Tips for Towing Your Boat or Trailer

Do Your Homework Before You Tow

towing trailers campers and boats

Towing Tips for Trailers, Boats and Campers

Towing a boat, camper or just about any kind of trailer requires that you first do a little homework. There are important factors to consider before you tow anything behind your truck! First and foremost is the maximum weight your truck or vehicle is rated to tow. If you’re unsure, you can contact the dealer, check your owner’s manual or search the internet to find your vehicles tow weight rating.

Experience has taught me that you should calculate some leeway into the load you’re towing based on the maximum weight ratings the manufacturer has given your vehicle. Many manufacturers are known to “stretch the truth” with the calculations. As a general rule of thumb I advise customers: ½ ton trucks (1500 series) can tow up to 5,000 lbs comfortably while ¾ to 1 ton are designed for approximately 7500 lbs. Your truck may be able to tow more but it will cause extreme stress on the engine, transmission, and driveline components.

Another consideration is the grade level of the road where you will be towing your boat, camper or trailer. A Ford Explorer can get away with towing a 4000 lb trailer in “flat” Illinois but will struggle immensely on a steep grade if you’re traveling in the mountains.

Keep your tow vehicle in peak operating condition for maximum reliability

Your vehicle’s fluids are under tremendous stress while towing a trailer. I always recommend using full synthetic engine oil and rear axle fluid in your tow truck or vehicle. Synthetic fluids are designed to handle the extreme heat generated while towing over extended periods of time, where conventional fluids will begin to “break down”.

I don’t usually recommend synthetic transmission fluid. Most manufacturers require specific transmission fluid which may have special additives engineered for your transmission. Switching from manufacturer specs to anything else can spell disaster.

You should also clean any debris from your radiator fins as this will affect heat transfer. It may never show a problem under normal driving conditions but can cause overheating when put under high temperature stress. Cooling fans and fan clutches are also helpful tools for providing proper airflow under extreme towing conditions.

Most importantly, you have to be able to stop your vehicle and the additional load you’re towing!

Ever notice when you’re driving a car full of passengers that your brakes don’t always work as well as you’re used to? Why? The extra weight puts more strain on your brake system in several ways. When your system isn’t in perfect operating condition, it doesn’t work well with the extra load.

I recently towed a heavy camper across the country and through the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. I went above and beyond to prepare for the adventure and replaced brakes and brake fluid. Yet, when we descended from 10,000 feet, I experienced that helpless feeling of losing the brakes at the bottom of the descent. The extreme heat of constantly applying the brakes as we descended overheated the system. Thankfully I was able to stop by constantly pumping the brake pedal.

When I returned and inspected my brake system, the pads were fine. In fact, the whole system was perfect. The problem occurred because the brake fluid reached its boiling point and created the feeling of having air in the system. That’s why now, I recommend high temp brake fluid to anyone planning on towing in extreme conditions.

As you can see, there are many aspects to consider when towing a boat, camper or trailer. The truck you use must be in top operating condition with special modifications if you want to push the limits. At Wise Auto Clinic, we can help make your summer towing in Schaumburg safe and reliable.