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Old 10-20-2011, 09:37 AM   #1
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Red face Towing Question from a novice

We purchased a 2011 Touareg TDI with the towing package in anticipation of buying an airstream. We had Volkswagen install the brake controller,etc. to insure that no warranty would be voided by having this equipment added by someone else after market. However, never having towed a trailer before, I'm wondering what we should be feeling in the Touareg when towing? For instance, we test towed a Flying Cloud 20 with a Reese antisway set-up. The GVW of this trailer is 5,000 lbs, well within the Touareg's towing capability. Underway was no problem, but when stopping or starting, or over bumps, etc., we felt the trailer nudging the vehicle. In other words, we knew it was behind us. The brakes were properly adjusted and everything seemed properly installed and calibrated. I raise the question because the dealer assured us that the Airstream, which is such a superior trailer to tow, would feel like there was nothing behind us and that we'd forget it was even there. Not the case.
We've towed trailered boats in the past which were perhaps two thirds the weight of this Airstream and the feel was quite different. Our concern is not causing any damage to the Touareg. As a novice, perhaps someone could dial us in as to what we should feel and what to expect. Thanks.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:00 AM   #2
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I tow a fairly small trailer (about 4,500 lbs) with my Tundra. Sometimes at steady state speeds on a straight road, I do forget that it is back there, but anytime I am accelerating or stopping or going around a curve or bumps, I am always aware that it is there. The folks that don't notice the trailer are either salesman, have not really towed anything or just plain numb to what and how they are driving.

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Old 10-20-2011, 10:05 AM   #3
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Well, I am not expert so please take this with that proverbial grain of salt. I think it is a good thing to "know that trailer is behind you." You said that your brake controller was set up properly. How do you know this?

When on a flat road, your trailer brakes should slow the trailer while your TV brakes should slow the TV. You should be able to stop in just about the same distance as you would without the trailer. I know nothing about your vehicle's trailer brake system but I have a prodigy and am able to dial it in to get the proper "feel" when braking. I like the prodigy because it has a boost feature that I use when coming down steep mountain passes.

The first thing I would do if I were you would be to get the brakes adjusted. You don't want them to lock up but you do want them to stop the trailer.

Going over bumps is another issue. You are connected to a set of wheels behind you so it is natural to experience the difference here. As long as you are not bottoming out, porposing or swaying, you most likely are OK.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:14 AM   #4
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Agreed your going to feel it. But I spent probably an hour pulling the trailer around a big parking lot getting the setting right on my brake controller. I would brake from different speeds and different brake intensities until I got a setting where the trailer wasn't pushing or pulling the truck. I can say that while braking under normal situations I don't feel the trailer. It feels normal. The trailer doesn't stop me and it doesn't push on me. And sidenote the final setting I went with was not the setting that the dealer said would be right. He was two clicks off. At his setting the trailer was stopping the truck.

I would have a hard time saying the brakes were properly calibrated if the dealer didn't get in and drive it. Find you an empty lot and play with it. Plus I wanted to know what it felt like to really lay into the brakes.

Now I can feel it inching in traffic. You can feel the brakes engaging and disengaging. That's why when I'm backing in or other small movements I turn the brake controller all the way down and use the truck brakes. The jerky movement bugs me. But I just roll the dial back up when I'm ready to go.

You know it's there accelerating, but I catch myself on the highway on the flats going too fast and telling myself to back off. And the trailer with the hitch combo really seems to track really really well through twists and turns.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:15 AM   #5
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Personally, I think if you really "never know it's there" then your tow vehicle has so much more capacity that it borders on silly. (The dually drivers will excoriate me momentarily.)

You're roughly doubling the mass of the system by adding the FC to your Touareg, I'd expect you to feel a difference in the suspension's behavior over road surfaces, and certainly in acceleration. Modern brake controllers are very adjustable, it's possible that there may still be some useful adjustment to be had to keep the trailer from "nudging" the Touareg. I prefer to have mine "tug" a bit rather than "nudge", but I do that by applying the brakes slowly. Since I have a brake controller that works on the activation of the brake lights plus measurement of deceleration, I adjust it so that I get a little trailer braking just by touching the brake pedal, allowing me to have a little drag from the trailer brakes before I've started activating the truck's discs.

