Whether you want to pull a jet ski, a boat, a small trailer, or even a camper, doing so requires the ability to tow. Most vehicles are capable of towing—including many small sedans. However, not all vehicles are created equal when it comes to towing capacity. Some vehicles can only tow a little over 1,000 pounds, while others can tow more than 10,000 pounds of cargo.
In addition to having a vehicle that’s up to the task, it’s also important that you know how to tow safely. Towing can be an intimidating job if you’ve never done it before. Suddenly you go from maneuvering around 15 feet of vehicle length to maneuvering twice that length or more. And that doesn’t even factor in ensuring all the connections are secure and performed correctly.
There’s a lot to worry about when it comes to towing, but by taking a few simple steps, you can make the process easier and safer for you, your family, and other drivers on the road.
6 Essential Towing Steps
Almost everyone will have to tow something at some point, so you might as well get it right on the first try. Use our guide to look like a pro:
- Check if your vehicle can tow—First, ensure that your vehicle is capable of towing, period. Older vehicles have built-in hitches called fixed-drawbar hitches, while others may have slots where hitches can be attached, called receiver hitches. Find out which type of hitch your vehicle has. If you don’t see an existing hitch or space to connect one, consult the manual to determine if it can tow.
- Check your vehicle’s towing capacity—If your vehicle has a hitch or space to attach one, you’re in business. However, you’ll need to know exactly how much weight it can tow. Most compact and midsize sedans max out at around 2,000 pounds. That’s enough weight for a small trailer or fishing boat. Midsize SUVs can tow anywhere from 3,500 pounds to 7,500 pounds, or enough to tow another vehicle or a larger boat. Big trucks and SUVs can tow over 7,500 pounds, which is sufficient to tow very large boats, campers, animal trailers, and more. Consult your manual or visit generalrv.com to find out this information.
- Choose the right hitch—There are five classes of hitches—Class I tows up to 2,000 pounds, Class II tows 2,001 to 3,500 pounds, Class III tows 3,501 to 5,000 pounds, Class IV tows 5,001 pounds to 10,000 pounds, and Class V tows 10,001 to 13,000 pounds. Only use a hitch that’s rated for a weight that your vehicle can safely tow. In addition, factor in the weight of the hitch itself when towing, as it counts towards the overall weight.
- Connect the towable item to your vehicle—Hooking up your vehicle to a trailer or other large towable item requires plenty of room. Park the towable item and line your vehicle up in a straight line with it. Then, reverse towards it. Have a spotter help you sight when the hitches are aligned with the connector on the towable item above your vehicle’s hitch. Unlock the trailer coupler latch, lower the socket onto the hitch connector, re-lock the latch and insert the pin, and then attach the safety chains to your vehicle in a cross pattern.
- Connect the lights—When you’re towing something, other drivers may be unable to see your taillights and brake lights. That can be dangerous in the dark, when you’re turning, or during low visibility. Your trailer or towable item should have a wire that plugs into a wiring socket near your trailer hitch. After plugging this in, verify that all lights work, including brake lights and turn signals.
- Practice driving—Before you head straight to the lake, campground, or cross-country destination, be sure to test that everything is properly secured. A quick drive around your neighborhood should be enough to give you peace of mind and confidence. When driving, go slow, use your mirrors, and turn wider than you’re used to. Avoid narrow streets and congested areas if possible.
We’re Here to Help After a Crash, Whether You Were Towing at the Time or Not
Towing quickly becomes second nature, and you’ll soon develop a feel for what it takes to drive a vehicle that’s suddenly twice as long as you’re used to. But nobody ever develops a feel for driving around erratic and negligent motorists—especially when those people cause them to suffer injuries in crashes.