What You Need to Know About Pulling a Camper
Towing an RV can be very intimidating. Researching towing techniques and practicing as much as possible in low-traffic areas will help you become more comfortable and confident.
RV driving classes are becoming more popular and are a great idea for new RV owners. Considering the large responsibility, there is no special license or training required to tow an RV until you reach a certain weight at which point a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required.
Have a Safe Trip with these 7 RV Towing Tips
1. Plan ahead
Planning your trip and knowing your RV specifications is the first step in a safe trip. Many towing incidents are a result of being unaware of the space you require or coming upon an unfavorable route for towing.
Planning your trip ahead of time can help you avoid high traffic areas, busy times of day for traffic, and unfavorable routes for large vehicles such as tight turns, steep grades, and high crosswind areas. Use a trip planner like RV LIFE Trip Wizard and the RV LIFE App to plan your RV-safe routes and GPS directions.
Some of these things may be unavoidable to get to your desired location and will have to be navigated. Being prepared for these obstacles can help avoid surprises and lessen stress. Plan brake check stops before steep grades, rest areas before curvy mountain passes, and time your city driving outside of rush hour.
Being prepared for your route also includes knowing your RV specifications. RV length, height, width, and weight are important to know when planning your route and while on the road. Avoiding low bridges or tight spaces is best, however, should you find yourself approaching a tight obstacle, it is best to know your required room needed. Some routes have weight restrictions and seasonal roads for heavy vehicles. Having these measurements listed in your vehicle for reference is a smart idea.
2. Tire monitoring
By far one of the most common potentially dangerous situations while towing is an RV tire blowout. This applies to both your RV and your tow vehicle.
Pre-trip tire inspection is a must. Tire condition and tire pressure must be checked prior to hitting the road.
Once on the road, continuous tire monitoring is important. Tire pressure and temperature should be checked periodically while traveling. Maintaining the manufacturer tire pressure and staying within the load range of your tires will not only keep you safe but extend the life of your tires.
Consider an onboard tire monitor system (TMS) for ease of monitoring your tires. Having a tire inflator with you will allow you to adjust pressure if needed. A temperature gun can be used to compare and monitor tire temperature.
Most tire issues are the result of improper inflation, excessive loads, high speed, and overheating. Control these four things and you are much less likely to have a blowout.
3. Don’t exceed your tow vehicle limits
There are legal implications involved with exceeding any of the towing and payload capacities of your tow vehicle. These capacities are in place for the safe use of your vehicle.
Towing an RV can be a challenge for you but also for your tow vehicle. Just because a vehicle can tow an RV doesn’t mean it can tow it safely. Stopping and handling movement and momentum are large tasks for your tow vehicle.
Your tow vehicle must be able to handle trailer sway and possible emergency maneuvers including swerving and unexpected stops. A general rule of thumb is to stay under 75 percent of the manufacturer’s weight ratings. Although legal to the maximum number, it is advisable to not be towing continuously right on the edge.
Be realistic and responsible when looking at RVs. If the RV you want is too big for your tow vehicle, choose a different RV or upgrade your tow vehicle.
4. Drive within your limits
Just like your tow vehicle has limits, so do you. Although you can’t refer to a manual to judge your limits, you must still take them into consideration.
As you tow more, you will become more competent. For first-time RV owners, you must take your time and gain experience towing. This may include a towing class, starting with a smaller RV, practicing in rural areas, short travel days, and traveling with experienced RVers.
Once on the road, it can be intimidating to keep up with traffic, take an unplanned shortcut, or make it to your destination as fast as possible. Stay within your comfort range and take breaks as needed. Towing takes full concentration and focus.
On a freeway going 60 mph with 4 lanes of traffic is not the place to learn or try new techniques.
5. Maintain a safe distance
Towing an RV requires that you have extra room to stop and maneuver.
It is your responsibility to ensure you have that extra room. Follow at a safe distance and allow traffic to pass if you feel you are being pushed down the road from behind.
Be prepared for turns and allow extra room around your vehicle to maneuver. Be aware of your proximity to the lines on the road and take into consideration how your RV tracks and any sway while towing.
6. Limit trailer sway
Trailer sway is something we all hope to never experience but most likely will at some point.
In most cases, when towing a trailer you will notice some movement of the trailer over bumps and on uneven roads. This is normal and will become less alarming over time.
Having a quality weight distribution anti-sway hitch paired to a proper tow vehicle will minimize most sway. There is still a chance, however, of experiencing trailer sway.
