Towing 101 - Fiberglass RV

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Old 05-02-2003, 04:55 PM   #1
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Towing 101

Written by editors of for the 2/16/2001

1. How much extra room do I need when turning with a trailer?

It's difficult to give an exact distance since it depends on the length of the trailer. With a typical boat trailer, making left turns isn't a big deal. But for right turns, you'll want to compensate at least some, initially, until you can determine how much space you need. With longer trailers, you'll need to "go wide" to some extent like big rigs do so you don't hit a curb with the trailer while in the middle of a right turn. Think, for example, of how a big rig often makes right turns at least one lane over to the left in smaller intersections so the trailer doesn't hit the curb (or a sign or stoplight) as it travels through the turn. You need to apply the same logic when towing a trailer, even though your trailer isn't nearly as long.

2. How much does the typical 3500-pound trailer affect braking distances?

Obviously, the added weight of any trailer is going to affect braking distances significantly in an emergency situation. It's difficult to pinpoint exact distances, since much of it depends on factors like if the trailer is equipped with brakes and how much tongue weight there is. Testing is not commonly performed to determine braking distances with trailers in tow. But, the best way to be safe is to avoid emergencies in the first place. Allow as much space as possible between you and those in front of you. A good place to start is to double the standard "two-second rule" when following behind another vehicle. Allow double the amount of space between you and the vehicle in front of you when towing a trailer. And the heavier the load, the more space you should allow.

3. Why are body-on-frame vehicle designs better for towing than unibody vehicles?

Part of the reason is that you can attach the receiver part of the hitch directly to the frame of the vehicle. On a vehicle with unibody construction, there's not as solid a place to bolt the hitch to the vehicle. With a body-on-frame design you're pulling the trailer with the actual frame of the truck or SUV rather than just having the trailer attached to the body of the vehicle.

4. What can happen if I exceed the tow rating for my vehicle?

The tow rating of any vehicle is based on numerous factors. The best advice is do not exceed the tow rating for any vehicle. If you do, you'll be overloading the suspension, overextending safe braking distances, and experience further reduced and possibly unsafe passing ability. You'll also overextend brake component capacities and, in some situations, encounter premature brake fade. Furthermore, you won't be doing any favors to the engine and drivetrain, and the chance of eventual transmission failure is also possible.

5. What should I do if the trailer starts to sway at a high speed - i.e. if "the tail starts wagging the dog," so to speak?

If you get to a point where you experience trailer sway, it's likely that something else is wrong. The problem could be insufficient tongue weight. If you have a travel trailer, shift heavier items to the front and lighter ones to the rear. With a boat or car trailer, move the vehicle forward. There are also a number of sway-control devices available to stop this condition before it begins. If this condition exists, the trailer and tow vehicle haven't been set up properly. Whatever the case, the first thing is to avoid panic. It's also likely this condition will occur gradually. Don't ignore any first signs of trailer sway. But if it starts, slow down by taking your foot off the accelerator. Let vehicle speed decrease but do not put your foot on the brake pedal, which can make the situation worse. Once you're down to a safe speed, carefully apply the brakes and stop. You should then readjust the load or determine what else might be causing this condition.

6. How do I back up with a trailer attached?

If you've never backed up with a trailer, the first thing we'd recommend is to go to an empty parking lot or somewhere else with lots of space and practice to see what happens when you back up with the trailer attached. Also, don't rely on rearview mirrors. Turn behind and look at the trailer. Basically, when you turn the wheels of the tow vehicle to left, the trailer will go to the right; turn the wheels to the right and the trailer will go left. To control the direction of the trailer while backing up, you need to keep this "reverse action" concept in mind. Oftentimes, you'll also have to pull forward and start over again to position the trailer exactly where you want it. Small and shorter trailers are often more difficult as they react much more quickly to steering wheel input. If possible, it's also very helpful to have a spotter watching at the back of the trailer. If nothing else, they can yell "stop" before you back into something and cause damage to the trailer or any other item. Also, don't forget to look at the front of the tow vehicle, too, because when you turn while backing up, the front of the vehicle could possibly swing out far enough to hit something.

7. When I attach a trailer to my tow vehicle, the tow vehicle sags significantly. What can I do to keep that from happening?

