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Tips on How To Tow a Trailer

Custom Fit Trailer Hitch

The weight capacities of the tow vehicle, the trailer hitch, ballmount, ball, and safety chains must not be exceeded by the gross trailer weight (GTW). The towing system will only be as strong as the weakest piece.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) - the weight of the loaded trailer. To determine GTW, weigh the loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.

TW Diagram

Tongue Weight (TW) - the downward pressure placed on the ball by the coupler. On smaller trailers the TW can be measured using a bathroom scale and a box. On a level surface, place the coupler of the loaded trailer on the scale at normal towing height (Figure A). For heavier tongue weights, use the method diagrammed below (Figure B) or use a tongue weight scale.

Measure tw figure a and b

Trailer Loading

The way you load the trailer can determine how easy you can tow it. While loading, keep in mind that the tongue weight should be 10% to 15% of the overall trailer weight. One of the main causes of trailer sway is not having a large enough percentage of trailer tongue weight compared to gross trailer weight. To help prevent the trailer from swaying back and forth, a few things can be done. Try placing heavier cargo in the front of the trailer, ahead of the trailer's axle. Also center the cargo left-to-right and use tie-downs to keep the load from sliding.

Trailer Sway can also lead to a loss of vehicle control. When starting out with a new load on a trailer, make sure it will not sway by gradually increasing your speed in intervals until highway speed is reached. If the trailer does begin to sway, try adjusting the cargo and equipment accordingly and then repeat the test. If repositioning the load and equipment did not help reduce the sway, a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control may be needed.


The addition of a trailer adds weight and length to the tow vehicle. More weight means more time to speed up and more importantly, slow down. Overall handling is also affected. When towing, allow for extra time when switching lanes, stopping and passing other vehicles. To assist in slowing down, trailer brakes are a very good option. The extra length can also cause problems on turns. Because the trailer does not follow the exact path as the vehicle on turns, remember to swing out wider when traveling around bends and corners.

To conserve fuel when towing, travel at moderate speeds. Faster speeds increase wind resistance, reduce gas mileage, and place added strain on the vehicle and trailer. When traveling over large hills or down gravel roads, use a lower gear to ease transmission and engine operation. Shifting out of overdrive and into a lower gear may also improve vehicle gas mileage.

Be extra cautious of potholes and other large bumps. Riding over one can damage the tow vehicle, trailer hitch and/or trailer. When pulling a trailer take your time and be careful.

If for some reason (a gust of wind, a downgrade, a pass by a larger vehicle, etc.) the trailer does begin to sway, the driver needs to assess the situation to determine the proper course of action. Here is a list of Do's and Don'ts to think about.

Do's - Good Towing Practice

  • Gradually reduce speed
  • Steady the steering wheel - sudden turns can cause more sway
  • Apply only the trailer brakes to help reduce trailer sway

Don'ts - NOT Good Towing Practice

  • Do Not slam on the brakes - jackknifing could occur
  • Do Not attempt to steer out of a sway situation
  • Do Not increase speed - Trailer sway increases in faster speeds
  • Do Not tow a trailer that continues to sway
    • Look at reloading the trailer or perhaps adding a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control

Trailer Towing Components

Trailer Hitches

trailer hitch

Trailer Hitches are specific to each vehicle and are rated accordingly. To find out how much your vehicle can tow, see the owner's manual. To find out how much weight the trailer hitch can tow look at the sticker on the hitch. Two ratings will normally appear on the sticker, weight carrying and weight distributing. Weight carrying is towing with a ballmount. Weight distributing is towing with a system that includes spring bars that attach to the trailer to help distribute the load. For more information on trailer hitches, check out our trailer hitch FAQmore information page. If you still need a trailer hitch for your vehicle, see the Hitch Huntertm.

Pro Series SC Weight Distribution by Draw-Tite, Hidden Hitch and Reese, 1,100 TW, 14K GTW

Weight Distribution

Weight Distribution Systems are recommended if the vehicle is pulling a trailer that weighs more than 50% of the tow vehicle. The systems improve braking and handling while increasing the towing capacity of some trailer hitches. To find out more about how and if a weight distribution system will work for you, see our weight distribution FAQmore information page.