Some of the most common causes of trailer sway are improper weight distribution between the trailer and tow vehicle, excessive speed, crosswinds, high-sided trucks, and downhill grades.
Being aware of the causes of trailer sway and knowing how to minimize it and react to it will help the fear. Having a good trailer brake that can be applied independently of the tow vehicle brakes will help straighten out your trailer if you experience sway.
7. Be careful changing lanes
Changing lanes in general is a higher-risk activity when driving. This is, of course, amplified while towing an RV.
Your blind spots are larger and you will require more room and time to make a lane change.
Having towing mirrors is important. They allow you to see more of your RV and the surrounding areas. If your vehicle isn’t equipped with towing mirrors consider adding mirror extenders. Plan your turns and lane changes as far ahead as possible and allow adequate time after signaling before you start your lane change.
Don’t let the unknown of towing an RV prevent you from RV life. Do your research, practice your towing skills, and follow safe towing practices and you will have safe travels.
For help mapping out your route for your next RV getaway, look no further than RV LIFE Trip Wizard. This online planning tool finds an RV-friendly route to your RV park. It can also locate interesting sites along the way, all according to your travel preferences. Get RV LIFE Trip Wizard with its accompanying RV LIFE App, and start planning your adventure today!
More reading about safe RV towing
Kendall lives with his wife and their two cocker spaniels full-time in their RV currently in Mexico. He is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the co-founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.
Paul Goldberg says
Please get your facts straight for licensing laws. First they are state by state. Second in many states the limit for pulling a trailer on a normal drivers license is length not weight, Motorhomes are classified by weight (except in certain states like California). No state requires a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) to drive an RV unless you are doing it for compensation. The requirement is Texas s for a Class A (trailer) or Class B (motorhome). Study guide was the CDL study guide, but we were only required to learn specific sections.
NOT everybody lives in the USA. This gentlemen lives in Australia on New Zealand where he probably has studied the laws there.
The GVWR is what it is on purpose because it’s designed that way! There is not a rule of thumb for tow vehicles nor trailers. “The rule of dumb is staying 75% under manufacture’s weight ratings.” The factory dry weight on all travel trailers already exceeds 75% of gross weight rating. Crawl under a travel trailer and check axles max weight tags or use gawr tag then add factory tongue dry weight tag. Then times 75% that figure and the result is your travel trailer factory dry weight is over your rule of dumb. Never mind your ccc. Typically the factory dry weight for a TT is 85% of axles rating tag plus the factory tongue weight to be about 13 to 14% of the TT factory dry weight. Typically the CCC takes you the rest of the way up to TT GVWR. Dry weight plus CCC equal GVWR. Now you can match this to your tow vehicle’s ratings! Typical heavy duty pickup trucks don’t exceed 9999 GVWR (most states have a max 10,000 pound rule class B pickups) for your rule of dumb is saying don’t exceed 7499 pounds. The GVWR is what it is. The “rule of thumb” is use a CAT weight scale and “DON’ T EXCEED YOUR GVWR, TW, CCC, TOW VEHICLE PAYLOAD, GAWR, OR YOUR CGVWR!
YES, your weight ratings will be on the edge. Design your rigs then purchase and remember those numbers by heart including your RV’s height and width and you’ll be a happy camper.
Dan Potter says
Year before last we took our travel trailer to Yellowstone, leaving from our home in Central Oregon. When we got to Idaho we found the speed limit on 84 was 80 mph. I had drive at 65 to avoid being run over. Never again.
Watching this video and from personal experience, people drive WAY to fast with too small of tow vehicle. Speed multiples sway issues and just because a vehicle says it can tow a given weight doesn’t mean it can handle the weight and size of a camper. Plus too many people do not have the experience to drive a large camper and handle the issues you run into, plus everyone is always trying to hurry on a time schedule. Disasters waiting to happen!
William Bard says
Just a thought here, if you are towing something with more than one axle, think about more than one spare tire. If one tire hits something the next one might also. If one tire fails all the weight is now on the other tire, it might not take much to wear that tire down. TPMS might have saved me from having to change and replace both tires on our rig.
Harvey Caldwell says
we have a f150 hybrid and want to understand the braking. We don’t have braking going to the trailer. We have it up to the max. This is a new F150 and we are pulling 9000 pounds rated at 13000. Why can’t we get the braking to the trailer?