How To Tow a Trailer

Toad Away
Here in America, we are obsessed with having toys. Lots of toys. We're talking about boats and other personal watercraft and snowmobiles and motorcycles and ATVs and… the list goes on. In fact, we have so many toys that we need toy haulers to move them all around, just to have a good time. Of course, that means we need a pickup truck to pull the trailers, campers (caravans in the UK), and toy haulers.
How do you find the right vehicle to tow your personal fun carnival from place to place? We have the answers and will also tell you how to hook up a trailer and safely tow it down the road to adventure. We'll start by figuring out how much weight you'll be able to pull.

You just Weight

To begin, we need you to remember four very important letters: GCWR - which stands for Gross Combined Weight Rating. GCWR refers to the total weight you'll be pulling and it includes the weight of the actual pickup truck, all the gear in the bed and passengers, and whatever you are pulling behind it. It's the total load. Luckily for us all, automakers determine the maximum safe weight that a vehicle can pull. It is a number that is set in stone. Do not pull more than your vehicle's GCWR rating.
For instance, to find the GCWR on America's favorite full-size half-ton pickup, the Ford F-150, we visited the Ford website. According to Ford: The Gross Combination Weight Rating is determined by several factors: vehicle, engine, transmission, axle ratio, optional equipment, and trailer hitch type used (weight distributing, non-weight distributing, gooseneck).

To find the GCWR:
1. Visit the RV & Trailer Towing Guides page on the Ford fleet website.
2. Select the Towing Guide for your vehicle's model year. 
3. Refer to the Axle Ratio table to determine your rear axle ratio and Limited Slip.

Be sure to check out your state's local towing laws, too.
How much you can tow comes down to a combination of your vehicle's drivetrain, gear ratios, and wheelbase. Longer wheelbase trucks can tow more and offer better control than shorter trucks. Four-wheel-drive trucks are heavier and that means you can tow less weight in what you are pulling or carrying. You'll get the most towing capacity from rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

Towing is all about how hard your vehicle can pull something, sort of like the strongman at the circus. It comes down to torque, so torque figures are important. Using the F-150 as an example again, maximum towing capacity for a long SuperCrew is 14,000 pounds. By reducing the truck's overall weight by using lightweight aluminum construction, towing capacity for the F-150 equipped with Ford's 5.0-liter V8 engine, is 3,310 pounds.
Another thing to keep in mind is the vehicle's axle ratios. The higher the ratio, the more you can pull. But also keep in mind that in a world where gas prices continue to rise, the more you pull, the more gasoline you use. By the same token, if you have an all-electric pickup truck such as the F-150 Lightning, the more weight you pull, the more energy you'll use from the battery pack. A Lightning truck is said to take you over 300 miles on a charge. But add a heavy load to pull behind that truck and your mileage could be reduced to just 100 miles before it needs a charge.
Before you can really pick the right vehicle for your needs, you need to have a good idea of how much weight you plan to pull. An 18-foot fishing boat and trailer could weigh anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds. The trailer itself could weight from 400 to 800 pounds. Once you know what you're hauling, you'll need to pick a trailer.

Towing Tips

Remember that you'll be driving with a much longer and heavier load than you are accustomed to. 

  • Take your time when negotiating a turn or backing up. 
  • The best practice for backing up is to hold the steering wheel from the bottom. 
  • If you want the trailer to go left, move your hand to the left. 
  • To go right, move your hand to the right. 
  • Use small, precise movements until you get used to backing up.
  • Many trucks and SUVs are equipped with trailer-steering technology to help you maneuver. Ford provides Pro Trailer Back-Up and multiple video cameras, Chevrolet offers "see-through trailer" tech to let you see what's behind you while towing. Most automakers include such driver assist tech as trailer length blind-spot monitoring. Onboard GPS navigation will help you plan your route before setting out to help you avoid traffic obstacles and steep mountain passes.
  • Most trailers have a recommended top speed of 55 mph. Drive as slowly and as safely as possible on highways. Remember that you are pulling a lot of weight and brake early to slow your whole parade to a stop. By the same token, initiate lane changes early and always use your turn signals in advance of making a move.
  • Stay in the right-side slow lane and take your time. Patience is important in this game. Take your time when making a turn, you'll need to turn wider than you might think. When driving downhill, downshift to slow speed. Riding your brakes will cause them to overheat.
  • If at any time the trailer begins to fishtail, take your foot off the accelerator but down use the brakes. Let the trailer right itself and then proceed with caution. Also remember that it is easy to get stuck in areas that are hard to maneuver out of. When pulling into a parking lot or campsite, keep in mind how you plan to enter, exit and park to avoid getting stuck.