As with any new adventure toy or outdoor activity, the right accessories can make or break your experience. In the case of towing your travel trailer, accessories play a huge role in your safety and comfort while driving. We are here to help you understand the essential towing accessories to ease your mind and get you ready to hit the road.
From preventing sparks, a runaway trailer, or theft to creating an easier flow for setup and tow away, we’ll break down why you’ll want and need each of these accessories for your travel trailer setup.
The Basics of Towing a Travel Trailer
Travel trailers, sometimes called “bumper pulls,” are the most popular type of non-motorized camper. These types of campers attach to your car, SUV, or truck via a trailer hitch, which is a structural attachment on your vehicle that pokes out from underneath your back bumper. It is crucial that you choose a vehicle and travel trailer that are complementary, taking into account your vehicle’s max towing capacity and the camper’s total weight, including cargo.
Connecting a travel trailer to your vehicle is as simple as lining up the trailer ball on your vehicle’s hitch to the coupler on the trailer, lowering the coupler onto the trailer ball, latching the coupler shut, and attaching your safety chains and breakaway cable. You can then retract your trailer jack, plug in your wiring harness, and away you go. Be sure to get a rundown of how this is done in person at the dealership if purchasing new, or with a trusted friend if purchasing a used travel trailer.
When towing a travel trailer, here are a few things you’ll need for your rear-towing setup.
- Receiver or coupler: This attaches to the underside of your vehicle and is particular to the make and model of your towing vehicle.
- Ball mount: The ball mount goes into the hitch receiver opening and holds the hitch ball. Ball mounts are available in different sizes depending on the type and weight of the RV you’re towing.
- Pin and clip: These hold the ball mount inside the receiver.
- Hitch ball: This is sized to match the coupler on your RV.
Now, what are those must-have accessories for towing? Let’s check them out.
Safety chains (or cables) are not only a must-have because they make towing safer but also because they are required by law. If a trailer hitch malfunctions, the safety chains keep the trailer connected to your vehicle so it does not roll away. If the trailer were to get disconnected while you’re moving, crossing the chains helps prevent the trailer from falling forward and on the ground.
It’s absolutely crucial to be sure your chains are not dragging on the ground as you drive. This can cause sparks that lead to wildfires. Twist the safety chains to shorten the length, but do not make them taut. Or purchase a safety chain hanger to hold the chains up from dragging on the ground.
The coupler can be secured over your hitch ball with a coupler safety pin, or, for something a bit more secure, you can use a coupler lock. A coupler lock helps prevent someone from detaching your trailer from your vehicle and towing it away without your consent. It’s also handy when you’re parked at home or a campground, as it can lock the coupler shut and prevent easy towing. While it doesn’t eliminate the threat of theft, it can help to deter a thief from making away with your camper.
Similar to a coupler lock, a hitch lock can replace a hitch pin with a lockable device. This will help prevent people from taking your trailer hitch from the receiver itself. Trailer hitches, especially adjustable drop models, can be quite expensive and therefore tempting to a thief.
Sway Bar or Weight Distribution Hitch
Depending on which vehicle and travel trailer you have, you may want to invest in a sway bar or weight distribution hitch. These two devices work to stabilize the connection between your vehicle and trailer, creating a smoother, more controlled drive in challenging situations like highways, gusty winds, or winding roads.
A weight distribution hitch uses physics to distribute the tongue weight into the center of your tow vehicle, rather than the back, creating a flat connection that is parallel to the ground, rather than a dipped or v-shaped connection. In addition to creating better control between your vehicle and trailer, it also helps to eliminate the risk of swaying.
Similarly, a sway bar, which connects between your trailer and your vehicle, limits and prevents sway through friction in the bar itself. These are best used for smaller towing instances, as they can restrict a setup’s turn radius in certain situations.
Chocks are objects that you wedge underneath or in between your trailer tires to prevent the trailer from rolling while parked. When you arrive at a campsite and back or pull into your spot, chocks are the very first things you’ll want to put into place before you unhitch any part of your trailer. Chocks need to be utilized when hooking up or disconnecting your trailer, while it is parked, or while working on your trailer.
Mirrors are one of the most overlooked—but critical—parts of a good towing package. Consider getting mirror extenders so you can see down the length of your RV and out to the sides for safe travel. Your dealership may be able to replace your mirrors with towing mirrors from your manufacturer, or you can add aftermarket gear.
A backup camera on your vehicle is convenient when hooking up your trailer. If traveling solo, a backup camera can be a game changer. Without one, you’ll need to either recruit a bystander to help you align your hitch ball to your coupler or get in and out multiple times until you’re lined up just right. If not already installed on your vehicle, be sure to mount the camera specifically so you can see the hitch ball.
Power Tongue Jack
A hand-crank jack is used to lift your trailer up to attach to your trailer hitch. To save time, energy, and effort, you can replace a hand-crank jack with an electric jack or a manual jack that can also be operated with power drill. If you unhook or move your trailer often, you’ll see these accessories can pay off quickly.
Some rear-towing packages come with wiring, but you may need to purchase a separate kit. Some are plug-and-play, while others require splicing. The wiring package powers the tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals on the RV you’re towing. Working lights are required by law on any vehicle being towed. Instead of choosing an installer based on price alone, you should focus on the mechanic’s installation expertise.
Trailer brakes are brakes on the trailer’s axle, so when you stop, all the force isn’t going solely onto the brakes on the tow vehicle. Trailer brakes make towing safer and make it easier to stop. Over a certain gross trailer weight, trailers are required to have trailer brakes. Refer to the regulations in your state, but you might also consider installing trailer brakes on smaller campers, too.
Auxiliary Braking System
Various braking system options allow you to control your RV’s brakes from inside your tow vehicle. Newer models have wireless receivers and are convenient to use, offering smooth braking that’s easier on your vehicle. Some of these systems also include a breakaway feature that slows your RV should it become detached from your vehicle.
Know Before You Tow
Learning about towing gear is second to understanding your RV and tow vehicle specs. Know the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your tow vehicle to ensure it can accommodate the weight that you intend to tow. Also, check the specs and follow manufacturers’ recommendations for hitches and accessories based on your vehicle’s make and model.