Pickup trucks are made to haul gear, not necessarily tow it. Whether the plan is to take a bass boat to the lake or a trailer cross-country, towing requires specialized components to get the job done right and safely. These days you can choose from a number of comprehensive towing packages and drive a veritable tugboat right off the showroom floor. But if a towing package isn’t part of a truck’s original equipment, upgrades might be necessary before you hitch up and head out.
Weight is the critical element in determining a truck’s ability to tow safely. This doesn’t just mean the weight of the trailer and its contents, but also the weight of the gear packed in the truck, the passengers and the truck itself. Every truck has a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), which is the maximum gross combined weight it can handle without the risk of damage. If your intended GCW is beyond your truck’s rating, you have two choices: Either upgrade the entire vehicle or lighten the load to within your truck’s GCWR.
HITCHING UP If you’re going to be hitching alone most of the time, invest in one of the after-market devices that helps guide the tongue onto the ball (such as the Hitch ‘n Go, a V-shaped ramp that attaches to the hitch), or one that allows the hitch ball to move to the trailer when the two are close.
LOCK THE OVERDRIVE If you find your automatic transmission constantly upshifting and downshifting (typical in a hilly environment), lock out overdrive to avoid undue transmission strain. When you’re back in the flatlands, re-engage overdrive to help fuel economy.
DON’T BRAKE If the trailer starts to sway at speed, do not hit your truck’s brakes. Lower your speed gradually and hold the steering wheel as straight as possible. Try to slow the trailer by using the trailer brakes (if so equipped).
CHECK THE HITCH After you’ve been trailering for 50 miles or so, pull off the road and check to make sure the hitch coupling is secure, your safety chains are still connected and your electrical connection is still attached.
In addition to having enough weight-carrying capacity and the right trailer hitch, a well-equipped tow rig should be outfitted with the following accessories. 1. TRAILER MIRRORS/MIRROR EXTENSIONS: These give the driver adequate visibility aft of his land train. 2. TRAILER WIRING HARNESS: Allows you to hook up the electric brakes and the brake and tail lights on the trailer. 3. TRAILER BRAKES: Required in certain states for trailers weighing more than 1,500 pounds. Can be electrically or hydraulically operated. 4. SAFETY CHAINS: Keep the trailer attached to the tow rig should the tongue uncouple from the hitch. 5. AUXILIARY TRANSMISSION COOLER: Used on automatic transmissions to help maintain the fluid’s proper operating temperature.
Choose the Right Hitch Class
Trailer weight determines which hitch type, or class, to use, as well as the size of the hitch ball. Class 1 hitches are typically bumper-mounted or part of a step bumper. Class 2 through Class 5 hitches are frame-mounted and can hold more weight.
HITCH TYPE MAX. TRAILER WEIGHT MAX. TONGUE WEIGHT
Class 1 2,000 lb. 200 lb.
Class 2 3,500 lb. 300 lb.
Class 3 5,000 lb. 500 lb.
Class 4 10,000 lb. 1,000 lb.
Class 5 14,000 lb. 1,400 lb.