Have a big dream that involves latching your camper to the back of your vehicle and driving off into the sunset?
Plan on having the adventure of your lifetime?
There may be more involved in prepping for your trip than you anticipate.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the little things—like what you’ll pack and where you’ll go—there are some big items you’ll need to address before your trip even begins.
Living the RV and camper lifestyle is amazing.
But you’ll want to do it smartly—and safely. Start at the beginning, by making sure your vehicle is capable of towing your camper.
Here’s what you need to make happen so you have a vehicle that’s ready to haul.
1. Maintain Your Vehicles
It should go without saying that you need to keep your towing vehicle—and the one you’re hauling—in tip-top shape.
If you plan on being on the road, you need vehicles that will keep you and your family safe—not to mention the other drivers you’ll encounter.
Follow your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule.
Have a long trip planned?
Bring in your vehicle before you set out, for a once-over and to top up your fluid levels.
Don’t want the hassle or the extraneous cost? It won’t seem like much when compared to the lost time on the road and hotel rooms while you wait for repairs en route.
Aside from the mechanics, you’ll always want to make sure your vehicles are properly inspected, insured, and up to date with all registrations and paperwork.
There are a lot of small pieces to keep in order, but doing so will make your trips go more smoothly—not to mention more safely.
2. Baby Your Shocks And Tires
Keeping your vehicles’ internal mechanisms up and running is crucial. You will also need to make sure the shocks and tires on your vehicles are up to scratch.
You don’t want to risk losing a tire. Always travel with a spare. If your recent inspection reveals you’re on the cusp of needing new tires, go ahead and replace them early.
Again, the cost and time inconvenience will be nothing compared to what you might face if you put it off.
Have tires with good tread?
Make it a point to check their air pressure on a regular basis. That will help you keep your tires performing at an optimal level.
Keeping your tires in great shape is where you need to start, but you can also save some wear and tear on your vehicle by investing in a set of helper springs.
Helper springs can be installed in just a few hours and will set you back less than a hundred dollars. Installing helper springs can reduce the work your suspension system needs to do, reduces wear and tear, and can increase the longevity of your vehicle.
3. It’s All About The Hitch
Towing might seem like an uncomplicated venture. You hook up your load and you’re ready to go.
There’s so much more to it than that, though, and it begins with selecting the type of hitch you intend to haul with.
If you’re wondering what kind of options you might have, here they are:
- Class 1 Hitch: A class 1 hitch is perfect for lightweight towing. If you haul a camper or small recreational vehicle that weighs less than 2,000 pounds, a class 1 hitch will suit your needs. Just know that 2,000 pounds accrue pretty quickly, and chances are you’d be better off with a larger hitch.
- Class 2 Hitch: The class 2 hitch is rated for use with up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity. It’s the hitch of choice for many vans, SUVs, and light-duty pickup trucks. While these tows handle more weight than a class 1 hitch, you will still be extremely limited with what you can safely haul.
- Class 3 Hitch: Frequently found on your ½ ton to 1-ton trucks, this hitch is capable of towing up to 8,000 pounds. It’s great for pulling small to medium sized trailers.
- Class 4/5 Hitch: If you have a truck that’s ready for heavy-duty work, class 4 or 5 hitches are ready to work for you. Capable of pulling up to 18,000 pounds, this is the hitch of choice for duallies and heavy-duty trucks. This hitch class can have you pulling a large camper or RV with no difficulty at all.
All of these hitch types are for conventional towing—your hitch will be mounted behind your towing vehicle.
You will probably begin your RV and camper journey by towing a vehicle in this fashion.
As you gain experience and move onto larger vehicles, you may choose to move away from conventional towing and opt for a fifth wheel configuration.
4. Wiring—What’s What And How Does It Work?
Wiring is necessary when hauling your camper or recreational vehicle. Wiring allows your camper’s system to tie directly into that of your towing vehicle.
This is what lets others know you are braking or changing lanes. Don’t skimp on an appropriate wiring system.
Your options for wiring are as follows, and may depend on your needs as well as what vehicles you are working with:
- 4-Way Connectors: Provide your basic electrical hookup. With 4-way connectors, you will have running, turn, and brake lights. An additional pin provides the needed ground wire. Many light-duty trailers will use the 4-way connector.
- 5-Way Connectors: Provide the same as 4-way connectors, but also have a fifth wire. That fifth wire ties into the brake system and turns off the trailer’s brakes when reversing.
- 6-Way Connectors: Usually used for gooseneck and boat trailers, they allow for a trailer brake controller as well as a battery connection.
- 7-Way Connectors: Frequently found on your larger recreational vehicles, they allow for running, turn, brake, trailer brake, reverse, and auxiliary power.
5. Know What You Can Tow
Just because your vehicle technically can, doesn’t mean it really should.
Make sure you know exactly what you’re capable of towing—and how much you’re actually hauling.
Many trailers and campers have their weight listed as a “dry” weight. This dry weight doesn’t account for any additions. Suitcases, other items, even certain appliances, may not make it into the dry weight figure.
