How to tow a trailer

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May 8, 2011
Yellowstone Camping
May 23, 2011

Many of our customers have never towed a trailer before and have questions about safe towing tips. Here are a few.

The number one tip is to simply slow down. Towing a trailer requires your vehicle to work harder, particularly at altitude in the mountains. Change your expectations when you are towing. You won’t be able to tow a trailer up the approaches to Eisenhower Tunnel (Continental Divide) at 80 mph; don’t even try. If you are going 45-50 up a steep mountain grade, you are doing fine. Obviously the bigger and stronger your vehicle is, the better it will tow, but be easy on your vehicle in any case. Slow down, keep your RPM’s at a reasonable level, 3000-4000. Whatever speed that is, be happy with. This advice is even more applicable when going downhill. Control your speed going downhill on a steep grade to around 60-65, even on an interstate highway. If you are on a lesser road, slow down further.

To help control your speed and be easier on your vehicle, be prepared to downshift; even if you have an automatic transmission. If your car is equipped with overdrive (sometimes called ‘economy’ mode) turn it off while you are towing, even on flat ground. Towing a trailer is not the time to try to improve your fuel economy, turning off overdrive gives your vehicle’s transmission more torque, much easier for it to tow. When you are climbing a steep hill, shift your transmission to a lower gear, don’t simply depend on your automatic transmission, actively downshift. Keep an eye on your RPM’s; every vehicle is different, but generally you want to keep your RPM’s around 2500-3500. If your RPM’s while climbing are below 2000, you need to shift down, above 4000, either slow down or shift up.

This advice is truly critical when going downhill. Shift down to a lower gear and let your engine and transmission help to control your speed. If you begin to move too fast, continue shifting down a gear. You want to avoid continually riding your brakes down a steep hill. This will not only cause increased brake wear on your vehicle, but more importantly can lead to overheated brakes. This condition is very dangerous, and can lead to complete brake failure. When you apply your brakes, do so vigorously; get your speed sharply reduced, shift your transmission down to help control speed, and then release your brakes to keep from overheating. It is critical to control your speed going downhill, no more than 60-65 mph even on the best of roads. Going faster than this can cause the trailer to begin swaying. This is also a very dangerous condition. Slowing down is the primary preventative measure.

The other issue to realize about towing is that you need to make wider turns than normal. The trailer will turn sharper than your vehicle, so if you are making a right hand turn, or just turning around an obstacle like a fence post or post at a gas station, turn very wide. On a right turn, don’t try to turn from the right hand lane to the right hand lane. Pull farther into the intersection, turn into the second lane. When turning (or passing) make routine use of your mirrors. Verify that your trailer tire has cleared the obstruction before beginning your turn.

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