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How to Safely Tow a Trailer the Right Way

Towing a trailer is not an overly complicated task but there are several thoughts to keep in mind, lest a lack of preparation lead to calamity on the road.

  • Towing a trailer

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Summer is approaching, which means the roads will be awash with families heading to the campsite, gearheads taking their cars to the track, and home-improvement types hauling lumber home for their latest project. What do all three of these demographics have in common?

Most of them will be hauling trailers.

Towing a trailer is not an overly complicated task but there are several thoughts to keep in mind, lest a lack of preparation lead to calamity on the road. Done properly, hauling a trailer is a handy and (dare I say it) fun way to make the most out of your trip. It might even make you a better and more aware driver.

Find out what your vehicle is rated to tow

The first and most important detail to consider is the amount of weight your vehicle can safely tow. Check your owner’s manual or the manufacturer website for this information. As an example, most small crossovers like the Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4 can tow about 3500lbs when optioned with their most powerful engine.

To put that in perspective, the typical utility trailer measuring 5ft x 8ft weighs about 1500lbs, leaving approximately 2000lbs for cargo. A ride-on lawnmower generally weighs about 500lbs, so loading up the old John Deere and taking it in for service would not tax the limits of those vehicles mentioned above. There are also plenty of single-axle, hard-sided, family campers in this weight class.

towing trailer

Choose a properly rated hitch

Once you’ve determined that your ride can has the chops to handle your trailer’s weight, it’s important to buy the proper hitching equipment. Sites such as have a wide selection of hitches, such as the Draw-Tite Rear Mounted Trailer Hitch range of options. Hitch manufacturers classify their products using fancy Roman numerals (I, II, III, and IV) as a rating of their carrying capacity, so be sure to choose a hitch whose weight rating exceeds that of your trailer. Most lightweight trailers require a Class II hitch, which is rated up to 3500lbs.

Even weight distribution is key

No matter the total weight of a trailer, it’s important to distribute its cargo evenly. If too much of the cargo is concentrated behind the trailer’s axle, it could cause the unit to sway unpredictably at speed. Think of a cartoon where the guy is trying to hang on to an out-of-control fire hose and you’ll kind of get the picture. A good rule to keep in mind is to place about 60 percent of the weight ahead of the axle, with the load evenly distributed side-to-side. This can help avoid sway, which could lead to expensive noises and an unfortunate pretzeling of your ride.

how to tow a trailer

Mind your tongue (weight)

Another important thing of which to be aware is tongue weight. This is the amount of pressure, measured in pounds, being exerted on your snazzy new Draw-Tite Trailer Hitch. Generally, this number works out to approximately ten percent of the total trailer weight and is an important figure to know when selecting towing equipment. Really big trailers will benefit from a weight distribution kit, essentially adding two extra bars extending from the tow vehicle to the trailer, designed to offset tongue weight and relieve stress off the back of the tow vehicle.

When hauling heavier loads, make sure the trailer has electric brakes. They will help immensely when approaching a stop or decelerating from felonious velocities when the constabulary pops into view on the highway. These electric brakes get their juice from the tow vehicle by way of a 7-pin umbilical cord plugged into a receiver near your hitch. The pros at a place like can help you out with choosing a trailer brake controller, which is a unit that activates the trailer brakes in an appropriate proportion to how hard the tow vehicle’s brakes are being applied.

Drive Safe and Practice Makes Perfect

On the road, leave plenty of stopping distance to the vehicle in front of you, as the added weight of the trailer will lengthen the amount of time your vehicle needs to stop. Bumps and dips in the road (of which we have plenty in Canada, right?) may feel exaggerated while towing a trailer, so if you generally go over those railroad tracks at 40kph, try it at half that speed—at least the first time. In general, though, any driver who deploys even a modicum of safe and sane driving habits will acclimate to the nuances of towing a trailer very quickly.

trailer towing

Don’t let anyone try and tell you to ‘start small’, either. This is not to say that one’s initial towing experience should be with a forty-foot camper trailer but, thanks to the laws of physics and geometry, a small single-axle trailer will be harder to reverse than a rolling condominium.

Why? Well, the technical reasons caused this author’s mind to spin out of control, even more so than it does after his grog ration of Captain Morgan Dark, but the upshot of it is this – small trailers generally have a single axle, meaning there is but one pivot point in contact with the ground. This means that if a driver makes a judgement error in the angle of their steering wheel, the mistake will be amplified greatly by the single axle, leading the trailer to head at a jaunty angle to the left or right instead of straight backwards. That pivot point is also generally closer to the hitching point than with a big trailer. Double-axle trailers, thanks to their length and extra tires in contact with the ground, are more forgiving of these slight errors in steering when backing up.

Taking your time while driving and making slow, deliberate motions navigating the campground or racing paddock might draw a few snickers and stares, but your patience (and properly equipped tow vehicle) will be rewarded with a safe trip and a smooth arrival.

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