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Tow Away: How to Hitch a Trailer

This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of hauling everything from a U-Haul to an Airstream

Pickup truck towing a boat

Whether you’re moving across town or camping in the back country, trailers can make your life a whole lot easier. But towing isn’t as simple as attaching ball and hitch. So, before you latch anything to your truck or SUV, make sure to follow the steps below.

Get to know your vehicle

Before getting started, read the owner’s manual and find your vehicle’s towing capacity. Service departments of new car dealerships can also tell you this information if you give them the VIN of your specific vehicle. Or you may be able to find the information the manufacturers’ websites.

Distribute the weight properly

Even if your trailer weighs well below the limit, it’s important to try putting 60 per cent of the trailer’s weight on the front half of the unit. This will increase stability and control at highway speeds. Walk around the trailer before hitting the road, ensuring all lights are working and tires are in good shape.

Do your research

The type of hitch required is determined by the weight of the trailer you plan to tow. Hitches are rated in classes, from I to IV (and in some cases, can go up to V), each having their own maximum allowable weight. Research online or with the retailer to find which class you’ll need. Tongue weight, the amount of pressure exerted by the trailer on your hitch, should be between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the trailer’s total weight. As the amount of weight a hitch is rated to carry increases, so does the amount of tongue weight it can bear.

Get a buddy to help you

Hitching to the trailer is best accomplished with two people, even if your vehicle is equipped with a backup camera. Have a friend stand behind the vehicle while slowly reversing towards the trailer hitch. They should give verbal commands and hand signals, helping to guide the driver to line up the hitching points of the vehicle and trailer.

Use a safety net

Make sure your hitch comes with safety chains or that it has the connections to support them. Cross the chains over each other when connecting them to the tow vehicle. If disaster strikes and the trailer slips free of the hitch, the tongue will land on top of the crossed chains preventing the trailer from hitting the pavement.

Back up like a pro

Reversing with a trailer adds a whole new dimension to maneuvering. Thanks to the pivot point of the hitch between vehicle and trailer, the steering wheel must be turned in the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to go. This means if you’re backing into a space on your left, the steering wheel requires a turn to the right in order to get the trailer headed in the proper direction.

Get a feel for it

Practice makes perfect. Fine-tune your reversing in an empty parking lot and make some trial towing runs on roads that aren’t clogged with traffic. Once underway, keep in mind braking distances will increase, turns will be wider and height-clearance signs will matter. With practice and planning, you’ll have a safe and successful trip.