Towing an RV can be very stressful, especially if you don’t have previous experience towing your particular unit. But whether you are an experienced RV driver or a novice, these top ten towing tips can help you drive safely and confidently to your destination.
1. Know tow capacity and RV weight
Before you tow anything (and before you purchase an RV to begin with), you need to know your vehicle’s tow capacity. This is simply how much weight your vehicle can tow. If you don’t know this information off the top of your head, take a look at the sticker on your driver's side door frame. The rating displayed on the sticker should determine what kind of RV you can safely tow.
Obviously the next thing you need to know is the weight of your RV. These two numbers are critical for helping you determine how large your RV can be as well as the things you need to be aware of while towing it. For example, a heavier RV could increase your stopping distance. If you don’t take these things into account, not only will you be unsafe on the road, but the probability of damage to your vehicle or RV also increases.
2. Learn proper hitching technique
Before you tow your trailer for the first time, it is imperative that you learn the proper technique for hitching and unhitching an RV. This will vary depending on the RV you have and your type of hitch. Failing to learn how to do this correctly will result in vehicular damage or possible injury to you or innocent driver(s) on the road.
Have your Grand Design RV dealer walk you through the process of both hitching and unhitching, and take thorough notes so you have a checklist on hand for all future trips.
3. Practice driving with an RV in tow
If you have never driven with an RV in tow, or perhaps just haven’t driven with your particular RV, it is wise to take it to an empty parking lot and practice. This will calm your nerves, give you the confidence to drive longer distances, and help you get a better feel for how your vehicle maneuvers with your RV hitched to it.
Every RV is different. Even if you have towed one or several RVs before, if you haven’t driven the one in question, you’ll need to get your bearings. After all, it is your responsibility to know how to drive safely while towing an RV. Lower the stakes by practicing before getting on the road so that you don’t endanger other people or yourself.
4. Get extended side view mirrors
When you are towing an RV, your regular side mirrors aren’t going to give you the visibility you need to drive safely. With the length of your vehicle extended, there are blind spots that standard side mirrors cannot see.
The most common solution to this problem is to purchase extended side view mirrors. Either permanent ones or clip-ons are available depending on your needs. If you only use your vehicle for towing, then permanent ones may be a good option. If you prefer to drive without extended side view mirrors when you are not towing, clip-ons work just as well and you can remove them when you no longer require them.
5. Compare your RV specs to size of your lot
Before traveling to your destination, avoid disappointment by comparing your RV specs with the size of the lot at the campsite. If your RV does not fit in the lot at your campsite, you can often find yourself struggling to find an appropriate place to park or camp for the night. Your RV specs should include the length, width, and height.
Take note of these specifications before reserving your campsite, carefully assessing whether your RV can actually fit in the lot provided. Learn whether there are any obstructions that would prevent you from parking your RV in the lot, such as tree branches, rocks, and more.
6. Pack light
Those that are new to RVing often pack for every imaginable scenario. What if you want waffles instead of pancakes one morning? Better pack the waffle maker, just in case. Don’t forget the food processor either, because there’s nothing like fresh salsa and chips while camping. Don’t fall victim to this pitfall. Pack only what you will absolutely need, and keep your list light and lean.
Bear in mind, it’s not just how much you pack that will impact your towing efficacy. It’s also the way you distribute the weight inside the RV. A good rule of thumb is to have equal weight on each side of the RV and a bit more concentrated on toward the hitch. Having more weight on the hitch side will grant you a steadier tow. Too much weight in the back will cause your RV to sway and give you less control.
Here's a helpful video made by U-haul that demonstrates what can happen if you put too much weight at the back of your RV, and what to do if you find you've lost control of your vehicle while towing.
7. Plan your route
There’s a good reason to plan your route before you leave, as it will affect towing. Researching the way to your campground will notify you of any potential hazards like low bridges, narrow roads, and tight turns so you can choose a new route accordingly.
It’s also important to check the weather forecast along your route. It may impact travel and make it difficult to tow your RV. Planning ahead prepares you for these inconveniences and hazards.
8. Travel slow and safe
If you are a speed racer when you are driving your vehicle regularly, heed this advice: when you are towing an RV, you need to drive slowly in order to drive safely.
This may seem obvious to some drivers, but your RV’s tires come with speed ratings. These will vary for each unit. Exceeding this speed can damage the tires and cause blowouts, which not only damages your RV, but also could lead to an accident.
When in doubt, stay in the right lane and never exceed 65 miles per hour while towing an RV. Another tip to keep in mind that can make driving an RV easier is to drive up to 5 miles an hour below the speed limit on multi-lane roads. Since most traffic is moving at the speed limit or higher, they will move around you, allowing you to generally avoid shifting lanes and making it easier to navigate traffic with a heavy trailer in tow.
9. Manage sway
It’s perfectly natural for there to be some sway when towing an RV, but sometimes your RV can sway more than is safe. This is typically caused by something within your control. Heavy weight in the RV’s rear side or poor weight distribution, for example, can make it sway more than usual. Improperly setting up your hitch can also increase sway.
Therefore, you should be extremely careful while packing and hitching your RV. Otherwise, you might be one strong wind gust away from disaster.
10. Maintain distance
Part of driving safely while towing an RV is maintaining your distance from the vehicles around you. A good rule of thumb is to keep at least six seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. This is to take into consideration the extra stopping distance needed while towing. The heavier your load, the more distance you will need.
While towing, you should also take wide turns. If you have an especially long trailer, you’ll need to take an even wider turn. This is another instance in which you will need extended side mirrors in order to view the entire length of your RV while completing a turn. They should have a wide enough angle to see your RV’s tires so that you don’t clip a curb.
Be very cognizant of the cars around you when making wide turns. Smaller cars will often try to occupy the space you create by taking a wide turn, and this can lead to an accident as your trailer actually needs the space the small car has taken. You may even consider adding a bumper sticker to your RV that says, “Caution Wide Turns”
There’s a lot to learn about towing an RV, particularly if you haven’t towed one before, but these ten steps should have you camping in no time. If you require assistance, contact your local Grand Design RV service provider here.