Towing a Trailer: Safe Towing Checklist

Whether it’s a rental trailer or one you own, towing a trailer for the first time might be a little daunting. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a million questions. After figuring out what kind of hitch is right for my vehicle and how to safely load a trailer, my next concern would be what I need to do to safely tow a trailer.

Of course, the most important factor is the driver, who must properly hook up and secure the trailer and load it correctly. And the trailer must be driven with added caution, slower speed and a compensatory attitude.

towing a trailer
Check to make sure your coupler is tight and your safety chains are crossed and secure.

In addition to the added care and caution of the driver, here’s a safe towing checklist that will help before you hit the road.

Coupler, locking pin or latch. When hooking up the trailer to your hitch ball, you’ll want to make sure that your trailer is equipped with some form of a locking system—whether it be a coupler that screws down and tightens over the hitch ball, a locking pin or a latch that you secure. Make sure that the type of coupler you have is tightened, locked and secure.

Safety chains. There are two chains attached to the trailer. These chains cross beneath the trailer’s tongue, are fed through the holes in the hitch and connected back to themselves. (See video below.) Never tow the trailer using the safety chains alone. Make sure the chains have enough slack to make a sharp turn, but not so much slack that they drag on the ground.

towing a trailer
Check your wiring connections before you hit the road.

Lighting connections. All trailers must have functioning brake and directional lights. This is a safety feature that alerts other drivers that you are slowing, stopping, changing lanes or turning. You’ll want to make sure the brake and directional lights are working properly before towing your trailer.

towing a trailer
Check for correct tire pressure.

Tire pressure. You may not realize the important role tire pressure has when towing a trailer. Incorrect tire pressure can cause an uneven ride or poor gas mileage. The rear tire pressure of some tow vehicles may be increased to accommodate the additional weight of the trailer. You can inflate the rear tires of your tow vehicle 6 psi above normal pressure, but do not exceed the pressure limit stamped on your tires. Check to make sure your vehicle and the trailer’s tires are in a normal range for the tires.

towing a trailer
If your trailer has brakes, verify that the breakaway chain is attached correctly.

Automatic hydraulic surge brake. Many large trailers have a hydraulic surge brake. This brake aids in stopping the trailer during deceleration and reduces stress on the tow vehicle. Trailers with brakes should have a breakaway chain connecting the trailer to the towing vehicle or the hitch. The breakaway chain activates the trailer’s brakes should the trailer become disengaged from the car. If your trailer has brakes, check to make sure your breakaway chain is attached correctly.

towing a trailer
Read all the user instructions available on your equipment.

User instructions. Make sure you take the time to read all user instructions available on your rental trailer as well as any safety decals on the trailer itself. If you are renting a trailer, U-Haul trailers have safety decals strategically placed on their equipment which can be very helpful if you have a question after you leave with your rental trailer. Make sure you read all user instructions before you hit the road.

For a more extensive guide to safely towing a trailer, check out this manual which also contains a safe towing checklist.

Have you rented a trailer before? What were some of the safety features you found most helpful? Let us know.