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Get Hitched Up Right | Summer 2007 Out Here Magazine

Before hooking up anything to your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual to find out its towing capacity.

Follow the rules of the road for effective towing

By Noble Sprayberry
Photography courtesy of Cequent Consumer Products

Tow a boat to the lake. Help a friend haul a load of furniture. Or choose any other chore that requires hooking a trailer to a car, truck, or SUV. Proper towing protects the investment, both in the tow vehicle and the load.

Ignoring the details, though, can put a costly hiccup into the task. It's possible to lose a load, damage a vehicle, or just break the rules of the road.

"The common mistakes are that people don't have all of the integral parts of a towing system, and they don't understand the proper weight a vehicle can tow," says Abe Newman, director of sales for Cequent Consumer Products, which produces a broad line of vehicle accessories.

Tools to secure the load, to pull a car, and to correctly hitch a load to a vehicle are all essential, but the first step is often as simple as reaching into the glove compartment and consulting the owner's manual.

Failing to identify a vehicle's proper towing capacity is often a critical mistake, says Newman, based in Solon, Ohio. "People must make sure they determine what is required for them to tow safely and correctly," he says.

Typically, most mini-vans, SUVs, and large and small pickup trucks have a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, and most cars have a capacity ranging from 2,000 to 3,500 pounds, Newman says.

But the math doesn't end there. It's also vital to properly calculate the weight of the load. To tow a boat, for example, consider the weight of the trailer, the boat, and items such as gas or water tanks, Newman says.

Also, take into account the tongue weight, which is the weight on the trailer hitch. With too much tongue weight, your vehicle will sag in the rear and become unbalanced; too little and the trailer will sway or will "push" the tow vehicle.

Usually, this comprises 10 percent of the towing weight, so a vehicle with a towing weight of 5,000 pounds would have a tongue weight of 500 pounds.

Once the weights are calculated, it's time for towing essentials. Begin with safety chains, to keep the load from escaping. Chains are sold in diameters coinciding with towing capacities, so it's important to match the chain to the weight.

Also, choose the correct ball mount, which is inserted into the receiver tube opening of the trailer hitch, to ensure the correct distance to the ground.

"You always want a straight line from the vehicle to the towing system," says Newman, who explains the system should not sag to create a telltale "V" shape.

Consider receiver and coupler locks, which not only add safety, but also prevent someone from removing the ball mount or even stealing a trailer load.

It's also critical to choose the correct tool for the job. When pulling a car or truck for example, Newman says, always use a tow-bar, which connects the front wheels of a vehicle being towed to the pulling vehicle.

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Dallas.