Is My Car, Truck, Or SUV Ready For Towing A Trailer in Summer Heat?

As the racing season is in full swing, it’s important to know that some of the hottest days of the year are still ahead of us in many areas. You may have performed a pre-season check on your tow vehicle and trailer. But, it’s probably time to recheck everything, especially if you’ll be towing to a far away circuit for a regional or national championship.

Here’s a checklist you can follow to make certain your tow is pleasurable, event-free, and doesn’t impact your vehicle’s warranty.

If you haven’t used the intended vehicle for towing before, the first step is to determine if it is capable of pulling the load you have in mind. You’ll need to add the weight of the trailer, car, and gear you want to tow to determine the towing weight. It’s happened more than once that someone purchased a vehicle to tow a trailer based on the trailer’s weight alone (or just the trailer and the car), not taking into account the hundreds of pounds of tools, spares, and supplies in the trailer. You can find your vehicle’s towing capacity in the owner’s manual.

If your vehicle is rated to tow the load you have in mind, the next step is to ensure it’s ready to tow. If there’s a factory-installed trailer package on your vehicle, you’re good to go. If not, check with the service department of a car dealer that sells the same brand vehicle. They can provide you with a list of what the manufacturer includes in its towing package, including the rating of the hitch you require. You may need to add a transmission cooler as well as the hitch and the wiring harness. If you don’t match the OEM package, it could void the part of your warranty affected.

Make certain the your tow vehicle and trailer are up to your the load you’ll be pulling.

Once you have your car, truck, or SUV sorted, now it’s time to hook the trailer to the tow vehicle. Plan this out in advance and not the morning of your trip. It could take some time, and if not done properly, it will diminish your enjoyment of the drive and could even be dangerous.

The first task is to set the tongue weight. That’s the amount of weight the trailer pushes down on your vehicle’s hitch. Too little or too much is bad. There’s an ideal range of about 10 to 12-percent of the total weight of your trailer. Though, it should never exceed the maximum tongue-weight rating in your owner’s manual.

Now that you know the target, load the trailer with the equivalent weight you’ll be hauling. Level the trailer onto a bathroom scale to check the tongue weight. If it’s outside the 10 to 12-percent range (up or down), move the weight around in your trailer until you achieve the target. If the rated tongue weight is greater than your scale, you can check using a simple lever arrangement for which you can find instructions online.

It’s also important that the loaded trailer be level to the ground when it’s attached to the vehicle so the trailer remains stable as your drive. You can trim the trailer’s flatness either with an adjustable drawbar or by finding one with the right offset. If you end up using an offset drawbar, make sure it’s rated to handle the trailer weight. Park both your tow vehicle and the trailer on level ground and measure both. Allow about three inches for the ball.

Before heading out there are a few items to address. First, is the tow vehicle ready? Towing puts a great deal of stress on a vehicle and it’s important that the engine oil, coolant, tires, and brakes are all inspected and serviced prior to towing. And, don’t overload your tow vehicle either.

If you have electric brakes it’s likely you have a safety battery that will operate the brakes if the trailer becomes disconnected during travel. Make certain it’s fully-charged before you hit the road. Image courtesy Summit Racing.

On your trailer, check the condition and inflation pressure of the tires, the condition of the safety battery if your trailer is equipped with electric brakes, inspect all lights for proper operation and that the safety chains are crossed and securely attached. Safety chains should not be taken lightly as they’re your last line of defense, so make certain they won’t come loose. You should be ready to go now.

If it’s a rear-wheel-drive car, the driveshaft will have to be removed. You’ll have to deal with a six-foot-long greasy steel tube as well.

If you plan on towing a car on a dolly, there are a few extra items you need to be aware of. All the same rules about trailering capacity and tongue weight still apply, of course. In addition, you need to be aware of a couple of decisions you may need to make. If the car is front-wheel drive, you can use the dolly without any changes to the car you’re pulling.

If it’s a rear-wheel-drive car, the driveshaft will have to be removed. You’ll have to deal with a six-foot-long greasy steel tube as well. If your tow vehicle can handle the weight of a car trailer, it may be the better option.

When it comes to AWD or 4WD, it depends upon how the manufacturer configured the system. Some systems allow for the rear axle to freewheel when disconnected, which means it can be loaded like a front-wheel-drive car. Others have power going to the rear axle at all times, so you’ll have to disconnect the driveshaft on those vehicles. Check your owner’s manual. If you can’t find a definitive answer, you can call the vehicle manufacturer or check in with one of its dealers.

The company from which you’re renting the dolly can also provide you with lights that attach to your towed vehicle magnetically so you don’t have to cut into the wiring harness.  Just make sure you stow them inside the car if you have an overnight stop. If you plan on towing a car on a dolly behind a motorhome, it may be worth the investment to have a standard jack installed in the car to operate the lights.

Follow these straightforward recommendations and you should enjoy trouble-free towing throughout the racing season.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Art Michalik

Art has served in marketing functions at various aftermarket manufacturers, driven in autocross events and in road racing in a car of his own construction, and even managed a world-famous racing school.
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