Know How to Tow
1ST SGT. ROBERT JENKINS
2nd Battalion, 199th Regiment (RTI)
Camp Beauregard, Louisiana
Towing a trailer can be dangerous if you don’t understand how the added weight and length can affect your vehicle’s handling. I began towing trailers shortly after I first started driving. At that time, I had no idea what a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combined weight rating (GCWR) even was. As a young person, I just assumed you hooked the trailer to a truck, jumped in and took off. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized how wrong I’d been.
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to buy our first camper. It was during this time I started learning what GVWR and GCWR actually meant, and that my half-ton RAM 1500 Mega Cab pickup was fine for towing a 29-foot bumper-pull camper. Eventually, though, we set our sights on a larger camper. Unfortunately, my truck wasn’t sufficient to tow a fifth-wheel camper, so I purchased a RAM 3500 dually with a Cummins diesel engine.
Now that I had a proper vehicle to tow it, it was time to start looking for a new camper. Soon, we bought a Fuzion 42-foot triple-axle toy hauler. Our bumper-pull had never intimidated me, but this new camper had me scared — and not only because of the length. It was also 13 feet tall and weighed 16,000 pounds! Because I was nervous about towing something so big, I had a friend go with me when I picked it up at the dealership.
Following our new purchase, my wife and I were ready to hit the road. We took many trips, towing the camper thousands of miles. After a few years, I bought a new RAM 3500 dually that had a combined truck and towing capacity of 38,000 pounds. I was now very comfortable pulling this camper and had checklists I would go through while performing my before, during and after checks. We never had an issue on the road until one summer day.
After a week at an RV park, it was time to head home. The morning we left, I made the mistake of not checking the air pressure in all six tires on the camper. For some reason, it just slipped my mind. About three hours into the trip, we had a blowout on the camper. Having a blowout at 65 mph can be nerve wracking; however, when you have a combined length of almost 60 feet and a weight of more than 26,000 pounds, it’s terrifying.
Fortunately, there was a gravel lot up ahead that I could pull in to and put on a spare. Afterward, I checked the other tires and noticed one looked like it had a knot on it. My wife searched for a nearby tire dealership and found one just 10 miles away where I had six new tires put on the camper. We then got back on the road and made it home without further incident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers the following pre-departure safety checklist for motorists towing a camper, boat or trailer:
- Before driving, make sure your vehicle and trailer maintenance is current. This is very important because towing puts additional stress on the tow vehicle.
- Check and correct tire pressure on the tow vehicle and trailer.
- Make sure the wheel lug nuts/bolts on the tow vehicle and trailer are tightened to the correct torque.
- Be sure the hitch, coupler, draw bar and other equipment that connect the trailer and the tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted.
- Check that the wiring is properly connected — not touching the road, but loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires.
- Make sure all running lights, brake lights, turn signals and hazard lights are working.
- Verify that the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly.
- Check that all items are securely fastened on and in the trailer.
- Be sure the trailer jack, tongue support and any attached stabilizers are raised and locked into place.
- Check load distribution to make sure the tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced front to back and side to side.
- Check side- and rear-view mirrors to make sure you have good visibility.
- Check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels.
- Make sure you have wheel chocks and jack stands.
I don’t know if checking the air pressure that morning would have prevented a blowout. Regardless, it was still a silly mental mistake. If I had been inexperienced towing trailers, panicked when the tire blew, or been driving with a vehicle that wasn’t properly rated to pull a camper that big, my wife and I may not have been as lucky.
Did You Know?
The GVWR is the manufacturer’s specified maximum operating weight of a vehicle, including passengers and cargo. The GVWR does not include towed items such as trailers, boats and campers. The GCWR is the maximum combined weight of the towing vehicle, its passengers and cargo, as well as the weight of trailer, boat or camper being towed and its cargo. To find out a vehicle’s GVWR and GCWR, check the owner’s manual or contact a local dealership.