Tips For Towing A Trailer

Tips For Towing A Trailer

Updated March 25, 2016 . AmFam Team

Use these simple steps—plus a little practice—to confidently tow trailers with boats, snowmobiles or other loads on your next trip.

Whether you’re camping in the woods, moving your kids into their first apartment or hauling a boat to the lake, these helpful tips can turn you into a trailer-towing champion. Now that's something to boast about!


Open your owner’s manual. See how much weight your vehicle can safely tow. Then check your state’s laws for any special licenses or registration you might need.

Equipment check. Make sure your vehicle’s hitch ball matches the size of the trailer’s ball coupler.

Practice. If you’re new to towing, find a large, empty parking lot and get the feel of how acceleration, braking, turning and backing a trailer will be different.

Figure out the weight your trailer hitch can handle. You can figure this out based on your trailer’s tongue. The tongue weight should generally be about 10 percent of the gross trailer weight.

Easy does it. Whether you’re towing wood, furniture or a lawn mower, load it evenly from side to side and front to back. A properly loaded trailer should have about 60 percent of its weight in front of the axle to avoid putting too much pressure on the tongue. If you’re towing any load, particularly a boat or snowmobile, make sure that it’s sitting evenly and is properly secured to the trailer.

Pumped up. Make sure your trailer’s tires are still full once it’s hitched, filled tires are safer.


  1. Back your vehicle until the hitch ball is under or close to the ball coupler. A helper or backup camera is handy here.
  2. Engage the car brake.
  3. Shift the trailer until its coupler is directly above the ball.
  4. Put the coupler lock in the up or unlocked position.
    Hint: Set the pin in the same spot every time so you can always find it.
  5. Lower the coupler using the tongue jack until it’s on the ball. 
  6. Flip the coupler down into the locked position and slip the pin in place.  
  7. Cross the safety chains under the coupler and fasten them to the hooks on your vehicle.
  8. Plug in the electrical supply from the trailer to the vehicle.
  9. If you have trailer brakes, attach that cable.
  10. Remove or retract the trailer jack.
  11. Remove the blocks or chucks from around the tires.
  12. Confirm all straps are attached tightly.
  13. Pull forward and test the brakes and lights, and double check that the coupler is secure.


Safety check. After the first 10-20 miles, check your tie downs again.

Drive at moderate speeds. It helps limit the strain on your vehicle and trailer.

Brake, start and steer gradually to maintain control and avoid shifting loads. Also, start braking much sooner than usual since the added weight can mean you’ll take longer to stop.

Trailer smarts. Put your turn signal on earlier than usual when changing lanes or turning. Slow down on bumpy roads and railroad crossings. 

Downshift while braking on downgrades and when climbing hills. When going down a particularly long hill, apply brakes at intervals to slow down gradually, but don’t overuse (and overheat) them.

Reach your destination? Discover handy hints for backing up your boat or trailer.

Before hitting the road, check with a local American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to make sure your trailer and its contents are protected against damage or theft.


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