5 Weight Ratings When Towing a Trailer
1 - Understanding Weight
Tongue weight (TW) is the downward force exerted on the hitch ball by the trailer coupler. In most cases, it is about 10% to 15% of the trailers gross weight. You can measure TW of up to 300 lbs. by resting the trailer coupler on a household scale positioned so that it sits at normal towing height.
3- Basic Towing Gear (Hitches and Weight)
To avoid damaging your vehicle and trailer it is essential that you understand the following towing gear:
HITCHES: Towing hitches are differentiated by the amount of weight they can pull and are divided into three categories; weight-carrying hitches, weight-distributing hitches and fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitches.
WEIGHT: Carrying hitches are designed to carry all of the trailer's tongue weight (see "Understanding Weight") and come in two basic styles; drawbar and receiver. A drawbar hitch is a one piece welded unit with a fixed ball mount that permanently protrudes from the rear of the vehicle. A receiver hitch allows the ball mount to be removed so that nothing projects beyond the vehicles bumper.
A weight-distributing hitch differs from the weight-carrying variety in that it distributes the towing load among all of the axles of the tow vehicle, not just the rear axle and it helps to improve the vehicle stability while towing.
4 - Basic Towing Gear
HITCH BALLS AND MOUNTS: Like trailer hitches, hitch balls are assigned a maximum tongue weight (TW) and gross trailer weight (GTW) rating. Hitch balls come in a variety of sizes 1-7/8", 2", and 2-5/16" are the most common. You should choose the size that matches your trailers coupler socket.
CHAINS: Safety chains prevent the trailer from coming loose from the tow vehicle if the hitch fails. Chains should be long enough to allow for tight turns and be crossed (right to left and left to right) when attached to the tow vehicle to aid in controlling the trailer.
BRAKING SYSTEMS: Large trailers and those designed to carry heavy loads often feature brakes that work with the tow vehicles braking system. Electronically controlled brakes operate via a control box that is usually installed within the drivers reach and can be adjusted to match the trailers load. Surge brakes are independent hydraulic brakes activated by a master cylinder mounted on the trailer. These systems do not require adjustment for variations in the trailers load.
LIGHTING CONNECTIONS: To be street legal, a trailer must have operating taillights, brake lights and turn signals. The lights connect to the tow vehicle via a multiple pin plug and work in conjunction with the vehicles lighting system. A variety of plug configurations and adaptors are available to match the trailers wiring plug to that of the tow vehicle.
5- Driving With A Trailer
Successfully attaching a trailer to a tow vehicle is only half of the equation. Understanding how the trailer handles on the road and being able to drive appropriately can mean the difference between safe operation and an accident waiting to happen.
After hooking the trailer to your vehicle, walk around and inspect all of the connections and trailer components. Check that the lights and indicators function properly, that the tongue is securely mounted within the receiver and that the ball is firmly bolted to the tongue. Make sure that the trailers coupler is securely locked, that the chains are crossed and firmly latched to the vehicle and that the trailers emergency brake cable is connected to the tow vehicle.
Always use the driving gear that the vehicles manufacturer recommends for towing. Avoid sudden stops and starts that can cause skidding or jackknifing and drive at a moderate speed. If the trailer begins to sway, slow down by removing your food from the accelerator rather than by braking.
Hills can present special problems to vehicles with trailers in tow. For downgrades, shift to a lower gear to aid in braking and apply brakes at intervals to prevent them from overheating. When climbing, shift to a lower gear (as recommended by the tow vehicles manufacturer) to increase power, and keep an eye on the engine temperature, as the added strain may tax the cooling system and cause the vehicles engine to overheat.
Remember that the added length of a trailer in tow greatly affects overall turning ability. Because trailers have a tighter turning radius than that of the tow vehicle, you must make turns wider than normal. Be particularly careful in right hand turns, as the trailers right corner or wheel may catch on an obstruction such as a signpost if you do not allow enough clearance.
Backing up a trailer takes practice, but it can become second nature. Start by placing one hand at the bottom of the steering wheel (see photo). If you want the back of the trailer to go to the left, slowly move your hand to the right as you back up. The trailer will always turn in the direction in which you move your steering hand. By understanding your towing equipment, know how your trailer responds and practicing safe driving, you can help ensure that your load will arrive safely and everyone else on the road will benefit from your efforts.