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What To Know Before You Tow

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Summer vacation season is upon us. Here are eight top tips for safe and secure towing, compiled from multiple sources:

1. Know your limits. Read your car or truck’s owner’s manual to determine its recommended towing capacity as equipped (this can vary depending on the engine, transmission and other components) and be sure to stay well within the stated limits. This includes the weight of a boat, trailer and cargo. Overloading a vehicle can cause significant mechanical issues, and a too-heavy trailer can sway excessively behind the tow vehicle, causing control issues and encroaching on adjacent lanes of traffic.

2. Check the hitch. Be sure your vehicle’s hitch is up to the challenge – if you’re hauling something that weighs more than 5,000 pounds, you’ll need a weight distributing or fifth-wheel hitch to safely handle the load. Once hitched and with the wiring harness connected, verify that the trailer’s brakes, brake lights and turn signals are synchronized with the towing vehicle.

3. Spare me. Ensure both the tow vehicle and the trailer are equipped with spare tires and that they’re properly inflated.

4. Pack accordingly. Aim to place 60 percent of the cargo weight in the front half of the trailer, and distribute items evenly on the left and right sides of the unit. Be sure to tie down everything securely.

5. Tend to the tow vehicle. Always have your car or truck checked out by a mechanic before hitting the road, especially fluid levels, brakes and tires; it’s a good idea to have the oil changed before embarking on a long trip. Be sure to inflate the tires to the proper air pressure specified for towing (again, check the owners’ manual for this information).

6. Take a test drive. Even experienced haulers should practice pulling a load around town or – even better – within a large empty parking lot to get a good feel for how everything behaves before hitting the highway. Be sure to rehearse accelerating, turning corners, stopping, backing up and parking.

7. Know the laws. Towing regulations vary from state to state, and you may require a special permit or license depending on what you’re hauling, or special equipment including larger side- and rear-view mirrors.

8. Take it easy. Once you’ve departed, proceed at a moderate pace and allow sufficient distance for safe stopping.

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