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Hauling a trailer opens the door to endless adventure possibilities, but can be daunting for beginners, so here’s a brief guide on how to get started.

Know How to Haul?

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning - ford.com
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning - ford.com

Glamping with a travel trailer is very “of the moment” thanks to the rose-colored lens that is Instagram. Of course, pulling a trailer behind your vehicle is nothing new, just ask the farmers who do so on the daily with the workhorses detailed here. There are a lot of levels to towing from jet ski trailers to backhoes with a fifth wheel, but if you’re just getting started in the World of Trailering, it’s best to start small and drive slow. So, let’s look at the basics of hauling a trailer.

Got to Have the Proper Vehicle

2022 Toyota Tundra - pressroom.toyota.com
2022 Toyota Tundra - pressroom.toyota.com

To begin, you’ll need to align what you plan to haul with what you plan to drive. A Kia Telluride can pull up to 5,000 pounds, enough for weekend fun. Whereas a lightly used Toyota Tundra will handle a bit more than 10,000 pounds as you can read about here. The Towing section of your owner’s manual will help you get a handle on what your current setup can accommodate. Be sure to pay attention to the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), which is the combined load of the vehicle, passengers, cargo and trailer.

Hooking Up to a Trailer

Trailer hitch
Trailer hitch

Next up is the connection between your vehicle and trailer, which starts with the receiver. This is the structure affixed to your vehicle. They come in five classes from Class 1, rated for 2000 pounds, to Class 5, rated for 12,000 pounds. Class 2 and 3, rated for 3,500, and 8,000 pounds respectively, are commonly found on SUVs and light duty pickups. The receiver tube width is 1.25” on a Class 2 receiver and 2” on a Class 3. That is important to know so you can slide in and secure a matching trailer ball. That ball comes in four common diameters – 1 7/8”, 2”, 2 5/16” and 3”. Be sure to verify the coupler on your trailer tongue will accept the trailer ball.

It’s Helpful to Work in Pairs

Attaching trailer to hitch
Attaching trailer to hitch

As with anything new, it’s a good idea to enlist a friend that has done this before, with walking you through everything the first time. With the receiver and ball mount secured, the next step is to couple the trailer to your vehicle. This should be done prior to loading the trailer because a heavy object loaded from the rear tip up the trailer if not secured to the ball mount. Ultimately, you need the whole setup to be level, a job made easier with features like the self-leveling air suspension found on Ram pickups.

Properly Loading the Trailer

Cargo loaded to the front of the trailer - ford.com
Cargo loaded to the front of the trailer - ford.com

When it comes to loading, best practice is to place heavier cargo ahead of the front trailer axle to limit sway. A general target of 60% cargo mass ahead of the front axle and 40% behind is a good place to start. Aim to center the load and tie it down as low as possible. All of this is intended to put pressure, equal to about 10% of the overall trailer weight, on the ball mount. It helps ensure the trailer will tow straight and remain stable at speed.

Trailer Preparation and Attachment

Installing a hitch pin - CURT on youtube.com
Installing a hitch pin - CURT on youtube.com

Next, make sure the trailer wheels are choked, the trailer tongue is raised high enough to clear the ball mount and its receptacle is unlatched. Put that friend to work on spotter duty as you back your vehicle up to center the ball beneath the receptacle. Shift into Park, slowly lower the trailer tongue to full engagement and snap the latch closed.

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At this point, insert the pin or bolt to keep latch from accidentally opening while driving. When hooking the safety chains from your trailer to the receiver, be sure to cross them under the coupling. This could prevent the trailer neck from digging into the ground in the event it becomes uncoupled. It’s important to leave enough slack with these chains to execute turns but not so much that they drag. Finally, connect the wiring harness and verify the trailer lighting systems and any other additional functions work properly.

Driving With a Trailer

Tow/Haul mode button - 1A Auto on youtube.com
Tow/Haul mode button - 1A Auto on youtube.com

Once you’re ready to hit the road, engage Tow/Haul mode if your vehicle so equipped, to optimize transmission and engine settings for the extra load. Plan your route ahead of time to avoid trailer hurdles like dense urban traffic and steep hills. It’s a good to idea to pull over after 10 to 15 minutes of driving and verify all connections are secure.

Keep It Easy and Know Your Tech

2022 RAM 2500 - ramtrucks.com
2022 RAM 2500 - ramtrucks.com

While on the road, stay to the right and take it easy. With a trailer, your vehicle is going to react more slowly to steering inputs, braking, and acceleration, so keep your eyes several cars ahead to anticipate upcoming maneuvers. It’s here that features like trailer sway control and a trailer brake controller come in handy and help keep your trailer on the straight and narrow. These features are frequently found on newer full-size pickups, like the ones detailed here.

Turning With a Trailer

2021 Ford F-150 - ford.com
2021 Ford F-150 - ford.com

A trailer arcs through turns more tightly than a vehicle alone, so delay executing the turn and take it wide to avoid clipping a curb or hitting a gas station bollard. If you encounter a steep downgrade, downshift into a lower gear to trim speed without riding the brakes and risk overheating them. When it comes to changing lanes, keep a close eye to oncoming traffic and put your blinker on well in advance. Newer pickups may offer blind zone monitoring that covers the full length of your trailer making a lane change easier.

Backing Up and Parking a Trailer

Chevy's Transparent Trailer feature - chevrolet.com
Chevy's Transparent Trailer feature - chevrolet.com

When parking, try to find curbside or pull-through spaces to avoid the need for backing up while hauling a trailer. In large highway stops, line up with the big rigs for more space or on the fringes of parking lots in town for the same reason. If you have to backup, it is best to grip the bottom of the steering wheel so that you can turn it right to make the trailer turn right and vice versa. Ford’s F-Series Pro Trailer Backup Assist uses a knob to accomplish this and Chevy’s Transparent Trailer tech gives you visibility behind your trailer.

Ready to Load Up and Hit the Road?

2021 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com

Hauling a trailer offers endless possibilities for work or pleasure, but it takes practice to manage all the steps like a pro. If it’s your first time, grab a friend for help and take your time. Hauling 30,000 pounds of adventure gear on a gooseneck trailer with your Ram 3500 HD sounds exciting, but it is best to start small and work your way up.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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