Most trucks are set up to tow and haul, so their suspension probably won't sag when a trailer is attached. Passenger cars and some SUVs have softer suspensions and may need some help. A weight-distributing hitch should be used in these instances. It helps to evenly distribute the weight between the front and rear axles of the tow vehicle. The spring bars of a weight distributing hitch work similarly to the handles of a wheelbarrow, lifting on the back of the tow vehicle and shifting the weight forward. Airbags or air shocks can also help the rear suspension when towing. When in doubt, seek the help of a qualified RV shop.

8. Some minivans such as the Chevy Venture are rated to tow 3,500 pounds. Are front-wheel-drive vehicles OK for towing? How about all-wheel-drive? What are the benefits and detriments of each type of system?

As long as you don't exceed the tow rating of the vehicle, any front-wheel-drive car, SUV or minivan will tow fine. The main consideration with using a front-wheel-drive vehicle as a tow rig is the fact there will be less weight over the drive wheels, which could be a factor in such situations as towing up a steep and wet boat ramp. An all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle for towing also works fine, but keep in mind that an all- or four-wheel-drive version of any vehicle will usually have a lower tow rating than the same vehicle in a two-wheel-drive version. Obviously, you don't need an all-wheel-drive vehicle or a 4x4 truck for towing a trailer on the highway. If you're thinking about a vehicle purchase and towing is a large reason for buying that vehicle, then a rear-wheel-drive truck or SUV is the best way to go. All- or four-wheel-drive vehicles will tow just as well, but the vehicle will use more gas due to the added weight of the components.

9. If a tire on my trailer suffers a blowout, are there any differences to changing a trailer tire from a vehicle tire?

Not really. Any safety precautions you use to change a tire on a car apply to the trailer, too. Chock the opposite side wheel, use a heavy enough jack to support the trailer's weight and loosen the lug nuts some first before raising the wheel off the ground. That way, the wheel won't spin while it's in the air and you're trying to loosen the lug nuts.

10. Do I need those extra-wide mirrors for towing?

That depends on the width of the trailer. For the average boat or car trailer, you'll likely be able to see down the side of the vehicle and trailer with the factory-equipped side-view mirrors. But for wider trailers, you'll need side-view mirrors that stick out far enough so you see down the side of the trailer. For example, a narrower SUV like an Explorer towing a wider camping trailer might need to be equipped with aftermarket towing mirrors that match the width of the trailer so the driver can see down both sides. In addition, it's illegal to tow without mirrors that don't allow the driver to see down the entire length of the vehicle and trailer. Check your state's laws for specific guidelines regarding towing mirrors.

11. Current full-size Chevy/GMC trucks have a tow/haul mode for the transmission. How does it work and why don't other half- and three-quarter-ton pickups have this feature?

The tow/haul mode found in the current-generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups delays upshifts for more effective towing and hauling. The higher upshift speeds and firmer gear changes are due to an increase in line pressure. While other pickups don't have this specific feature controlled by a button on the end of the shifter, we took a look in a 2000 Ford F-150 owner's manual and discovered a similar type of function. Although there isn't a specific control for it, Ford's "adaptive learning strategy" means the transmission "knows" you're carrying a load or towing a trailer and adjusts the transmission's shifting schedule accordingly.

12. What's the best way to ascend a mountain when towing? What about descending?

In general, you want to keep things steady and consistent. That means when you're going uphill you don't want the transmission hunting between gears, such as third and fourth. Depending on the weight of the load and the grade of the hill, you'll likely want to hold the transmission in third gear (locking out overdrive), which will also keep the engine in the range where it makes the most torque. Keeping the transmission out of top gear will also prevent you from lugging the engine or necessitating undesired downshifts when you accelerate out of turns at slow speeds. It's the same for a manual transmission. Driving in the next lower gear will keep the engine in its best operating range. Going downhill, you want to use a combination of the engine and the brakes to keep your speeds safe. Don't ride the brakes too much and get them too hot. Downshift to a lower gear and use the engine as a brake on steeper hills and then, when needed, use the brakes sparingly to slow down from there. When the hill levels off a bit, you can upshift to the next gear and keep your frequency of brake use about the same. It's all a give-and-take in relation to the grade of the hill, the weight of your load and the gear ratios in the transmission, which all need to be considered when it comes to keeping your speeds safe going up and down hills.


