How to Simplify Trailer Towing

Common-sense trailer towing tips

Perhaps you, like many drivers, are reluctant to tow a travel or fifth-wheel trailer. When towing, your vehicle becomes heavier, slower, and will require a greater stopping distance. However, even though several aspects of your normal driving experience may change, towing a trailer does not need to be a stressful experience. In fact, with the proper equipment and adjustments, towing can become almost as convenient and easy as normal driving.

SUV towing Bowlus Road Chief travel trailer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Towing all comes down to configuration, with drivetrain, wheelbase, engine, hitch, and gear ratios all playing their part. Here are some key things to know:

Four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs are heavier which can diminish towing capacity. If you don’t need the four-wheel-drive capability, stick to rear-wheel drive for maximum towing ability.

Airstream travel trailer at Goose Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longer-wheelbase trucks and SUVs can tow more than their shorter counterparts and generally offer better control when a trailer is hooked up.

When it comes to power, for towing, it’s all about torque. That’s why diesel-powered trucks tend to have higher tow ratings than their gasoline counterparts.

Airstream trailer at Pleasant Harbor RV Park on Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many trucks and SUVs offer different axle ratios. A higher ratio means better pulling power but can come at the expense of fuel economy. A lower axle ratio works the opposite way.

Related Article: Why are RVs So Popular?

Before you hook up an RV trailer or even purchase a trailer hitch, you should first consider towing capacity. How much weight is your vehicle rated to tow? How much does your trailer weigh?

Teardrop travel trailer at Distant Drums RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An understanding of the terminology and acronyms used to describe vehicle and trailer towing capacity is essential to finding the towing capacity of your vehicle and how to measure the crucial weights involved with towing.

The most important four letters here are GCWR. This stands for Gross Combined Weight Rating and refers to the weight not only of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo but also the trailer and its load. This number is determined by a car or truck manufacturer to be the maximum safe weight that a vehicle can tote all-in, so it’s important not to exceed this guideline.

Pechanga Casino RV Park, Temecula, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum loaded weight of your tow vehicle, as determined by the vehicle manufacturer. If you exceed this weight, the vehicle’s engine, transmission, brakes, tires, and other systems may be loaded beyond their design limits.

The gross axle weight rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight that can be placed on your front or rear axles. The vehicle manufacturer gives each axle its rating. If you exceed these weight ratings, the vehicle components may be loaded beyond their design limits.

Related Article: Meet the RVs: The Towables

The gross trailer weight (GTW) is the total weight of the travel or fifth wheel trailer and its cargo. It can be determined by putting the fully loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.

SUV towing Bowlus Road Chief travel trailer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tongue weight (TW) is the downward force exerted on the back of a tow vehicle by a trailer or towable load. The tongue weight is greatly affected by where cargo is positioned and is important for maintaining good control of the vehicle. Proper tongue weight should be about 10-15 percent of the GTW.

The best means for determining your tow vehicle’s towing capacity is to read your vehicle owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will provide detailed instructions and limitations, usually accompanied by tips for safe towing.

Cougar travel trailer at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After familiarizing yourself with your vehicle’s weight capacities and general towing capacity, it is time to look at trailer weight. Your trailer should have a VIN plate (Vehicle Identification Number). This plate not only carries the trailer’s serial number, but will also list the trailer’s unloaded GTW, maximum GVWR, and GAWR for each axle.

The only way to be sure of the gross trailer weight is to load the trailer as you expect to use it and weigh it on a vehicle scale. Such scales are sometimes available to recreational users at state highway weigh stations, refuse transfer stations, and commercial truck stops.

Travel and fifth-wheel trailers at Sea Breeze RV Resort, Portland, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The advantage of using a vehicle scale is that you learn the actual weight of your loaded trailer. Be sure to call ahead and confirm that you are welcome to use these scales before driving over.

Related Article: Meet the RVs: Find the Right RV Class for Your Travel Style

After finding the tongue weight and comparing it to the gross trailer weight, you may realize you have too much or too little. Remember, the ideal tongue weight is 10-15 percent of the gross trailer weight.

Travel trailer at Wind Creek Casino RV Park, Atmore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to achieve proper tongue weight is by distributing the weight of your cargo. If you place more weight in front of the trailer axle, you will generate more tongue weight. If you place more weight behind the axle, the tongue weight will decrease. A good figure to follow is 60 percent in front and 40 percent behind unless otherwise specified by the trailer manufacturer.

Related Article: The Safety Checklist for When Your RV is Parked

If you have too much tongue weight, your tow rig may not be as responsive as it should be. If you do not have enough tongue weight, your trailer may be more likely to sway. Always follow the tow vehicle and trailer manufacturer’s instructions for tongue weight.

Fifth-wheel trailers at Gold Canyon RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the right equipment, some practice, and a healthy amount of confidence, towing can be almost as easy as regular driving. Yet safety should always be one of your highest priorities when towing an RV trailer. No matter how comfortable you may become with towing, the fact is that the combination of your vehicle and trailer weighs more and does not maneuver or stop as easily as your vehicle alone.

