9 Tips for Safe Trailer Towing

Friends of mine in Minneapolis were driving on Highway 35, talking about this and that, minding their own business, when – wham! A trailer carrying a boat slammed into their car.

The trailer had disconnected from the tow vehicle and darted across the median in a high-velocity trajectory that could have killed my friends had it not been a glancing blow. Though the shattering glass put them in the hospital, it could have been much worse.

It was an accident that shouldn’t have happened.

Safety tips for towing a trailer

One morning while driving to work I was thinking about this very topic and, right in front of me, I saw another towing accident. Someone towing his race car down Mesaba Ave. here in Duluth, Minn., caused a traffic jam when the stock car left the trailer and swept wildly into the midst of rush-hour traffic.

Again, it was an accident that shouldn’t have happened.

Whether it’s a boat, a house trailer or your trash to the dump, safely towing a trailer requires attention to detail.

Trailer Towing - AMSOIL Blog

Here are nine key points for safe trailer towing and long vehicle life

1) Know your weight limits

Make sure your trailer and whatever you’re hauling fall within the towing or hauling capacities of your vehicle. Check the owner’s manual to find the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum weight it can pull. Use the right trailer hitch and make sure it is hitched correctly.

2) Distribute weight evenly

If your trailer fishtails, back off the gas and see if it stops. If it continues when you accelerate again, check to see how the weight is distributed on the trailer. It may not be distributed evenly from side to side, or else it’s too far back to place sufficient load on the hitch ball.

Pro Tip: Try to carry 5-10 percent of the trailer load on the hitch. Redistribute the load as necessary before continuing.

3) Ensure the trailer lights work

Connect the brake and signal lights. Double check to make sure the trailer’s brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with the tow vehicle.

4) Properly inflate the tires

People I once knew suffered 17 tire blowouts while pulling a trailer from California to south Texas (true!). You’d think they would have figured out they had too much weight in the trailer.

In addition to staying within weight limits for your rig, be sure the tires are in good condition and properly inflated. Be sure to check your wheel bearings, too. An overheated bearing will sideline your rig as fast as a flat tire. Check out this video on bearing maintenance.

5) Know that your vehicle will handle differently

When towing, you’re operating a vehicle combination that’s longer and heavier than normal. Be sure to adjust your driving practices accordingly.

Backing up is tricky, but it’s a skill you can learn. Until you’re experienced, have someone direct you from outside in those tight spots or places where you have limited visibility.

Avoid sudden turns. I know – sounds obvious. But I was once the first person to an accident where someone decided at the last minute to take the exit instead of going straight. The car ended up upside down because the trailer had other ideas.

When it comes to towing accidents, don’t say, “It can’t happen to me.” Say instead, “It must not happen to me.”

6) Buckle your seat belt

In case your tow vehicle ends up upside down.

7) Trailer towing requires increased stopping distance

It’s a simple matter of physics. When towing, you have more momentum than you would without a trailer. Remember that stopping requires more time and distance. Avoid tailgating and pay attention to what’s happening a little farther down the road than you normally would.

8) Keep your head on a swivel

Maybe you forgot to fasten a chain, secure the hitch or tie down your payload properly. If you’re in a hurry to get home after a long trip, things like that can happen.

Once you’re on the road, frequently check your mirrors to make sure everything looks good back there. I know a boat owner whose yacht fell sideways on the highway halfway between Canada and Duluth, which is the middle of nowhere for those who’ve never been there. It turned out something wasn’t fastened properly.

9) Upgrade your transmission protection

Towing places enormous stress on a transmission. In fact, because of the intense heat, towing is probably the number-one killer of transmissions.

For this reason, the “towing package” on many trucks includes a transmission-oil cooler. It also helps to use a high-end synthetic lubricant. Synthetics reduce friction and provide better resistance to high heat, helping the tranny run cooler, shift confidently and last longer.

Shameless plug time: AMSOIL Signature Series Synthetic ATF handles heat so well, you can confidently double your vehicle manufacturer’s severe-service drain interval in passenger cars and light trucks.

