You may have heard horror stories of travel trailers flipping over due to high winds. Or perhaps you’ve seen YouTube videos of fifth wheels stuck under bridges. You don’t want to be that guy. You don’t want to endanger your family, and you also don’t want to make the nightly news by towing a big rig into disaster.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make towing a big rig less dangerous. Over the past several years, we’ve spent many hours behind the wheel of big RVs. By sharing our experience we hope to calm your fears about taking your big rig on a cross-country trip.
10 Things You Can Do to Make Towing a Big Rig Less Dangerous and Scary
This list will not prevent you from encountering travel problems. But it will help you prepare for your trip and decrease the likelihood of accidents. Hopefully, these tips will also reduce your anxiety and help you feel more confident as you tow your big rig.
1. Use an RV Backup Camera
You can set up an RV backup camera to see the back of the camper at all times, including driving down the highway. If you pull a tow dolly or perhaps have a bike rack attached to the bumper, you can keep an eye on those things while you travel.
When we first started traveling we did not have an RV backup camera, thinking it wasn’t necessary. However, in our second year on the road, we got one and found out what we were missing. We’ll now never own a camper without one, and the benefits aren’t restricted to large rigs. ALL trailers and RVs can use all the visibility help they can get.
While you can get by without one, they make an incredible difference in towing. If you pass a vehicle on the interstate, you can see if you can move back over to the right lane. An RV backup camera will certainly help when you get to a back-in campsite, but it will also ease the drive.
2. Learn How to Properly Load Cargo in Your RV
When you purchased your big rig, you probably paid attention to GVWR and the capabilities of your tow vehicle. However, you need to consider weight every time you travel. Know how much cargo you have on every trip.
Each RV has a different carrying capacity, so even though you could put 2,500 lbs in your last rig, you can’t always put that much in your new rig. Make sure you know the cargo capacity of your rig and regularly weigh on CAT scales, so you know if you are traveling at a safe weight.
You also need to consider how you distribute the weight. If the back or side of your big rig has more weight than the front or the other side, you’ll want to try to redistribute the weight evenly. This will improve ride performance and the safety of your drive.
We recommend reweighing your rig after any major renovation change or repacking effort. Also be sure to know your weight when fully loaded with water, food, and people.
3. Travel Trailers: Use Weight Distribution Hitch and Sway Bars
If you have a big travel trailer, your towing experience can suffer from sway and buffeting on the road. This doesn’t happen as much for fifth wheels, as their towing point is above the rear axle of the truck. But bumper-pull travel trailers often require more gear for a good towing experience.
A weight distribution hitch transfers weight from the back to the front of the truck. This is important because you want the weight evenly distributed to the front and rear axles. This is safer because you have more control over the front tires when turning.
Sway bars connect the frame of the travel trailer to the hitch. They reduce the sway of the trailer. If you drive a big rig down the interstate and a strong gust of wind blows, you won’t feel the trailer sway as much.
4. Use a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Although a TPMS won’t protect your tires from ever having a blowout, the system does give peace of mind knowing you can monitor the tire pressure and temperature. Through monitoring, the driver will notice if one tire loses or builds too much pressure, or gets too hot for some reason. This could signal that something is wrong, and give you time to replace the tire before a blowout occurs.
A TPMS will also alert the driver if a blowout does occur. Sometimes with bigger rigs that have two or three axles, you may not feel it. Continuing to drive down the road would be dangerous and possibly cause further damage.
Pro Tip: Tire blowouts can be dangerous! Avoid a disaster with The Best RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems.
5. Plan A Big-Rig Safe Route
Find a good RV GPS app that allows you to input the height and weight of your rig. These apps also allow you to put in your route and choose whether or not you want to avoid cities, tolls, etc. Google or Apple maps will take you on a car route.
Driving a large trailer or RV is very different from driving a car. Some roads are not fit for a big rig, and you don’t want to get stuck on one of those roads. Google or Apple might take you down a road with a bridge with low clearance because regular cars won’t have any issue traveling under it.
However, your big rig may be too tall. You want to avoid putting yourself in a position where you have to turn around — or worse, get stuck under a bridge. (This is why it is important to know your RV height.)
You’ll also want to find big rig-friendly campgrounds. Getting there is one challenge, but you want to easily maneuver and get into your site without issues once you arrive.
We like to use satellite views to browse the campground to make sure it really is big rig-friendly. Many campgrounds advertise that they are big rig-friendly but really are not. Pay attention to tight turns, low overhanging tree branches, and the campsite angles.
