Towing a camper trailer of any size can be a nerve-racking experience for folks who are new to owning a trailer. If you find yourself in that boat, you too may be feeling apprehensive about setting off on the first adventure with your new rig.
Don't worry! That apprehension is totally understandable. You just invested a decent chunk of change in your new camper and don't want to risk damaging it with a newbie mistake.
So here's a fact that you may find comforting: tens of thousands of travel trailer owners hit the road every summer, and every single one of them started out as a newbie just like you.
Like anything in life, learning how to tow a travel trailer just takes some practice, a little bit of patience, and a dash of confidence. Commit yourself to this process and soon enough you'll find yourself cruising our nation's highways with comfort and ease.
I've prepared this list of tips and tricks that I hope will kickstart your journey to trailer towing mastery.
Don't overlook the importance of properly preparing for your adventure. Due diligence on the front end is the easiest way to start your journey on the right foot.
Hopefully, this is something that was thought of and checked before purchasing your travel trailer. It's very important that the vehicle you will be using to tow your travel trailer is powerful enough for the job.
To find vehicle specifications and towing capacity, you'll need to look in the "towing" or "trailering" section of your vehicle's user manual. A vehicle's manufacturer is the only authority that can safely and accurately determine the true towing capacity of the vehicle.
Fueling with a trailer attached can be a bit of a hassle. Oftentimes gas stations are situated on small lots that require tight turns and a fair degree of maneuverability to get in and out. Depending upon the length of your camper, it may not be feasible to fuel up while hitched up.
On top of maneuverability issues, most gas stations are covered by a large roof to protect customers from rain and snow as they fuel. If you're hauling a large fifth-wheel trailer, you might exceed the height limits of such structures.
Fill your tow vehicle's fuel tank before you hitch up your camper. If you'll need to stop for more fuel before reaching your destination, plan ahead and identify which gas stations along your route will be the easiest to pull in and out of. Costco, Sam's Club, and Walmart often have large fuel station lots that accommodate the needs of travel trailers.
In order to avoid dangerous trailer-sway, make sure to check the tire pressure of both your tow vehicle and trailer before heading out. Trailer-sway is a dangerous phenomenon that occurs when a trailer begins uncontrollably fishtailing behind a tow vehicle and can result in damage to vehicles or dangerous car accidents.
Underinflated tires are one of a few scenarios that can lead to trailer sway. Check the sidewalls of the tires to find what PSI each tire should be inflated to. If you don't have an air compressor to inflate your tires, chain tire stores such as Discount Tire and Les Schwab often offer free air checks and top-offs.
Heavy rain and snow are always going to result in dangerous highway conditions. This is especially so when towing a trailer. Check the forecast for where you are leaving from and where you are heading to. If you see heavy rain, snow, ice, or high winds in the forecast, it's probably worth pushing back your departure. It's better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.
The first and most important step to towing a trailer is to properly hitch it up to your tow vehicle. The hitching process itself can be a bit tricky the first few times so take some notes on the following tips to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.
The trickiest part of hitching up is aligning the ball of the tow vehicle with the tongue of the trailer. Having a good back camera makes that process immensely easier as it allows you to make real-time adjustments as you reverse into position.
Most new trucks and SUVs are being sold off the lot with backup cameras. If your vehicle doesn't have one, aftermarket models are easy to purchase and install.
When hitching, slow and steady wins the race. There is no reason to rush this delicate and precise process. So make sure to go easy on the accelerator as you reverse toward your camper. A careless driver has the potential to punch a hole in a tow vehicle's bumper by gunning it back into the trailer's tongue.
Every trailer's tongue assembly has a part called a "locking lever" or "coupler latch". This part locks the ball into the tongue so that they stay fully connected and secure while driving. An improperly hitched trailer can become quickly unhitched from the tow vehicle if driving on uneven roads or taking corners.
The locking lever should be disengaged while lowering the tongue onto the ball and then subsequently engaged once the tongue is resting on the ball. To check that the ball is truly locked in place, stand on the hitch and gently bounce up and down. If the ball and tongue bounce as a solid unit, the locking lever is most likely engaged.
Travel trailers are not intended to be driven at high speeds. When hauled too fast, trailers are susceptible to trailer sway and will decrease overall fuel efficiency. While planning a trip, it's best to plan on significantly longer travel times so you are not tempted to speed with your rig.
Travel trailers are heavy and significantly increase a vehicle's gross weight. This added weight results in a much longer distance needed to safely brake and stop your vehicle.
So avoid tailgating and when you see a red light, begin braking much sooner than you would without a trailer hitched up. I like to imagine I am a semi-truck that needs a long runway to come to a stop.
Any vehicle towing a trailer must take corners extra wide to avoid jumping a curb or sideswiping other vehicles. The best way to practice turning with a trailer is to find a large empty parking lot and set up a practice course with some cones. Practice until you can confidently turn left and right with ease.
The key to towing a travel trailer is caution and confidence. Just take it easy and trust your abilities and you are bound to make it to your destination in one piece.
Everyone is nervous the first time but being nervous is good, it keeps you safe.
If you know that towing a trailer isn't for you, consider picking up one sweet fiberglass truck camper instead - no towing required!