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How to Tow a Trailer: A Beginner’s Guide

Photo by KentWeakley via iStock

Yesterday, we talked about a trailer towing checklist to get you started with towing your new trailer. Today, we’ll move into tips on how to tow a trailer and actually getting on the road and doing so safely. Whether you have a vintage canned ham trailer or you sprung for a big fifth-wheel, towing a trailer is serious business. You have to be fully prepared for the way that a trailer changes your vehicle’s handling, that way you stay safe and help keep others on the road safe as well. Remember – this is just a basic guideline for how to tow a trailer. Be sure you are thoroughly versed in trailer towing before you actually do it!

How to Tow a Trailer: Get Lots of Practice

truck towing trailer on a narrow road Like most new skills, nothing beats learning how to tow a trailer by practicing, and practicing a lot. Before you head out on a lengthy journey, tow your trailer around your neighborhood. Find a big parking lot and practice making turns and parking the trailer, including backing into a spot (bring some orange cones, set up a “parking spot” and practice backing in. Also stick to less busy roads to get a feel for how your vehicle can accelerate and brake with a trailer behind it. If your vehicle has an electronic trailer brake, this will give you an opportunity to find its sweet spot so you get the braking you need without overdoing it and locking up the trailer’s brakes. Heck, even pulling the trailer out of your driveway and backing it back in is good practice. Backing up is especially tricky, so the more practice you get in a controlled environment, the more comfortable you will be when you have to back the trailer into a campsite.

Take It Slow (and Wide)

truck towing a trailer in the prairie

Photo by MCCAIG via iStock

Learning how to tow a trailer means driving slowly and taking wide turns. By minding your speed and taking it easy, you allow yourself more time to react to things like vehicles braking in front of you or wildlife crossing the road. Remember – you now have to stop your vehicle and your trailer, so your braking distances will be much longer. A slower speed helps you adapt to this. Secondly, if you push your vehicle’s speed, you run the risk of causing damage to the engine, the transmission, or both. If your vehicle is struggling to tow the trailer at 65 mph, you might need to be okay with driving 60 mph or slower. Yes, it can be stressful knowing that you’re causing people behind you to slow down, but it’s better to take it slow than to blow your engine! low angel image of a truck towing a trailer

Photo by sshepard via iStock

When learning how to tow a trailer, another critical component is getting used to taking wide turns. In the U.S. and in other countries in which you drive on the right-hand side of the road, right turns have to be taken especially wide so you don’t hop the curb, or worse, collide with a street sign, street light, or light pole. If you can safely do it, begin the turn by crossing over into the other lane of traffic, that way you have more room to make the right-hand turn. If you can’t, you’ll need to hug the line as much as possible, and make your turn a little later than usual, that way you create extra room on your right to accommodate the trailer. The same principle goes for making hard left turns. For example, if you’re in a campground and it’s a narrow one-way road with a sharp left turn, you’ll want to hug the right side of the road (without getting off the roadway, of course) and make your turning move a little later than usual so you can safely make the turn.

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How to Tow a Trailer: Make It Easier on Yourself

Truck towing a trailer near the mountains

Photo by MCCAIG via iStock

Another component of towing a trailer is to simply make it easier on yourself. When you’re just learning, take shorter trips and avoid long, cross-country journeys. Towing a trailer can be really stressful, so getting behind the wheel your first time and taking a 14-hour drive might be a bit much. Stick to quick trips near home – a couple of hours at most – so you can get practice in familiar territory and on roads that you’ve traveled before. Truck towing trailer in the snow

Photo by benedek via iStock

Likewise, when you’re a new trailer owner, try to avoid driving in inclement weather as much as possible. We obviously can’t control the weather, but if the forecast calls for lots of wind, forego your trip if possible. Towing a trailer in the wind can be downright dangerous – even for a seasoned pro. (Investing in an anti-sway bar kit will certainly help keep your trailer from swaying in the wind, but you should still avoid really windy days if you can.) The same goes for rain and snow. Towing a trailer on a warm, sunny day is one thing, but towing a trailer in a blizzard is a whole other animal. Save the experiences of towing in bad weather for later on once you’ve developed your trailer towing skills.

Are You Ready to Tow?

truck towing a trailer through a forest

Photo by sshepard via iStock

If you follow these tips and the trailer towing checklist I mentioned in the introduction, you will have a good foundation of knowledge to start towing a trailer. But, as I noted earlier, while these guides are thorough, they don’t include every possible scenario you need to prepare for. So, continue researching and learning about how to tow a trailer, get lots of practice, and then – and only then – hit the road for your first trip.

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