How to tow a trailer (with pictures)

How to tow a trailer (with pictures)
How to tow a trailer (with pictures)

You're excited to borrow your friend's boat for a weekend stroll on the lake, but voila! Your enthusiasm drops a notch when you think of transporting the machine. To facilitate this operation, familiarize yourself with the specifications and standards to be observed when coupling a trailer, caravan or other type of vehicle to your car. Learn how to properly secure your trailer, how to drive a semi-trailer and how to reverse safely.


Part 1 of 3: hitch up the trailer

Tow a Trailer Step 1

Step 1. Check that your vehicle is suitable for towing the trailer

You can tow a 3.6 t caravan with a “Honda Civic”. Determining the characteristics of the coupling device depends on the trailer you are going to tow. Consult your vehicle's technical instructions to specify the trailer weight limit and the characteristics of the coupling device to be installed.

  • This weight, which is usually defined by the manufacturer of your vehicle, is normally mentioned in the technical instructions of the vehicle. If you don't have the documentation, search online or ask an auto parts supplier to find the information.
  • Considering the nature of the operation, you can determine the appropriate class of hitch by looking for two numbers, first the gross vehicle weight of the trailer (GVW), which includes the weight of the trailer and the weight of the trailer. the vehicle transported and the maximum load that the coupling device can withstand.
Tow a Trailer Step 2

Step 2. Install a hitch that matches the weight of the trailer

Usually your car is fitted with a ball carrier that can be used with coupling devices of different sizes, from class 3 and above. This support includes a boom that can receive the appropriate coupling device for the towing you are going to do. If you attach the bracket that corresponds to the highest class, you will be ready to tow any loads that fall within the limits provided for your car, following specifications which are mentioned below.

  • Class 1: 910 kg GVW / 90 kg (200 lb) hitch.
  • Class 2: 1,590 kg (3,500 lb) GVW / 160 kg (350 lb) hitch.
  • Class 3: 2,270 kg (5,000 lb) GVW / 230 kg (500 lb) hitch.
  • Class 4: 3,400 kg (7,500 lb) GVW / 340 kg (750 lb) hitch.
  • Class 5: 4,600 kg (10,000 lb) GVW / 460 kg (1,000 lb) hitch.
Tow a Trailer Step 3

Step 3. Have the ball that matches the trailer

The bigger the ball, the greater the load it can support. Usually there are three sizes:

  • 4.8 cm (1 7/8 inches);
  • 5.1 cm (2 inches);
  • 5.9 cm (2 5/16 inches).
Tow a Trailer Step 4

Step 4. Attach the trailer to the car

Raise the trailer using the boom cylinder to align it with the ball. Check that the locking device is open, before placing the trailer on the ball and correctly immobilizing the coupling device. Hang the safety chains on the hooks that are attached either to the car frame or to the hitch, making sure to leave the chains soft enough, but not too much so that they do not risk touching the ground.

  • Try to disengage the hitch, using the boom cylinder. If you succeed, it is because either the coupling device is not adapted to the ball or that the ball is not fixed correctly. In this case, install another ball of suitable dimensions or resume fixing the one already in place and repeat the check.
  • As soon as the hitch is in place, you can lock it with a bolt or padlock, which you will place on the locking mechanism to prevent any risk of accidental opening.
Tow a Trailer Step 5

Step 5. Connect the traffic light cables

Usually, you only need to apply the color code to properly connect the electrical circuit of the car to that of the trailer.

  • At the end of the electrical connection, check that everything is fine, by testing the brake light. To make the trip safe and to avoid receiving a fine, make sure the flashing lights and brake lights at the rear of the trailer are in good working order.
  • To prevent corrosion, consider coating the electrical contacts with dielectric grease.
Tow a Trailer Step 6

Step 6. Check the weight supported by the hitch

The weight exerted on this device must not exceed 10 to 12% of the total weight of the trailer. It is possible to carry out a check by placing a personal scale under the device.

  • If the weight exceeds the largest gauge of the unit, possibly in the event that your trailer is 1800 kg or more, place the scale farther from the trailer for a smaller measurement. If you go up to a third of the available distance, multiply the measured weight by 3 to get an approximation of the actual weight.
  • Depending on the weight of the trailer, you can use a balancing system to equalize the effort on the hitch. These are metal parts which transmit the forces towards the longitudinal axis of the car. If you are at the upper limit of technical specifications, it is better to use such a system.
Tow a Trailer Step 7

Step 7. Properly secure the load

You will need to use a tarp to grab the moving equipment on board the boat. Otherwise, do not take the road, because you will be responsible for any loss of equipment during the trip and the damage that may result.

