Ten Important Common Questions About Towing and Hauling

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01 topshot x top ten tow and haul

Many people think that as long as you just attach a tow ball hitch to any vehicle that you are all set and ready to haul anything and everything. Add in an assumption that driving with a trailer behind you is in any way easy and you have the recipe for disaster. All cars, SUVs, trucks and even minivans have vastly different tow ratings according to their manufacturers which mean they are not meant to tow anything that weighs more than that weight. Plus, if you own a pick-up truck you will also be dealing with a payload rating which means that weight is the maximum amount pound wise that you can dump into the pick-up bed.

As follows are some simple questions anyone from a novice to an expert might have regarding towing practices, some of the most modern technology that can help make your towing life easier and a few mistakes you definitely want to avoid. Besides, the point is to keep the roads safe with well-educated and fully comfortable drivers behind the wheel.

What does towing capacity mean and where can I find my vehicle’s capacity figure?
When your vehicle is properly equipped with a tow hitch, this is the weight of the trailer you can pull behind your vehicle without causing any undue damage to your transmission, engine, frame or cooling systems. Your vehicle’s tow capacity may depend on which engine it is equipped with and whether or not there if there was a heavy duty tow package purchased originally from the factory. But you can usually find these figures on the auto manufacturer’s website or in the owner’s manual.

What is a payload rating and what is a gross vehicle weight rating?
Simply put, your vehicle’s gross weight rating is how many pounds it weighs when equipped with all available options but empty of any cargo either human or otherwise. Or it tells you how fat it is, to put it crudely. A pick-up truck’s payload rating is how heavy the cargo you place in the pick-up bed before the back end starts to sag perilously close to your rear tires. You can increase your payload rating with aftermarket parts and may be a good idea if you plan to use your vehicle to haul really heavy loads in the cargo hold.

What does Trailer Signal Wiring do?
When you have a tow hitch attached to the back of your pick-up, SUV or car there should be electrical plugs attached that once plugged into the securely attached trailer will be able to show drivers behind you when you are signaling or braking via the lights attached to any legal trailer. Essentially they mimic what your regular tail lights are doing and having this properly set up is very important so be sure to double check they are working before embarking on any journey.

What is Anti-Sway Control for Trailers?
Trailer sway control is a function of the stability control systems in a vehicle and uses a number of electronic sensors to detect if a trailer is yawing (moving side to side behind you) and applies brake pressure on one wheel to bring it back in line.

How does an oil cooler system help me tow heavier loads?
Towing a heavy load is hard on any engine and transmission and often times automakers will offer packages that include oil cooling systems or even transmission fluid cooling systems to help increase towing capacity. The temperature of both of these fluids will naturally be higher when the engine is constantly working hard so if you tow a lot investing in one of these packages or a separate option is definitely a smart move if long term engine and transmission reliability are important to you. And they should be.

Where can I weigh my trailer?
Any retailer that sells trailers or RVs will definitely have its own scale that you can use to ensure you know exactly how heavy the cargo is that you will be towing. Some repair shops and car or truck dealers may also have scales but as always call ahead to ensure they have one, that it’s working and that they will let you use it. Do not try to use your home bathroom scale.

What is Integrated Trailer Brake Control?
This is one of the more advanced trailer systems and it simply means that when you hit the brake pedal in your vehicle it not only controls the brakes of the vehicle but also brakes on the trailer. This enhances control and stability.
What is Hill Descent Control and how does it help a driver maintain control on mountain roads?
This feature will use special gearing and braking to ensure that your vehicle maintains a nice, low and controlled speed on steep downhill inclines which can be especially helpful on wet or muddy surfaces.

What happens when you switch your transmission into either ‘tow’ or ‘haul’ mode?
If your vehicle is equipped with a tow or haul setting this feature will compensate for road steepness and payload changes by reducing gear hunting which improves fuel economy and power delivery. I this setting, engine braking will also help slow the vehicle when descending hills.

How can a larger, heavy duty rear differential help you when towing or hauling?
The larger and stronger the rear differential (otherwise known as ring gear) is can make or break how well a truck or SUV manages when towing really heavy loads. This rear differential, especially when attached to powerful motors, must be strong enough to withstand the power passing through the axle and the strain from its load. Also, remember that most rear differentials and ring gears last longer when maintained regularly but check your owner’s manual for any information on recommendations.

Why can vehicles with diesel engines so often manage to tow heavier vehicles as a general rule?
That is because diesel engines do not have high horsepower figures but rather specialize in offering astronomical torque figures which is the power ratio that tells you how well a vehicle can pull. In essence, when you accelerate you “feel” torque and not necessarily the horsepower reading of the vehicle. Diesels also make great tow engines as they offer most of their power low in the rev range.

If you routinely tow or haul heavy objects with your vehicle, are there going to be expensive extra service requirements needed?
If you do tow a lot, it doesn’t need to be outrageously expensive but you may want to follow the “heavy use” guidelines for service in your owner’s manual if there are any. Usually this just means getting fluids changed a little sooner than normal.

  • josh

    first 2 items are truck reviews….. Great new direction you got here.

  • http://twitter.com/TheHuskyHauler Jon Brooks

    Your definition of Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is wrong. GVWR INCLUDES the weight of the entire vehicle, with all accessories, passengers, cargo, and the tongue weight of the trailer. It’s the TOTAL WEIGHT it is designed to safely carry.

  • HiPerfDude

    Yup, even Cadillac cars offer or offered “towing packages” on all of their cars for a long time, including front wheel drives. An additional transmission fluid cooler in front of the AC condenser coil and motor oil coolers and power steering fluid coolers are standard. Don’t forget to increase tire pressure to the maximum PSI listed on the sidewall BEFORE hooking up a load or loading down with people passengers and cargo so you don’t lose a tire or two along the way. And, change your “fuel efficient” motor oil (energy conserving) to a heavier weight for severe service use. And JB was correct about GVW, it’s the maximum weight loaded down with people and cargo. You cannot safely put 1,000 pounds of cargo in the back of a 1/2-ton truck if you have 400 pounds of passengers in the cab.

    • Piglet2010

      I had a cow-orker put 2100 pounds of concrete test cylinders in a Ford Ranger, and drive it with the rear suspension on the bump stops. Surprised a tire did not blow out.

  • Shelly Slader

    I need to do some heavy duty towing in Tacoma WA but at this point I think it’d be much better to just hire someone to help me out. Thanks for the advice!

  • Cooper Pie

    Great post, and I think that the most towing I’ve ever seen has all been in my parking complex. Due to people not having parking permits and then getting towed after curfew, I feel bad for those cars because it’s a stupid rule. And I don’t know of any other apartment complex’s that do that.

  • Justin McClintock

    I just looked at this article after having looked at the article about small cars that can tow. Both are chock full of misinformation. You guys are making it very clear you don’t understand cars and trucks and know even less about towing. You should stick with motorcycles and refer the car questions (and ESPECIALLY the towing questions) to somebody else. Anybody else.

    • Piglet2010

      My biggest towing challenge was fitting both a used Ninjette and a brand new Bonnie in a 4×8 utility trailer for the 250 mile drive home. Tight fit, and I really did not want scrape marks on the Bonnie.

      • Justin McClintock

        I can imagine. I have a 4×8 trailer I’ve put my DRZ400SM and DT175 both on at the same time, and even that was tight…and both those are smaller than the two you were trying to move. Musta been…interesting!