Before you hitch a trailer up to your truck or SUV and hit the open road, consider these six tips to help ensure a safe trip.
It’s hard to resist the call of the open road, especially when you have a chance to connect a camping trailer and escape for a weekend, or haul your boat to a favorite fishing spot. But before you hitch any trailer to your truck or SUV and hit the road, make sure you consider these six points in order to tow safely.
1. Stay Within Your Limits. Review the towing capacity of your specific vehicle and ensure it’s capable of handling the weight of your trailer. Exceeding the maximum towing capacity can result in dangerous handling, insufficient braking performance, or serious damage to the vehicle’s suspension, engine and drivetrain. In addition to ensuring your vehicle’s towing capacity is sufficient for your trailer, also make sure your trailer hitch is capable of handling your trailer’s loaded weight. Your hitch should be labeled with the maximum trailer and maximum tongue weights it can safely support. Depending on the weight of your trailer, you should also follow your owner’s manual’s recommendations regarding the use of weight carrying or weight-distributing hitches.
Don’t assume all versions of a certain model line share identical tow ratings. Towing capacities can differ by body styles, bed lengths, drivelines, and other equipment installed on the vehicle. Likewise, different hitch designs can handle different weights, and certain designs may be required for trailers over a certain weight. Always check the owner’s manual for the vehicle’s towing capacity — or if you own a new GMC, refer to our latest towing guide.
If you plan on also carrying extra cargo or several passengers, you should also ensure you’re not overloading the tow vehicle itself. Refer to the gross vehicle weight (GVW) rating issued for your particular vehicle and ensure your loaded vehicle does not exceed the manufacturer’s rating. Likewise, ensure your loaded vehicle and loaded trailer do not exceed the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) set by the manufacturer.
2. Pack your trailer properly. Not only is it incredibly important to stay within the trailer’s maximum load capacity, but it’s also important to ensure any cargo is properly positioned. Not only do you want roughly 60% of the trailer’s load placed over the front half of the trailer, you also should load it in a way that results in a tongue weight on conventional hitch trailers that is between 10-15% of the total weight of the loaded trailer. Ensure weight is evenly distributed on the left and right sides of the trailer. Once the load is properly distributed and an ideal tongue weight is achieved, all cargo should be secured to prevent the load from shifting.
3. Check your tires. This goes for both your tow vehicle and your trailer. Tires that are not properly inflated can negatively affect handling. Further, underinflated tires can create more rolling resistance, which not only forces the engine to work harder and consume more fuel, but also increases tire temperatures and may contribute to a blow-out. Refer to the tire pressure label placed in the driver’s doorjamb for proper inflation pressures for the tow vehicle. Additionally, check the speed rating on the tires for both your tow vehicle and trailer, and ensure you never exceed that speed while on the road.
Preparing for a long journey? Check the tire pressures of the spare tires provided for your vehicle and your trailer and ensure they’re inflated up to spec. Additionally, consider allowing more time to inspect your trailer’s hub bearings before towing, and ensure they’re in good order and properly greased.
4. Check your lights. The tail lights and marker lamps on your trailer may seem superfluous, but they’re quite important. Large trailers or loads may obscure the tail lights on your tow vehicle. If the lights on your trailer aren’t illuminated, other drivers may not see your vehicle, especially at night. Accidents can occur if the tail lights are not working or are improperly connected. Have a partner stand behind the vehicle while it is in park to check the turn signals, tail lights and brake lights function properly.
5. Check Your Brakes. Smaller, lighter trailers may not need trailer brakes of any kind, but heavier trailers, or those designed to carry heavier loads, will usually incorporate a trailer brake system. GMC requires trailer brakes be used on trailers weighing more than 2,000 pounds when pulled by a GMC Sierra, Canyon, and Yukon, above 1,500 pounds when pulled by a GMC Savanna, and above 1,000 pounds when pulled by any other GMC model.
Whether your trailer is equipped with hydraulic surge brakes or electric brakes, make sure the emergency “breakaway” cable is properly attached to your tow vehicle. In case your trailer somehow disconnects from the hitch, this cable is designed to trigger the brakes on the trailer and quickly bring it to a halt.
6. Adjust Your Mirrors. Before taking off, make sure your side view mirrors are adjusted to create a clear view that extends to the end of the trailer. Depending on the vehicle, GMC may offer mirrors specifically designed for towing that extend in order to expand the mirror’s field of vision.