Will towing a trailer damage my vehicle?

broken down car
This situation would be even more complicated if you were towing a trailer.
Philipp Nemenz/Taxi/Getty Images

If road tripping were an Olymp­ic sport, you'd surely be a gold medalist in the event. You have the ­uncanny ability to pick the lane that will be ­best for traffic flow as well as a sort of sixth sense that lets you know when the highway patrol has the radar guns out. You have a stomach of iron that can withstand any amount of diner grub, fast food, pork rind or milkshake you throw at it. You close your eyes and instantly see a map of highways and back roads, and you can navigate local radio like a pro. Yes sir, when it comes to road tripping, nothing can break your stride toward success.

But there's one road trip situation that has the power to keep you up at nights, the way a formidable opponent might make a real athlete nervous. And that is when you decide to pull a trailer behind your vehicle. When you think about towing a trailer, all your road trip cool and swagger disappears as you consider the injury you might be doing to your beloved vehicle. You're worried about towing damage, and as a result, your road trip performance starts to slip. You start sleeping through the alarm on days that you'd hoped to get an early start, or you leave essential toiletries like contact solution behind in motel rooms. You get the shakes and can't even fold a map correctly.


You've got one eye permanently fixed on the trailer behind you and now you're coming in last place in this great road trip race. Is there anything that can save your performance? In this article, we'll consider how to get your game face back, so you can stare down the road safely, even if there's a trailer behind you.

Preventing Damage to Your Vehicle while Towing a Trailer

man watches car getting towed
Complete your towing training so you don't end up the one getting towed.
Nick Clements/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Since we were on the topic of Olympic sports on the last page, let's continue with our theme. Imagine that you're a weightlifter; after all, towing is getting weight from one place to another. You will damage your vehicle in the same way that a weightlifter will damage his or her body if you try to take on too much. All towing vehicles have a maximum weight that they can safely tow. Exceeding that limit and trying to carry more than the recommended value could lead to accidents that cause damage as well as extreme wear and tear on the vehicle. (You can find the recommended weight in the owner's manual.)

And just like a weightlifter doesn't lift 100 pounds (45.36 kilograms) in one hand while lifting 5 pounds (2.27 kilograms) in the other hand, you have to make sure the weight in the trailer is distributed properly to protect your vehicle from damage. Both sides of the trailer should have an equal amount of weight, and most of the weight should be near the front of the unit; U-Haul, for example, recommends putting 60 percent of the trailer's weight in the front half [source: Miller, Levin].


No self-respecting weightlifter would think of competing with a bum knee or faulty equipment, and you should treat both your towing vehicle and trailer the same way. Each time you tow, have all the parts and pieces adequately inspected. From brakes to tires and hitches to lights -- spending a little more up front will save you from a costly accident and a damaged vehicle in the long run.

Weightlifters also don't walk into competition without warming up first, and you should do the exact same thing to prevent damage to your vehicle. Practice driving with a trailer on some deserted roads before doing any actual towing out on the highway. Backing up, turning and braking should all be part of your training regimen. All that practice will come in handy for the real thing, because if you've done everything properly up to this point, including meeting the weight requirements, loading properly and checking equipment, then you can handle almost any challenge the road will throw at you.

Two more driving tips for when you're going for the gold, though. First off, don't break any rules of competition, which means no speeding or breaking any other traffic laws. If you gather too much speed and then try to brake, you could put wear and tear on those brakes or even cause an accident. Additionally, tune out those roaring crowds and focus on what's going on inside the competition ring. That means you should watch out for sharp turns, gusts of wind or upcoming hills. All of those factors can bring on trailer sway, the leading cause of towing accidents. The name describes what happens fairly effectively -- when winds or sharp curves cause the load to become unbalanced, the trailer swings violently and sometimes causes the driver to lose control. If you experience trailer sway, don't press on the brakes or try to turn the wheel. Rather, you should stay off the brakes and hold the wheel straight.

Ready to go for the towing gold? There are tons of other articles and links you can use for your training on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Cook, Miles. "How to Tow a Trailer." Edmunds.com. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/howto/articles/44921/article.html
  • Miller, Alan C. and Myron Levin. "Driving with rented risks." Los Angeles Times. June 24, 2007. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/uhaul/la-na-haul24jun24,0,4383195.htmlstory
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Towing a Trailer." April 2002. (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/problems/Equipment/towing/Towing.pdf
  • Sherline Products. "Trailer Loading and Towing Guide." (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.sherline.com/lmbook.htm
  • United States Department of Transportation. "Safety Tips for Driving with a Trailer." (Oct. 13, 2008) http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/Cars/Problems/Equipment/towing/safety_tips.htm