RV Towing – Do’s and Don’ts

Going on your first RV adventure is incredibly exciting. That said, it can also be nerve-wracking. And one of the things first-timers get most nervous about? Towing their trailer or fifth wheels, or towing a car behind their motorhome. 

If you’ve never towed anything before owning an RV, you may be wondering what you need to know to do so safely. Well, the fact that you’re looking for this information is a wonderful start. 

There is a lot to know about towing an RV safely. However, it’s nothing you can’t learn, and we’re sure that by taking in the info below and applying it to your shopping, prepping, and driving, you’ll be cruising safely down the highway in a rig of your own in no time at all. 

What to Know When Shopping for a Rig

The first thing you’ll need to do when prepping for an RV adventure? Buy a rig, of course! Believe it or not, the first steps to towing safely actually come into play during the RV shopping process. Make sure you know these things below before you begin looking for your home-on-wheels. 

Weight and Towing Capacities are Important

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that truck and motorhome towing capacities are incredibly important and should always be followed. In fact, we recommend staying well under your towing capacity if possible. 

Additionally, you should know that 1) dry trailer weight is not the same as the weight of a loaded trailer, 2) the cargo carrying capacity of a trailer or motorhome should never be pushed, and 3) that passengers count toward the total weight of your motorhome and against the gross combined weight of your truck. Finally, you will want to 4) understand tongue weight and make sure you know the tongue weight limits of your truck or motorhome. 

Buy Your Trailer Before Your Tow Vehicle

If you plan to get a bumper pull or fifth wheel, we highly recommend purchasing your trailer before you buy your truck. This will ensure you can get the trailer you want and need without needing to compromise due to weight restrictions. Once the trailer is purchased, look for a truck to match (or exceed) it.

Decide How You Will Pull Your “Toad”

Planning to go the motorhome route? If you will be pulling a tow car (aka your “toad”), you will need to decide whether you prefer to flat-tow or dolly-tow. Only some cars can be flat-towed safely, so if that’s your preferred towing method, make sure your car of choice can be flat-towed. Likewise, not all cars should be towed two-wheels-down. 

Once you decide which towing option you prefer, do some research to decide what dolly or flat-tow setup suits your rig and budget.

Get the Correct Hitch Setup

No matter what you’re towing or what you’re using to tow, the right hitch can make all the difference in the world. While small trailers can use a simple weight-carrying hitch, larger bumper pulls will likely require a weight-distributing hitch. Fifth wheel drivers will need to find a fifth wheel hitch that works for their rig, and as mentioned before, those pulling a car behind a motorhome will need to make sure they have a towing setup that suits them. 

Look for Trailer Brakes

Most RVs and tow dollies come with a braking system, and those who choose to flat-tow will need to install a braking system on their car.

Unless you will be towing a very small, lightweight trailer, we really don’t recommend towing without brakes. Therefore, you will need to ensure whatever trailer you buy has working brakes. You’ll also need to make sure your tow vehicle has a trailer braking system (or get one installed aftermarket).

Before You Tow

Once you have the perfect RV, you will need to get it set up and ready to roll. This is a process, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get everything you need, install things correctly, and learn the ropes before it’s time to hit the road. 

Invest in Good Insurance

Obviously, the goal is to never be involved in an accident. That said, sometimes accidents are unavoidable. Make sure you invest in good insurance before hitting the road so you can rest easy knowing you are covered if something should go wrong. 

Learn How to Hitch Up Properly

You might have the right trailer and tow vehicle combination. You might even have a great hitch for your rig. However, having these things doesn’t mean you know how to use them properly. Learn how to properly use your hitch and practice, practice, practice until hitching up is no longer a challenge:

For dolly towing, refer to the instructions provided by your dolly manufacturer. 

Grab Some Extended Mirrors

If you’ll be towing a large trailer or fifth wheel, regular truck mirrors likely won’t cut it. Invest in some extended mirrors made for towing in order to ensure you can see everything you need to see when making decisions out on the road. 

