TodayApril 16, 2022

Ten things to know before you tow

Top ten things to know before you tow

We have an eclectic group of friends with many different interests: some of them including towing and hauling animals and cars.

Ed owns the Aerocar, the 1958 Moult Taylor designed flying car. Ed has two sons, one lives in Florida, the other in Auburn, CA. Both sons are avid airplane pilots and are in the airplane business. The Aerocar is a part of history that has to be transported by a trailer that resembles a Barnum and Bailey type trailer.

Our neighbor, Sheri, rides horses and is part of the search and rescue group for the Western States Trails Endurance race. This entails driving her Dodge Ram 1500 crew cab – along with a horse trailer – up some narrow roads, maneuvering into tight spaces and unloading 1,500-pound horses that tower over Sheri by about 5 hands, the way a horse is measured.

The biggest rig my husband, Stretch, had driven prior to a month ago, was a 1974 Toyota Chinook pop-up camper affectionately called The Pig. Yet Sheri called him the day of the race, clearly desperate, and asked him to drive her rig up to Foresthill, CA because one of the crew members had bailed out.

Driving the Nation

Sheri’s Ram with a horse trailer

A couple of weeks later, Stretch helped Ed out by towing his Aerocar trailer from Auburn, CA to Denver, CO. The topography is steep, long, dry and hot, sometimes all of those things together.

What did Stretch learn from driving large vehicles that were towing even larger vehicles?

1. Perform a pre-flight check on your vehicle

Stretch is a homebuilt airplane pilot and before he ever takes off in his T-18 he has a checklist that he goes through. He recommends doing the same for these big vehicles ensuring all the oils are topped off and the tires are at the correct weight and all the lights work.

2. Practice driving the vehicle

Stretch didn’t get much time behind the wheel of either vehicle before he took off, but he practiced backing up, parking and turning a corner before he left.. His proudest moment was when he pulled into a truck stop and backed up between two 18-wheelers without any issues.

3. Carry emergency equipment

Making sure you have a spare tire is great, but do you have the equipment to change a tire when there is a full load on the vehicle? Both times Stretch drove the vehicles there were flat tires.

Luckily, Sheri and her son, Tom, were on board the Ram/horse trailer. Sheri had a spare tire and a homemade truck ramp that allowed them to back up the trailer and position one wheel on the ramp and change the other wheel. That device is a must-have for people who are towing!

Driving the Nation

Sheri’s homemade ramp – put one wheel on the ramp and change the other tire

And they can be purchased, as Stretch found out when he got a flat on I-80 on a hill in the middle of nowhere towing the Aerocar. Ed had purchased a steel truck ramp that allowed Stretch to fix the tire all by himself.

4. Watch your energy level and the truck’s energy level

When Stretch got the flat tire it was late in the day. He was able to pull safely to the side of the road and opted to wait overnight to fix the tire in the cool morning breeze.

5. Know the towing capacity of the vehicle

If the towing capacity of your vehicle says 8,000, keep it under 8,000. You’re asking too much of a vehicle to tow a trailer up a grade when the temperature is 95. The driver can do everything, including turning off the air conditioning, but at some point, the truck will tell you enough!

6. Use the right hitch

A lot of vehicles come with manufacturer equipped towing packages. If it didn’t you need to purchase a hitch that fit’s the ball on your truck and matches your vehicle’s towing capacity and the load you are carrying.

7. Are all brakes in sync and all brake lights working?

Before Stretch took off with the Aerocar he was told to make sure the trailer lights worked. He learned that cops were cracking down on drivers whose trailer lights didnt work in sync with the truck lights. doing the towing.

8. Carry emergency equipment for you and your gear

Most towing is done in the summertime when the temperatures can be extreme. Before you leave, make sure you have enough water to drink and that your vehicle has enough water in case it overheats in the wilderness. Stretch saw more than one sign that said “Fill up. There are no stations for the next 60 miles..” Those are warnings that need to be heeded.

9. Weight distribution/center of gravity

Have you ever been on a small plane and been asked to change seats before take-off? Weight distribution/center of gravity is a real thing. If you have to make a fast turn or brake hard and your center of gravity is off, you could lose control or your trailer could come unhitched.

10. Don’t be a bonehead

Take more stops than you need to, gas up when you can. Don’t drive as fast as youd like, instead listen to the sound of your engine and watch the temperature on your instrument panel.

Driving the Nation

The airplane to the right of the trailer looks small in comparison to the van and trailer

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.