The experts at NADAguides.com offer easy towing tips anyone can use.
Always consult your vehicle's owner's manual first for specific guideance when towing. Provided below is general information to help you get started.
So you've bought the perfect tow vehicle, the trailer and the toys and you're ready to head to the country for a weekend of fun. But do you know how much weight your vehicle can pull? Are you familiar with the ins-and-outs of driving a tow vehicle while pulling that trailer or fifth wheel?
Your homework should start BEFORE you buy – ideally, before you begin shopping for the perfect tow vehicle. "If you're interested in buying a truck, an SUV or a recreation vehicle for the purpose of towing, you need to understand exactly what you plan to tow and then find the appropriate vehicle to tow it with. Pre-planning is essential for overall towing performance and safety."
Towing Capacity Caution
First thing's first. You should start by determining the towing capacity of your truck, SUV or recreation vehicle. You can find this information by researching your specific vehicle within the Autos section of NADAguides.com. It's important to remember that towing capacity is more than just engine size and power. Pay very close attention to suspension specifications. A ½-ton pick-up truck is definitely not a safe choice for pulling a ¾-ton tow-behind. And as a rule, today's passenger cars are not good choices for towing, regardless of engine power or suspension parameters. Today's cars are equipped with computer systems tied to the transmission, and in many cases, if there's too much 'drag' on the back-end, cars simply won't shift right. Cars are meant for driving, not towing. Be sure to consult your dealer ahead of time if you plan on towing anything with your car.
Up next? The hitch. Choosing the correct hitch is essential to overall towing safety and performance. If you don't have a hitch installed on your tow vehicle, solicit the help of a professional who can install one for you. Additionally, it's important to know what you plan on pulling to determine the proper hitch set-up. Be sure to research the size of the hitch ball you'll need – usually this information is stamped on the tongue of your trailer. As a rule, the common hitch ball size is 2", although this size can vary depending on the type of trailer you use. Using the wrong hitch ball size can be very dangerous, so take the time and do your homework before you hit the open highway.
Having the proper hitch ball is one thing, but you must also consider the type of receiver you'll need for safe and successful towing. If you have a trailer hitch with a receiver, be sure to obtain a sleeve that will slide safely into place. The advantage of having a sleeve is that you can quickly and easily hook up to various sizes of hitch balls simply by exchanging the type of sleeve you use. When you're done towing, you can remove the sleeve to prevent it from getting in the way of access to the back of your vehicle. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to load groceries or objects into the back of your vehicle while obstacles are in your way. Sleeves are an easy and safe alternative and they can be removed when not in use.
Light the Way
Before you leave your driveway, you need to have lights for your trailer. If your vehicle is equipped with a lighting package, you should already have an adapter in place. If this is the case, you simply need to double check that the plug from your trailer matches the plug on your vehicle. If it doesn't match, you can buy an adapter at your local dealership or auto parts store.
If your vehicle is NOT equipped with a lighting package, you'll need to have a loom connected to your wiring harness. Normally, looms are four color-coated wires that are located at the rear section of your vehicle, including a wire for brake lights, a wire for running lights, one for the right turn signal and one for the left. Additional wiring will be required if your trailer is equipped with an electronic braking system. You need to verify that your vehicle's alternator will handle the extra lighting capacity. Your truck could lose its charge if it isn't properly equipped. Consider upgrading to a higher amp unit if your tow vehicle can't handle the additional electrical pull.
You're just about ready to hit the open highway. But before you take off, you need to remember a very important aspect of towing. The extra weight you will be adding to your vehicle will cause extra heat that, over time, could prematurely wear out your transmission. One way to prevent this from happening is to add a transmission coolant to your engine. By circulating a high-quality transmission fluid through the radiator, you decrease hot running temperatures due to additional weight loads, thus maintaining the quality and performance of your transmission over the long haul.
Bigger Radiators = Better Performance
A higher-capacity radiator or an auxiliary cooling fan can prevent your vehicle from overheating.
Increased weight always puts a strain on an engine's cooling system. It's important to consider having a higher-capacity radiator or cooling fan installed. It could end up saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in future engine repairs.
Smart Towing Starts with 'Smart' Trucks
Today's manufacturers are onto something. If you're shopping for a new tow vehicle, the towing package option offers more than just a hitch – it typically includes an over-sized radiator, a heavy-duty alternator and a transmission cooler; essential engine components for pulling additional weight. Again, you can research this information ahead of time by referring to the specifications pages of NADAguides.com.
Finally, the following safety tips are suggested for anyone interested in hitting the open road in a tow vehicle.
- Remember that you have additional length behind you when towing a vehicle, so be sure you are cautious when navigating tight turns, backing up or changing lanes on the highway.
- Use your side and rear view mirrors – they're a tower's best friend. Mirrors help you see things beside you and behind you simultaneously while helping you avoid unnecessary accidents in the process.
- Slow down. You're pulling additional weight (and length) and as such, the handling of your vehicle may be compromised. You won't be able to stop as quickly and your vehicle may not maneuver as efficiently as it did without the trailer or the recreation vehicle behind it. Use caution while driving in every situation.
- Be aware of your turning radius – it makes sense to practice towing before you set out on your trip. Perform turns in a safe place, such as your driveway, an empty parking lot or a quiet street. Get a feel for your turning capabilities ahead of time to avoid 'sticky parking and turning situations' during your trip.
- If you're traveling to or in a windy climate (through mountain passes or across open plains), drive slowly and pay close attention to conditions. Towing a high profile vehicle behind you (like a boat or a recreation vehicle) can exacerbate 'pull' on your vehicle; the effect of getting pulled to the left or the right in windy conditions. Take it slow and drive with caution if these conditions exist and persist.
- Practice, practice, practice – rehearse parking, backing up, launching your boat or securing your RV before you hit the open road. Launching a boat on a busy Labor Day weekend while others are waiting to do the same thing is probably not the best scenario for first-timers or 'towing newbies'. Practice ahead of time to avoid embarrassing and difficult driving situations during your vacation.