10 Towing Tips to Save you Time and Money
Proper trailer setup and maintenance are the keys to a successful tow trip. So before you head out to the road, make sure your truck and trailer are roadworthy.
Don't confuse driving your car or truck with towing a trailer. The skill set overlaps only slightly. Everything takes longer when you are towing--speeding up, slowing down and cornering. Remember, you've got a second center of mass 10 or 20 ft behind you, and it's easy for the tail wag the dog. Aside from just physically getting the trailer hitched to the truck, here's a list of a few things to watch.
1. Proper Tongue Weight
Set tongue weight to 10 to 15 percent of the trailer's total weight for good stability. If the tow vehicle doesn't have enough rear suspension spring rate to accept this, get an equalizing hitch. The equalizing hitch will transfer some of the tongue weight forward to the front axle.
2. Safety Chains
Cross the safety chains under the hitch side-to-side, in an X pattern. If, for whatever reason, the hitch comes adrift, the trailer tongue will drop onto the chains instead of onto the ground. And that will maximize your control and minimize the damage to you and your rig. Bonus: With the chains crossed, you can turn in a tighter circle without them binding.
3. Tire Pressure
Check the tire pressures often. Run the tires at their maximum recommended pressure. They'll run cooler, and you'll consume less gas to boot.
Every time you pull over and stop on a long tow mission, do a walk-around inspection of the hitch, wiring and tires. Be sure the trailer harness connector and breakaway cable are still connected. Check the nut on the bottom of the hitch ball, and make sure that the hitch pin and its hairpin are still holding the drawbar on. You can probably skip checking the tire pressures at every pull-over, but a good thump of all four tires will let you know if one is low just by the sound. Now check the tire and brake drum and wheel-bearing temperatures. A noncontact infrared thermometer gun is cool, and will keep your hands clean, but just using the palm of your hand is fine. If one tire or bearing is noticeably hotter, you've got a problem.
5. Load Check
No matter how tight you make the tiedowns for the load, they'll loosen up as the suspension jiggles everything. Stop after 10 miles and retighten, even if that means opening the door and crawling into an enclosed trailer.
6. Gas Saver
Save fuel towing your RV trailer by dumping grey-, black-, and freshwater tanks before leaving on a trip, or before returning. Fill the freshwater tanks at or near your destination.
7. Time Smart
Save a bunch of walking back and forth between the cab and trailer when hooking up. Connect the trailer plug, then turn on the parking lamps and the four-way flashers. Now all you need to do is walk to the back of the trailer once to see if the running lamps are on and the brake/turn-signal lamps are working.
As you start your tow trip, check electric brake function as soon as you can by sliding the brake controller lever over an inch or so. You should be able to feel the trailer brakes actuate. I check to make sure all the trailer brake shoes are working by holding the brakes on partway on for 10 seconds or so, and then pulling over and checking that they are all heating equally up with my IR thermometer.
9. Bearing Life
Pack trailer bearings with the best synthetic wheel-bearing grease you can find, and do it annually. That goes double for boat trailers that are regularly immersed, and double double for trailers that see a lot of saltwater.
10. Battery Charge
Trailers with electrical-operated brakes have a breakaway switch and a small 12-volt battery to actuate the trailer brakes if the hitch accidentally comes apart. Check the state of charge of that battery regularly. Many trailers have no provision for charging this battery, so it has to be charged manually.