Learn these 8 basics about towing before hitching up

June 15, 2018

Summer is here, and that means it’s time to break out boats, jet skis, and four wheelers. Those fun machines won’t get to the lake or the trail on their own.

GM says that its research indicates about three-quarters of all light-duty pickup owners actually put their trucks to work towing things. Of those, nearly a third tow more than just once a month.

Disconcertingly, GM found that about 30 percent of light-duty truck owners don’t know how much their trucks can safely tow. Here, blame lies as much with confusing ad copy touting massive tow ratings that apply to just one configuration of a truck as it does with a lack of understanding on the truck driver’s end.

In short: many pickup truck owners that tow don’t know the limits of the truck they are putting to work.

ALSO SEE: Read our full review of the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500

Perhaps it’s time for a quick refresher on the basics of towing before it’s time to pack up the family, hitch up the weekend toys, and load up for some fun.

With the warm weather rolling in, GMC invited us to St. George, Utah, for a towing basics refresher with the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali and 5,000 to 6,000-pound trailer setups featuring dual axles loaded up with Polaris RZR ATVs.

Here’s what we learned:

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

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Understand your trailer

Not all trailers are built equally. There are five different classifications of trailers ranging from light duty all the way to maximum heavy duty. The differences include the weight each is rated to carry, type of hitch it should be hooked to, tongue weight, and construction including number of axles and materials. Start by knowing what will be hauled and then determine the appropriate trailer for the load.

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Enlarge Photo

Use the right hitch

Different vehicles and trailers require unique hitches. It’s important that the hitch used keeps the trailer level and fits snugly in the vehicle’s receiver. For instance, the Sierra 1500s we drove with their flashy 22-inch wheels required a drop hitch for many trailers to keep the load level once hooked up due to the receiver height.

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Enlarge Photo

How much does that weigh?

It’s essential to know what everything weighs, including the trailer, cargo being hauled, tow vehicle, and even the passengers, pets, and cargo inside the vehicle. It all adds up and needs to be under the gross combined weight rating of the tow vehicle. Miscalculating or not knowing the weight of the entire setup can put everyone involved and on the road in harm's way.

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Enlarge Photo

Balance is everything

It’s imperative that the load being towed is balanced with weight evenly distributed to ensure control of the vehicle and trailer. The tongue weight—the downward force the trailer tongue exerts on the vehicle’s hitch—should be approximately 10 to 15 percent of the loaded trailer total weight. Confirming this will help improve stability and reduce the chance of trailer sway while rolling down the road.

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