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