these people had no clue what I was talking about and the balance of the conversation was used to educate and get their sights set on safety for them and their horses as well as other people on the road.
Towing capacity is set by the OEM and cannot be changed by adding lift kits, beefing up engines, etc. I always liked the answer “oh, my truck is a beast, it can pull it”…….really? How about getting it stopped? And how about in the case of an accident that you were not at fault, but because of being overloaded on tow capacity found to be liable?
Learn your vehicles towing capacity. I fault the
OEM’s for making it difficult to determine in their owners manuals and lack of training for their dealership sales people. I personally have talked to numerous dealership salespeople in trying to find an older trucks TC and they tried to give me GVWR……it’s not the same and much higher. There is also a difference between 5th wheel and gooseneck towing capacities.
Have a safe season.

TomS

Good questions but you need to add a few, like is your trailer ball the correct size and greased, is your vehicle hitch of the proper weight class, are your mirrors or camera adequate for the tow, if your tow is a toad is the tow bar attached correctly and appropriate for the load, do the towed lights work, is the safety chain hooked up, is the trailer near level on a flat surface so the hitch isn’t overloaded, etc.

Chip Brackett

Dave Kendall’s article on towing was right on. I have 2 million miles as a class A driver, accident free! The government mandated training for commercial drivers today does little more than teach them to pass the driving test. Please be aware of these dangerous CDL drivers on the road with us. Not all of them just the ones that have not had the time or correct training.

Ron

Wow another article to make people feel dumb.
Tire pressure depends on vehicle, load, and terrain. Carry a rapid inflating compressor (it won’t plug in your car charger port sorry) cause in dirt, mud, sand, snow, etc you want 10-25 psi but highway 32-40 psi (in vehicles I have drove some rigs go up in 100s psi) depending on your vehicles specs.
Now brake pads sorry but I gotta pull the wheels off to get a good look at how much pad I got left, do it every 6000 when I rotate tires. Stock brakes or oversized aftermarket, so many variations to change stopping in 100ft or 1000ft.
You failed to mention checking your shocks and springs, how much did the rear sag, do you have overload springs or leveling bags.
What class receiver do have is it rated higher or lower than your vehicles towing capacity.
And if you can’t back that trailer DON’T PULL IT!! You will kill someone when you’re forced to back up because the gas station pump is too close to the building for your 4door lwb dually and that 30′ camper to pull out and swing a turn.
This article was pointless as it answered nothing just tried to make people feel dumb.
So your tires 3 ply or 10 ply sidewalls??
Half ton, 3/4, 1ton truck?
Bumper pull or gooseneck or 5th wheel, they pull differently.
If you want to make it like your smart write a book and explain all the differences including truck size, dually or single tire transaxle vs single on both vehicles and trailer.
Load leveling (when is it needed and not)
And throw in how much extra fuel you should carry due to the loss in mileage for towing. Some camp sites may be more than a tank from a gas station.
But I rarely pull a trailer maybe a couple thousand miles in 24 years what could I possibly know. Not like my dad or uncles who had years of experience ever sat me down and explained stuff to me.
Bottom line if you are going to pull a trailer get someone with experience to teach you preferably in an open lot or field where the worst that could happen is you jackknife bend up your truck and snap a tongue.

David A Nelson

As a truck driver I agree with a lot of poeple not being trained right for trucks or rv. And yes I have a 36 ft montana also

Keira B

Adjusting the braking system is a subject that rarely gets adequately addressed. Most people don’t realize that the braking system needs frequent adjustment, testing and experimentation. Driving on a dirt road? You will need to adjust. Mountain curves? City driving? Brake pads wearing out? Many factors!

Shawn Hudson

The one thing I see people do wrong, is ignoring the payload capacity.
Your truck may rated to tow 9,000 lbs but may not have the capacity to tow 8,000 lbs camper when your family is in the truck ready to go.
1,600 lbs payload runs out fast with 1,000 lbs of tongue weight.

Wayne

Most of the questions don’t have a single answer. Answer varies with type And quality of equipment, load, drivers ability, etc. so each driver needs to find the details for their particular setup.

Joyce V. Hansen

All I have to say is I’ve been very lucky!! Woe is me, I could answer few of those questions. I don’t tow often as I have a class A. But I have in the past and will learn to tow before I hook up my 16′ car trailer. My question is, where would that be?

