How to Tow a Trailer

A secured connection is essential for safe towing 1 photo
Photo: GMC
With the hot days just around the corner, some of you might take into account a vacation on wheels this year. And what better way to do that than by attaching a trailer to the personal car and hitting the road?
Fun as that might seem, there are a few rules all those planning such an adventure must abide by in order to make the vacation both safe and legal. Below is a short guide to what you need, and how to safely attach and drive the new vehicle complex.

The guide below applies to both recreational and cargo trailers.


The essential requirements for a vacation on wheels is owning a car. The trailer needed for sleep, eating and other activities you can either buy or rent. Be careful, though. Depending on the car you drive, there’s only as much weight you can tow behind it. For details, you should check the owner’s manual where such details are listed.

Usually, cars are not fitted with towing hitches, so you would have to buy one. Careful when you do that, as towing hitches differ in terms of strength. Depending on how heavy the trailer is (remember to take into account all the luggage you will be taking with you) you would have to buy the towing hitch to match.

In some countries, you may need to check your driver’s license and see if you have the permit to drive a combination of a vehicle and trailer.


Attaching the trailer to the car might seem simple at first, but remember that the trailer to be towed needs to be connected to the car’s electrical system, so that you will have lights and turn signals available at the rear as well.

The first step in attaching the trailer is to line up the two vehicles so that their centers are on the same line. You must do this on level ground, to avoid connection issues. After aligning them, make sure you turn off the engine of the car and set the emergency brake.

Once that is completed, you can go to the rear of the vehicle and start attaching the trailer to it. Depending on the type of hitch, you will have to perform several steps. The most common ones are attaching the coupler socket to the trailer hitch ball, closing the coupler clamp to secure the connection and then attaching safety chains under the link between the two vehicles.

Safety chains are used to make sure the trailer does not detach from the vehicle in case the coupling fails for one reason or another.

After the mechanical connection is made, you will have to make the electrical attachments. For that, you need a plug and socket and, in some cases, a converter.

There are several wiring systems in use, so make sure you check which one you have before getting down to it. The simplest wiring you can get is the two-wire system, but unfortunately, it is rare. It sends the stop, brake and turn signals along one wire, and the taillight signal along a second one.

The three wire system is the one preferred by the automotive industry. The stop, tail and turn signals each have a separate wire, but to make them work you require a converter.

The multiplex system, or the Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), controls multiple lighting functions through a single wire.


After you attached the trailer and the required wiring, there are some checks you need to perform to make sure all is in working order and within legal limits.

First off, make sure that after you loaded the trailer, the weight does not exceed the car’s towing capabilities or the trailer’s official payload.

Make sure the payload is evenly distributed and, if needed, secure. If it’s not, your trailer might become unstable on the road, and that is one of the motorists’ worst nightmares. Incorrect weight distribution can have some of the horrifying effects you can see in the video below.

A balanced trailer can be achieved by spreading the weight as evenly as possible across the board and avoiding having too much or too little cargo in front or the back of the trailer.

In general, the trailer must have the same registration number (plate) as the vehicle that is towing it, so make sure you fit one at the rear.

Check to make sure the pressure in the tires is even and correct.

When towing something, the speed limit on certain road types may be different than for a regular vehicle. Be sure to make the proper checks before departing.


Towing a trailer, or any other equipment, for that matter, changes the way the vehicle behaves and can prove very troubling for inexperienced drivers. Make sure you stop from time to time to check the connections and cargo. Have a look each day at the tire pressure and lights.

Be careful while driving. Since the entire vehicle complex is how heavier and longer, you will experience slower acceleration, increased braking time and altered steering. Steering in itself needs extra attention and now requires advanced planning.

The first thing to remember is that you now need a wider radius to take a turn than you needed before because the trailer will always cut the corner sharper than the tow vehicle.

If you are unsure how to proceed with towing a trailer, you might consider usinga motorhome. These are self-propelled recreational vehicle, combining a vehicle with a trailer.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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