6. Plan Gas Stops Ahead of Time
The RV GPS apps mentioned above also help in planning fuel stops. These RV GPS apps will alert you to large truck stops and safe places to stop for fuel with an RV. Sometimes fuel stations have low clearance, especially in smaller towns and less populated areas. Or sometimes, the turning radius after fueling is too tight for a big rig.
Look at your route and plan your stops to know you can easily get in and out of a fuel station. Again, use satellite views to scope out the fuel station before arriving. It might take extra work, but you’ll want to plan ahead.
Another handy tip for big diesel RVs is to use the truck fuel lanes. You can even save money at the pump by getting a special EFS card that gives you semi-truck driver prices! We’ve used this membership for years in both our fifth wheel and our diesel pusher motorhome.
7. Follow the 2/2/2 or 3/3/3 RV Towing Rule
These rules guide RVers on travel days. Basically, both guidelines suggest not driving more than 200-300 miles in one day to prevent fatigue. Driving days take longer than driving a car when towing a big rig at a slower speed. By limiting your mileage, you avoid a long drive day.
You should also stop every two or three hours to prevent fatigue for the driver and passengers. You, your kids, and your pets may need to get out and stretch and go to the bathroom. Stop frequently and plan those stops along your route to make sure you stop at big rig-friendly locations.
Additionally, you want to arrive at your next destination no later than 2 or 3 p.m. You have plenty of time to set up and relax before dinner by arriving early in the afternoon. Plus, you won’t have to rush to set up before it gets dark.
When you hurry, you can forget tasks or do things carelessly. And you don’t want to set up a big rig in the dark in an unfamiliar location.
The last part of these two rules is to stay a minimum of two or three nights at the same campground before moving again. Sometimes this isn’t possible because you have to get to a specific destination in a short amount of time. But if you don’t have a deadline, this strategy will guarantee a better experience.
Pro Tip: The 2/2/2 and 3/3/3 rules make driving safer and easier. We uncovered another 10 Simple Ways to Make RV Driving Days Not Suck.
8. Plan the Best Route Into the Campground
Similar to the tips mentioned above, you’ll want to plan the best route into the campground.
Planning your travel days from start to finish will reduce stress and anxiety and make sure you take safe paths. Again, we like to use satellite views to scope out the roads leading to the campground and determine the safest turns for our big rig.
Even though one route may take a little longer, if it avoids a low-clearance bridge, you’ll want to take that one. You’ll want to call the campground, also. Ask about the best way to arrive with a big rig. Ask about possible construction in the area or road closures. You can get off the interstate with confidence, knowing you’ll take the safest route.
9. Slower Is Better
Sometimes it’s hard to watch car after car pass you on the interstate. But it’s much safer to drive a big rig at 60 mph instead of 70 mph. You get better gas mileage because you have less drag at slower speeds. It also reduces accidents, and means less need to change lanes to pass others.
If you travel through a windy area like Oklahoma, you may have sway no matter what kind of vehicle you drive. Going slower gives you a better handle on your truck. It’s easier to recover from a gust of wind if you’re driving 60 mph or less.
Slower is also better when braking because you have a smaller gap to cover when reducing speed from 60 to 45 mph in a short amount of time.
10. Avoid Traveling During High Winds or Inclement Weather
Download several weather apps to monitor the weather in your area and where you will be traveling. Set up alerts so that you know ahead of time and can plan accordingly. If severe thunderstorms or tornado warnings are in effect, you may want to leave a day early or leave a day later to avoid traveling during high winds or inclement weather.
White-knuckle driving does not make travel days enjoyable. And the stress of driving through windy conditions is not worth making it to your next campsite on your scheduled check-in day. Call and see if you could arrive early or later to ensure safe driving conditions.
We’ve changed our schedule numerous times to suit the weather. Every time we hit the road regardless we regretted it.
Use Towing Safety Gear and Always Listen to Your Gut
The two biggest pieces of advice here are to use appropriate safety gear like a TPMS, backup cameras, and sway bars and to drive in safe conditions. You need to find the proper gear to travel safely and reduce stress. You can easily research how to install and use many of these items.
If you don’t feel safe, get off the road. If the wind becomes too rough or you might enter a severe thunderstorm, pull off the road and wait it out or find a place to stay the night. Paying for an extra night or staying parked at a rest stop is worth staying safe. You won’t regret it, and you’ll feel much less anxious.
So the next time you hit the road, hopefully, you’ll feel more confident and prepared knowing these ten tips.
Which towing tip is most helpful for you? Drop a comment below!
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