Install a TPMS

Having a tire blowout while towing is no fun at all and can be damaging or even dangerous. Do your best to avoid these issues by installing a tire pressure monitoring system on your trailer so you’ll be alerted of any tire issues while driving. 

Know How to Pack

The way you pack an RV can make all the difference in the world, keeping your RV from swaying side to side as you drive. Generally speaking, the goal is to pack in such a way that weight is evenly distributed from side to side with about 60% of its cargo sitting in front of the front axle. Placing the heaviest items near the axle can also help keep everything balanced well. 

Once everything is packed, check trailer tongue weight as well as the overall RV weight (head to a truck scale at a truck stop) to make sure you’re within the safe limits. 

Research Your Route

Doing a little bit of research before you leave can save you a lot of trouble down the road. Use a trucker’s atlas to ensure you won’t be driving under any low bridges or on any steep grades. We recommend using an RV or truck GPS such as the Garmin RV 785. Another option? Get an app such as RV Life to help you navigate safely. 

Check Lights, Tires, and Brakes 

Once you’re hitched up safely, you’ll want to check all your lights, making sure the turn signals, brake lights, and tail and running lights are all in working order. You will also want to test and adjust the trailer brake controller if necessary and take a close look at the tires, looking out for any unusual wear, bubbling, or other potential issues. 

Check these things before driving every single time you tow!

Do a Walk Around

Last but not least, you will always, always want to do a final walk around before you tow your RV. Look at the hitch, safety chains, trailer plug, storage bays, and make sure everything looks ready to go. You might be surprised what things you can miss in earlier stages of the hitching process, even with some road experience under your belt.

Pro tip: You might even put together a running checklist you can reference each time to make sure nothing goes amiss.

Tips for Towing Safely

With your setup put together, you’re ready to start your adventure. Of course, there are some things you will need to do while towing to ensure you are staying as safe as possible. 

Practice First

Before you hop on the highway, give yourself a chance to get used to towing. Head to an empty parking lot near your home and practice making turns and stops with the RV. If you’re towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel, practice backing in. (Never try to back up when towing a car with a motorhome!) Give yourself a chance to really get a feel for driving the thing before heading out on a low-traffic road to practice some more. 

Remember to Make Wide Turns

One of the most common mistakes people make when towing an RV? Making sharp turns. Remember that your turn radius is terrible when towing, and you’ll need to adjust accordingly, giving yourself plenty of room to make wide turns. 

Take It Slow

The faster you drive, the less control you have over a vehicle. This applies to RVs just as much as any other vehicle, and since RVs aren’t always the easiest vehicle to control in the first place, taking it slow is definitely a good idea.

Generally speaking, we don’t recommend towing faster than 55–60 mph, and we often find ourselves going slower than that if driving in bad weather or mountainous areas. 

Leave a Gap

As long as you pay attention to weight capacities on your rig, you should definitely be able to stop when towing your RV. That said, even when you stay well under weight restrictions, you will still be driving a large, heavy vehicle with a ton of momentum behind it, and stopping will still take longer than it would in a smaller vehicle.

Always leave a large gap between yourself and the person in front of you, giving yourself plenty of space to stop if you should hit a traffic jam suddenly. 

Avoid Driving in Wind and Rain when Possible

Our last bit of advice? Avoid driving in high winds and heavy rain whenever possible. Towing in either of these weather conditions is unsafe.

If you absolutely must tow in the rain, consider using RainX to improve visibility. Slowing down will help in both the wind and the rain, and giving yourself plenty of breaks is a good idea since driving in adverse weather is tiring.

Hopefully these tips and tricks help you enjoy your RV travels while keeping you safe. We’re sure you’re going to have an amazing time exploring the world, and as you drive down the road to your next destinations, you’ll almost certainly be thankful you took the time to learn how to do so safely.