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Old 05-02-2003, 05:03 PM   #2
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Towing Terminology

Towing Terminology

GAW: Gross Axle Weight
GAW is the actual weight of a fully loaded vehicle carried by a single axle. Due to the many ways that weight can be distributed within an RV, GAW can often provide a false sense of security. Even though the weight of the total axle may be within the axle's rating, it may be overloaded on one side.

GAWR: Gross Axle Weight Rating (for each axle)
This is the maximum weight rating that components of each axle are designed to support (i.e., tires, wheels, brakes, springs, axle). This is determined by the lowest design capacity of any component. In other words, if the wheels have the lowest design capacity of any component on that axle, installing tires with a higher load capacity does not increase the GAWR.

GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
GVWR is the weight rating established by the chassis manufacturer as the maximum weight (including vehicle, cargo, liquids, passengers, etc.) that the components of the chassis are designed to support.

GVW: Gross Vehicle Weight
GVW is the actual weight of a fully loaded vehicle (i.e., vehicle, cargo, liquids/fuels, passengers, towed vehicles, tongue weight, etc.) The GVW must not exceed the GVWR.

GCWR: Gross Combined Weight Rating
GCWR represents the maximum allowable total loaded weight rating of the motor vehicle and any trailer it is towing. GCWR minus GVWR represents the allowable weight for the towed vehicle.

Trailer Hitch Classifications:

Class I 2,000 pounds GTW
Class II 3,500 pounds GTW
Class III 5,000 pounds GTW
Class IV 7,500 pounds GTW
Class V 10,000 pounds GTW
GTW=Gross Trailer Weight (including tow vehicle and trailer together, if applicable)


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Old 05-02-2003, 05:04 PM   #3
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Weighing Your Trailer

To properly weigh a travel trailer, it should first be weighed, including the tongue weight, while detached from the pulling vehicle. This actual overall weight must be less than or equal to the GVWR for safe operation. If the overall weight is greater than the GVWR, some contents must be removed until maximum GVWR limitations are achieved. Once the actual overall weight is determined and the trailer is within GVWR limits, the following weights must be determined:

Weight of complete trailer, while attached, but excluding towed vehicle. This will result in the actual weight which is exerted on all of the trailer tires. This weight may be subtracted from the overall trailer weight (above) to determine actual "tongue" weight.

With the trailer still attached to the towed vehicle, each wheel position should then be weighed separately to be sure each tire is not overloaded. If and overload condition exists on any wheel position, trailer loading must be redistributed or removed. If an overload situation is not corrected, tire or mechanical failures may occur.

The individual wheel positions (particularly the rear positions) on the towing vehicle should also be weighed for possible overload while the trailer remains attached. This is especially important on 5th-wheel applications where tongue weight may be extreme.

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Old 05-02-2003, 05:09 PM   #4
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Hi Benita
Good info you posted here.This should help clarify some questions other folks may have.:wave

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Old 05-02-2003, 08:21 PM   #5
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Pop Up Times Article: 75% Rule


Taken from archives of Pop Up Times:

The 75 Percent Rule of Thumb
By Stephen Talmadge

One often-debated topic regarding pop-up trailering pertains to appropriate “weight ratings” for tow vehicles and trailers. The core question is: What weight trailer can I tow both safely and successfully? At first, the answer seems obvious—tow anything that weighs up to the tow-rating weight specified by the tow vehicle’s manufacturer. That is one answer and, under ideal conditions, may be correct and safe.

However, as actual operating conditions diverge from ideal conditions, the appropriate answer depends upon complications that can arise from several sources:

Many campers are using pop-up trailers for the first time, moving “up” from tents, and are not conditioned to think about “rigs,” weight ratings or other towing stuff. Tossing a nylon tent, cooler and some clothes into the family station wagon is a far cry from hauling a 3,000 lb. trailer through the Vail Pass in Colorado.

Tow ratings assigned by tow vehicle manufacturers are based upon ideal conditions: sea level operation, perfect day and a flat, dry surface. Changing that scenario reduces the effective towing capacity of the tow vehicle.

Selection of tow vehicles is frequently a compromise. Many families use minivans because, 90+ percent of the time, they don’t tow with them; and one result they want is better gas mileage when not towing. However, problems can loom because typical minivans do not make very good tow vehicles.

As much as we may not want to admit it, some of us are unwilling to identify with the “realities” of towing. We may buy into “macho” images projected by tow vehicle manufacturers or perhaps assume that, because a bad thing hasn’t happened to us yet, it never will.

