Towing Your Travel Trailer

Towing Your Travel Trailer

A travel trailer is a wonderful addition to your life. You’ll love the freedom that comes with hitting the open road, exploring the countryside, and making new memories. However, many people worry about the process of getting behind the wheel and actually towing their trailer. Even the most lightweight travel trailers can feel intimidating if you’re not prepared. Towing a travel trailer might seem like a big task, but you can master this skill with some research and practice. Learn everything you need to know about towing used travel trailers, including proper preparation, staying informed, and driving cautiously.

Preparing To Tow A Travel Trailer

Preparation is key to towing a travel trailer. Some basic tasks must be taken care of every time you take your trailer out for a spin. If not, your travel can pose a risk to yourself and others. Give yourself plenty of time and patience to tackle these steps.

Hitch Your Trailer

Hitching your trailer is the process of attaching it to your vehicle. A proper hitch is essential to safely tow your trailer. Your RV sales team can show you how to hitch your trailer when you’re exploring RVs for sale. Overall, there are three main elements to safely hitching your trailer:

  • The hitch should be on
  • Lock in your trailer
  • Connect cables and make sure they’re working

Once your trailer is hitched, take a moment to examine the weight distribution. Your towing vehicle and trailer will act as one unit on the road, so there should be a flat, even plane between the two pieces. You don’t want to see your vehicles tipping in towards the hitch, or leaning away from the hitch. Any kind of tip is a sign that you’re not well balanced.

Imbalanced trailers are more likely to sway on the road and show other unsafe behaviors. The best way to determine your weight distribution is at a truck scale. You can have the weight measured under each of your tires, letting you know exactly how the weight is arranged. Once you get more experience towing your trailer, you’ll be able to estimate weight just by looking at your rig on a flat parking lot.

Check Visibility

On most trailers, especially used travel trailers for sale, rear visibility is limited. Arrange your side mirrors so you can see the back end of your trailer before setting out. If your visibility still feels too limited, you can purchase mirror extensions or a rearview camera.

Test The Brakes

It’s important to test your brakes and brake controller before setting out. Your brake controller is what connects your trailer’s brakes to your tow vehicle’s brakes. This connection must be properly functional for your safety and that of your fellow drivers.

You can test your brakes by connecting your trailer and taking a test run. Reach about 10 mph, then hit the brakes as you would for a standard stop. If your brake controller is working properly, it should feel like the trailer is pulling back on the vehicle, particularly when you reach a complete stop.

If it doesn’t feel like the trailer is tugging back, or if the trailer seems to be pushing you forward, then your brake controller setting should be higher. Ideally, your trailer should brake harder than the tow vehicle. This will help you avoid jackknifing and slow, jerky stops.

Be Informed About Your Vehicle And Your Route

Once your trailer is hitched up and braking properly, you might feel ready to hit the road. However, you also need to be informed about your trailer and do some brief planning for your travel route.

Know Your Height

When you’re looking for travel trailers for sale, you should ask about the height of every trailer you consider. It’s vital to know the height of your trailer. If not, you risk destroying your new investment by trying to go under a bridge that’s too low. Learn your trailer’s height, add an extra foot just to be careful, and never try to take a passage that’s too short.

Plan Your Route

Getting lost, or just feeling uncertain about the next turn, is awful when you’re towing a trailer. Your trailer makes it hard to quickly change lanes or turn around, particularly on a narrow country or urban road. Some modern navigation systems offer an RV or trailer setting that’s perfect for plotting your course. These options help you avoid narrow roads, low bridges, and complicated changeovers. If you prefer to map your own course, make sure to go around similar complications.

Drive Cautiously

Many people searching for new RVs for sale love the idea of traveling in a camper but are intimidated by the thought of towing one. Once you tackle your nerves, you’ll find that towing a travel trailer is an easy task. The trailer simply follows your tow vehicle down the road. Assuming your tow vehicle can handle the weight, you shouldn’t face many problems with hills, braking, or other normal driving tasks. However, you should always keep safety in mind. Some parts of towing a trailer offer more of a challenge than others.


