Whether you're thinking about buying a boat for weekend trips, want to get into camping, or are planning to tow a smaller car or trailer for a move, it's important to know exactly how towing works. When towing, you're responsible not only for yourself, the vehicle you're driving, and the trailer or vehicle you're towing, but also for the safety of passengers and others on the road. We've put together some tips that will help you to have a trouble-free trip with an attached tow.
Towing Is Just Like Pulling a Wagon With Your Bike, Right?
Not exactly. A wagon might weigh 15 pounds, but it's unlikely you'll be towing any travel trailers weighing less than 2,300 pounds. Lightweight boat trailers may weigh 90 to 100 pounds and be able to carry lightweight boats up to an additional 300 pounds. Larger boat trailer sizes start at 3,500 pounds and go up from there.
Handling these weights automatically means you need to learn the basics of towing to have a safe trip. Some keys to safe towing are common sense, like driving at a safe speed and making sure you're not towing too much weight, while other factors require practice. Don't set out on the road before you've practiced things like balancing your trailer load and how to back up safely.
Important Things to Know About Towing
Make sure your vehicle can handle what you're planning to tow. You can determine which trailers or boats your vehicle can safely tow by consulting your vehicle's owner's manual; you can often find this information on a label inside the driver door latch as well. It will list the gross vehicle combination weight rating (GCWR), which is the maximum weight of your car or truck, passengers, tow vehicle weight, and any cargo you load.
Within the GCWR, you'll also need to know the gross trailer weight (GTW) your vehicle can tow, and maximum tongue weight your car or truck can accommodate. These numbers will tell you what type of hitch you need. Some properly equipped passenger cars can tow between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds, which is good for jet skis, off-road bikes, or micro trailers.
There are five classes of hitch for trucks, SUVs, and heavier tows. Each accommodates a different GTW and tongue weight able to accommodate the load:
- Class 1: 2,000 pounds GTW/200 pounds tongue weight
- Class 2: 3,500 pounds GTW/350 pounds tongue weight
- Class 3: 5,000 pounds GTW/500 pounds tongue weight
- Class 4: 7,500 pounds GTW/750 pounds tongue weight
- Class 5: 10,000 pounds GTW/1000 pounds tongue weight
Once you know you have the right hitch, make sure your trailer is aligned with the tow. You'll want to use a backup camera if you have one and have a spotter to help you align the tow and your vehicle.
Tips for Towing
- Make sure your tow is hooked up properly. If you have any doubt at all, have an experienced professional supervise you when you hook up your trailer. Also, don't neglect your state's towing laws. Every state requires that you have safety chains, stoplights, tail lights, and reflectors. Each state has different weight requirements for trailer brakes, tie-downs, and insurance. Check this list for towing laws in your state.
- Attach the light and signal hookups. Newer vehicles that can tow Class 2 or above have "plug and play" tow systems. You can use these systems to connect the wiring harness from the trailer to your truck or SUV.
- Get to know how your trailer will perform when you're driving. With the rig hitched up, measure the height and length of the trailer and truck or SUV to make sure you will make it through overpasses on your route. Take your rig to an uncrowded area to practice backing up and maneuvering.
- Balance the load in your trailer and in the bed of your truck or rear of your SUV before leaving. Make sure everything is secure and that nothing is likely to shift unexpectedly while you're on the road. If you're towing a car behind a larger vehicle, look into a tow car shield and other ways to protect your tow.
Taking It With You
Being able to tow a trailer, boat, or smaller vehicle when you're on vacation can give you freedom and let you experience the great outdoors. If you've done everything right, you could still experience a problem while towing a trailer or boat. Towing will always change the way your vehicle drives, and it will also lower your fuel economy. It's an extra test of brakes and suspension as well. With this extra risk, you want to make sure you're covered in case something does happen.
Fortunately, Protect My Car has extended warranty coverage that ensures a breakdown will be less of a headache in the event that you run into problems on the road. Even if you're using an older vehicle, Protect My Car's Ambassador Policy can help with roadside assistance and repair costs.