van towing a camper

It may be summertime and you are on the road towing a trailer and headed for camping enjoyment! You may be getting ready to haul a trailer as part of your work. In any case, what things should you know?

1) Know Your Towing Capacity
Before you start loading cargo into a trailer or hitching up an 18-foot-long boat, it's best to know the towing capacity of your vehicle. Towing too much weight can cause a myriad of problems, no matter how big and powerful your vehicle's engine is. The first thing to do is refer to the owner's manual for the vehicle, which should give specific numbers regarding how much weight can be towed. Keep in mind that there are two weights to consider when towing, the tongue weight and the trailer's weight. Too much tongue weight will affect braking and too little tongue weight can make the trailer sway.

2) Proper Weight Distribution
In a trailer it is preferable to begin loading the heaviest cargo first; tying it down with rope or bungee cords so it doesn't shift while the vehicle is in motion. Smaller cargo should follow and fill the spaces in between. The cargo's center of gravity should be kept low and about 60 percent of its weight should be toward the front. You should also balance the load on each side of the trailer in order to reduce the chance of it flipping. Once you have everything in its right place, the next step involves being able to see behind you.

3) Check Your Mirrors
Without the ability to easily see the cars behind you, switching lanes becomes a much more dangerous maneuver. If your side view mirrors don't let you clearly see behind your trailer then you should consider adding extended rear view mirrors.

4) Light Your Way
It is doubly important to have working lights when you're towing. Laws in many states require that a towed vehicle, whether it's a car trailer, a boat trailer or a camper, must have working brake lights, tail lights and turn signals.

5) Tire Maintenance
Closely monitor all your tires when towing. Tires that are over or under inflated can create trailer sway. Tires that feel really hot after traveling a few miles maybe under inflated or overloaded. So, be sure to keep ALL the tires properly inflated by following the manufacturer's guidelines. It's also a good idea to check your lug nuts to make sure they're secure. Proper tire inflation can also help you stop safely when you apply the brakes, which brings us to our next towing tip.

6) Synchronize Your Brakes
Most state laws require that towed vehicles over a certain size need to have separate braking systems. This prevents the tow vehicle from having to do all the work when it's time to put on the brakes. If your trailer has brakes, it is a good to make sure that the brakes are working properly and synchronized to your vehicle. Poorly or improperly functioning brakes could spell disaster on the road because the added weight from the cargo would only make a collision that much more dangerous. So, give yourself plenty of extra room for braking and avoid heavy braking. Applying your foot gently to the brake is the best method. Another way to reduce the risk of an accident is to watch your speed.

7) Slow Down!
With the added weight of a towed vehicle, the faster you travel, the more dangerous things will get. Increasing your speed can increase the amount of trailer sway and make it much harder to stop quickly without fishtailing or jack knifing. Excessive speed also makes it more difficult to maneuver in traffic. A little less speed and a little more caution and awareness is the best way to ensure a safe trip while towing so, slow down! The hitch is one of the most important elements in towing, and choosing the right one matters.

8) Choose the Right Hitch
There are basically two types of hitches: weight-carrying and weight-distributing. Weight-carrying hitches are the most common and recognized by one attachment point or hitch and two safety chains. These are commonly used when the combined weight of the trailer and cargo is 3,000 pounds or less. Weight-distributing hitches, on the other hand, are recommended for heavier loads. Your vehicle and trailer hooked together should not look like a shallow V. If this is the case then a weight-distributing hitch may need to be used to redistribute the trailer tongue weight to the axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. Everything on the outside of your tow vehicle is important, but the insides are equally so.

9) Stay Cool
By adding more weight to your vehicle when towing, you are making its drive train do a lot of extra work. Extra weight leads to extra heat under the hood and added strain on your transmission. It may be necessary to add a transmission cooler or a higher-capacity radiator to prevent overheating which can lead to engine or transmission failure.

10) Practice Makes Perfect
One of the best things you can do to ensure a safe towing trip is to practice driving BEFORE heading out onto roads with other drivers and tractor-trailer trucks. Choose an area that's far away from traffic like an empty parking lot and perform simple driving tasks with everything hitched up. Try backing up and using your mirrors and pay close attention to the vehicle's turning radius. Learn to accelerate and brake slowly on longer stretches of road -- remember, the more weight you're carrying, the longer it's going to take to slow down.

Once you have the perfect tow vehicle and all the right equipment, sticking to these few simple tips can turn a bumpy ride into an easygoing one.