SAFETY FIRST: Choosing the Right Towing Equipment
Many owners of a $20,000 (or more) tow vehicle–Truck, Van, or SUV and a $10,000 (or more) Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel travel with improper or inferior towing equipment. They have invested $30,000 or more in their RVing equipment, yet the most critical component-the hitch equipment that keeps it all together and under control-is the cheapest they could get. When you consider their dearest family members will be traveling in this rig for fun and adventure, the risk makes no sense at all. Still, these are intelligent people like you and I. The trouble is without a clear picture of the risks involved, saving money seems like a great idea to all of us. This is a fact that unscrupulous salespeople exploit with regularity.
Time and time again we witness people investing as little as possible in the equipment used to connect and control their tow vehicle and trailer. Often they use under rated parts, or neglect needed parts altogether in a blind attempt to save money. We see many incompetent, even unsafe installations purchased to save a hundred or two. But as is almost always the case in life, something is usually missing. Most of these people do it because they were never informed about the needs and risks involved. Don’t let it happen to you.
Essential Equipment for
Safe Travel Trailer Towing
What is essential for safe towing? Towing a travel trailer safely requires:
• A properly matched tow vehicle and trailer. The tow vehicle should have a towing capacity when loaded that meets or exceeds the loaded trailer weight.
• Properly wired electrical connection to provide turn signals, marker lights and braking to the trailer.
• A Weight Distributing Hitch Platform (Receiver) rated to exceed the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of the trailer.
• Weight Distributing Ball Mount, Hitch Ball and Bars rated at or above the maximum hitch weight of the trailer when loaded. This equipment should be properly set up and adjusted so that the trailer and the tow vehicle ride level. Weight distribution systems transfer some of the hitch weight to the front wheels of the tow vehicle and to the wheels of the trailer. We have all seen the overloaded U-Haul Rental Trailer going down the highway with the tow vehicle’s headlights pointing toward the sky and the rear bumper nearly dragging on the pavement. This unsafe situation is eliminated with the right towing setup.
• A Brake Control device that provides for the appropriate braking for almost every driving situation. A good brake control should make the trailer brakes work smoothly in conjunction with the tow vehicle brakes. Braking should work in the appropriate manner for the situation, hard in a panic stop and soft for minor braking. Cheaper controllers provide only braking based on a preset formula. This is a one-size-fits-all approach often leading to inadequate braking when you need it the most. Cheaper devices can also lead to premature and expensive trailer brake repair problems costing you more money, not less overall.
• A Properly installed and adjusted Sway Control Device. Many people believe that the weight distribution bars are sway bars. This is not true. They distribute weight to assist in a level ride. They do not control sway. An additional device specifically designed to avoid or control sway is highly recommended on all travel trailers.
• A break-away device to apply the brakes in the unlikely event a trailer becomes uncoupled from the towing vehicle for any reason. Pennsylvania requires one, as do most states.
• Safety Chains rated to exceed the weight of the trailer. Many cheaper trailers do not come with safety chains leaving it up to the dealer to supply them. Others supply lightweight chains betting they will never be needed. Be sure the chains are rated to handle the full GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of the trailer. Anything less may not help you when they are needed in an emergency.
• A thorough understanding of how to use and adjust the equipment from hookup, to driving, to uncoupling. A comprehensive orientation to the equipment and its use is critical to its safe and comfortable operation. It is essential to feel comfortable driving your rig.
• Mirrors that provide good visibility and eliminate critical blind spots. The ability to see what is around you is very important in avoiding expensive damage and maintaining safety.
• Name brand components backed by a solid company. There have been several “cheap” hitch manufacturers that have gone out of business in the past several years. A warranty from a defunct company does little good. There is also the question of who is liable if the hitch fails and someone gets injured. Many legal opinions hold that the owner of the equipment would be named especially if the company is gone and has no liability insurance.
• Professional installation of all components is necessary for reassurance that they are installed correctly to the manufacturers specifications, and functioning properly. The installer is then liable for any mistakes and usually warrants the install to you.
These items are considered essential. There are many others that may improve or enhance your towing ease and comfort as well as prepare you for an emergency. The bottom line is it is your responsibility to be knowledgeable and informed. Don’t fall prey to misinformation or unscrupulous sellers. There are many sources for information about towing. Some of the best are found in the tow vehicle manufacturer’s tow guides. GM, Ford and Chrysler publish towing information and whenever possible, get you the information from reliable sources in writing. Properly equipped, towing is easy and safe. Don’t scrimp on the safety and security of your family. Do your homework and buy the best towing equipment your budget will allow. You will be happy you did.