When you’re looking at how much weight you’re hauling, you must factor in all of the weight.
If your towing vehicle can’t handle the weight you’re hauling, you’re at risk for damaging—or even ruining—your motor, transmission, or your suspension.
Your owner’s manual can help you determine how much weight your vehicle should be pulling.
How much your vehicle is able to tow will help dictate the kind of trailers you can tow. Something best suited to light-duty hauling won’t be able to pull a gooseneck trailer or be outfitted with a fifth wheel.
If you are using conventional towing, your hitch class will still enable you to pull quite a bit of weight. If you do decide you need something capable of more, a fifth wheel can be installed in the bed of your truck.
A fifth wheel allows for better weight distribution and eases the strain on your suspension system. It’s great for heavy loads and regular hauling. Most larger trucks will be outfitted with a fifth wheel.
6. Increase Your Vehicle’s Performance
You should make sure your vehicle is ready to tow before setting out on the road.
Taking care of maintenance needs is a great step. There are also some things you can do to increase the performance of your vehicle.
Hauling means your engine is working harder than under regular circumstances. If you’re spending times on hills and curves with a lot of acceleration and deceleration, this can mean an increase in RPMs.
This can lead to overheating and engine problems. Installing a cold air intake can help mitigate some of the problems that come along with hauling.
Your vehicle will get more oxygen where it’s needed. The oxygen will bring with it more power and better performance—no matter where you’re driving.
Aftermarket alterations are always an option, as well. Talk with your shop about exhaust system alterations you can make to have a more efficient system in place.
Remember that the key to performing well is going to be in facilitating function and reducing wear and stressors.
7. Smooth Driving
If you’ve spent any time on the road with your camper in tow, you may be familiar with “sway.” The wind, the motion of the vehicles, and the road itself can all contribute to extra sway.
The more your vehicle sways, the more sway it will create. It’s a vicious cycle that can make hauling uncomfortable, and even dangerous.
The good news is, there is something you can do to limit the amount of sway you encounter. Installing sway bars can help provide additional support and allow for a more comfortable ride.
Sway bars attach from the tow hitch to the front frame of your trailer. You may need to set aside some time for the initial install, but after it is complete, your sway bars are ready to use whenever you’re out on the road.
You’ll be surprised how much impact such a small change can make.
8. Upgrade Where You’re Able To
If you’re can, you may want to consider upgrading some of your vehicle’s systems to provide optimal performance.
While taking care of what you have is a great start, investing in something better suited to what you need can get you further.
This is especially true if you’re working with a vehicle that has the capacity to haul—but wasn’t really made with that purpose in mind.
Upgrading your suspension system is one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your vehicle’s performance while hauling.
Heavy duty shocks will help you avoid any sagging, distribute weight more evenly throughout your vehicles, and provide for a more comfortable ride.
If you spend a lot of time hauling, these small things can add up to more significant ones. Less sagging and more even weight distribution reduces wear and tear, effectively increasing the life expectancy of your vehicle and its components.
The more comfortable ride? That just means you’ll be ready to spend more hours on the road—enjoying every moment of the experience.
9. You Can’t Have Enough Visibility
If you haven’t hauled before, you may be in for a surprise when you go to drive.
Pulling a large vehicle behind you compromises your visibility.
It’s likely that, even if you’re anticipating the difficulty in seeing, it will be more significant than you expect it to be.
You’ll need to pay more attention when you drive, to allow for this impairment. Plan on keeping tabs on other vehicles even when you aren’t looking to change lanes.
Keeping track of where people are all along will make those inevitable lane moves easier.
Besides being an alert and aware driver, increasing your mirrors can help reduce blind spots and provide better visibility.
Extended towing mirrors, wide-angle mirrors, and clip-on mirrors are all options that can help make towing easier and safer.
Feel free to try out a variety of setups and types of mirrors to find what best suits you and the vehicles you’re working with. An extra mirror or two might be just what you need for stress-free travel.
10. Check Your Fluid Levels
Maintaining your regular service schedule will go a long way toward keeping your vehicle road-ready.
You should make a point, however, to check your fluid levels on an even more consistent basis.
Hauling means you’re pulling more weight than your vehicle was designed to regularly pull. Your truck is going to be working harder and burning hotter than usual.
This means your fluid levels will be depleted more quickly. Without appropriate fluid levels, your vehicle can be damaged—at the very least it won’t perform as well as it should.
Traveling with extra fluids—including motor oil, coolant, and transmission fluid—can help you avoid an emergency on the side of the road.
Ready To Hit The Road
Prepping your vehicle to haul is one of the most important things you can do as you embark on your camper or RV experience.
Don’t consider skipping this or skimping on the process, or you may regret it later.
Enjoy your RV or camper to the fullest extent you can—don’t let a lack of preparation ruin the memory or fun of the experience. Use these strategies to get where you want to go, with as few problems as possible.
Have a suggestion we’ve missed here?
We’d love to hear about the things you do before heading out on your big trips.
Drop us a comment below and share your experience with the rest of us.