Trailer Towing

Print a Sign-In SheetSpanish Version Coming SoonTrailer Towing Vehicles

Towing a trailer is no small responsibility and should be undertaken with great care and an eye toward safety first. The elements of a trailering system are the driver, tow vehicle, hitch system, and trailer and load. However, the most important element is you the driver.

Matching Vehicle to Trailer

For trailers without brakes, ensure that the weight of the trailer and load doesn’t exceed the weight of the towing vehicle.

For trailers with brakes, the weight of the trailer and load may exceed the weight of towing vehicles depending on the trailer design and recommendations of the trailer manufacturer.

Match Hitch System Components

The hitching components must be matched to the weight rating and sizing of these components. Each component is labeled with weight ratings, and the ball diameter is labeled on the ball and trailer coupler.

Safety chains are permanently connected to the trailer tongue and are connected to the towing unit hitch. Remember, the hitch system is only as strong as the weakest link.

Proper Hookup

Do not get distracted until the hook‐up is complete. Attach the trailer tongue to the ball on the hitch. Couplers either have a hand wheel or latch style that must be tightened or secured. After the handwheel or latch is tightened, lift up on the tongue or push the trailer backwards, then recheck handwheel or latch and tighten if necessary.

Safety chains must be crisscrossed then routed through holes on the hitch. Adjust slack in the chains so you can still turn without binding while also making sure the chains do not drag on the ground. Then secure the chain hooks to the chain.

Hook up the light wiring from the trailer to the tow unit, and check the trailer lights to be sure all are working. The lights that need to be checked include running lights, turn signals, and brake lights.

Before starting, and at each fuel stop, inspect the hitch assembly, safety chains, lights, and tire pressure. While driving if you hear unusual noises or suspect something might be wrong, stop at a safe location and correct any defect.

Proper Loading

Loading the trailer on the front half will prevent swaying and whipping. Trailer cargo should be loaded 60% front and 40% rear. Cargo should be secured to prevent shifting and keep the cargo on the front half of the trailer.

Negative tongue weight is created by loading the trailer too heavy on the rear. This condition is an extremely dangerous practice because it tends to make the trailer turn away from the direction in which it is traveling. This phenomenon is known as “WHIPPING” and is violent, dangerous and uncontrollable. Whipping occurs rarely, but when it does, it is almost always a result of failure to load the trailer heavier in front.

Trailers can be made to have zero stability by balancing the trailer and its load directly over the wheels. This is the zero-tongue-weight condition and is a very dangerous practice because no stability means no resistance to lateral deflection and no self-centering capability. The trailer will sway indefinitely until the speed of the vehicle is reduced.

Slow Down

Always reduce your driving speed when towing a trailer. The maximum speed for a car/pickup and trailer combination is 55 MPH. Towing a trailer increases the risk of losing control of the towing unit because of crosswinds, poor roads, and weather conditions. If whipping does occur, take your foot off the gas pedal and hold the steering wheel in a straight-ahead position. Never brake hard or speed up as this will make the whipping worse. Because of the weight of the trailer, braking and following distances must be increased.

Backing Up

Always get assistance when backing a trailer. Assistants can motion to direct you as well as watch for pedestrians or obstacles. If no one is available to assist you, take the time to get out of your vehicle and ensure you have a clear path to your destination.

Backing a trailer can be difficult and sometimes confusing. Place your left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, look over your shoulder through the rear window, if you want to move the trailer to the left, move your hand to the left. If you want the trailer to go to the right, move your hand to the right. If the trailer jackknifes, pull ahead, straighten out, and try again.

Parking and securing the unit

Try to park so you don’t have to back out when leaving a parked position.

When it’s time to disconnect the trailer, ensure you have the wheels chocked to prevent unintentional movement before unhitching the trailer. Once the unit has been secured, it is safe to unhitch the trailer from the vehicle.


KEMI does not assume liability for the content of information contained herein. Safety and health remain your responsibility. This information is to be used for informational purposes only and not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for proper training, supervision or manufacturers’ instructions/recommendations. KEMI, by publication of this information, does not assume liability for damage or injury arising from reliance upon it. Compliance with this information is not a guarantee or warranty that you will be in conformity with any laws or regulations nor does it ensure the absolute safety of any person, place or object, including, but not limited to, you, your occupation, employees, customers or place of business.