Towing a load with your pickup can be stressful, but by making a few simple checks, you can make it easier and safer. Here are our top 5 checks to make before you tow.
1. Know What You Can Tow
When preparing to tow, your first step should be to find out how much your pickup can safely tow. This means do some research beyond just Googling the number.
The reality is pickups come in a variety of different cabs, bed lengths, tow packages and rear axles. Each of these pickups can tow different amounts of weight. Just because your neighbor’s pickup can tow a certain amount, doesn’t mean yours can.
Start with the manufacture’s website and cross check your pickup with their towing chart. Once you have a max towing number, find out if it is accurate.
Double check the numbers with the door tag on your pickup. This tag lists payload and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). You will also need gross combined weight rating (GCWR). These numbers may make your head spin, but they are essential.
Payload is the amount of weight your pickup can carry in the bed and the cabin. GVWR is the maximum amount of weight the pickup can handle including the pickup, passengers and cargo in the cabin. GCWR is the total amount of weight the pickup can handle with a trailer.
2. Know What Your Hitch Can Carry
Once you know how much weight your pickup can handle, you will also need to make sure your ball can handle. This is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.
Hitch balls typically have an engraved stamp on it with the maximum towing capacity. There might also be towing information on the hitch ball receiver.
Simply put, make sure the hitch ball can handle the weight you plan to tow.
3. Check Your Receiver, Hitch, Chains, Wires and Tires
Other must check items include the receiver, hitch, chains, wires and tires. All of these are essential for a safe towing experience and a weak link in any one of these can spell disaster.
First, make sure the receiver is properly secured to the pickup and the pin clip isn’t too worn out. You want this pin to be firmly attaching and not loose which might cause it to slip off.
Next check to make sure the chains are crossed and attached to the pickup. Crossing the chains is really important since it will create a cradle for the hitch to fall into if it comes off. While this is a last-resort measure for when a hitch comes loose, it is still far better than having the hitch hit the ground at a high-rate of speed.
Then, check the wiring is important to make sure it is connected securely. Often the end of the wire has a notch which fits into a groove holding the wiring secure. Connected correctly, you will have lights and turn signals which are even more important when towing to alert other drivers to what the vehicle is doing.
Finally, check the tires for wear and tear as well as air pressure. Underinflated or overinflated tires can alter the way the trailer tows and cause a safety concern.
Also, check the speed rating on the trailer tires. Often, these tires are only rated for upwards of 65 MPH with many being rated in the 55 MPH range. It is important to not exceed this speed rating for safety.
4. Things to Do and Bring
One of the most important things to do before towing is to simply be prepared and take your time. An ounce of preparation goes a long way.
Start by walking around your rig and look at everything. Does everything look right? Is the trailer level with the pickup? Are the tires losing air pressure?
Then, pack your emergency kit. When towing, you are putting extra weight onto your pickup and things can go wrong more frequently than driving around empty. Make sure you are prepared for that. Common items to carry with you are: wheel chalks, spare tire, jack, WD40, duct tape, spare socket set, hand tools, oil, flash light, blankets and water.
5. From the Driver’s Seat (Mirrors, Brake Controller, Tow/Haul)
Once you get behind the steering wheel, do your driver’s checks with more vigor. Also, look for towing screens on certain pickups with helpful information and settings for towing.
Starting with the mirrors, it is important they are adjusted on both the driver’s and passenger’s side in order to see the entire load including the tires. While towing mirrors are extremely useful to see both the tires and load, regular pickup mirrors can work as well as long as they are adjusted properly.
Next, you will want to makes sure the trailer-brake controller, if your pickup has one, is set to a number allowing the pickup and trailer to work together bringing the load to a smooth, complete stop. Setting the trailer-brake controller to high can overheat the trailer brakes while setting it to low will cause the pickup’s brakes to do all the work.
A good rule of thumb is to start in the middle of the trailer-brake controller range and then adjust during your trip. You will also want to inspect your brakes whenever you stop during your trip. You can often visually spot a red glow on overworked brakes.
Finally, engage the tow/haul mode on your pickup. It may seem like common sense to veteran pickup owners, but many new pickup owners either forget about this special driving mode or they don’t think it is needed. The fact is pickup manufacturers wouldn’t all have this feature if it wasn’t extremely useful when towing.
The tow/haul mode can make a dramatic difference while towing by adjusting the transmission shift points and sometimes the throttle response (depends on the pickup model you are in). These adjustments change the way the pickup operates to take into account a load behind it. It will make the towing operation a lot smoother and the pickup will feel like it has additional power when the tow/haul mode is engaged.
In the end, a good towing operation is really about the preparation that goes into it prior to pulling onto the road. If you follow these tips, you will be setting yourself up for success and not end up putting yourself and others around you in danger.