Light truck sales are up everywhere as people begin to move from traditional coupes and sedans to SUVs and pickups due to their safety, practicality and in many cases, ability to haul something big and heavy. Although many utility vehicles are fully capable of towing, there’s more to it then simply connecting a hitch. Before you think of pulling along that RV across the country during summer vacation, you’ll want get the terminology down pat and also heed a few easy tips first.
Learn the lingo
Nobody likes acronyms. And, unfortunately, the world of towing is full of them. No need to memorize all of them, but ones you will undoubtedly run into include GVWR, which stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or sometimes GVM for Gross Vehicle Mass. This refers to the manufacturer-specified maximum amount of weight/mass the vehicle is rated for, including all passengers, fuel, and cargo, and does not change.
The tongue weight (TW), that is the weight placed on the hitch by the trailer’s attachment, also factors into the above maximum allotment, so you would remove it from a vehicle’s overall GVWR while calculating how much stuff you can carry. Only a couple more to go: the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), again determined by the automaker, is the maximum allowable weight of both vehicle and trailer together. Finally, Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) is the accumulated weight of trailer and whatever contents are inside.
Hitches come in many more shapes and sizes that just the typical ball stuck on a piece of metal mounted underneath the rear bumper, called receiver-style, in case you were wondering. They shoulder the load of the trailer via their tongue weight. Users can optionally add on extra parts to turn a receiver style into a weight-distributing hitch, so-called because it helps spread the weight between the towing vehicle and the trailer. When the towing gets serious, there are fifth-wheel hitches, typically used on commercial trucks. Installed onto the truck bed, they can handle higher capacities.
Did you know the parts department at most dealerships either carry all the equipment needed for a basic receiver hitch, for example a hitch ball and mount, safety chains, etc., or know where to source them? If not, or you’re looking for a unique or more heavy duty setup, visit any local auto supply store.
Connect the dots
Regardless of whether your first towing experience involves a U-Haul box on wheels or pulling a boat or snowmobile on a trailer, the steps for basic jobs are pretty much the same. After checking your vehicle’s towing capacity and hitch weight rating for compatibility:
- Back up the tow vehicle so the hitch ball lines up with the coupler on the trailer
- Lower the coupler until it completely covers the hitch ball
- Close the latch and insert the retaining pin
- Cross the trailer’s right safety chain under the tongue and connect to the left side of the tow vehicle’s hitch (making sure there is enough, but not too much, slack for turning around corners), and repeat the process with the opposite chain
Before you get out there on the main roads, there is a legal requirement to have the built-in lights (tail, brake and turn signals) on a trailer working in tandem with those on the tow vehicle. This will allow you to avoid trouble with law enforcement and help communicate your actions to other drivers for safety reasons.
Some newer vehicles come with a plug-and-play connector to accept the wiring harness from the trailer, while others may need a more custom approach. Again, when in doubt, a professional should be able to offer some words of advice in this area.
Piloting any automobile with a big payload at the rear requires some extra careful attention on the road. Do everything slower than normal, such as making turns or changing lanes, and ensure there’s enough room to maneuver. Coming to a stop will obviously take more time, so allot for that at lights and stop signs. Hills can be tricky — climbing steep inclines may be a slow burn, so pull to the right and flash your hazards to alert other traffic. Shifting down a gear and using the engine to help brake can make descents easier. Above all, always employ common sense. Happy towing!