5 Tow Vehicle Checks to make prior to Towing a Trailer

Towing a trailer adds stress and strain on the tow vehicle. Components like the engine, transmission and rear axle run hotter when you tow a trailer. Suspension components and tires are under more stress from the additional weight, and the tow vehicle brakes work harder to slow and stop the additional weight. Therefore, it’s important to check the tow vehicle out prior to towing a trailer.

Here are five tow vehicle checks you should always make before towing a trailer:

Check all fluid levels. I mentioned a moment ago components on the tow vehicle run hotter when you tow a trailer. Fluids like engine oil, transmission fluid, and antifreeze help lubricate moving parts and help keep components cooler. If a fluid level is low, you risk overheating or failure of a major component o the tow vehicle. Check the engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering, engine coolant, windshield washer reservoir and the brake fluid. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for proper fluid levels. If a fluid level is low, try to determine why and correct the problem before driving or towing with the vehicle.

Check the tow vehicle tires and inflate them based on the load. Inspect the tires for any obvious damage like unusual tire wear patterns and sun damage. If you notice a problem have the tires inspected by a professional prior to towing. Check the inflation pressure in the tires. It should be set according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. But when you are towing a trailer more weight is added from the trailer’s tongue and from weight distribution if you are using a weight distribution hitch. The inflation pressure in the tires needs to be adjusted for this additional weight. You can go online and search for the tire manufacturer’s load and inflation table to see how much air is required in the tires based on weights.

Check all the tow vehicle and trailer lights. It’s important all the lights on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating properly to let other drivers know your intentions while towing the trailer. Plug the trailer cord into the tow vehicle and check the running lights, turn signals, four-way flashers and the brake lights. Start the tow vehicle and check all gauges for proper operation. If you do not have a transmission temperature gauge and/or a differential temperature gauge I recommend adding them. They can act as an early warning device, like your other gauges, if a component is starting to overheat.

Inspect the hitch receiver on the tow vehicle and all the hitch components for loose or broken hardware and for any cracked or broken welds. Inspect the hitch ball, the ball mount, the weight distributing bars and the sway control prior to towing the trailer. If you discover a problem, do not tow a trailer until the damaged towing component is repaired. Hitch the trailer to the tow vehicle and double check all hitch work to ensure it is properly set-up for towing.

Do a trailer brake check to make sure the trailer brakes are operating properly. Release the parking brake if it is engaged. Put the tow vehicle in drive and slowly start to pull the trailer. Hit the brake pedal and you should feel the trailer brakes engage and stop the trailer. Do not tow the trailer if there is a problem with the trailer brakes.

These are five checks you should always make prior to towing a trailer with your tow vehicle. It’s a good idea to develop a pre-trip checklist for both the tow vehicle and the trailer. That way you will never forget or overlook an important item prior to leaving on a trip. For more information on using and maintaining your RV visit rvonlinetraining.com

Happy Camping,
Mark Polk
RV Education 101
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