The Ultimate Towing Safety Checklist for Your First Trip

By Alexis Chateau \

The Ultimate Towing Safety Checklist for Your First Trip

The first time I towed anything was about three weeks before I hit the road full-time. People who watch me back my trailer into tight spaces are often amazed when I tell them this. I am a young woman traveling solo. So, believe me when I tell you that if I can tow a trailer, so can you. I’ll even make it easy for you by providing this checklist for first-time towing safety.

Your Towing Safety Checklist for Leaving Home

Taking your trailer on that first trip is an exciting but nerve-wracking experience. I still remember my sweaty palms and the butterflies in my tummy the first time I merged into Atlanta’s 16-lane highway traffic with my 22-foot trailer. I had an incident-free towing experience. Let’s do our best to ensure you do too.

1. Check Your Tow Vehicle

The biggest determining factor for towing safety is your tow vehicle. If your vehicle is due for maintenance, bring it in. Before I left Atlanta, my FJ Cruiser had no maintenance due. I still brought the truck to the mechanic, so they could complete a check specifically with towing in mind. You can also use this safety checklist from the EPA.

2. Follow the 60|40 Rule

Have you ever heard of the tail wagging the dog? It happens when you fail to load a trailer properly. To prevent this from happening, use your axle as a marker. Then, enter the RV and make a note of where the axle runs underneath. When you load your personal items, try to keep 60% of the weight toward the front of the RV and 40% of the weight toward the back.

No, you don’t need a scale to weigh every item you bring in. Do a rough guess. I make it easy for myself by putting all my heavy items in storage at the front. Then, I keep the lighter items at the back. I also try to balance the weight side to side.

3. Check Your Tires

During a long trip up to Wyoming from California, I almost had a double blow-out. I did check my tires, but when you’re still learning, you’re not always sure what to look for. Here’s my advice:

  • Check the tread of your tires to ensure they haven’t worn down.
  • Check the sidewall of the tires for cracks.
  • Check the seams of the tires to see if you see any splitting or lifting.
  • Check the PSI of your tires to ensure they match the recommendations for your trailer or for that specific tire.
  • Don’t forget to check the spare tire.
  • Remove your wheel chocks before pulling out or you might break them. (I have done this!)

4. Check Your Connections

The first time you hitch up your trailer, get someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. If they allow you to, record what they’re doing. When everything is perfectly set up, take a photo. Before you leave for your first trip, compare your handiwork to that photo and ensure everything matches.

Here are some additional towing safety checks you should complete:

  • Start your tow vehicle and check that the lights work correctly on both your truck and the trailer.
  • Double-check that your safety chains are not dragging. I cross mine several times to take up the slack, but always leave enough so the trailer can turn.
  • Turn off your propane. Most RVers I know don’t do this, but that propane could turn a small crash into a big explosion.

5. Close Up the RV

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by what you forget to put away. On the second day of my RV trip, I forgot to retract my steps. Another time, I almost pulled out with my basement storage unlocked. Make a list of everything on your trailer you need to lock or retract and double-check them.

The items will differ based on your trailer. Even so, you can use these as your starting point:

  • Awning
  • Entrance steps
  • Entrance doors
  • Windows
  • Storage doors
  • Pull-out doors
  • Antennas

6. Complete a Walkaround

After the one time I left the RV steps down, I no longer just trust that I ticked everything off the list. I do a complete walkaround to be doubly sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Don’t just look at standing height. Get down on the ground. Look underneath the trailer.

7. Adjust Your Brakes

Your trailer or truck may or may not have adjustable brakes. I can adjust my trailer brakes from inside the truck. If yours are adjustable, put your hazards on and drive a few feet down the street. Then, use the brakes normally. If your trailer stops too suddenly, turn the brake strength down. If you feel no assistance in braking from the trailer, up the number.

Your Towing Safety Checklist Add-Ons for Leaving the Campground

You might feel you’ve totally nailed this whole towing safety thing once you make it to your first campground. I sure did. However, packing up when you leave entails a much longer to-do list than when you first leave home. You need to tick off the items above, plus the following.

8. Pack Up Outdoor Gear

My least favorite part of camping is leaving the campsite. I live on the road full-time, so it’s not because I’m saying goodbye to nature. I just dislike the packing process. Here’s to hoping you love it more than I do! When you pack up, remember the 60|40 rule for loading your trailer.

9. Disconnect Your Amenities

If you stayed at a campground with hookups, you likely have a few hoses and plugs leading to or from the RV. Take the time to note each one and disconnect them. I’ve heard of people pulling out of campsites with their water hoses and sewer hoses on. This can cause serious damage or a big mess. Try not to be that person.

10. Check for Wild Animals

While staying at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I noticed that everyone had their hoods propped open. After I left, a friend explained that it’s because it’s warm when the hood is down. Packrats tend to get inside, build a nest and cause potential damage.

Other kinds of wildlife also sometimes get into wheel wells or the undercarriage. The craziest thing I saw was an RV couple who couldn’t leave a park because an endangered bird had nested on the roof of their trailer. So, always check for wildlife!

Towing a trailer is a lot easier than you think it is. As long as you keep towing safety at the center of all your plans, you can expect to have a trip that’s memorable for all the right reasons.