Cindy

Overloading is just as bad as all the things you have mentioned as it can cause some of those issues as well. I am amazed that on the forums I frequent we will often get a Newby who says, “I just bought a trailer. Can my truck tow it?”. THAT is a question you should ask BEFORE You buy, ,not after! I’m amazed that people who are otherwise intelligent or who do research on other issues don’t seem to do it regarding RVs. They are emotionally charged up and don’t ask the basic questions before even buying a rig. Not everyone should tow. In fact, horror of horrors, not everyone should have an RV because some are too irresponsible for that (your example of speeding down the highway over “tire speed”). People, if I can give two pieces of advice it is this – (1) ask your questions before you get an RV. And (2) read your TV’s owner’s manual. It will give you many of the answers you need regarding tow weight, etc. Don’t come and ask your fellow RVers something that you should know for yourself if you will bother to look in the owner’s manual for yourself. Happy camping!

Don

An overall good article BUT question #17 is not written properly. Nowhere in North America will you find a sign listing a “6 degree grade next 10 miles”. It should read “6 % grade next 10 miles.” They are not the same. A 6 degree grade over 10 miles will have you climbing 5519’ and a 6% grade over 10 miles will have you climbing 3168’.

Carol Leventhal

As a newbie to the RV world I would love to see a Towing 101 follow up article with answers to these questions.

Bill

#1 thing to know before you even try to match a tow vehicle and trailer .. GCVWR .. Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating. This can be found online in many places and sometimes in a vehicles Owner Manual under tow specs. A simple example: If your tow vehicle weighs 7500 lbs when fully fuelled, loaded for a trip, and the weight of all occupants added in .. and your trailer weighs 6500 lbs with full propane, water as much as you want to haul, and all your gear (clothing, food, tools and toys) for a total of 14000 lbs (7 tons!) and your tow vehicles GCVWR is 13000 (1000 lbs OVERloaded) then you have the 1st determining factor of the rest you need to know in place. You would be dangerously overloading your tow vehicles capabilities in pulling up even slight grades and more importantly being able to most effectively use your brakes and steering. Not to discount the fact that in the event of an insurance claim due to a wreck of any severity you would most likely be denied coverage because of neglectfully loading your rig.
The above is just one thing you HAVE to know and understand as a trailer towing RVer. The 110+ other MUST knows are found the same way .. research, ask questions, and don’t take a vehicle or trailer salesperson’s word as gospel. If you are not internet savvy then get the assistance of someone who is. You don’t have to be a Good Sam member to go on their site and read some of the links posted there on towing. I am sure clubs like Escapees and dozens of others all list resources too.
I found an interesting tidbit under my truck’s GCVWR when I read in the owner manual that it could tow 300 lbs LESS as a dually 1 ton than a single! (that is because of the extra weight of the 2 added wheels and tires. (2003 Chevy 3500 with 6.0 engine and crew cab).

#2 .. your tow set-up is only as safe as its worst tire .. (under/over inflated, improper weight capacity known generally as ‘load range’ and also in small print on the tire sidewall).

#3 .. well, you get the idea ..

Thomas

I believe that a lot of the faults of towing lie with the selling dealer. Most people don’t understand the need for weight distribution bars and loading the trailer to get proper weight on the hitch, both 5th wheel and travel trailers. The purchaser goes cheap and doesn’t want to spend money on weight distribution equipment or sway bars. So down the road they goes, half equipped. The dealer should insist they have them, know how to use them and be aware of limits on speed and weight on tires. I’ve seen travel trailers going down the road like a Hula dancers hips. God help us.

Charlie R.

I learned the answers to some of these questions long before I even thought about buying a 5th wheel because the techniques are applicable whether towing or not.
The one technique that I know for #9, is to turn on the heater. It helps the engine stay cooler by “pulling” heat off/away. This would also help on question #16. Running the air conditioner while driving up a long and steep incline in a hot area, (like a desert) will cause the engine to overheat.
I think another important question for a person to be able to answer, is do you know the speed limit/rating for your trailer? Basic trailer tires are rated between 55 and 65 mph. You can spend more money and upgrade the trailer tires for 75 mph. And pay attention to the tow vehicle’s tires, and rims, load rating.
Lots to know and learn when towing, or just driving.

JAMES D HARTMAN

So… I kind of hated and enjoyed this article. It felt like it was only 10% written. Great into, but I need you to provide resources for answers to your quiz.
I like to be educated. I dont like feeling condemned for my ignorance. I hope you have a follow up article for every question posed and update this one with a link to your answers.
Please. ☺️