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

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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

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Patrick Cahill
1 month ago

this article would be more useful if it provided answers to the questions and not just raise the issues.

Viper
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick Cahill

It’s just a millennial content creator that doesn’t know the answers.

Howard
2 months ago

Excellent!

TravelingMan
2 months ago

Another test question…Can you select the correct axle ratio for your tow truck? How does the axle ratio affect mpg and performance?

See these informative websites about selecting a proper axle ratio. Many may not have considered this before…

https://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/how-to-choose-the-right-axle-ratio-for-your-pickup-truck.html

https://www.forconstructionpros.com/trucks/trucks-accessories/article/10288893/select-the-correct-pickup-axle-ratio

https://www.hardworkingtrucks.com/understanding-axle-ratios/

Viper
1 month ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

Its a package deal in most consumer grade trucks 1/2-1 ton. You choose your tow rating and it matches engine, transmission, and differential options spaced out by, oh you know, an engineer. There may be certain situations where you may want a tall or short gear, but generally, for most RV towers with consumer grade trucks, knowing you payload and towing capacities is much more important.

TravelingMan
2 months ago

Descending Grades:

How many people know what a run-a-way ramp is? Do you know how to use it?

When your rig and tow vehicle brakes get too hot from riding them (it’s called “Brake Fade”), you will soon be WITHOUT any brakes. The best thing to do is to avoid the use of brakes or use them sparingly.

First, maintain control of the vehicle by using a lower gear. If you have an engine brake, use it. I’ve been on grades of 8% and more with a 42′ rig and Ram 3500 Dually. You will EASILY pick up speed (and a lot of it!). To avoid the use of the truck brake, I set the engine brake and dropped to 2nd gear. It’s slow. It’s noisy from the transmission and engine whine. Engine and transmission temps will go up. Even with the lower gear, I had to use brakes on occasion. Once your speed picks up and the truck can no longer overcome it, you’ll have to apply brakes (Don’t forget to set your trailer brakes for mountain driving prior to starting down). Apply the truck/RV brakes hard to slow the vehicle(s) and then back off. Let them cool before hitting them again. If its not too much overspeed, you can use the pumping method. On that 8% grade over several miles, I applied the brakes just 3 or 4 times. Mostly just prior to the curves in the road.

Back to the Run-A-Way ramp…

Each can be made of different materials. You are going to make a mess of the vehicles but which would you rather be? Alive or possibly dead? You’ve already lost your brakes and you are in a run-a-way condition.

TYPES OF RAMPS:

Per Wikipedia (Read the article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runaway_truck_ramp)

Arrester bed: a gravel-filled ramp adjacent to the road that uses rolling resistance to stop the vehicle.[1] The required length of the bed depends on the mass and speed of the vehicle, the grade of the arrester bed, and the rolling resistance provided by the gravel.

Gravity escape ramp: a long, upwardly inclined path parallel to the road. Substantial length is required. Control can be difficult for the driver; problems include rollback after the vehicle stops.

Sand pile escape ramp: a short length of loosely piled sand. Problems include sudden, forceful deceleration; sand being affected by weather conditions (moisture and freezing); and vehicles vaulting and/or overturning after contacting the sand pile.

Mechanical-arrestor escape ramp: a proprietary system of stainless-steel nets transversely spanning a paved ramp to engage and retard a runaway vehicle. Ramps of this type are typically shorter than gravity ramps, and can work even on a downhill grade. These systems tend to be costly, but may save expensive real estate in crowded areas, and prevent even more costly crashes. One such ramp at Avon, Connecticut in the United States has an electrically heated pavement surface to prevent snow and ice accumulation.

Alternatives: such as a vehicle arresting barrier.

Here is a great source for mountain driving grades if you don’t have it:

https://www.mountaindirectory.com/

It downloads to your laptop, i-pad or other device to view off line.

Here are a couple of YouTube Videos showing truckers that had to use one…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5KgKebgkwk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6mvUqqQ6E

Brake Fade Article/Run-A-Way Ramps:

https://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-parts/brakes/brake-problems/brake-failure5.htm

https://www.fullbay.com/blog/runaway-truck-ramp/

Just another item that everyone should know before getting an RV License. It applies to all forms of RVing.

If you don’t know this, now is your chance to start. If you know this, its a good time to brush up before hitting the mountains. Yellowstone, Wyoming has some of the steepest I’ve experienced. Some are 13%.

TravelingMan
2 months ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

Here is yet a better run-a-way truck video…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYpIXsbLUgE

There are plenty of these on YouTube to watch.

Just look up run-way truck or RV ramp.

Dalton Mccormick
2 months ago

I have read the comments, and I think this article is good because people are talking and showing an interest in knowing more, but you need to do your own homework,just like in school,otherwise you won’t retain it

Larry Blaha
2 months ago

Thank you, good check list.

Kathryn Arnold
2 months ago

Okay… I’m grateful that the light’s been shone and revealed the great gaps in my knowledge of how to RV safely. Where do I sign up for instruction??

TravelingMan
2 months ago
Reply to  Kathryn Arnold

Escapees club…They have a week long boot camp for newbies and those looking to improve their skills. They are in Livingston, TX but I think they do training across the US from time to time. Check their website:

http://www.escapees.com/education/

Kathryn Arnold
2 months ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

Thanks. I’ve heard good things about them.

