Guide to Help Weekend Warriors Tow Trailers and Boats Safely

January 25, 2021 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in outdoor activities, including boating and trailer camping, but for many, the idea of towing equipment is intimidating. 

People need to overcome hurdles such as figuring out how much their SUV or truck can tow. They need to practice turns and parking to ensure they don’t get into trouble on the road. And they need to figure out how to attach equipment safely. 

Say Insurance, which operates in 6 states, created a handy beginners guide to help novices learn to tow safely. As an insurance carrier, Say wants people to stay safe and not get injured or file damage claims. 

The very first step is to look in the vehicle owner’s manual for the numbers that will help you calculate how much you can tow safely. They include the unloaded vehicle weight, gross vehicle weight, gross vehicle weight rating and gross combination weight rating. The latter is very important. You need to add the weight of the vehicle, the weight of what you are towing, and don’t forget to include people and cargo. If you go above the gross combination weight rating, you could damage your vehicle and trouble navigating the road. For more detail, check out this guide from Family RV. 

Now that you know that you are under the limit, it’s time to figure out the actual process of towing. 

The next step is to make sure you have the correct hitch. A standard rear receive hitch works for most situations, according to the insurance company. But if you have any doubt, check with a hitch installer. 

Say Insurance offers the following eight steps. 

  • Put the ball mount in the receiver tube and secure the locking pin.
  • Position the vehicle’s ball mount under the trailer coupler, then put the vehicle in park and set the parking brake.
  • Lower the trailer coupler onto the edge, or chin, of the ball mount and observe to make sure the ball slides completely inside the coupler.
  • Secure the trailer’s locking pin or latch.
  • Stow the trailer handle and tongue wheel.
  • Criss-cross the safety chains to the holes on the vehicle. The chains should be off the ground.
  • Plug in the trailer’s electrical connector.
  • Have a spotter check the trailer’s turn signals and brake lights. 

Next, you want to be careful to pack heavier cargo low and in the front of the trailer to enhance stability. Also, check the tire pressure on your vehicle and the trailer. Having a poorly inflated tire in one corner of the trailer will affect your stability. 

The next step is to practice so that you are not a complete novice once you launch into your towing adventure. You need to practice wide turns to make sure you don’t run the trailer into the curb, a street sign, mailbox or another object. Practice braking – it takes longer. Accelerating also takes longer because you are hauling a load. Here’s how to start. 

  • If your vehicle has a tow or haul mode, engage it before you drive.
  • Pull in and out of your driveway.
  • Drive around the block.
  • Practice normal and emergency braking.
  • Use an empty section of a parking lot to practice backing up.

Now that you are ready for the road, be sure to plan your route to avoid narrow streets, dense traffic and other obstacles such as twisty roads or exceptionally steep grades. 

Once on the road, be sure to practice safe driving. 

  • Stay in the right lane.
  • Drive slower than normal.
  • Allow extra time.
  • Use cruise control and keep a steady speed.
  • Stay in the right lane.
  • Keep more distance between your vehicle and others.

Other tips include learning how to downshift when descending a slope or mountain pass to reduce the strain on the brakes. 

Parking is always tricky. Once you are on the adventure, you have to make do with the available space. Hopefully, you have a companion that can get out and help guide you. Nonetheless, Say Insurance advises that you always do the following.

  • Add trailer mirrors to your side-view mirrors.
  • Find points of reference on your vehicle and trailer (such as fenders or corners), as well as where you are parking.
  • Shorter trailers respond quickly: Use smaller steering adjustments.
  • Grip the bottom of the steering wheel when backing up. That allows you to steer right to turn the trailer right and steer left to turn the trailer left.

Finally, don’t forget to inspect the trailer and its connections every time you stop. Things shift with the bumps on the road, or you might discover you forgot to tie down something securely. It’s the best way to stay safe. 

Carly Schaffner June 14, 2019
Hauling a 30-foot, 7,800-pound Airstream trailer with a light-duty Ford F-150 pickup proves challenging despite the truck’s 10,100-pound towing capacity.

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