Also remember to check if the height of the hitch is correct, if the trailer tires are properly inflated and if you have not overloaded the trailer, as overloading will void all the checks you made before

Part 2 of 3: driving

Tow a Trailer Step 8

Step 1. Familiarize yourself with the ground clearance of your semi-trailer

Before starting the trip, take your tape measure. Is the semi-trailer very long? Of how many ? What is the length that has been added to that of your car or van? These items will help you choose suitable parking spots and take your precautions before parking.

If this is your first tow, you better practice in a suitable area before hitting the road. Also familiarize yourself with the response time of the semi-trailer and its turning radius

Tow a Trailer Step 9

Step 2. Gently accelerate and brake

You should always compensate for the effect of the extra weight, especially when slowing down or driving over rough terrain. Be careful and don't take any chances. You should also be extra careful whenever:

  • you change lanes;
  • you fit into traffic;
  • you leave a national highway;
  • you maneuver to park;
  • you stop at a gas station;
  • you start.
Tow a Trailer Step 10

Step 3. Expect your fuel mileage to increase

Towing a large load will have a negative effect on your fuel mileage, therefore, you should monitor the gauge closely. A driver, who is not yet familiar with towing, may have difficulty stopping frequently at busy gas stations. So try to assess your fuel needs well in advance to avoid making difficult maneuvers.

Tow a Trailer Step 11

Step 4. Stop often to check the hitch

Even if you have checked frequently, tell yourself that something may have affected the coupling device and weakened it during the trip. It is best to stop every now and then to check that everything is fine, especially if the trip is long and the roads are bad. Do not wait for your semi-trailer to overturn on the road to redo the necessary checks.

Tow a Trailer Step 12

Step 5. Stay calm when taking a very tight turn

You will likely miss a turn or run out of space to turn comfortably. Do not panic. Make sure there is no car behind you and back up slowly, as straight as possible to gain enough space. Have your passenger leave the car and guide you through the maneuver. Also use your mirrors wisely.

Part 3 of 3: backtracking

Tow a Trailer Step 13

Step 1. Prepare yourself

Seriously, backing up with a trailer is one of the most difficult maneuvers, however you can easily do it just by intelligently applying a few technical driving rules. To practice, lower your door window and have one of your passengers watch the maneuver. You will probably need to do several tries before you are successful and therefore it is good to have someone to guide you.

Tow a Trailer Step 14

Step 2. Position yourself perpendicular to improve your chances of success

To position yourself correctly, stand perpendicular to the parking position, aligning the trailer and the vehicle. Go 2.5 to 4 m past the parking point to have enough room to maneuver.

As soon as you are in position, steer your wheels in the opposite direction to that of the parking point. In other words, if this point is on the passenger side, stand perpendicular enough to the front of the point to be able to reverse. Stop the car and steer your wheels to the left, that is to say on the driver's side

Tow a Trailer Step 15

Step 3. Learn to turn around

Very briefly, to steer the trailer to the right, reverse the car to the left, then straighten the steering wheel to avoid jackknifing. Back up slowly, then straighten the wheels by quickly turning the steering wheel to the right. Watch the rear of the car and return it to the upright position, if the angle formed by the trailer and the car begins to close. This maneuver takes practice.

  • Take it easy. Be aware that if your car's transmission is automatic, you will be worried about the engine speed at idle because it will feel too fast. Only accelerate and shift gears when necessary.
  • Avoid jacking up the semi-trailer. If the angle formed by the trailer and the towing vehicle becomes less than 90 °, maneuver to increase this angle and repeat the maneuver. Do not try to force, because you will not achieve any result.
Tow a Trailer Step 16

Step 4. Remember to watch in front of you

Use your side mirrors to continually monitor the road ahead, especially for any obstacles and bumps that may interfere with your approach and create problems for you, as you attempt to right the trailer. Drive like a veteran using your side mirrors.

The rear view won't be of much use to you for maneuvering. To reverse properly, trust your mirrors and who is leading you


  • Check that the trailer is equipped with working signal lights.
  • Also check that the trailer has a valid certificate for the region where you will be operating.

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