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

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

Summer’s Not Cancelled: Before You Plan Your Summer Road Trip, Read This

Let’s face it: 2020 has been rough. That’s why we’re looking to find moments of joy and pleasure this summer.

Flights are mostly grounded, the Canada/U.S. border is shuttered, and after three months of mandatory staycation, cabin fever is at an all-time high. You need to get out of the house, we get it. But is it safe to travel this summer? Where can you travel to? And what do you need to know before hitting the open highway? Here, a guide to the great American (and Canadian) road trip of 2020 including the dos and don’ts of travel, what you need to pack, and the best places for a pee break.

Camping on Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is camping a better option than staying in a hotel or renting a cottage?

Camping is definitely COVID-friendly since it involves zero time indoors and minimal interaction with other people outside of your bubble. Most national and state parks and campgrounds have re-opened in recent weeks, so go forth—just beware the communal campground bathroom.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs are the way to travel this summer

When social-distancing norms came into place, the RV industry looked at itself, blinked, and realized it was about to experience a silver lining in an otherwise tough global situation. If there’s any moment that RV life would take over the world, it’d be this one.

Waiting for service at the Freightliner Custom Chassis Service Center in Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And so far, “taking over the world” it just might. A recent survey conducted by the Cairn Consulting Group shows that Americans and Canadians are—more than ever—hard-pressed to find ways to travel, get into nature, and break from the daily chaos but with quarantine still in mind. In other words, we’re ready to hit the outdoors for RV adventures.

Getting back to nature on Avery Island in Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, it’s just safer. You’re self-contained. No shared toilet seats, no stuffing into a flying sardine tube. And it’s cheaper than a lot of options—given the current economic climate, that’s a big no-brainer. You have your own space, plus many amenities offered at a resort.

The Lakes at Chowchilla Golf and RV Resort offers numerous amenities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs come in practically every shape and size because RVers are not one-size-fits-all. Some like rigs that help to disconnect for days in places like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) free dispersed camping areas and bring only the necessities with us. 

Truck camper at Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Teardrop trailer sales exploding

As with any crisis—locally, nationally or globally, people need to make adjustments. The long tentacles of COVID-19 are far-reaching. But people are resourceful; they roll with the punches including economic punches. There are people who are struggling to stay safe and isolated while others are just trying to keep a roof over their heads. 

A mini-trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the most modest of trailers have become a sight for sore eyes. Teardrop trailer sales in particular, have boomed in the recent months. They’re simple, but they get the job done. They provide dependable shelter and a place to sleep. Some even come equipped with bathrooms and a mini kitchen.

A teardrop trailer at Distant Drums RV Park in Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are nine teardrops you can check out online that are popular with campers:

  • Micro Minnie by Winnebago
  • The Happier Camper
  • iCamp Elite Travel Trailer
  • The Little Guy Max Tear Drop Camper
  • Timberline Trailer by HomeGrown
  • The Scamp 13-Foot Teardrop Camper
  • The KZ Spree Escape Mini
  • 2019 nuCamp RV T@B 320 S Boondock
  • The Jayco Hummingbird
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What if I just want to hit the open road and see where the wind takes me?

With all due respect, summer 2020 is probably not the best time to live out your Jack Kerouac fantasy. Planning in advance is essential and that includes a pandemic-specific packing list. Make sure to stock up your COVID kit before departure. Face masks, Lysol wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper as the new road trip essentials. These items are in high demand and may be out of stock.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s where to hit the road

If you’re lucky enough to have access to your home on wheels, where should you go? These options are beautiful and located along major road-trip routes in the US, meaning there are plenty of places to refuel and relax.

Bay St. Louis, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One important note: We do not want to suggest you bombard beautiful places, rural areas, or small towns. Ideally, you will gather all your supplies where you live and make minimal stops during your trip. Keep to yourself as much as possible, and have a plan B at the ready. If your destination looks busy, pass it.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Make it a good day! Get outdoors!