Jim
2 months ago

Great questions — definitely need to consider a series of articles to review these question and provide answers.

wendy
2 months ago

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 🙁

Michael R Hale
2 months ago
Reply to  wendy

Turn on the heater. Helps remove heat from the engine. Not sure about the transmission; when we towed, I had two transmission coolers in parallel.

Rev Carole Brickey
2 months ago
Reply to  wendy

My late husband had auxlliary fans he clicked on and or run the heater in the truck, turn off air conditioner

Skip Gimbrone
2 months ago
Reply to  wendy

Turn on your dash heater

TravelingMan
2 months ago
Reply to  wendy

If you don’t have a heavy duty radiator with the right fan and a heavy duty auxiliary transmission cooler, you need to get one. This is the leading way to reduce heat. Heat transmits to engine and transmission failure faster than a pirahna can clean a beef rib.

2nd… Don’t just shut off your engine when you stop. Gradually slowing down helps best but at least allow the engine and transmission to cool down prior to shutting down. When we need fuel, I coast or slow down a few miles prior to an exit.

Some of the trucks are coming out with a shutdown timer. Ram has it as an option in their truck line.

Benny H Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  wendy

Lower the loading where possible. Use a higher gear on manuals, ensure automatics are in drive, not 1 or 2, Turn off auxiliary equipment such as AC. Start the heater even in summer. It removes heat from engine. If these aren’t enough then pull over leaving the engine run open hood and let the drive train cool before shutting off and checking fluid levels. There is more but these will address most overheating.

Jim Collins
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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

STEPHEN P Malochleb
2 months ago
Reply to  James

Thanks for the laugh James, but boy are you so right.:):)

Don Yeoman
2 months ago

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.

Ron V
2 months ago
Reply to  Don Yeoman

What is the difference between gooseneck and 5th wheel towing capacities? I had no idea they were different since both tow from just over the rear axle. I had a standard 5th wheel hitch but bought a new truck and installed an Anderson hitch to the gooseneck ball in the bed. Does this equal a gooseneck hitch?

Bob p
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron V

I believe the reference is to goose neck and fifth wheel towing capacity is different from “bumper pull” ratings. The goose neck/fifth wheel ratings are the same.

TomS
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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.

ED SHEAR
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Mr. Kendall’s ask questions of the reader but taught us nothing, a useless article

JGinFL
2 months ago
Reply to  ED SHEAR

So no one has the responsibility to find answers for themselves anymore? Only whoever writes thought provoking articles are the ones responsible to answer their own questions? Impossible, what with answers all varying to each specific rig. Next thing, you’ll be suing the author for his answers pertaining to an 8,000 lb rig, when something happens to you and your 15,000 lb rig. Unbelievable! Take responsibility for yourselves, folks, and stop being lazy! If the author knows the answers, you should be able to find them, too. I don’t think he was trying to be condescending, just trying to get you to think and be aware. (For some reason, I keep thinking ‘Entitled’. Would probably complain if the answers were handed to you on a silver platter, instead of a gold one.)

Len Yancey
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Not everyone has your body of knowledge. I think the article is a good reminder to those of us just learning that you can always learn more in order to stay safe.

Kathryn Arnold
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Thank you for adding to the list of things I now see I need to learn. I’m sorry to see, however, that your delivery style is less than respectful of a fellow traveler on this planet. I didn’t have the benefit of your all-knowing relatives and I’m grateful for Mr. Kendall taking the time to bring these things to my attention.

wayne
2 months ago
Reply to  Kathryn Arnold

I agree with Kathryn. Like so many of these type social media locations there is always someone with their ass on their shoulders. The original post gave good points for folks to consider. Mr. Kendall did a service for many. On the other hand RON, you make a butt of yourself with your condescending manner.

Barb U.
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

The writer of the article is not trying to make anyone feel dumb. Quite the contrary.
He is merely trying to help through asking valid and relevant questions while making the further point that if one does not know the answer(s); take the Towing 101 class.

Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

So Ron, It sounds like you are who the article was talking too!

Every set up IS different, which is why he listed these questions. This blog is to promote safety and help people learn. Why the snarky reply??!

POBoyPCB
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Ron, I think you missed the whole point of the article! It’s not to “make people feel dumb”; It did not ask that everyone know everything about every vehicle, but rather, do you know the important things about YOUR OWN vehicle?
All those things are things each of us should know about OUR vehicle, not everyone else’s. Safe, happy travels to you!

David A Nelson
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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!

TravelingMan
2 months ago
Reply to  Keira B

A lot of people set it and forget it…As you pointed out, there are reasons to monitor and adjust accordingly.

Shawn Hudson
2 months ago

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
2 months ago

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.

Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  Wayne

He wasn’t looking for a single answer, he asked if anyone would know the answer or answers to the question.

Wayne
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Yea, I was more thinking of the people that wondered why the author didn’t provide the answers.

Mark Polsue
2 months ago
Reply to  Wayne

The author, in my opinion is trying to get people to think about themselves and their skills or lack of skills when it comes to towing their RV. He wasn’t trying to be exhaustive, but likely could have been. A possible “wake up call, ” in other words.

TravelingMan
2 months ago
Reply to  Wayne

That’s why it should be mandatory to take a class BEFORE getting a license or BEFORE making a purchase. This includes smaller units as well. How many times I have seen jackknifed trailers and those running without tail lights or blinkers. Many don’t know about safety chains or how to calculate the size chain or restraint. And again, many don’t know about load levelers or braking distances. So much to be considered before just jumping in. What about a proper drivers license?