First, Some Definitions

To understand and deal with these issues, we first need some towing weight definitions:

UVW (Unloaded/Dry Vehicle Weight): The weight of the vehicle as built at the factory. In the case of a trailer, the UVW does not include cargo, fresh water, LP gas, installed or optional accessories.

NCC (Net Carrying Capacity): The weight of all allowable, additional goods placed in or on the vehicle/camping trailer and/or trailer hitch while in tow.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating): The maximum permissible total weight exerted on all wheels and, if appropriate, the hitch. The UVW plus the NCC should not exceed the GVWR.

GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight): The actual, total weight exerted on all wheels on either the tow vehicle or the trailer. The GVW should never exceed the GVWR -- either on the tow vehicle or the trailer.

GCWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating): The value specified by the tow vehicle manufacturer as the maximum allowable total loaded weights of both the tow vehicle and towed trailer.

“The Rule”

A simple, relatively consistent Rule of Thumb has evolved: Multiply tow vehicle GVWR and GCWR ratings by 75 percent to calculate a generally safe, accurate estimate of the tow vehicle’s capacity.

“The Rule” is designed to provide a quick, simple and practical adjustment to published tow vehicle ratings that will serve well in almost all towing situations. It is derived from three general issues: performance decreases in normally aspirated gasoline engines, variances in towing/trailer equipment, and relative operator expertise. If one or more of these issues has been addressed, then its relative impact can be discounted when applying The Rule.

Issue One: Engine Performance Degradation

Degradation in engine performance is exemplified by statements such as this one from Ford Motor Company: “Since gasoline engines lose power at a rate of three percent to four percent per 1,000 ft. elevation,” (above mean sea level) “a reduction in gross vehicle weights and gross combination weights of two percent per 1,000 ft. elevation is recommended to maintain performance.” (Source: Ford Motor Company 2001 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, North American Fleet, Lease and Remarketing Operations, Copyright August 2000.)

For example, suppose I intend to take Canadian Highway 93 between Banff and Jasper, Alberta, or US Interstate Highway 70 between Denver and Grand Junction, Colorado (where elevations can easily exceed 10,000 feet above mean sea level). I have to plan for the available horsepower of the engine being reduced by 40 percent and for both the GCWR and the tow vehicle’s GVWR to be reduced by 20 percent at the summit(s) to “comfortably” make either of those runs.

Typical tow vehicle: a 2000 Ford Explorer 4x4 with 5-speed automatic/overdrive, powered by the 210 horsepower SOHC 6-cylinder engine, equipped with the 3.73 final drive – part of the factory towing package—and a Class III hitch. This tow vehicle has a UVW of about 4,110 lbs., GVWR of 5,340 lbs., rated towing capacity of 5,740 lbs., and a GCWR of 10,000 lbs.

Trailer: a 2000 Coleman Sedona that goes out the driveway right at 2,000 lbs. – well below it’s GVWR of 2,500 lbs.—and total road weight split 15 percent (300 lbs.) on the tongue and 85 percent (1,700 lbs.) on the trailer’s wheels.

Applying the Ford Guidelines: At 10,000 feet elevation, the 10,000 lb. “sea level” GCWR for the Explorer, is reduced by 20 percent to 8,000 lbs. The GVWR for the Explorer is also reduced by 20 percent to 4,242 lbs. The towable weight at that elevation is 3,278 lbs. (8,000 lbs. minus 4,242 lbs.) and since the Sedona’s weight rating does not change with elevation—at first glance everything looks OK.

However, I see a yellow flag: The Explorer’s UVW is 4,110 lbs. and its GVWR at this elevation is 4,242 lbs.—a difference (if I want to maintain sea-level performance) of only 142 lb. for the Explorer’s total carried load: people, personal stuff, fuel, trailer tongue weight, etc. Realistically, carried load with full fuel adds up to about 1,055 lbs.—making the Explorer’s adjusted gross weight 5,165 lbs. or 923 lbs. over its elevation-adjusted GVWR.

Presuming everything is working properly, will the Explorer make it through the mountains? Yes—primarily because of the large “reserve” in the elevation-adjusted GCWR. Will there be a performance hit towing to and around 10,000 feet elevation? Definitely. How will I compensate for the hit? Lower gears, slower driving, probably using the right lane a lot, and close attention to the engine gauges. But, if I proceed prudently, most likely I won’t be surprised or disappointed.

