Towing your Trailer for the First Time

The excitement and anticipation of hitting the open road with your travel trailer for the first time is unparalleled. This year, more RVers than ever before are traveling all across North America. This is truly making 2021 the year of the RV, whether you’re an experienced RVer or a newbie. Do you have a new travel trailer that you’re nervous about towing? Harvest Hosts has your back. We’ve previously discussed everything needed to know about choosing a tow vehicle, including the addition of hitches and other necessary accessories. This article is geared towards RVers who already have a tow vehicle with an appropriate capacity and a hitch installed. Get comfortable, take a deep breath, and let’s dive into some steps before towing your trailer for the first time. 

Credit: RV Guide

Before the Trip

Before taking the new travel trailer on the road, there are some key planning points that should take place first. You will need a few accessories, lots of practice, and an idea of how to properly pack up your trailer for towing purposes.

Accessories

Your tow vehicle is already equipped with side mirrors that are adequate for just the vehicle. However, to properly view a travel trailer’s entire length, you will most likely need to add additional mirrors. Remember, the rear-view mirror is not usable when towing a tall travel trailer, so bubble mirrors or extenders can make a world of a difference for keeping an eye on your trailer while driving.

You may also need to purchase an RV GPS in order to safely navigate roads that can accommodate your RV’s height and weight. There are many brands and models that are equipped with RV-friendly features, and there are a few quality phone apps as well. If you’re not quite sure where to start with selecting an RV GPS, then check out our helpful article listing some of the best-reviewed ones available. Additionally, a backup camera can be a helpful upgrade to make RV life a little easier.

A braking system can also make a drastic difference when towing your trailer. Be sure to research if your travel trailer can be equipped with a braking system and what type of brakes could be the most beneficial. A braking system can relieve your tow vehicle of bearing all the weight of slowing down the trailer, and it can also sometimes produce safer conditions.

Credit: KZ RV

Practice

Before practicing towing your travel trailer, ensure the RV is empty. The heavier the RV, the more difficult it can be to control it. Begin with the RV empty, and then slowly add more weight. Think water, a generator, gear, food, etc. It can also be helpful to bring a friend or spouse along when embarking on some practice drives. An extra set of eyes never hurt.

Spacial and Height Awareness

Proper spacial and height awareness are key important aspects of towing your trailer. For instance, before parking your travel trailer on the curb of your home, be sure to step out of the tow vehicle and evaluate any nearby tree branches or low hanging wires to ensure the travel trailer does not incur any damage. When beginning to practice towing, frequently check your mirrors to ensure your tow vehicle and trailer are within the lines on the road. The more a driver practices being aware of the width and height of the trailer, the more it will become second nature.

Credit: Trip Savvy

Braking and Turning

There are certain aspects of towing that are a bit more difficult to learn. Braking is certainly one of these aspects. Be sure to give yourself more time and space to brake than you would under normal conditions. Be sure to begin braking practice with an empty trailer, and then slowly add more weight. The heavier the RV, the more time will be needed for braking. As stated above, a braking system can be very helpful and much safer.

Turning can also feel like a difficult aspect to master. However, with enough practice, you’ll be taking left and right hand turns comfortably in no time. Be sure to go slow and give yourself more space than you typically would when not towing. The mirror accessories can be a huge help to ensure your trailer does not hit the curb.

Reversing and Parking

Be sure to practice backing up and parking before hitting the campground. Many RV campgrounds only have a limited amount of pull-through sites. Most travel trailers and fifth wheels are expected to park in back-in sites, while large motorhomes towing a vehicle typically get the pull-through sites. For this reason, it’s important that you’re comfortable reversing and parking your travel trailer. This is where having an extra set of eyes can be helpful.

Credit: Outdoorsy

Packing

Packing your travel trailer is not only about organization. The way in which you pack can also have a huge impact on the handling of your RV, which is why it’s important to distribute the weight properly throughout your RV. Before packing, evaluate the space that you have to work with, including the outdoor storage bays. Any heavy items, such as portable generators, should be stored low and towards the front of the RV.

It’s common for first time trip-takers to pack everything they could need and more. However, try to fight that urge by packing light for your first trip. If possible, set out on your journey with minimal water in the fresh tank to lessen the load, and be sure that the grey and black tanks are empty. Do the same for your return journey. As stated above, the lighter the travel trailer is, the easier the handling will be. Looking for some packing ideas? Check out our list of essentials and our emergency kit guide.

Be Knowledgeable

There are a few things to be aware of before hitting the road for the first time. First and foremost, it’s recommended that all passengers (including dogs and cats!) be in the tow vehicle during travel. It’s not only illegal for passengers to ride in the travel trailer in some areas, but it can also be dangerous. Things may fall or shift during transit which could cause injury. In addition, being in the travel trailer during transit can also be a bit scary, especially for pets who don’t understand what’s happening.

Be sure to check your route ahead of time for any low underpasses, weight capacities on bridges, and other obstacles. There are numerous tools to help map your trip, including an RV GPS. Knowing ahead of time what to expect along your journey can prevent last minute detours and alleviate stress. It an also be helpful to plan ahead for tolls because they will cost more when towing your travel trailer.

Preventing and Correcting Sway

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to practice correcting sway unless it’s actively happening. While the number one cause of swaying is wind, there are many ways to prevent these factors from causing sway. Before hitting the road, be sure to pack your RV properly, check your tongue weight, and check your tire pressure. If your trailer begins to sway, take your foot off the gas but do not hit the brakes unless you are in danger of hitting the vehicle in front of you. Suddenly braking can cause you to lose control of your trailer. Keep the steering wheel straight and do not fight the sway. Allow your vehicle to naturally slow down on its own. Once you’ve regained control, pull over to a safe area to check your trailer to ensure your cargo has not shifted. Once you’re back on the road, slow down if conditions are unfavorable.

Credit: RV Talk

Drive Safe!

The most important piece of advice is to drive safe. All the planning in the world won’t make a difference without practicing safe driving methods while towing.

1. Keep your distance between cars.

As stated above, it’s significantly more difficult to brake when towing your RV than it is just driving your tow vehicle. It’s important to account for this extra space and time needed by keeping plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

2. Go slow.

When first starting out, it may be necessary to drive at half the speed to maintain control of your trailer. In some states, the highway posted speed limits can be up to 80 mph. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to drive that fast. Use your best judgement, and err on the side of caution, especially when just beginning.

3. Use engine braking if possible.

Engine braking can be very important, especially when driving downhill. Most vehicles are equipped with engine braking capabilities to assist with slowing down safely. Riding your brakes downhill while towing a heavy load can quickly burn out your brakes, putting you in danger. Before entering into a decline, drop your gears to assist with keeping your vehicle at a slower speed in order to avoid using your brakes as much.

4. When in doubt, pull over.

Use your best judgement when driving in inclement weather, and pull over if necessary. As stated above, wind is the main cause of sway when towing. If you feel uncomfortable or concerned, pull over to wait out the worst of the storm.

Taking your first trip with your travel trailer can be a daunting experience. Don’t let the nervousness spoil your excitement. Before traveling to your first Harvest Hosts location with your new travel trailer, be sure to have a plan, be knowledgeable, practice, and drive safe!

Credit: Throttle Bias

Do you have any other tips for towing? How was your first trip out with your RV? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

* Cover Image Credit: Camping World

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  1. Kevin
    20th June, 2021

    When breaking our trailer does not have a smooth stopping it’s bucking, we have a 2020 jeep overland