Trailer Hitch Information and Trailering Safety

How to drive safely with a trailer

When you are pulling a trailer or load of any kind, one thing is undisputed: trailer towing is a special situation which places demands on your driving skills, and on your tow vehicle. There are many safety considerations to properly towing a trailer, RV, boat or anything for that matter. 

First you will need to determine how much towing capacity the vehicle that will be performing the towing can handle.  Towing capacity is a measure that describes the upper limit to the weight of a trailer a vehicle can tow. 

Another important thing to consider is the tongue weight; this is the weight in which the trailer presses down on the tow vehicle’s hitch.  If the tongue weight is insufficient then this can cause the trailer to sway back and forth when towed.

After all the weights have been figured it is the tough decision deciding which hitch you would like to install onto your vehicle. It is important that you get the correct hitch for your vehicle as this will ensure safety all around for yourself and the item(s) you are towing. 

In some instances the type of trailer you are towing will determine the hitch you will need for your vehicle. Now that you have your hitch installed and are ready to hook up to what you are towing you want to take a few steps first. Start with fueling up your vehicle before you mount up with your trailer, RV, boat, etc. 

Next check that all fluid levels are topped off; especially oil level.  When checking the fluid levels double check that there is enough water in the radiator and fluid in the transmission. Towing extra weight can often heat up a motor and strain the transmission. All this is done easier without the extra weight and length to your towing vehicle. You will need to remember that an acute sense of awareness is needed when towing. 

Once you have hooked up the item you are towing you want to take a test drive to have proper handle on driving the open road while towing. First start with checking that you have full vision around both sides of the item you are towing; if not – check into getting modified mirrors for your tow vehicle. 

Next step is to check that the wiring from the tow vehicle to the trailer are working for turn signals and braking.  From here you want to practice turning, stopping, and backing up away from traffic before setting out and not being comfortable with towing. Finally, you want to check that the trailer ball (if applicable) on the tow vehicle matches the coupler on your trailer. 

You want to ensure that the ball is fastened properly to the tow vehicle and that the mounting will handle the capacity equal to or greater than the weight of the trailer and load.  If the hitch you are using is a receiver hitch then ensure the insert (the bar the ball attaches to) is secured with a retaining pin and that is has the locking pin on it.  

Always check that your trailers tires are properly inflated; as well as the tow vehicles tires are properly inflated. Your towing item should also always be balanced from side to side to make a smoother ride. At least once a year check the wheel bearings as failure can cause an accident that could be fatal.

In reference to towing with a 4 x 4 truck, the gearing options help the vehicle tackle many different situations that may be encountered if you have to trailer the load in a an off-road situation.  

4H allows you to drive full speed, if necessary. The high range ratios in 4×4 modes are the same as the gear ratios in 2WD. 4L is for creeping along at slow speeds. It reduces the strain on your vehicle; just keep in mind to stay below 25mph in low range. 

This does not provide traction but it will provide 2-3 times more torque at about 1/2 or 1/3 of the speeds in high range. Tips on when to use 4H and 4L are as followed:

1) for traction when the area isn’t steep
2) when stuck in sand
3) extremely slippery conditions
4) snow
5) ice
6) rocky, gravel roads
7) gullies
8) extremely muddy areas
9) ridges
When to use 4L:
1) on wet, slippery surfaces
2) passing through sandy area
3) on rough trails
4) through shallow water
5) rock-climbing
6) climbing steep hills
7) through mud
8) descending steep hills

Final note; check with your state laws for towing to be in compliance.