How to Safely Tow a Trailer

How to Safely Tow a Trailer

With the towing capabilities of today’s trucks increasing — drivers may find more opportunities to use a trailer on or off the clock. Know the safety basics before you hitch up.

With the towing capacity of today’s light- and medium-duty pickups climbing to an all-time high, it’s becoming more convenient than ever to use these trucks to pull a trailer.

And that means that — whether for business or pleasure — if you drive a pickup, you’ll likely sooner or later find the need to tow something.

Capacity is one thing — safety is another.

In fact, towing a trailer can be dangerous and even deadly.  In a nearly 40-year period, more than 17,000 people have been killed in 1.3 million accidents involving towing a trailer according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, cited by the Greenville (South Carolina) News.

Hitching Up the Right Way

Before you hitch up a trailer to your truck, review the following safety tips:

  • Make sure you know how much the trailer and cargo weigh, and compare it to the capacities of your vehicle. Just because some light- and medium-duty trucks can now tow in excess of 30,000 pounds doesn’t mean your truck has the same capacity.
  • Choose the right hitch for the trailer, and make sure it’s secure before you hook up.
  • While a backup camera can help you align the truck’s hitch to the trailer hitch, it’s still advisable to have a colleague or friend to help with positioning.
  • Make sure you put the trailer jack in the up position — not doing so is dangerous.
  • Use emergency chains — and cross them — to secure the trailer in the event the hitch fails.
  • Connect the trailer’s electrical cable to the truck so you have brake and signal lights integrated with your truck’s systems. Not only is it safe, but it’s likely the law.
  • Make sure you position and secure the load. And make sure the trailer is level.
  • Before heading out, do a walk around of the truck and the trailer, double check to make sure the trailer is level, the load is secure, the trailer is fully attached, and the trailer lights are working.
  • Start off slow and pull over to check the load after a few minutes to make sure that it’s still secure.

While you’re driving, be aware that, because of the extra mass, it will take longer to brake — about twice as long as without the trailer attached — so make sure you adjust your following distance accordingly.

Turning will be more difficult, so be extra cautious on curves and make any turns wider than usual to accommodate the extra length of the trailer. If you don’t, it is not uncommon to clip a curb or other object, which could damage the trailer or your load.

Some jurisdictions have specific rules covering towing, so review those ahead of time.

Watch Your Weight

While the above guidelines will help you pull a trailer safely, there’s a fundamental consideration you have to make when planning to hitch a trailer to your pickup — what is the gross combination weight rating (GCWR)?

This is an even more important consideration than even knowing if the truck can pull the trailer. If the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) is higher than 26,001 pounds and the trailer being towed is 10,000 pounds, you will need to possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Check with your employer about the GCWR if you’re towing for business purposes. Particularly if this is an infrequent task, your employer may be unaware of the license requirements related to weight.

If you’re towing a trailer for your own personal use, you also must be aware of the GCWR of the vehicle and trailer. Personal use is not a special category for enforcement officials. If you are pulled over and it’s determined you have the wrong kind of license, you will be cited and not be allowed to continue driving.

Towing a heavy load in excess of 10,000 pounds requires specialized training, and for good reason — it’s beyond the experience of most drivers. Without the knowledge and experience that the CDL training process develops, not only will you not know how to tow a trailer properly, but you will be in violation of the law, which could cause you significant headaches whether you’re towing a trailer as part of your job or for that fun vacation you’ve been looking forward to for six months.

With the increasing capabilities of today’s pickup trucks, it is natural that you’ll want to put them to the test — just make sure you pause, check your weight, and be safe through the entire transport process.

Drive Safely!

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