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.
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.
Trailer LoadingThe 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 re-positioning the load doesn't reduce sway, you may need a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control.
DrivingThe 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