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Notes From the Road

Towing Basics
By Steve Temple/

One last number, and maybe the most important: Tongue Weight. This term refers to the trailer weight at the coupler that is supported by the truck. The recommended tongue weight is between eight and 15 percent of the total trailer weight. To determine tongue weight, go to a public scale; drive across the scales stopping with the trailer on the scales and the tow vehicle's rear tires just off the scale deck. Record the weight. Jack up the trailer and unhook it from the hitch and record that weight. The difference between the two weights is your tongue weight. Determining the tongue weight is worth this effort. Too much tongue weight and both the tow vehicle and trailer will sway. Too little tongue weight causes serious trailer sway.
Factory hitches correspond with the vehicle's tow rating and capabilities. If you're starting from scratch, here are the parameters:
  • Class I: Designed for trailer- and trailer-content-weights up to 2,000 pounds, a bumper mount or combination bumper/frame mount.

  • Class II: Always frame-mounted and recommended for total trailer weights up to 3,500 pounds.

  • Class III: Most commonly found on full-size light trucks for heavy duty towing up to 5,000 pounds of trailer weight.

  • Class IV: Designed for trailer weights up to 7,500 pounds. Class IV hitches can handle up to 10,000 pounds of trailer weight with the addition of a weight-distributing system. This system distributes the tongue weight to the truck's front axle and to the trailer axle(s) and is best installed by an expert, since the system has to be totally compatible with the existing hitch.
Again, the key to successful towing is matching the equipment with the capacities and ratings of the tow vehicle. The rule of thumb for actually driving this well-matched rig is to allow yourself enough time and space to accelerate and brake more gradually, and also to make turns and maneuvers more widely. Finally, before you actually set out on your first towing adventure, a final three words of advice: practice, practice, practice.

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