Whether you’re an experienced camper, or you’ve just purchased your first RV, towing it out to your favourite campsite or away from the RV dealership needs to be done safely and correctly to avoid any mishaps or incidents. And no matter how much experience you have, everyone forgets or overlooks something at some stage in their towing lifetime. With that in mind, we’ve put together these hints and tips on the most important issues to consider when towing your RV.
One of the most important factors to consider when towing anything is weight compatibility. Trucks have specific towing weight limits, and knowing how much you can safely and legally tow is of prime importance. Make sure that the vehicle that you intend to tow with can handle the weight you plan on towing. Every vehicle capable of towing anything will have a maximum tow rating. Check your owner’s manual first, and the metal plate on the driver-side door; both of these should have details on your towing capabilities. Manufacturer websites should also have the information, but it can sometimes be tricky to find.
If you have any doubts in regards to the weight compatibility of your vehicle, give us a call and we’d be happy to advise you.
Towing Specifics: what the numbers mean
Once you’ve found the towing and weight capabilities of your towing vehicle, you need to understand what the numbers mean. Towing has it’s own language, and you need to learn it for buying, towing and following the laws of your province. Below are some of the most important towing and capability terms:
- Max tow rating: This is the largest total weight recommended by the towing vehicle’s manufacturer that a particular vehicle can safely tow.
- Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): This is the total amount of weight a fully loaded truck can safely carry as specified by the vehicle manufacturer. This includes passengers, liquids (gas, diesel, and other fluids), cargo, and the tongue weight of the towed trailer.
- Gross combined weight rating (GCWR): This is the total allowable weight of a fully loaded tow vehicle AND trailered vehicle that includes all tow vehicle occupants, cargo, liquids (gas, diesel, and other fluids), tongue weight, and accessories. We should note that it’s easy to underestimate the total weight of your truck and trailer, so if you’re unsure, you can make a trip to your local vehicle weighing scales with your fully loaded vehicle and trailer.
- Gross trailer weight rating (GTWR): This should be found on a metal tag or plate attached somewhere on the trailer frame or chassis. The tag states the maximum allowable weight of the cargo and the trailer combined.
- Gross axle weight rating (GAWR): This specifies the maximum weight a single trailer axle can safely carry, independent of the rest of the towing vehicle.
Hitches, receivers and balls
Tow vehicles are equipped with a hitch that contains a receiver for your hitch ball. Receivers are often factory installed and are typically attached to the frame or reinforced section of the uni-body. Higher-quality aftermarket hitches are available too that can be installed by a professional, but make sure you check to ensure that the product meets the specification that you need. The ball itself supports some of the trailer weight – called the tongue weight – and couples the trailer with the truck. Trailer hitches are categorized by tongue weight, and as hitch numbers climb, so does the tongue weight it can handle.
Tongue weight is the amount of weight on the vehicle’s hitch. Generally, if your tongue weight is 10% or less of the weight of the RV (fully-loaded), the trailer may sway, making it difficult to control. Conversely, if there’s too much weight on the tongue – more than 15% of total trailer load weight – your tow vehicle can get overloaded on the rear end and push the vehicle around, which of course can make stopping and handling more difficult.
An additional option, especially for larger RVs, is to purchase a weight distribution hitch – also known as a load distribution hitch. This type of hitch helps to distribute the weight of the trailer across all four wheels of the towing vehicle, rather than just the rear two, which makes the tow vehicle more level, increasing overall control and minimizing trailer sway.
Use safety chains
Always make sure the trailer and tow vehicle are correctly attached. Obviously the hitch ball and tongue need to be connected and secured, but also strong safety chains need to be connected between the trailer tongue and the locators on the hitch receiver assembly. And it’s best practice to cross the chains under the trailer tongue in case a separation occurs. Doing this will make it harder for the trailer and the hitch to separate. Also, make sure there is enough slack in the chains to make turns, but not too much that they drag on the road.
Trailer load balance
As a rule-of-thumb, manufacturers recommend that you distribute 60% of the weight of your load over the front half of the trailer. This means that you should pack all of your heavy stuff at the front end, with the lighter stuff at the back. This methodology will help to keep your trailer more controllable with less sway.
Driving with a travel trailer
When done properly and safely, driving with a fully-loaded RV isn’t as daunting as it initially sounds:
- You do need to be very aware of your surroundings, and you may need wide towing mirrors to assist your road vision.
- Everything you do with a trailer should be done at half the speed without the trailer. Both turning and stopping take longer, so allow twice the distance for the increased weight.
- Allow for the extra length of your RV when you change lanes or turn corners.
- Look out for objects or situations ahead of you so you have time to react, and look farther ahead than you normally would.
For more information about towing and hitches, talk to Tri Crown RV in Salmon Arm, BC, who’d be happy to help.