RV Articles

Basics for Towing Safety

When most people think of RVing, they think of the freedom of the open road. They think of heading off into wide-open spaces without any limitations on where they can go or what they'll see on their journey.

But mobility and maneuverability can be difficult with motor coaches as large as 45 feet. To make the most of their travel experiences, a growing number of RVers are towing additional vehicles-referred to affectionately as "toads"-for use once they've reached their destination.

Although a towed vehicle can eliminate the worries of how to get to the grocery store or to that sightseeing destination, towing an additional vehicle behind a motor coach also brings with it a slew of different problems if not done properly and safely. There are two types of considerations when it comes to towing safety. First of all, both federal and state laws dictate certain standards for towing, like weight restrictions and required equipment. Secondly, there are safety measures beyond what the government requires that can make your adventure more worry-free if you employ them.

One measure that the law requires when towing is that you have at least two safety cables or chains. The safety cables must be attached to the motor coach and the towed unit and must be crossed under the tow bar assembly to help prevent a breakaway. Your safety cables must be rated in the same class as your tow bar. For example, if your vehicle requires a Class IV tow bar, it will also be necessary to purchase Class IV-rated safety cables as well.

The base plate, which must be installed on the vehicle being towed, is another necessity for safe towing. The base plate should properly designed and, like the tow bar and safety cables, properly rated for the weight of the vehicle being towed. It is also imperative that the base plate be bolted to the vehicle, rather than welded to the frame.

The law also requires that the towed vehicle have operable lights. The lights should be wired to operate from the motor coach and must include brake lights, turn indicators, and running lights while traveling at night.

Laws can vary from state to state. For example, in Georgia, if you use a tow dolly and the rear of your vehicle extends four feet beyond the lights on the dolly, you must use some type of lighting on the rear of the towed vehicle itself. You cannot use the dolly's lights to satisfy this requirement. Check with your state to make sure you are staying within its guidelines. You could stop there and still be within the bounds of the law.

But to ensure the highest level of safety, you should take the next step. Many operators incorrectly interpret the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) to mean the amount of weight the coach has been designed to stop. The GCWR is a term borrowed from the trucking industry, where it was assumed that the trailer had its own brakes. The radiator, transmission, engine, and suspension have been designed to pull this amount of weight without damage. However, the brakes have been designed to stop the vehicle up to an amount equaling the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) plus the manufacturer's additional allowance (usually 1,000 to 1,500 lbs.). If the actual combined weight of your motorhome and tow vehicle exceed the GVWR plus the allowance, you are compromising your safety if you do not have a supplemental braking system installed.

Although not all states require a breakaway system for towed vehicles, experts agree that it is highly advisable to have one. The purpose of the breakaway option is to bring the towed vehicle to a stop if it becomes separated from the motor coach. Most manufacturers offer breakaway systems as an additional option to supplemental braking systems.

In addition to having the right equipment, keeping your equipment maintained and in good working condition is also important. Proper maintenance can enhance performance and extend the years of use. Manufacturers offer accessories-like tow bar covers and protection shields-to help protect your towing equipment and vehicle.

Following are some quick tips to follow for the safest towing experience possible:

    • Don't cut corners when purchasing your equipment-make sure the quality and performance meet the highest standards.
    • Do a walk-around inspection at every stop to spot any potential problems before you get back on the road.
    • When hooking up the towed vehicle, make sure the tow bar is almost perfectly horizontal.
    • Don't back up when your towed vehicle is hooked up to your coach-you could damage both the front end of the towed vehicle and the tow bar.
    • Teach your traveling companion the basics of unhooking the towed vehicle, in case an accident requires that this be done.

Towing a vehicle when you travel in your RV can be very convenient-if it's done safely. Make safety a priority. Take the extra step to make your RVing experiences all that they should be. 

Disclaimer: The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.

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