Hitch systems, towing packages, tongue weight, and driving permits—there’s a lot more to towing a trailer than just hitching up and taking off down the road. This brochure provides general information and tips that can help you make safe decisions when purchasing and driving a tow vehicle and trailer for noncommercial, personal use. It covers the following topics:
How the size and weight of a trailer affect the selection of a tow vehicle
Things to consider if you already have a tow vehicle
The importance of trailer manufacturers’ tow ratings
How to measure the weight of a trailer
The hitching, braking, and wiring systems that connect tow vehicles with trailers
Proper loading and weight distribution of cargo and equipment
State and local requirements for towing a trailer
A pre-departure checklist Safety tips for driving with a trailer Safety tips for maintaining a tow vehicle and trailer
This brochure is not a substitute for the technical information found in manufacturers’ towing guides and vehicle owner’s manuals. Its purpose is to give you some basic information about factors to consider and equipment you will need to ensure your safety and that of your passengers, as well as the safety of other people on the road, when you are towing a trailer.
Selecting a Tow Vehicle
Most SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, minivans, and passenger cars can be equipped to tow a trailer. However, the selection of an appropriate tow vehicle and the proper equipment to tow a trailer depends on the type of trailer, its size and weight, and the amount of weight being towed. There are numerous types of trailers, but in general they fall into four categories: flatbed or open trailers, boat trailers, enclosed trailers, and recreational vehicle trailers (including travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, and folding camping trailers).
Check the owner’s manual and review the manufacturer’s guide to see if the vehicle you plan to buy can tow a trailer. After you have reviewed the vehicle capabilities, you also must investigate the capabilities of compatible hitch systems for the vehicle. This is especially important if you plan to purchase a hitch from a source other than the vehicle manufacturer.
You may find that vehicle manufacturers offer specially designed towing packages that define the equipment necessary to tow different types of trailers depending on their fully loaded weight and size. A towing package may include a heavy-duty radiator, battery, flasher system, alternator, suspension, and brakes, as well as an engine-oil cooler, transmission-oil cooler, wiring harness, specific axle ratio, and special wheels and tires.