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Tips on How To Tow a Trailer

Custom Fit Trailer Hitch

With the right know-how and equipment, towing a trailer should be easy and safe. If you are new to towing, or you are experiencing problems when towing, the following information can help you tow easily and safely. Below, you can learn towing basics and see common towing equipment.

Equipment Capacity

All towing components have a maximum weight capacity. This value is usually displayed on each piece of equipment. All of your components should be rated at a higher capacity than the heaviest trailer you will tow. Some parts have more than one capacity. For example, hitches are usually rated for maximum weight capacity and maximum tongue weight capacity. The maximum weight value represents the heaviest trailer the hitch can pull, and the maximum tongue weight represents the maximum weight that the hitch can handle pushing down on it.

The weight capacitity of each component - the tow vehicle, the trailer hitch, ballmount, ball, and safety chains - must be greater than 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

Read more about how to determine trailer tongue weight

Trailer Loading

The way you load a trailer can determine how easily you can tow it. While loading, keep in mind that the tongue weight should be 10% to 15% of the overall trailer weight. Not enough weight on the trailer tongue can cause sway. To keep your trailer from swaying, place heavier cargo forward, in front 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, gradually increase your speed in intervals until highway speed is reached. If the trailer does begin to sway, try adjusting the cargo and equipment accordingly. Also, make sure your trailer's tires are properly inflated. If repositioning the load doesn't reduce sway, you may need a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control.

Read more about weight distribution and sway control systems


The addition of a trailer adds weight and length to the tow vehicle. With additional weight, your rig will accelerate slower and take longer to stop. You should allow for extra time when switching lanes, stopping, and passing other vehicles when you're towing a trailer. Trailer brakes can help improve your rig's stopping power. The extra length that a trailer adds can also cause problems on turns. Because the trailer does not follow the exact path as the vehicle on turns, you must 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 long or steep hills or on gravel roads, use a lower gear to ease stress on your transmission and engine. Shifting out of overdrive and into a lower gear may also improve vehicle gas mileage.

Be extra cautious of potholes and other large bumps. They can damage the tow vehicle, trailer hitch, and 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 dos 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 at faster speeds
  • Do not tow a trailer that continues to sway
    • Consider reloading the trailer or perhaps adding a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control

Trailer Towing Components

Find out more about the various kinds of equipment related to towing in the information, below. And remember to keep up on the maintenance of your trailer and your tow vehicle to help ensure safety and long life of your equipment.

Learn more about proper trailer maintenance

Trailer Hitches

trailer hitch

Trailer Hitches are specific to each vehicle and are rated accordingly. To find out how much weight the trailer hitch can tow, look for a sticker on the hitch. This sticker will display the weight carrying capacity, which indicates the maximum trailer weight the trailer can pull and the maximum tongue weight, which indicates the maximum weight the hitch can handle pushing down on it. If a weight distribution system can be used with the hitch, the sticker should display a weight distributing capacity. This value represents the maximum capacity of the hitch when used with a weight distribution system - a system that includes spring bars that attach to the trailer to help distribute the load.

Read more about trailer hitches

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. A level trailer handles better than a trailer that isn't level. 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 class II hitch, use's fitguide for custom-fit hitches.

Read more about choosing a ballmount

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. The hole diameter in the ballmount must be less than 1/16" greater than the ball shank diameter. When tightening a hitch ball to a ballmount, 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
Read more about hitch balls

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.

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 you need to wire a tow vehicle to tow a trailer, see's custom-fit wiring harnesses.

Read more about installing and troubleshooting trailer wiring

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.

Read more about brake controllers

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 smoothly.

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.

Read more about weight distribution systems

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. Sway controls can help prevent sway on trailers with a large surface area, such as enclosed or travel trailers. They can also help prevent sway on trailers with a low tongue weight percentage.

Read more about weight distribution and sway control systems

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. Trailer tires should usually be filled to the maximum air pressure listed on the sidewall.

Read more about trailer tires

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.

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.

Read more about transmission coolers

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.

Read more about packing wheel bearings

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