As the saying goes, there's a first time for everything. In the world of trucks, perhaps no personal milestone is more significant, other than buying your first truck, than towing your first trailer. It's one thing to tow a little U-Haul dinghy, or a small flatbed with a quad or two on it. It's a whole different ball game towing a 10,000-plus-pound, 26-foot toy hauler. That happened to be my inaugural towing experience.
Now, before you towing veterans shake your heads that such a rookie could be a staffer on Truck Trend, let me clarify my statement. This past weekend wasn't my first towing experience ever. I have been on new-vehicle introductions where loaded trailers were a part of the ride-and-drive demonstration. But also as part of the demonstration, an experienced engineer or product planner usually accompanied us, and the routes generally avoided any reverse maneuvers.
This time, it was my father-in-law's 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty with the 6.2-liter gas V-8, and his 26-foot Rage'N toy hauler, which usually houses his Raw Motorsports LS1-powered sandrail. For the purposes of this trip, the buggy was removed, and the trailer was going to be my wife and my weekend home at San Elijo beach just north of San Diego. We were joining our church's young family group at the campground. Having never been to the campsite before, I had no idea what to expect, and thought we might have to detach the truck and trailer. Not a prospect I was exactly looking forward to, but an eventuality I was prepared to face.
Happy to say, upon arriving, our designated space was large enough to accommodate both the truck and trailer together, precluding the hassle of having to unhitch. Not wanting to damage the trailer, I asked one of my fellow campers who was far more experienced in towing to pull the truck and trailer into the space. Seeing how easily he did it, in retrospect, it was probably a task I could have handled myself, but I didn't want to risk it.
Toward the end of the trip, I was dreading the prospect of backing the truck and trailer out of the space, which was pointed nose-first into the spot. Again, the same good Samaritan who had driven it in to the space was willing to be my backup spotter, and guide me out with a minimum of drama or damage to the trailer or its surroundings. As in off-roading, an experienced spotter is a valuable resource when backing up a trailer. Clear steering directions make all the difference. The dynamics of reversing a trailer can feel strange and counter-intuitive to a rookie.
As far as the open road, there are a few key fundamentals about towing. First of all, you can't be in a hurry. Never mind the fact that, in my case, the relatively low torque of the 6.2 V-8 (relative to a diesel engine) made acceleration from a stop deliberate at best. You have to anticipate lane changes, braking, and turning farther in advance than you do with a car. You also have to be aware that most other drivers who haven't had experience towing have no respect for you, and will crowd you, honk at you, and cut you off. Just expect it, and shrug it off. I found the second lane from the right was the best lane for towing (and in some states, the farthest legal lane). The far-right lane had too much traffic coming on and turning off the freeway, and often merged down into another lane anyway, or was a turn-only exit lane.
When you see brake lights ahead, lift the throttle as lightly as possible, and begin to lightly apply the brakes. I didn't encounter any panic-stop situations, but my level of vigilance and awareness was on hyperdrive on the trip, so I was slowing down well in advance of having to make a full stop.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say towing is fun, but it's definitely highly educational, and is a skill that certainly facilitates a lot of fun activities, such as camping, motorsport, off-roading, and other leisure exploits. If I had to do it over, I might have started with something smaller and worked my way up to the 26-footer, but having successfully towed it around 100 miles round-trip, I feel I could easily handle something smaller. The prospect of reversing still gets my heart pounding and a lump in my throat, but I'm sure in time, that task won't be as intimidating either.
What was your first experience towing? Do you have any memorable or scary towing moments you'd like to share? Give us your tow tales in the comments below!