Trucks Towing Trailers – who is responsible for what?

This article was written by a human being, NOT by Artificial Intelligence AI.

I am a truck guy by nature and my job involves trucks too. When it comes to safely towing a 3-ton plus travel trailer or 5th wheel trailer down the road you need to have a truck that can safely and properly do the job. Most RV owners understand the importance of purchasing a truck that can do the job, but trailer towing is a confusing topic and there are numerous concerns and issues that need to be addressed.

Purchasing the wrong vehicle to tow a travel trailer, Sport Utility Trailer, or 5th wheel trailer can be an expensive and sometimes dangerous proposition. More times than not a customer’s purchase decisions are based solely on a truck or SUV’s published tow capacity.

I have been an expert witness in numerous cases involving improperly matched trailers and tow vehicles, improper hitch components to safely tow a trailer, and other towing related cases. Unfortunately numerous people involved lost their lives.

My business is educating folks on how to safely and properly use and maintain RVs. I tow trailers and car haulers all over the country. And after writing numerous books on every RV topic imaginable, and producing hundreds of videos on how to use and maintain RVs I know a little about safe towing procedures. Prior to doing what I do now I was a US Army CW3, Automotive Maintenance Technician. I specialized in fleet maintenance and vehicle recovery operations. The soldiers I was responsible for towed and recovered everything from ¼ ton Jeeps to main battle tanks weighing in excess of 60 tons. Another element of my job was educating young soldiers on how to drive the vehicles we used to tow trailers and recover heavy equipment with. We had vehicles that were rated to do all of these jobs, and it was my job to make sure soldiers were using the proper vehicles and equipment to safely complete a towing and recovery mission.

So, needless to say, I take this stuff seriously. I will caution you, when you watch videos on YouTube or purchase RV training videos or courses on trailer towing topics, make sure the training is from a reliable resource. I cant tell you how poor and misinformed some of the training is that I see, and often it is from organizations people think they can trust. Do your due diligence!

If you view “who is responsible for what” as a pie chart everyone involved in purchasing and safely towing a trailer is responsible for an equal piece of the pie. This includes the consumer, vehicle manufacturer, RV dealer and the trailer manufacturer, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The Consumer: Safely towing a trailer is a confusing topic, but the consumer has a responsibility to research and be informed on what is involved in purchasing and safely towing a trailer. It goes without saying the consumer should be able to depend on the vehicle manufacturer, trailer manufacturer and
the selling dealership, but that is not always the case. This is why it’s important for the consumer to share in the responsibility.

Research, research & research some more. I always tell people to find the trailer you want before shopping for the tow vehicle. This way, you are assured the vehicle is capable of safely towing the trailer even when fully loaded. If you already have the tow vehicle you need to find a trailer the tow vehicle can safely tow.

I highly recommend, researching, reading books and/or watching reputable videos and get enrolled in some RV training videos to learn more about vehicle and trailer weight ratings and safe trailer towing procedures. Remember what I said earlier about vetting the information prior to trusting the source!

The Vehicle Manufacturer: I discuss this topic a lot and it is evident there are some problem areas here. It is my opinion that truck and SUV manufacturers have a responsibility that goes far beyond
simply selling vehicles. They owe it to the person who puts their family’s safety in a vehicle to tow a 6 or 8 thousand pound trailer down the road. Not only should the vehicle be tested and assigned a safe tow rating, based on a minimum of the SAE J2807 towing standard. Truck dealerships and sales representatives who sell these vehicles should be trained and held accountable too. They all share a responsibility to help educate consumers on a vehicle’s true towing capabilities. Unfortunately lots of sales reps do not understand towing topics. I can tell you numerous, and almost unbelievable stories, about things that vehicle sales representatives tell people when they are buying a truck or SUV with towing in mind. One example of this was a customer asking the salesperson what a particular vehicle’s tow rating was and the salesperson pointed to the label on the hitch receiver and said 10,000 pounds. When they came to me to purchase a travel trailer I had to explain the hitch receiver on the vehicle was rated for 10,000 pounds, but based on the vehicle’s configuration the towing guide stated the tow capacity was only 6,400 pounds. They already purchased the truck, and were forced to find a travel trailer within the truck’s tow capacity. If the sales rep is not knowledgeable on towing topics ask for someone who is, or try another dealership.

The RV Dealership: RV dealers are responsible for educating and training their sales and service personnel on every aspect and topic involved with safe trailer towing procedures. A well trained RV dealer staff can help educate potential owners on a safe and proper vehicle and trailer combination, and ensure the owner has the proper hitch components to safely and properly tow the trailer down the road. When I was an RV sales manager, I conducted weekly training for my sales staff, and I required every salesperson
to verify the tow rating on every customer’s vehicle prior to showing a client any trailers on the lot. We lost sales because of this, but we never sold a trailer to a person with a vehicle that could not safely tow it. If the RV sales rep is not knowledgeable on towing topics ask for someone who is, or try another dealership. A reputable RV dealership will have a knowledgeable sales staff, and certified RV technicians.

The Trailer Manufacturer: The trailer manufacturer has a responsibility to build a safe product. This involves numerous variables. Components used on the trailer like axles, brakes, tires, and the trailer frame itself need to be rated for the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of the trailer. There needs to be proper weight distribution and the proper percentage of trailer tongue weight versus total trailer weight. RV manufacturers need to be transparent with all weights and weight ratings concerning the trailer so
the buyer can make a well informed buying decision.

In a perfect world every entity involved would take responsibility for their collective piece of the pie, but it’s easy to see we still have a long way to go. I mentioned earlier there are no easy solutions to 100% safe towing procedures, and there may never be. It is similar to the links in a chain. If every link in a chain is solid the chain is strong, but as soon as one link in the chain is damaged or broken the chain is weakened. I don’t have a solution to solve all of these concerns, but I can bring some awareness to the subject. There is a lot involved, but in my opinion the number one problem to safe towing is properly matching the tow vehicle to the trailer.

In an effort to provide a very basic solution, and help make up for any weak links in the chain; I always tell folks the tow vehicle’s tow rating should equal or exceed the trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). There is a substantial difference between a trailer’s unloaded or empty weight and the trailer’s GVWR. If the tow vehicle rating exceeds the trailer’s GVWR it means the tow vehicle is rated to tow the trailer even if the trailer is fully loaded to maximum capacity, at least on paper. This is a very basic formula and you need to consider all factors involved when you attempt to safely match a tow vehicle to a trailer. If you would like to learn more about these and other RV topics RV Education 101 is here to help.

Happy Camping,
Mark Polk
RV Education 101

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