However, if both the elevation-adjusted GCWR and tow vehicle’s GVWR were below their respective actuals—and a 3,300 lb. trailer on the back of the Explorer would do it—that would be a different matter and I should be looking for a way around, not over, those 10,000 foot mountains.

The example above pertains to operation at a 10,000 foot elevation. If the operating elevation were maxed at 4,000 feet, then the tow vehicle’s GCWR and GVWR should only be reduced by only eight percent and the remaining calculations adjusted accordingly.

Issue Two: Common Factors That Limit Weight Ratings

Front-wheel drive and/or short-wheelbase tow vehicles frequently have both a lower tow rating and lower GCWR if they do not use a weight distributing hitch. These same vehicles almost always need a sway control device when towing trailers with a light tongue weight ratio. Catch-22: Some pop-up trailer manufacturers void their warranties if either weight distributing hitches or sway controls are used when pulling their products.

Tow vehicles equipped with a manual transmission generally have a lower tow rating than the same vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission.

Most tow vehicles carry a higher tow rating if the trailer has brakes—preferably electric brakes.

Trailer Brakes: Now that you’ve got yourself going…can you stop?

Let’s go back to our perfect day with a level, dry surface and assume that we’re using a production tow vehicle with properly functioning brakes. A fixed amount of total braking energy will stop a 5,000 lb. tow vehicle from 60 mph. If we want to shorten the stopping distance we must apply that same amount of energy over a shorter time.

It is important to remember that tow vehicle brakes are designed to stop the tow vehicle, not the tow-vehicle/trailer rig. If we want to stop something that we tow, we should add that part ourselves.

Attach a 2,000 lb. trailer with no trailer brakes to that 5,000 lb. tow vehicle. It will now take 40 percent more energy to stop that combination from the same speed under the same conditions. Mass is mass, the energy to decelerate the mass to a stop has to come from somewhere.

If we do not have trailer brakes, we must get 40 percent more energy to stop the rig from the tow vehicle’s brakes, or take 40 percent longer distance to stop, or some combination thereof. If we try to stop over the same distance, we will try to transmit 40 percent additional energy as friction (the stopping mechanism) to the tow vehicle’s brakes. Of course, just because we press the brakes harder, there is no guarantee that the rig will actually stop more quickly or in a shorter distance. The tow vehicle’s braking system isn’t designed to do all of that extra work and can quickly be overloaded.

Typical things that happen to overloaded braking systems are:

The tow vehicle’s brake pads overheat, then glaze— rendering them polished and less effective, stretching out the stopping distance. In extreme situations, the brake pads may smolder and smoke as they cook.

The brake rotors overheat and (after scorching) may warp, rendering them incapable of uniform contact with pads, therefore both ineffective and dangerous.

Assuming (optimistically) that neither of the above happens, the tow vehicle’s brake pads will wear out up to 40 percent faster.

The Downside

Descending the back side of the Rockies (or hills or other smaller mountains) we need a greater amount of stopping power (due to the incline) to stop in the same linear road distance or same amount of time. On an downward incline without trailer brakes the choices are more stopping distance, more heat or more wear.

Can we compensate by using a lower gear? Sure. Those diamond-shaped, yellow “Use Lower Gear” signs at the top of a long, downhill run are put up by highway engineers who know we’ll need extra help slowing down. Question is: do we want our tow vehicle’s transmission to be our only option? If we don’t have trailer brakes and we toast our tow vehicle’s brakes that’s pretty much the hand we’re holding.

Other situations when ‘routine’ stopping can quickly become a critical and scary maneuver:

Towing in rain, snow or wind—or some combination thereof.

Being passed by someone on a two-lane highway who misjudges that ours is the only vehicle in front of them, then tries to make a hole for their car in that rapidly-shrinking space between our front bumper and the car in front of us.

A sudden tire failure at highway speeds.

Being cut off at 65 mph as someone swerves in front of us across four lanes of Interstate traffic to make an exit that they didn’t see in time.

What’s my point?

When the trailer weighs more than 1,000 lbs. the absence of trailer brakes should reduce the GCWR of any rig by at least 25 percent. Adding trailer brakes increases the stopping ability of the rig by compensating for the added mass of the trailer. If the trailer brakes are the correct type and set up properly, stopping distances for the rig will correspond to those of the tow vehicle alone and no downward adjustment of the weight ratings need be made to compensate for inadequacies in the rig’s braking system.