Transmission fluid

Stay safe out there!

Updated: Originally published March 27, 2018.


  1. Thank you for explaining the difference in handling when we tow and backup a trailer. I need to buy a utility trailer and am nervous to drive it for the first time. I think it is a good idea to consult a professional who can help me choose the right trailer that can meet my needs.

  2. Hello, thanks for these tow tips, I really love it. I owned a Dinghies and I frequently move it and I want to give small tip.

    Store the dinghy in the cabin and lash it securely, fully padded on your boat, or properly prepare it to be transported in the trailer.

  3. I really appreciate this article. This kind of information has a big help for those people who lack knowledge about towing. That’s it needs to have a professional to get things done.

  4. Thank you for sharing such an informative article. Doing the Math is quite crucial to know how much weight a tow vehicle can realistically tow rather than answering it directly. There are questions that need to be considered as well not just acting things aggressively.

  5. Thanks for sharing this amazing article with us; you are a good writer. Keep writing, keep sharing. This article really very helpful to grow our knowledge & business.

  6. I drive a Tow Truck Adelaide and can honestly say the three biggest reasons for a tow are flat batteries, flat tires or no fuel. These are very simple issues and more of a roadside maintenance service. The problem happens when a flat tire damages the wheels or when no fuel or a flat battery happens in a dangerous situation.

  7. Good article! Thanks for sharing. Safety should be first and foremost in peoples minds when it comes to towing. Actually, it must be constantly on the mind to ensure everyone’s safety.

  8. Very informative article. I especially liked the idea of making checklists and following them.

  9. It was helpful when you explained that having someone guide the driver is a good idea until they’ve gained experience with backing up the trailer. My brother wants to start looking at equipment for sale because he needs a tilt trailer for the farm he plans on starting later this year. I’ll pass along these tips to him so I can have peace of mind about his safety as he uses the trailer!

  10. You made a great point about the vehicle’s limits and how it can help you figure out what trailer you can pull. My husband and I are looking for an end tipper trailer and how it can help with pulling some of our grain. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us best.

  11. Thanks for the tip to have someone guide us when backing up until we get the hang of it. My husband needs to rent a dump trailer to use to prepare the site for the home construction project he’s starting next month. I’m glad I read your article so I can pass along your tips and gain peace of mind about his safety!

  12. Thanks for this great article! People often neglect the fact that towing a trailer alters the driving experience drastically. One important point is related to long distance towing for a long distance move for example. You need to check your safety every 50 miles, it’s crucial for proper arrival to destination.

  13. It’s good to remember I shouldn’t plan on making any sudden turns while I’m towing a trailer so I don’t tip over like the car in your example. My wife and I are thinking of renting a trailer to dispose of a bunch of yard waste instead of paying for a dumpster directly. I’ve never towed something behind me before, so I’ll be sure to drive carefully.

  14. You made a good point when you explained that it is important to keep the bearings of a trailer in good shape in order to keep it running. My brother wants to get a boat, but he won’t be able to store it on the water so he will need a trailer to haul it around. I think it would probably be a good idea for him to find a professional repair company should he ever need any maintenance.

  15. Thanks for talking about staying safe. We need to find a professional to help. It is important to look at reviews.

  16. For towing heavy vehicles such as trailers and tow trucks, drivers need a great degree of professional knowledge, skill, and equipment for performing safe heavy duty towing process. As a driver you need to keep a fair distance and change gears according to the road condition. Try to avoid sudden breaks when going on the road and use high quality hitches and other towing tools. Overall very nice tips on towing vehicles safely.

  17. Thank you for your tip to check how the weight is distributed on the trailer especially if there is fishtailing happening. I really need a new trailer because the last one broke a week ago but I want to get out on the water one last time before the summer ends. Once I get a new one custom built I’ll make sure to be careful about how I load my boat onto it.