Ball Mount 3/4" Rise or 2" Drop, 6,000 lbs

Ball Mounts

Keep in mind the trailer's gross trailer weight and tongue weight when selecting a ball mount for the trailer hitch. Class III ball mounts are selected not only with gross trailer weight in mind, but also trailer height. The more level the trailer, the easier it is to pull. Information is available to aid in selecting the correct ballmount in our Step by Stepmore information guide. Class I and Class II ballmounts are specific for each vehicle and are recommended by the hitch manufacturer. To find a ballmount for a Class I or II hitch, use the Hitch Huntertm.

Hitch Ball with 2" Diameter and Medium Shank, 6,000 lbs GTW - Chrome

Hitch Balls

Always make sure the hitch ball weight rating is greater than the gross trailer weight. As for the hole diameter on the ballmount, it must be less than 1/16" greater than the ball shank diameter. When tightening, always use the lock washer and make sure a portion of the ball shank extends past the bottom of the nut.

Information Needed to get the Correct Ball

  1. Gross trailer weight (GTW)
  2. Hole diameter on the ballmount
  3. Ballmount platform thickness
  4. Trailer coupler size

Upgraded Modulite Circuit Protected Vehicle Wiring Harness with 4 Pole Trailer Connector

Trailer Wiring

Always make sure the turn signals, brake lights, tail lights, electric brakes, and breakaway switches are working on the trailer prior to each use. If the trailer has some wiring problems, a wiring diagram is available which shows the proper way to install trailer wiring on our Wiring FAQmore information page. Replacement trailer connectors are also available. Always be sure to find a good secure ground on the trailer and also on the tow vehicle. If the vehicle still needs to be wired, we offer Plug-N-Tow™ harnesses for most applications. For more wiring information see our Wiring FAQmore information page.

Trailer Coupler 2" Ball 2" Channel Tongue (3,500 lbs.) by Dutton-Lainson

Trailer Couplers

The inside of the coupler should be clean and slightly lubricated with grease. This will help prevent binding during turning and help any moving parts inside the coupler move smoother.

28" Long Safety Chain with 7/16" Hook, 5,000 lbs.

Safety Chains

Always connect the trailer's safety chains securely to the trailer hitch or tow vehicle by crossing them underneath the coupler. The safety chains should only be long enough to allow for tight turns. Anything longer may weaken the safety feature of the chains if other connections fail. Also make sure the chains cannot wiggle or bounce free and do not let them drag on the ground.

Dual Cam High Performance Sway Control - New Design

Sway Controls

Available in three different styles, sway controls reduce the effects of wind gusts and sudden maneuvering by applying resistance to the trailer and vehicle with respect to each other. Aside from trailers with a large surface area, such as enclosed or travel trailers, sway controls are also used on trailers with a low tongue weight percentage. For more information see our weight distribution FAQ pagemore information.

4.80 - 8 Trailer Tire and Wheel, 4 on 4 Bolt Pattern

Trailer Tires

Check tire inflation and tread wear often. Fill the tires to match manufacturer's guidelines. Tires with too much or too little air pressure can cause the trailer to sway.

Universal Strap-On Towing Mirror (Each)

Trailer Towing Mirrors

Available in a custom or universal fit, towing mirrors increase visibility by allowing the driver to see the end of the trailer. This makes backing up and passing other vehicles much easier and safer.

Tekonsha PRODIGY Brake Controller - Proportional

Electric Trailer Brake Controls

For use with trailers that have electric brakes, electric brake controllers send the signal that applies the trailer's brakes. For more information, see our Brake Controller FAQmore information page.

Derale Series 8000 Plate-Fin Transmission Cooler Kit w/ Hose Barb Inlets - Class III - Extra Efficie

Transmission Coolers

A must for all towing vehicles with automatic transmissions. Transmission coolers lower the operating temperature of the oil by up to 60 degrees. Every 20 degree drop in temperature can double both oil and equipment life by reducing deposits and stress on the seals. Overheating causes 90% of transmission failures.

Bearing Kit

Trailer Bearings, Races, and Seals

Another important area to be aware of is the trailer bearings, races, and seals. The bearings, races, and seals are all vital parts that should be kept in good repair in order to keep your trailer working correctly. If the bearings are not working correctly, the internal rollers are not moving freely, and this could cause damage to the spindle and hub assembly. If the bearings are not properly greased, they can get so hot that they will actually weld themselves to spindle assembly. In order to prevent this the wheel bearings should be repacked every 6,000 miles or every 12 months. Pulling the trailer more often will actually help to distribute the grease throughout the bearing. For more information on wheel bearing packing, check out our wheel bearing packing FAQmore information page.

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