If the tow vehicle has an Antilock Braking System (and most newer ones do) inertial trailer brake controllers can be set to engage a bit more aggressively to keep the trailer straight behind the tow vehicle– compensating for the stuttering lock-and-release operation of the ABS in panic stops. When the braking trailer remains in line behind the tow vehicle, the rig works with you, not against you – even in emergency situations.

Lastly, A Margin of Safety

Even if we put all of the correct safety equipment on appropriate tow vehicles and trailers, those of us who are (relatively) new to pop-up trailering need an extra margin of safety. The newer among us need an ‘experience buffer’ to learn how to operate our equipment properly so that we can encounter the unexpected more calmly and decisively.

Even on flat terrain at sea level on a perfect day, The 75 Percent Rule of Thumb provides a quick and effective hedge against the unknowns that we will encounter. We could all benefit from that extra margin of safety.

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Old 05-02-2003, 08:48 PM   #6
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Hitch Ratings: Slow down

Editors of for 2/16/2001

How to Tow a Trailer (abbreviated)

If you ever plan to involve yourself in activities such as boating, camping or some sort of automotive pastime, such as auto crossing or drag racing, then chances are you'll need to do some towing. While it may seem scary, towing an average-sized trailer is really easier than it looks.

Two of the most important things to have when you tow are basic common sense and the ability to adjust your driving. In other words, when towing, everything you do while driving needs to be done at about half the speed when compared to driving without a trailer. When you turn, go much slower. When you accelerate, do it much easier. When you brake, allow yourself a great deal more space to stop. And when you change lanes, allow room for your vehicle and the trailer.

The types of things you are likely going to tow are a boat, a camper of some sort, or a car trailer that's usually home to a race or show car. The following information on towing basics applies to just about any type of towing application whether the trailer is carrying a boat, a car, or any other item that needs a lift from point A to point B. The universal nature of this information is due to the fact that how much you can tow and what you tow with are mainly based on weights and capacities.

As far as cars go, a full-size body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive car like a Ford Crown Victoria (rated to tow 2,000 pounds) or Chevy Caprice is a basic minimum for towing anything approaching the weight of a 2,000-pound trailer. For smaller trailers, a smaller car can work, but for hauling anything more than 2,000 pounds you're going to need a truly tow-friendly vehicle.

Ideally, a truck or an SUV is always a smart choice for towing that boat or camper. Even a compact pickup like a Ford Ranger or Chevy S-10 is going to be better than just about any car. For heavier loads (say more than 4,000 pounds) a half-ton truck like a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado will meet the needs of just about any of the trailer-towing basics we're discussing here. But even among half-ton trucks, towing ability can vary. For example, an F-150 with a 5.4-liter V8 will have a much easier time towing a 5,000-pound load than one with a 4.6-liter V8 because it simply has more horsepower and torque. Furthermore, the engine isn't the only thing that can handle a heavier load. The transmission, brakes and rear axle are also upgraded, along with the larger engine. Beyond a typical half-ton truck, a three-quarter (such as an F-250) or one-ton (F-350) can handle loads well beyond 5,000 pounds. For example, an F-250 with a 5.4-liter V8 and 3.73 gears is rated to tow 8,100 pounds. Properly equipped, an F-150 is rated to tow 7,200 pounds with a 5.4-liter V8, an automatic transmission and 3.55 gears.

Besides the tow vehicle and the trailer, the other critical element is, of course, the hitch. Trailer hitches are rated according to capacity of the load weight and tongue weight. Load weight is referenced in terms of Gross Trailer Weight (GTW, see chart at the end of article). Tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the hitch ball. This is usually calculated at 10-15 percent of the maximum rated GTW. The tongue is usually formed from the V-shaped merging of the trailer framerails at the front of the trailer. The coupler of the trailer is what accepts the hitch ball.

