Newcomers to the RVing lifestyle will have a few new skills to learn as they get ready to set off on their first adventure. Perhaps the most intimidating of the bunch is towing. This somewhat tricky skill is a critical piece to taking your RV out on the road and getting to your destination safely.
The technical knowledge required to properly tow your RV may seem daunting at first glance, but towing is actually not too hard once you get the hang of it. In this comprehensive guide, we will break down some of the basic concepts so you feel comfortable out on the road.
Before you can start towing your RV, it’s important that you know exactly how much you’re actually able to tow with the vehicle you’ll be using to drive. If you overload your vehicle by trying to pull too much weight, disaster could strike. The strain on your engine and transmission could cause a catastrophic failure or hamper your ability to steer and brake your vehicle. This can cause a terrible accident, but thankfully, it’s completely avoidable if you know what you’re doing.
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All you have to do is confirm your vehicle’s towing capacity, compare it to the weight of your trailer, and make sure the capacity is higher. There are a few ways to figure out your towing capacity:
Find the given number straight from your manufacturer. This is the simplest way to figure out towing capacity, and usually the most accurate one. You can usually find this in your owner’s manual in the towing section.
Locate the sticker on the door jamb inside the driver’s side door. This number also comes from the manufacturer. Not all vehicles have this sticker, but if yours does, it makes this process a breeze.
Calculate it yourself. To calculate the number yourself, you’ll take your vehicle’s gross combined vehicle weight rating (the maximum weight of your loaded truck and weight of the attached trailer) and subtract the curb weight (your vehicle’s weight when it’s empty) from it. The resulting number will be your towing capacity.
It’s worth clarifying here that trucks tend to have the most towing capacity of any vehicle, so if you plan to haul a heavy trailer with lots of equipment, you’ll probably want to use a truck. With that being said, many SUVs and similar vehicles have the ability to tow as well, so if you have a lightweight trailer, you can probably get away with one of those.
Regardless, never just assume your vehicle can tow your trailer. Always check your vehicle’s towing capacity first and compare it with your trailer’s weight.
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Hitching your trailer to your vehicle properly is just about as important as staying within the confines of your towing capacity. There are a few main types of hitches, and it’s important to know each of them so you can get the right one for your particular camper trailer:
Receiver hitch. These hitches place the burden of your trailer’s tongue weight primarily on the bumper and frame, and typically aren’t used on huge trailers. Receiver hitches can be great for trailers that are mid-sized or smaller, though.
Weight-distributing hitch. Unlike receiver hitches, these distribute the weight of your trailer’s tongue evenly across all the wheels of both the vehicle and trailer. It’s important to note that your vehicle will need to have a hitch receiver installed in order to use one of these.
Gooseneck hitch. You can only use a gooseneck hitch with a pickup truck, but they’re excellent hitches if you can use them. Heavy loads do well with a gooseneck hitch as the tongue load mainly sits over the bed of the truck.
Fifth wheel hitch. Just like with the gooseneck hitch, you’ll need a pickup truck for a fifth wheel hitch. These attach straight to the pickup bed, providing amazing stability for the tongue load.
Once you’ve gotten the best hitch for your vehicle/trailer combo, the process of actually hitching it is relatively easy. You just have to follow the instructions that came with your hitch and connect your vehicle to the trailer, and connect any wiring or breakaway cables that your RV has. You’ll know that your trailer is properly hitched when everything is connected and the tongue is firmly attached to the hitch, with both your vehicle and trailer being completely level on the ground.
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Driving while you have a trailer hitched behind your vehicle is quite different from driving normally, and it’s important to know how to do it safely. You don’t want to just go in expecting to drive like normal and find your trailer swaying this way and that, with no idea how to control it. Here are some best practices for driving while towing:
Ensure the weight of your load is properly distributed. If too much weight is focused on the back end of your rig, your trailer might sway heavily.
Keep plenty of space between you and the next car. Slowing down and stopping takes much, much longer when you have a few thousand extra pounds as part of your unit, so you need to account for this as you drive.
Be knowledgeable about all dimensions of your vehicle and trailer. Know how tall and wide they are so that you can avoid entering tunnels or other spaces that you won’t fit in.
Change lanes and pass other drivers extremely carefully. Always give yourself extra wiggle room between cars when passing or changing lanes.
Purchase side view mirrors that extend your point of view. It’s incredibly hard to see much of the road around you and your trailer with your vehicle’s standard side view mirrors, so getting ones that let you see your blind spots is a great idea.
With these tips you can make sure your vehicle has the right towing capacity and that your RV is hitched up right. If you’re still unsure, check out YouTube for some visual tutorials. Once you’re comfortable, you’re good to go! Have a blast towing your trailer to your chosen destination and enjoy the journey of a lifetime.
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