Boat trailer brakes are going to feel different because they're nearly always "surge" brakes. The boat trailer is pushing into a hydraulic piston that's applying the brakes and doing some (small) shock absorption as a consequence.

What brand of brake controller was installed in the VW and how is it configured?
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:19 AM   #6
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I'd second bike_addict's advice about driving around in a big empty parking lot to tune the brakes. I'd contend, though, that even if a VW dealer declares the trailer brakes properly calibrated you've no more assurance than if you just unbloxed it, plugged it in yourself and set off. Your odds of getting a VW tech with electric trailer brake experience are not great. Also, you're likely to adjust a controller a bit different for different trailers, and the trailer wasn't even present when the VW dealer installed the controller.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:30 AM   #7
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I think there's too much bravado on some towing forums with the battle cry "I can't feel it back there."

Well if you can't whats wrong with you? You're close to doubling the weight the engine has to pull, probably doubling air drag, and doubling the weight the tires have turn. About the only trailer I couldn't feel is a jetski trailer pulled by a diesel pickup.

Its great you can feel it! Its great to know your steering can probably only generate half the g forces compared to the vehicle alone. Knowing its back there reinforces the changes in driving style while towing.

I do think aftermarket brake controllers are far from perfect, even the best ones. It may take a lot of adjustment over time to kind of get it right. You may find you'll need to set it differently for high speed vs. low speed. Practice and adjustment doesn't make it perfect but better.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:36 AM   #8
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Yep, I've played with the settings on our brake controller a lot, and it seems to either be "the trailer is grabbing the truck" or "the trailer is pushing the truck" with even a small adjustment. I sort of prefer the former, because I figure a shorter stopping distance will someday be more important than the lifetime of the trailer's brakes, but either way it's an unsettling feeling to someone new at towing like myself (I have perhaps ~2500 miles at this point).

It'd be great to have them brake together, but I imagine in some rigs it's just not possible due to the weight ratio compared to braking ability and the lack of very fine-tune adjustment in the brake controller (in my case, I can adjust half a volt, which you'd think would be a pretty small amount...). For what it's worth, I was never able to get this symmetry with the tow dolly, either, using a Prodigy brake controller - in that case, I always felt like I needed two settings, because it either felt weak on highways or too strong at stoplights.

I'm no expert, though. A friend that has been towing for years is going to be teaching my wife to tow our camper, and one thing I want her to do is feel the brakes and adjust the controller to what she thinks is right. It'll be nice to have a second opinion. Until then I'll keep playing with it, making small adjustments at a time in the hopes I hit on the One True Setting.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:41 AM   #9
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We tow with another German import and use the Reese setup.

After I called to ask about the gentle nudge our Airstream was giving our SUV, the Reese folks explained that European factory installed hitches are going to have a bit of "slop" and movement. I was told that this is to be expected.

I then had an occasion to visit with a tech who actually manufacturers and Reese is the reseller. He assured me that the movement would cause no damage to the hitch and offered one VERY important piece of advice: when you think you have the proper relationship between your vehicle and trailer move the adjustment knob on the brake controller just a bit higher, and cause the trailer brakes to work just a bit more than normal.

I did and it helps with the annoyance of that movement of the "stinger" within the SUV's hitch receiver.

Bottom line. You're getting some good advice from others and don't worry about what going on with your hitch.

Incidentally, your import SUV probably has LEDs and if you're buying a new Airstream, is has LEDs (in the braking systems of both the trailer and tug). When you hook your Airstream up to the Touareg, there will be no resistance, and your trailer's running lights will blink like crazy, with your SUV's headlights turned on. The solution is easily remedied by purchasing a short cable (approximately $40.00) from your VW dealer that has that built in resistance and will allow your running lights to operate properly.

Good luck!
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Old 10-20-2011, 11:04 AM   #10
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While you are in a very large parking lot, get some speed up and perform a panic stop. This will tell you very quickly if brakes need adjusting. Many times if not adjusted properly the rtailer will push the TV out to the side and require you to stear in that direction to keep it under control. If brakes are properly adjusted the trailer eill stop straight with no side push.
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Old 10-20-2011, 11:50 AM   #11
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There is some very good advice in the replies above. I would like to add that you also could have some setup issues with your Reese hitch. It is an excellent hitch, but your setup may be off and causing some of the "feel" you are experiencing. In all my years and miles of towing Airstreams, I have found the most critical thing is to have the hitch ball at the right level. Find a dead level, concrete if possible, parking area, and unhitch the trailer and the TV. level the trailer exactly, front to back, put a tape measure on the frame in the front and make sure it is the same in the rear. Then measure the height to the top of the inside of the coupler.