Once you know how much weight you'll be towing and that the weight doesn't exceed the maximum towing capacity of your tow vehicle, you're ready to determine the proper hitch. Many pickups and SUVs come factory-equipped with a Class III hitch, which is the most popular class of hitch. Most hitches bolt to the vehicle, and while some are welded, a bolt-on installation is the method preferred for attachment. For hauling any load (car, boat, camper, or whatever) a Class III hitch can handle up to 5,000 pounds. For heavier boats or campers, a Class IV hitch (up to 7,500 pounds) would be required, and you might want to consider a three-quarter-ton truck at this point as well. We'd recommend (especially on a compact or half-ton pickup if not already equipped) going straight to a Class III hitch, which is enough to tow most campers, car trailers and small- to medium-sized boats.

All Class III and above hitches are made up of two basic parts. The receiver part of the hitch is what actually attaches to the tow vehicle. It has a framework that's bolted (or welded) to the vehicle chassis. The receiver is a large square tube that accepts a drawbar. The drawbar is a smaller square tube that slides into the receiver and contains the trailer ball. The drawbar is fastened to the receiver with a pin that slides through both pieces and is held in place with a clip. Drawbars come in a variety of heights to allow the trailer to ride at a level plane. For example, with 4x4 pickups, a drawbar can be selected that "drops" the ball to a lower level. The size of the trailer ball also varies. There are 1 7/8-, 2-, 2 ¼-, and 2 5/16-inch sizes, with the 2-inch size being the standard.

With your tow rig, hitch and drawbar ready go, you now need a trailer. Whether it's a boat trailer (as in our photos), a car trailer or a camper of some type, the attachment to the tow vehicle is the same. In general, a dual-axle trailer is also more desirable. Dual axles provide better load distribution and in the event of a tire failure, there's still one good tire on each side of the trailer, which makes the whole package easier to handle if that happens.

As you move to heavier trailers, you'll want to start considering trailer brakes. The most popular type of trailer brakes are surge and electric. Surge brakes work hydraulically using the force of a forward shift in the trailer caused by deceleration to compress a fluid cylinder and apply its brakes. Electric brakes have a controller in the tow vehicle that senses brake pedal pressure using a hydraulic pressure switch plumbed into the tow vehicle's system. Of course the heavier the load, the more you'll want to consider trailer brakes. We'd recommend looking at trailer brakes for any GTW of more than 2,000 pounds.

As we mentioned at the beginning, your driving style when towing a trailer needs to change dramatically. If you've never towed a trailer before and you're nervous about it, we'd strongly recommend seeking out someone who has had experience with towing. In general, you need to remember that when you are towing, you have considerably less room for margin of error. Your vehicle and trailer are much less maneuverable and nimble than your car or truck is without a trailer, and it's critical that you always compensate for the added length the trailer adds when you change lanes so that you don't run anyone off the road.

As far as added costs, besides the item you're towing, there is the fact that your vehicle will use more gas. This is not insurmountable, however. In fact, our experience with towing a boat across the country revealed a smaller increase in fuel consumption than we originally anticipated. Driving from Los Angeles to Chicago in a Ford F-150 standard-cab pickup with a 5.4-liter V8, we averaged 16.5 mpg traveling at 75-80 mph over 2,363 miles. With a new boat purchase in tow, the F-150 managed 13.2 mpg at 55-60 mph from Chicago back to L.A. over 2,051 miles. The overall average for the 4,414-mile jaunt was 14.8 mpg. However, we'll note that boats are usually lighter than travel or camper trailers, and because they are typically lower and more streamlined, don't create nearly as much aerodynamic drag. A good-size travel trailer (5,000 pounds or more) is going to impact fuel economy considerably more than our results.

With heavier loads, the difference in fuel mileage between a gas- and diesel-powered truck can be enough to offset the added purchase price of a diesel. For example, if you do a lot of towing, a Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup with a diesel engine will get about 3-4 mpg more than an otherwise identical truck with a gas V8 or V10. Just be sure you can justify the diesel, because in an F-250, the 7.3-liter Powerstroke oil burner is a $4,700 option. You'll also want to factor in that these days, diesel fuel can be notably more expensive than gasoline; up to 40 cents a gallon in some instances.

Finally, you'll want to consider the laws regarding towing. Every state has different rules and regulations for towing a trailer. We recommend checking your state's laws regarding what's cool with towing and what's not. We can tell you that, at a minimum, all trailers need to have working taillights and brake lights and that most states require registration of the trailer with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Once you've thought about the driving styles, the laws and the costs associated with towing a trailer, take a look at the accompanying photos, captions and Q&A section for more details. With the right tow vehicle, a proper Class III or bigger hitch and a trailer that's in good repair, you'll be on your way to the lake, the campgrounds or the racetrack with your hobbyhorse of choice in short order.