Most turns will be a piece of cake with your travel trailer. The trailer will follow your tow vehicle through the arc of the turn. Just keep moving forward and the trailer will come, too.

That said, the length of your trailer plays a big role in its turning radius. A longer trailer might hop a curb or cut a corner that your tow vehicle easily cleared. Try to make wide turns whenever possible. Round-a-bouts, curving roads, and turns up to 90 degrees should be fine.

Curves sharper than 90 degrees are another issue. Aim to avoid these turns whenever possible. If a sharp turn is unavoidable, take it slow and wide. If you get into a tight situation, it’s best to continue to the other side. Backing up to get more space and reposition doesn’t work well in a trailer.

Turns are doable in most circumstances, but remember to take them slowly. Your trailer has a high center of gravity that makes it prone to tipping over. Your tow vehicle might be able to take turns at a speed your trailer can’t manage.

Backing Up

Backing up with a trailer is one of the most challenging parts of the RV lifestyle. Larger trailers are especially difficult. Don’t abandon your search for trailers for sale just yet, because anyone can learn this skill. It simply takes practice and patience. You’ll have the easiest time backing up your trailer when you’re not stressed out about it. Plan your trips as carefully as possible so you never need to back up on roadways or busy areas.

It’s not intuitive to back up with a travel trailer. Essentially, you’re working against the habits you learned to back up a standard car or truck. Turn the wheel to the right to back up to the right, and to the left to back up to the left. Make the opportunity to get lots of practice backing up before taking your trailer out for its first trip.


Hills can feel stressful, particularly if you’re traveling on steep inclines or narrow mountain passes. However, if your tow rating is suited to your trailer, hills don’t need to pose a problem. The added weight of your trailer will keep you at slow speeds when you’re going up hills. Stay to the right whenever possible. You can even turn on your hazard lights if you can’t meet the speed limit.

Going downhill is slightly more dangerous, but is still manageable with the proper technique. Research your tow vehicle’s engine capacity to learn whether you can use engine braking. In this method, you’ll shift your engine into a lower gear on downhill stretches, taking your foot off the gas. Your drivetrain will control the engine, allowing mechanical resistance to slow your way. This method keeps your speed under control and also preserves your brakes.

On very steep grades, you may still need to use your brakes. Try not to brake too hard, as this can cause you to jackknife. Instead, maintain a slow speed and decelerate from there.

Trailer Sway

Many scary aspects of towing a trailer can be overcome with practice and confidence, but trailer sway is a true danger. Sway occurs when the trailer and tow vehicle “wiggle” away from each other. This usually happens when wind pushes on the trailer, which pushes on the tow vehicle. Given enough time and force, trailer sway can cause major accidents.

The safest way to handle trailer sway is to prevent it in the first place. These simple tips will avoid most causes of sway:

  • Maintain proper weight distribution
  • Don’t drive in high winds, especially when towing a large trailer
  • Avoid high speeds
  • Additionally you can get devices that reduce trailer sway

Being passed by other vehicles at a high speed is one cause of sway that it’s hard for you to control. A large semi can create an air wake when it passes you. Stay alert in these circumstances to correct sway.

First, do not try to overcorrect the sway by counter-steering. This will only make the problem worse.

Instead, use the manual trailer brake on your brake controller to engage your trailer’s brakes. This pulls back on your tow vehicle and should re-align your convoy. This sensation can feel alarming on the road, so make sure to practice it in a safe parking lot before hitting the highway.

If quickly braking isn’t a safe option, you can also hit the gas while steering straight ahead. The idea behind this method is the same as manually braking. You’re trying to use the tow vehicle to jerk the trailer straight. This option can increase sway if you go too fast, so try to use the manual brake whenever possible.