  18. Hi, I have a 2018 Ram 1500 with a 1660 lbs payload limit and a $10,000 lbs tow limit. I’m going to be moving three vending machines that weigh 750 lbs each. Two will be in the bed of the truck and one will go on a very small utility trailer that weighs less than 400 lbs. My question is since I’m coming close to maxing out my payload weight how will the tounge weight effect the payload total? Should I be concerned? I’m not traveling far but I worry that the tounge weight should be added to the payload total? Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Dan,

      I recommend you contact the RAM dealer and consult them. They’ll have specifics about your vehicle.



  19. Good 9 points. Also, I would like to add the importance of rear mirrors. Getting a good quality one always helps in driving safe.

  20. Thanks for the suggestion to check the owner’s manual to see what a vehicle’s maximum pull weight is and to ensure the hitch is installed correctly. My husband wants to start pulling a small camping trailer, so we’ll definitely need to check the owner’s manual to see what our vehicle can handle. Hopefully we can also find a great hitch installation company so we can be more confident it is hitched correctly.

  21. Very interesting, good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog. your article is so convincing that
    I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up

  22. Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information you provide.

  23. Great tips you have here. Thank you for sharing this. It helps a lot of drivers that will go on a long ride.

  24. Good advice mentioned apart from the regulation safety rules. Most people tend to forget inflating the tires properly, so mentioning that is a must and good to see it is mentioned.

  25. I find it helpful that you shared several tips that vehicle owners can use in order for them to prevent their backload from turning into a high-velocity projectile. In my opinion, your tip about ensuring that the trailer’s brakes and signal lights are in sync with the tow vehicle can be applied to commercial trucks. With that in mind, one should make sure that they ask a local vehicle accessory shop before investing in one for their recreational or business vehicle.

  26. Wonderful Post. To be honest, I searched in several places regarding towing tips and this post explains some vital thing regarding this topic which I was looking for. Tow truck Richmond, helped us a lot and I want to say thanks to them from your platform..

  27. We always end up cleaning a highway because someone was going to fast while towing a large trailer. We run a small towing business in Utah. I have never understood why drivers feel you can run at 80 mph. My advice is to slow down! You are going camping!!
    We enjoy your blog

  28. This was a useful article with lots of safety tips for people that have never towed anything. It is very important to know weight ratios and what you’re towing. I too have seen some bad accidents that could have been avoided. Great write up.

  29. Great article! Knowing your weight is very important. You definitley don’t want to take the chance of tearing up your vehicle while trying to tow something esle.

  30. A very informative and detailed post on towing. I really liked that you covered every aspect of towing from weight distribution to transmission fluid in the towing vehicle, which normally people won’t even consider to check. Many of the points relay considerable importance when towing a car behind. These were really very good tips. Thank you for sharing this article.

  31. Thank you for sharing such an informative blog on towing tips. I found lots of information like weight, weight distribution, controlling, handling etc. In the blog you will also find some points on which everyone should pay attention to such as, safety chains, handling, weight, the capacity of your tow vehicle, tires etc.

  32. 17 blowouts! Wow! I remember being a kid and riding with my dad when he was towing a car on a trailer. The weight was not evenly distributed and started to fishtail! Scary!

  33. I love these tips! such an informative article here about towing. While towing might seem intimidating at first and Hauling heavy loads or towing a heavy trailer are complicated tasks.

  34. Thanks for such an informative post about towing and all the things people need to take care of research before just throwing a trailer on the back of their vehicle. Many people have no idea and can have some bad consequences for doing so. Always a good idea to follow a checklist and be safe and thorough.

  35. Jessie,
    Thanks for the question. I am not sure what kind of “great big truck” you are referring to, but I assume you are not referring to the massive house-sized trucks used in the mining industry. Since I have seen flatbed trucks used for towing bulldozers, and pickups used for towing trailer with 5-ton caterpillars, the principle is essentially the same. You need to be aware of the weight and what the trailer is designed to sustain. When in doubt, check it out. If the big truck is really tall, make sure you know your height, too, before you attempt to duck under any bridges.
    Hope this helps.

  36. I have this great big truck that I can’t imagine fitting on a tow truck. One thing you mentioned to take into account is weight. Is that the same for when you tow a boat as it is for a car? I just wonder how a truck would be towed.

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