Worth Pondering…

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

—Albert Einstein

Meet the RVs: The Towables

Recreational vehicles take many different forms—from small and simple tow trailers to mobile mansions with king-sized beds and granite countertops

Consumer preferences have changed drastically since the start of the pandemic with travel being no exception. Thousands of Americans and Canadians have opted out of airline tickets and hotel reservations in favor of RVs, a safer method of travel that allows for self-contained excursions with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen all on-board.

Travel trailer at Rivers Run RV Resort, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering if the RV lifestyle is for you. Good news—it most likely is! Because RVs offer so much variety in form, function, and value, there’s bound to be an RV that suits your lifestyle and travel needs. Just like families, RVs come in all shapes and sizes. From large class A motorhomes and fifth wheel trailers to compact pop-ups and camper vans, there is an RV that will fit your lifestyle. From weekend getaways to touring the great outdoors to working from the road, there’s an RV for every family and every budget.

When deciding between different types of RVs, it is important to understand the features and amenities associated with each and the pros and cons. The categories are not super difficult to grasp. Motorhomes come in Classes A, B, and C and trailers break down into fifth wheels and travel trailers. I’ll dive right into each category including its pros and cons, model details, features and amenities, and approximate cost. In today’s post we’ll focus on the various types of towable RVs.

Fifth wheel at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer Types

A trailer is different from a motorhome in that it must be towed behind another vehicle. To match the towing vehicle with the trailer requires knowledge of the weight of the trailer and the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. The most common types of trailers are fifth wheels and travel trailers, each of which has different requirements.

Fifth wheel at Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifth Wheels Trailers

A large picture window at the rear of the RV for panoramic views is one thing that sets fifth wheels apart from other RVs. Fifth wheels often come with the same amenities as a Class A motorhome. It is common to have three or more slideouts in a fifth-wheel. These trailers are constructed with a raised forward section that provides a more spacious bi-level floor plan. They are designed to be towed by a pickup truck equipped with a device known as a fifth-wheel hitch.

The term “fifth wheel” comes from the configuration of the trailer itself. The front of the trailer is elevated off the ground and extends over the bed of a truck where a hitching mechanism fixes it to the truck bed. This setup makes the fifth wheel trailer easier to navigate than trailers towed behind a car’s bumper as the fifth wheel tracks more closely to the truck.

Fifth wheel at Leaf Verde RV Park, Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

Length: 21-40 feet

Cost: $43,000-$120,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Large living area

Large residential kitchen

Large bathroom with walk-in shower and toilet

Fifth wheel at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Spacious and potentially luxurious

Lots of storage space

Better maneuverability than a travel trailer


Require tow vehicle equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch

Use of a truck means less room for passengers

Travel trailer at Sonoran Desert RV Resort, Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Trailers

Travel Trailers are the most popular type of RV because they come in all shapes and sizes and can accommodate solo travelers all the way up to large families. As long as the vehicle is equipped with a standard trailer hitch, smaller travel trailer models can be towed by mid-size vehicles including an SUV or minivan while larger models can be towed with a pickup truck.

Travel trailers are lighter and less expensive than fifth wheels and can range in size from cozy to roomy.

Travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

Length: 20-35 feet

Cost: $25,000-$80,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Residential kitchen

Full-size bathroom

Living area

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Less expensive

Easy to move

Many vehicles can tow them


Less spacious

Fewer conveniences

More difficult to maneuver that fifth wheel trailers

Pop-up camper at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pop-up campers

Pop-up campers, also known as folding camping trailers, appeal to budget-conscious consumers looking for a lighter weight RV that allows for towing behind many typical family vehicles, including some small cars. Pop-ups are folded down to a more compact size for easy storage and travel. This style of RV also allows the user to feel closer to nature and connected to the outdoors by mimicking the feeling of sleeping outside.

Model Details

Length: 15-23 feet

Cost: $5,000-$25,000+

Sleeps: 2-8



Low-profile and easy to tow

Can be towed by most vehicles


Less spacious

Less insulated from weather

Few amenities

Expandable Trailers

A cross between a travel trailer and a pop-up camper, the expandable trailer ends pop out to offer more sleeping space. Expandable units are lighter than conventional travel trailers and more affordable.

Model Details

Length: 8-16 feet

Cost: $10,000-$20,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Expandable roof and/or sides


Towable by family car or SUV



Low-profile and easy to tow

Can be towed by most vehicles


Less spacious

Less insulated from weather

Few amenities

Toy hauler at River Run RV Resort, Bakersfield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sport Utility RVs

Sport utility RVs, also known as toy haulers, are built for those who want to take motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, or other motorized toys on the road with them while RVing. The back of the RV drops down forming a ramp for access into a garage area where sporting equipment and motorized toys can be stored safely and accessed quickly. This type of RV can be made as a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or a Class A motorhome. The garage area and living quarters are usually separated by a wall.

