setup and maintenance are the keys to a successful tow trip. So before you head out to the road, make sure your truck
and trailer are roadworthy. Where did I learn to tow a trailer? Or how to set one up? I learned the hard way, by towing a
succession of second-hand rigs with whatever I had that had the power to pull. Some of these truck and trailer setups were
really evil-handling beasts, and I was lucky to bring them (and myself) home in one piece.
Don't confuse driving
your car or truck with towing a trailer. The skill set overlaps only slightly. Everything takes longer when you are towing--speeding
up, slowing down and cornering. Remember, you've got a second center of mass 10 or 20 ft behind you, and it's easy for the
tail wag the dog. Aside from just physically getting the trailer hitched to the truck, here's a list of a few things to watch.
1. Proper Tongue Weight
Set tongue weight to 10 to 15 percent of the trailer's total weight
for good stability. If the tow vehicle doesn't have enough rear suspension spring rate to accept this, get an equalizing hitch.
The equalizing hitch will transfer some of the tongue weight forward to the front axle.
2. Safety Chains
Cross the safety chains under the hitch side-to-side, in an X pattern. If, for whatever reason, the hitch comes adrift,
the trailer tongue will drop onto the chains instead of onto the ground. And that will maximize your control and minimize
the damage to you and your rig. Bonus: With the chains crossed, you can turn in a tighter circle without them binding.
3. Tire Pressure
Check the tire pressures often. Run the tires at their maximum recommended
pressure. They'll run cooler, and you'll consume less gas to boot.
you pull over and stop on a long tow mission, do a walk-around inspection of the hitch, wiring and tires. Be sure the trailer
harness connector and breakaway cable are still connected. Check the nut on the bottom of the hitch ball, and make sure that
the hitch pin and its hairpin are still holding the drawbar on. You can probably skip checking the tire pressures at every
pull-over, but a good thump of all four tires will let you know if one is low just by the sound. Now check the tire and brake
drum and wheel-bearing temperatures. A noncontact infrared thermometer gun is cool, and will keep your hands clean, but just
using the palm of your hand is fine. If one tire or bearing is noticeably hotter, you've got a problem.
No matter how tight you make the tiedowns for the load, they'll loosen up as the suspension jiggles
everything. Stop after 10 miles and retighten, even if that means opening the door and crawling into an enclosed trailer.
6. Gas Saver
Save fuel towing your RV trailer by dumping grey-, black-, and freshwater tanks
before leaving on a trip, or before returning. Fill the freshwater tanks at or near your destination.
Save a bunch of walking back and forth between the cab and trailer when hooking up. Connect the trailer
plug, then turn on the parking lamps and the four-way flashers. Now all you need to do is walk to the back of the trailer
once to see if the running lamps are on and the brake/turn-signal lamps are working.
As you start your tow trip, check electric brake function as soon as you can by sliding the brake controller lever over
an inch or so. You should be able to feel the trailer brakes actuate. I check to make sure all the trailer brake shoes are
working by holding the brakes on partway on for 10 seconds or so, and then pulling over and checking that they are all heating
equally up with my IR thermometer.
9. Bearing Life
Pack trailer bearings with the best synthetic
wheel-bearing grease you can find, and do it annually. That goes double for boat trailers that are regularly immersed, and
double double for trailers that see a lot of saltwater.
10. Battery Charge
electrical-operated brakes have a breakaway switch and a small 12-volt battery to actuate the trailer brakes if the hitch
accidentally comes apart. Check the state of charge of that battery regularly. Many trailers have no provision for charging
this battery, so it has to be charged manually. I add a diode to charge it from the trailer's plus 12-volt circuit. Got a
smaller trailer with no courtesy lights or 12-volt wiring? Run the diode from the brake-light circuit. It'll charge the battery
a little every time you touch the brakes.