Measure the height of the hitch ball top on the TV, not connected to the Airstream. If the numbers are not the same within a half inch, have the hitch ball height adjusted to the correct height. Then the spring bars can do their thing properly when you go to hitch up.

Someone said that the european hitch recievers are more flexible than the ones we are used to here in this country. To be honest, that might be true, but if so I sure as hell would change it out to a rigid one if it were mine. The last thing I need is flex in my hitch box, initially or over time. You will never be comfortable with a flexible hitch box, it would always give you the sensations you mention.

I would agree that "not knowing it is back there" is in general a silly line. However, that said, my new Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7L comes as close to that statement as I have ever experienced, towing my 20' Argosy. The Argosy has a new axle, and 16" wheels and tires, the Jeep has 20" 50 series tires and it is like it is velcro'ed onto the road. Very impressive.
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Old 10-20-2011, 06:41 PM   #12
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Regarding Towing Question from a novice

Thanks to everyone for all the feedback and suggestions. The brake controller, a Primus by Tekonsha, was adjusted by myself and the Airstream dealer. We started in his parking lot and then I performed further adjustments while we were out with the trailer.

I neglected to mention the occasional grating sounds from the anti-sway arms on the Reese. Unfortunately, as some of you have mentioned, the friction is needed for the anti-sway mechanism to work properly and I'm told that grease should not be used to reduce the grating.I understand that Reese suggests Vaseline in place of grease.

The trailer and TV were leveled at the dealer's lot when the Reese mechanism was installed. I didn't ask the service tech who installed and adjusted the Reese unit, but I hope it isn't necessary to adjust this unit every time we hook up. It was quite time consuming to get it just right. Of course, it was the first time.

The "nudging", or"clunking", came not so much from braking, but moreso when going over a bump and those sorts of actions. The braking seemed quite smooth and our braking distance had changed very little if any, although, based on all your feedback, I think I'd adjust the controller up another click.

Again, first time trailer tower. I snapped a photo of the Airstream attached to the Touareg before hitting the road. The trailer seemed so much bigger(taller) and wider than the TV. Maybe I was more intimidated by the thought of towing this trailer than our Touareg, which seems like a little brute capable of much more.

Thanks again for all the feedback.
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Old 10-20-2011, 07:57 PM   #13
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Ah, ok. I pull a lighter trailer with a heavier vehicle and I still feel when the trailer goes over a bump or something after the truck. It's not unsettling to me, but I've pulled a lot of other trailers in a previous life (I grew up on a farm.)

It may just be unrealistic expectation set up by all the "I can't tell it's back there" comments.
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:15 PM   #14
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The Reese Dual Cam works on friction. The cam sits in a detent formed by the 2 angular surfaces on the end of the bar. For the trailer to wander from a straight line, it must overcome the force applied to the cams to climb out of the detent. This also applies more force on the springs as they are pushed up encouraging everything to return to center. Often there is a pop or clunk as everything returns into place. Lubricant does mitigate the clunk and I believe Reese recommends Vasoline as it would be hard to over lubricate those surfaces with it. Be sure to lube the knobs on the trunions. There are oil holes on the ball mount for the top knobs, shoot a couple drops in the socket where the bottom knobs bear agains the ball mount. I also give the chains a drop were they hook over the snap latches and where they attach to the cams. I keep some motor oil in an oil squirt can I carry for that purpose for every hookup and a rag to wipe up the excess.

Once set up, the Reese requires no further adjustments unless something changes or comes loose. It's just a matter of using the same # of links each time you hook up. Some get before and after scale weights and use a tape measure to get the adjustments just right after the initial setup. With your rig hooked up and ready to go, step away and look at it from the side. The trailer and tow vehicle should each look level with respect to the ground. You may see some deflection or curvature to the spring bars, but they should appear more or less parallel to the A-frame. The snap brackets should be positioned on the frame such that the chains are vertical.
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