Model Details

Length: 19-40 feet

Cost: $30,000-$250,000+

Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

Garage for toys and sports equipment

Lots of storage

Full kitchen


Defined space for sports equipment

Lots of storage space

Choice of motorized or towable


Reduced livable space

Extra length required for garage

Truck camper at Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truck Campers

Truck Campers are portable units designed to be loaded onto the bed of a pickup truck. Because truck campers are easily loaded and unloaded from the truck they can be used as a pickup when not used as a camper. They are easy to drive and the truck’s bumper hitch can be used to tow boats, ATVs, and small trailers.

Model Details

Length: 8-20 feet

Cost: $20,000-$40,000+

Sleeps: 2-6

Typical Features & Amenities

Nimble and easy to drive

Easy to park

Good on rough terrain


Fits in a garage

Truck can serve double purpose

Can go most anywhere


Tight living quarters

Reduced livable space

Limited storage space

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing the Perfect RV for Your Family

The first barrier to living the RV life is discovering which type of RV is right for you

A comfortable bed to sleep in after the day spent playing at the lake? A kitchen to prepare your family’s favorite meals? A shower to clean up in after a long day on a hiking trail? A home away from home in all your favorite places?

Fifth-wheel trailer with tow vehicle at Leaf Verde RV Park in Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you want a big rig or a camper van? Will you drive a Class A or a bus conversion? Should you explore a Class C, or will a travel trailer work well with your truck? In the beginning, there are lots of questions. Yet asking questions is a good thing!

Class C motorhome at Wahweap RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve decided you want to experience the RV lifestyle. Or maybe your family’s needs have changed and it’s time for an upgrade. With so many RVs to choose from it can be overwhelming. Don’t worry! Ask yourself these questions to help make the decision easier.

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do You Have a Tow Vehicle?

If you have a tow vehicle then you’ll want to narrow your search to RVs within your vehicle’s towing capacity. Don’t forget to add the weight of passengers, cargo, and liquids to the dry weight of the RV. You don’t want to fall in love with an RV only to determine that it exceeds your vehicle’s maximum capacity to tow safely.

Toy hauler fifth wheeler and tent trailer at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Many Beds Do You Require?

Sleeping arrangements in RVs range from plush king size beds to fold out beds. Think about how many your RV needs to sleep, and also the bedtime routine. Some people don’t mind turning dinettes or sofas into beds every night while others consider a designated pre-made bed for each person a must.

Truck camper at Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where Will You Camp?

When most people think of RVing they think of campgrounds, but RVs open up a whole world of different types of adventure and exploration. Some RVs are better suited for boondocking or off grid camping with larger holding tanks and generators or solar panels. Perhaps you plan to use your RV to tailgate at sporting events. If your goal is to spend as much time as possible in national and state parks then length will be a consideration.

Boondocking near Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Amenities Do You Require?

Some buy an RV because they no longer want to sleep on the ground and want more protection from than what a tent offers. But creature comforts don’t stop at a roof and a bed. RVs are available with numerous amenities including gourmet kitchens and state of the art entertainment centers. Make a list of your most important amenities and prioritize.

Full service site including 50-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Activities Do You Enjoy?

Hobbies and activities will help you narrow down your RV search. Sport utility RVs, or toy haulers, provide space for ATVs, golf carts, and bikes. Since some RVs offer more storage space than others, consider where all that gear will go.

Taking everything with you! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Much Space Do You REALLY Need?

This is different for every family. Do you plan to use your RV every weekend all summer or for extended trips? Or is it going to be an every once in a while outing? Do your kids need their own bedroom? Do you need your own bedroom?

Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Preferred Floor Plan?

Visit RV shows and dealerships to get an idea of what floor plan will work best for you family. Spend time in the RVs. Sit on the couches. Lay on the beds. Walk into the bathrooms. Imagine cooking in the kitchen. Ask for brochures to take home. Most dealerships are happy to let you spend time in their RVs because they want you to be happy with the RV you choose.

Teardrop trailer at Distant Drum RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider Maintenance and Repair

All RVs have maintenance and repair issues from time to time. New models come with a warranty where manufactures and dealerships take care of the repairs for a set amount of time. Pre-owned RVs are typically sold “as-is” meaning all repairs are your responsibly.

Class A motorhome (Diesel Pusher) at Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Style of Travel?

Do you like moving every night or do you prefer to set up and stay at one campground for a while.

Airstream trailer at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Budget?

Just as there is an RV for every lifestyle, there is an RV for every budget. Decide on a budget before beginning your search. Pre-owned RVs are a great option for a limited budget.

Taking it all with you at Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buying an RV will be one of the best decisions you’ll make for your family. At the end of the day or a long weekend, spending time together and creating memories are what is important and that will happen in any type of RV.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin