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Hitch Your Trailer: How Trailer Length Affects Towing Stability

May 30, 2008
Imagine this scene: you and your family are out enjoying your brand new travel trailer. Not only is your trailer new, but so is your shiny new towing vehicle. Let's say that's a heavy duty diesel pickup truck, and it's an extended, four-door cab that has plenty of room for your wife and your kids.

This really a big part of the traditional American Dream isn't it? Quality family time with a recreational vehicle, getting away from civilization, but doing it in the comfort of a brand new travel trailer. I don't think it could get much better.

There's only one problem. It's a windy day. When you were picking up your new travel trailer at the dealership the other day it never occurred to you just how scary it could be to tow your nice long trailer down the highway in a serious cross wind.

Dealing with the wind is a fact of life if you're going to be any kind of RV enthusiast, so make sure you understand how to tow safely in it.

It really all comes down to the length of your trailer relative to the length of the vehicle you're using to tow it with. Think of it this way - it's all about leverage. If your trailer is long relative to the wheelbase of the vehicle you're using to tow the trailer, you could be in for an interesting vacation.

A travel trailer has a broad profile in the wind, so if mother nature is blowing hard, or if you're getting passed by tractor trailers at high speeds, your trailer basically acts as a sail. It's not unlike carrying a piece of four foot by eight foot plywood.

If you've ever had that experience you know what I'm talking about. The plywood acts like a sail and it can drag you all over the place if you don't know how to handle it.

The same way it takes strength to handle that plywood in the wind, it takes a long wheelbase on your tow vehicle to handle the tug of a relatively long travel trailer. If you've got a twenty-three foot boxy trailer and you're pulling it with a small SUV, chances are you're going to get jerked around quite a bit.

But, that same small SUV would have no problem at all with a small folding tent trailer. It's all relative.

As a general guideline I'd suggest that you could pull a trailer approximately twenty feet long as long as your vehicle has a wheelbase of at least 110 inches. So that's about nine feet of wheelbase to handle twenty feet of trailer.

If you want to get a longer trailer, I'd recommend that you have at least four inches of wheelbase for each additional foot of trailer length. That way you're always making sure to keep the ratio of trailer length to wheelbase high enough.

One last thought is you should not only consider the total length of the trailer, but also the distance from the coupler (or tongue) to the axle of the trailer. There will be a big difference in stability for a trailer where that coupler to tongue distance is really short, compared to one where it's really long.
About the Author
Jeremy teaches people about hitch covers and also advises them on the right way to set up a trailer hitch.
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