Trailer Hitch Classification

Class I 2,000 pounds GTW
Class II 3,500 pounds GTW
Class III 5,000 pounds GTW
Class IV 7,500 pounds GTW
Class V 10,000 pounds GTW
GTW=Gross Trailer Weight (including tow vehicle and trailer together, if applicable)

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Old 05-03-2003, 08:38 AM   #7
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Wheelbase Ratio

The longer the better. I'm searching for the formula.

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Old 05-03-2003, 11:44 AM   #8
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Might be a good idea to put this info in either the Tutorials or Helpful Links. Be much easier to point newbies towards the info...

Pete and Rats

"You can go down the hill too slow as many times as you want, but you only get to go down the hill too slow once..."

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Old 05-04-2003, 04:24 PM   #9
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Howdy, Can anyone on this site tell me what exactly costitutes a Class One trailer hitch. Am asking because I pull a 13 ft Boler with a weight of just under 1500 lbs. I made a hitch out of 3x3 x 1/4 angle iron with a tongue out of 1/2 x3 inch flat iron with two bends to drop down to match my trailer hitch height . I bolted this onto the bumper of my truck with two 1/2 inch Gr 8 bolts and a 3/4 inch Gr 8 bolt through the ball mount hole in the bumper into another ball on the bumper. This tongue has my 2 inch ball mounted on it. The bumper by itself is supposed to be good for 5000 lbs. and a tongue weight of 500 lbs. Does anyone know if this is sufficient to tow my Boler???? Benny

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Old 05-04-2003, 05:53 PM   #10
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Bumper Hitch


The only thing I've seen refers to using a bumper hitch, it's from the Sherline site . They say, If you have a bumper type hitch, don't tow anything your wife can't lift onto the ball.

PS: I'm not pushing the Sherline product, I just find their towing & safety information to be very helpful.

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Old 05-04-2003, 07:31 PM   #11
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Orginally posted by Carol Christensen


The only thing I've seen refers to using a bumper hitch, it's from the Sherline site . They say, If you have a bumper type hitch, don't tow anything your wife can't lift onto the ball.

Hi, guess that I should have clarified things a bit at this end. The tow vehicle is a GM 1500 series pick-up and the bumper is rated by GM for tongue weight of 500 lbs. and trailer weight of 5000 lbs. using a ball on the bumper only. My hitch is attached at the ball mounting point of the bumper. I believe that the site that you sent me to probably refers to autos or vehicles without towing capabilities on the bumper. Thanks for the site. The info on there is interesting and good reference material though...Thanks again...Benny

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Old 05-04-2003, 07:40 PM   #12
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hitch help

Benny; not sure what truck you're using to tow, but I'd consider
a bumper hitch receiver from Princess Auto, and a drop down 2"
receiver tube. you can get a fixed or a variable depth receiver.
The main reason I wouldn't go with homemade is that the department of transportation here has made it a policy to cause a lot of grief ot anyone towing a trailer with homemade equipment.
This may not be altogether a bad thing , I've seen some pretty stupid stuff on the highway.

The bumper hitch reciever was only 15.95 on sale last month

It bolts on the underside of the bumper and provides a 2" receiver

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Old 05-04-2003, 08:24 PM   #13
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Hi Joe, Yes, guess that I could have gone that route and bought a receiver that bolts onto the bumper and have basically the same setup as I now have....Instead, if I was buying, I could pick up a frame hitch (class 4) on sale around here for about 99 Bucks. I have a 90 GM pickup here that I use as a garbage truck and have a class 4 on it that I don`t use and can`t bolt up to the newer truck. Guess that I don`t like spending money unless I have to. If the truck wasn`t so much higher than the trailer I would pull with a ball right on the bumper. If I bought the short receiver, I could make use of one of a variety of tubes from the other truck hitch. I guess that tomorrow maybe I`ll take a ride to the local hitch installers here and see what they think of the present setup.... Thanks for the info on the Hwys. Dept. in Ont. I normally browse at Princess here and after the hitch place may decide to visit them too....Thanks again, Benny

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Old 05-05-2003, 08:08 PM   #14
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Properly weighing your trailer

Good information.....

'assuming' you don't have a WDH connected.

Don't laugh, it's been done. :)


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