Whether you are heading down the road to your favorite campsite in your travel trailer, or plan on taking your fifth wheel camper across the country, proper towing practices are invaluable. The following tips can make your life easier and your next trip that much safer and enjoyable!
The first thing you need to do when you start towing is get used to a whole style of driving. You have to consider how the trailer changes the physics of your car. First you’ve got much more mass to move, which means your acceleration and deceleration will be much slower than normal. Your brakes also won’t respond the same way, as the trailer brakes will only engage fully after several seconds. The longer wheelbase also means you’ve got a higher center of gravity, and are more apt to roll if you take a corner sharply at speed. Adjusting to the new character of your towing/trailer setup takes time, but practice and conservative driving habits will make you a pro in time.
Weight and Balance
The weight and balance of the trailer are going to make a huge difference in your performance on the road. You can use a weigh station to get an idea of the balance of your RV, however an RV weigh station can give you a clearer picture of where the weight is distributed. Overall you want to have about 10 to 15 percent of your trailer’s weight supported in the tongue of your RV. Less than that and you can experience sway in the trailer, more than that and you’ll start to experience sketchy handling in your truck. The left/right balance in your trailer will also make a difference in your handling on the road, so ensuring you’ve got an even load is an important part of getting out in your RV.
Hooking your trailer up to your truck isn’t too difficult, but there are a few tips you can follow to make life a little easier. First, cross your safety chains in an X beneath the hitch to prevent binding in a tight turn. This also helps maintain control if the trailer comes unhitched as the chains will catch the tongue and give you more time to get to the shoulder of the road. After you connect your lights, turn on your parking lamps and four way flashers at the same time, that way you only need to make one round trip.
The tires of your tow vehicle and trailer should always be kept at the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. This is important because with the heavy weight of a trailer and small imbalance like a deflated tire can make a huge difference in your braking performance, and the wear that your wheels and axles endure on the road.
Every time you stop, you should do a walkaround to check your tow setup. Make sure that all of your connections are solid, that your safety pin is still in place, that the lights are still operational, and that your brakes are operating properly. You can check the brakes by feeling for heat, or using an Infrared thermometer. If you notice a major difference in temperature between the two brakes, you should definitely look at rebalancing your trailer.
Water is heavy, at 8 lbs per gallon a full fresh water tank can easily add hundreds of pounds to the weight of your trailer. When you fill up the fresh, black, and gray tanks that number easily reaches thousands of pounds. All that weight makes a massive difference in the performance of your towing, so make sure you hit the road with empty tanks whenever possible.
Bearings and Battery
Having your trailer in good shape is just as important as maintaining your tow vehicle. Make sure that your trailer’s wheel bearings are packed once a year with a high grade synthetic wheel bearing grease. It’s also important to check your breakaway system battery (a small 12V battery on your hitch) to make sure your trailer brakes engage if the trailer goes rogue while you’re on the move.
There you have it! Some simple towing tips to help ensure your next fifth wheel or travel trailer trip doesn’t face any unexpected trouble. Whether you’re planning a weekend get-a-way or a month-long excursion, good towing practices and diligent inspections may just be the thing that keeps your trailer rolling from adventure to adventure.