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Old 04-21-2003, 06:42 PM   #1
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Post Some towing Q & A for newbies

All of the things below have been posted many times. But, I found an interesting site talking about towing basics in simple terms. I thought this could be interesting to newbies looking for a place to start learning. This is only the beginning: you will have to know about many more things, like weight distribution among others. But, this is a first step:

How I found this site:

While traveling the highways & byways of the Eastern States for close to 100,000 miles with our Airstreams, we have learned one thing: when it comes to competent answers concerning things like brakes, brakes controllers, tires,..... most RV dealers are not the place to go. It is real pot luck. Most of the times, pulling in these places with an emergency big or small, we have not found the answers we were after.
So, we have learned one thing: go where they sell or equip horse trailers. Entering their "show rooms", you will not be dazzled by rows upon rows of products that every RVer needs: party lights, mini drain boards, wooden banana trees,....
What you will see are brakes controllers, tires & wheels, piled in there, along with safety chains and more items of this type.

As one of these people told us "It's our best friend we are hauling, so of course we care about getting the safest gear."

Re-thinking about that, I found a site about Horse Trailers, and I liked the simple way they presented the basics about towing, brakes,.... So, I decided to "borrow" most of it, removing all references to "horses" to make things clearer.

Basic towing tips from the "horse people"

1) What kind of brakes do I need on my trailer and why?

31 states require brakes on at least one axle (2-wheel brakes) on trailers over 3000 lbs. GVW and 11 states require brakes on both axles (4-wheel brakes) on trailers over 3000 lbs. GVW. In addition, 3 of those states that require brakes on trailers over 3000 lbs., require 4 wheel brakes on trailers over 4,000 lbs. The remaining states that do not require brakes per se have regulations that require the ability to stop the combination without sway from a specified speed over a specified distance.

Trailers come equipped with several different types of brakes, but electric brakes are the most common type. When the brakes are adjusted properly, stepping on the tow vehicle brake pedal activates the trailer brakes just slightly after the tow vehicle brakes are activated. Because there is a control box located on the dashboard within reach of the driver, it is possible to activate the brakes from the driver's seat without stepping on the brake pedal in the tow vehicle. If the trailer starts to sway out of control while you are driving, you can work the trailer brakes by hand and gain control of the trailer without braking your vehicle.

There are other types of brakes such as surge or hydraulic brakes, which are activated when the trailer pushes up against the vehicle when it slows down. These types of brakes are usually legal, but may not be legal in the states that require the brake to be able to be activated from the driver's seat

Those who believe that brakes are not necessary for a trailer are asking for trouble. Besides increasing the chance of an accident, there are fines for driving with illegal equipment. Even if you never get stopped and checked, if you have an accident, your liability will be increased and you may be held at fault for the accident. You, or other drivers on the road may be injured or killed. It's just like wearing a seatbelt or a riding helmet. You may think you don't need it until its too late!

2) What is a breakaway brake?

A breakaway brake is an independent device located on the coupler of the trailer that activates the trailer brakes if the trailer should come off the tow vehicle. To be legal, it must be equipped with a fully charged battery that will engage the trailer brakes for 15 minutes. A removable pin on the battery box is attached to a cable that is hooked onto the tow vehicle. If the trailer pulls free, the pin pulls out and the breakaway device activates the trailer brake. The cable should be attached to the frame of the vehicle or to the permanent part of the hitch, not to the ball or ball mount since either of these parts may also pull free with the trailer and the brakes will not be activated.. At least seventeen states require a breakaway brake on recreational trailers, although some states have a "grandfather" clause that exempts older trailers.

Even if it is not required in your state, it is a good idea to have your trailer so equipped.

3) Are safety chains really necessary?

Forty-six states require safety chains on tag-along trailers and 29 of those states also require them on gooseneck trailers. The remaining states strongly recommend safety chains. The safety chains should be attached to the frame of the vehicle or to the frame-mounted hitch. They should be crossed underneath to catch the trailer in a sort of cradle if the trailer comes off the ball. The chains should not touch the ground and they should be long enough to allow the trailer to turn corners without pulling. Trailers do come off, especially if they have not been properly hitched or if equipment fails. Don't take a chance - use safety chains!

4) I see people hauling with illegal equipment and really scary looking trailers. Why are they allowed to get away with it?

The officers who enforce the laws are not always interested in trailers unless there has already been an accident, so sometimes it seems that they let some really dangerous vehicles go by. However, things are not always as they seem, because people do get stopped and when they do, the fines can be heavy. Unfortunately, if these people continue on the road, they will probably eventually cause someone to get hurt or killed.

5) What is the difference between GVW, GVWR, GCVWR, and GW?

GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) and GW (Gross Weight) are interchangeable terms meaning the actual weight of the vehicle (trailer) and its complete load. This weight can be determined by loading the horses, tack, feed, and hay etc. into the fully equipped trailer (mats, spare tire, etc.) and taking it to a truck scale to have it weighed. Most gravel yards or truck stops have truck scales.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weigh Rating) is the value specified by the manufacturer as the recommended maximum loaded weight of a single vehicle. For a trailer this value is determined by the axle capacity and the coupler capacity. For example, a trailer will be rated at 5000 lbs. GVWR by the manufacturer if it has two 2500 lb. axles and a 2 inch ball coupler that is rated 5000 lbs. Loading the trailer to excess of the GVWR is not only unsafe, but is illegal.

GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) is the value specified by the manufacturer as the recommended maximum loaded weight of a combination of vehicles. (The GVWR of the tow vehicle plus the GVWR of the trailer.) In the absence of a value specified by the manufacturer, GCVWR will be determined by adding the GVWR of the power unit and the total weight of the towed unit and any load thereon.

6) Why is it important to know the GVWR or the GW of my vehicle and trailer?

Most states require trailers to be registered by weight. Some states require registration by GVWR or GVW whichever is greater and some states require unladen weight. Other states have a dividing weight that determines license plate classification. Whichever your state requires, you must know the weight of your trailer. In most cases, if the weight of your rig exceeds the weight on the registration, you can be cited.

The weight of your trailer is also important in choosing the proper tow vehicle.

7) I have never stopped at a weigh station.....

Each state has a different weigh station policy.... sometimes even non-commercial vehicles must pull in.
Most of the time, the weigh station personnel will be too busy with big trucks to bother with you and they will probably wave you on. Any sign that says "Vehicles with Trailers" .... means you must pull in. If you do not stop, they may pursue you and bring you back. The fines can be very steep and you can be held for a very inconvenient period of time.

As I always say: you never learn too much about towing. Even if you are not hauling horses.

Now for more reading, I recommend as your next step:

Towing equipment basics started by Craig , which has some great pictures of hitches, and my FAQ on towing
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Old 04-21-2003, 06:56 PM   #2
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Safety Chains

A friend asked me to help tow a boat to Florida from Ohio, a couple of years ago. When we transfered the boat from my truck to his, he did not hook the safety chains up. I asked him why. His reply, "If that thing comes unhooked, I don't want it banging into the back of my truck, smashing my bumper all up!" This guy is quite a charactor. I had to haul a load of steel for him in one of his tractor-trailer rigs. I asked him what I should do if I had a flat, as there was no spare tires at all. His witty reply, "If you see a board with a nail sticking up, lying in the road, drive around it, not over it". I only hauled that one load and quit. It takes all kinds.
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Old 08-23-2004, 10:12 PM   #3
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I am looking for a new/used 19-25' Airstream. Any suggestions/comments on tow vehicles/brakes.
Comments on single or dual axles. Comments about suspension problems with the Airstream units. Comments about Toyota Sequoia as towing vehicles.
Do Airstreams include the "breakaway brakes" as a std feature or an option?
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:05 AM   #4
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Some towing Q & A for newbies

Greetings baldeagle6!

Welcome to the Forums!

Originally Posted by baldeagle6
I am looking for a new/used 19-25' Airstream. Any suggestions/comments on tow vehicles/brakes.
Comments on single or dual axles. Comments about suspension problems with the Airstream units. Comments about Toyota Sequoia as towing vehicles.
Do Airstreams include the "breakaway brakes" as a std feature or an option?
1.) All recent Airstream trailers have electric trailer brakes, and some from the mid-to-late-1970s even have Excella HydraVac Disc Brakes. You will need an electric brake controller for your tow vehicle. There are a number of quality electric brake controllers available, but you will find that the three preferred by many Forum members include: Tekonshao Prodigy Brake Controller, Jordan Brake Controller, or MasterBrake brake controller. I have been towing for a number of years, and prefer a controller with a cable-mounted remote control so I have utilized the Hayes-Lemmerz Energize XPC Brake Controller for a number of years, and have been quite satisfied with its performance.

2.) The Henschen DuraTorque axles used on Airstream products, are quite durable but do wear out. You can learn more about checking out the condition of DuraTorque axles on a coach at the Inland RV DuraTorque Axle information page. Inactivity can contribute to axle "failure" as well as use - - a trailer that has sat for years with its entire weight resting on the axles can have bad axles just as a coach that has been towed tens of thousands of miles - - it is one of those areas that MUST be checked-out on a used or Vintage coach.

3.) The question of tandem (dual) or single axles is more one of personal preference. Airstreams tend to be very well-balanced coaches regardless of size, so the question becomes one of personal preference. The single axle coaches do tend to be a bit more prone to sway, but not to a large degree in my experience - - the key in towing stability is to have an adequate tow vehicle with a properly adjusted weight distributing hitch with sway control of your preference. After owning Brand X RVs for a number of years, I felt that a tandem axle coach was necessary for an enjoyable trailering experience; my Minuet has convinced me that a well-balanced coach makes all of the difference - - it tows with greater stability than some of the Brand X tandem axle coaches that I have towed.

4.) In regard to the Toyota Sequoia as a tow vehicle, you will need to ascertain precisely what the factory trailer tow rating is for your vehicle. Your dealer and/or owners' manual should be able to assist you in this regard. The typical consensus of Forum members is that loading a tow vehicle to no more than 80% of its factory trailer tow rating will result in a more satisfactory trailer towing experience. You can find the factory empty weights for most Airstreams at Airstream Weights and Measures. The thing to remember about the Empty Weights listed is that they reflect a base coach with no optional equipment or accessories - - to get an idea of the actual towing weight you will need to add between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds to the Empty Weight - - for those coaches where a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is listed, this reflects that maximum weight to which the trailer may be loaded.

5.) Airstream have had breakaway brake activators since sometime in the 1960s. It is one of the features that does require some maintenance and may need to be replaced on ocassion.

Good luck with your research!

Kevin D. Allen
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1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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