Towing Tips and Regulations When RVing Cross-Country

From coast to coast, like butter and toast. Many of us who live for those extended road trips are well versed in how to prepare and what to expect, but for those who are perhaps just getting their feet wet, and maybe have never ventured out of their home state as of yet, the prospect of multi-state journeying can be daunting. There are various climates and types of terrain to anticipate, and local laws to obey, whether you have a trailer setup or are piloting a motorhome.

Certainly, these and related topics could fill a large series of encyclopedias, but here is our consolidated version of towing tips and regulations when cross-country RVing.

Before You Leave

Get Legal

Woe be to the person who tries to tow a trailer with propane tanks through the Baltimore Harbor or Fort McHenry tunnel in Maryland, for they are in violation of Maryland state law. The same applies for anyone attempting to tow at speeds over 55mph in the state of California, or on just about any highway in the state of New York. It pays to be aware of the local regulations of each state you are wishing to tow in, or most assuredly, it may well pay later from your bank account.

Proper planning for most such trips should begin with a study of these types of rules, to make sure your rig is legal. Every state differs slightly, with most guidelines covering when you may turn on red with a trailer, required running lights, tire tread depth, restrictions on width and length, whether or not you need a separate braking system, maximum speed, and overall weight. Take a look at the DMV websites for the states you plan to travel through. Most have a way to apply for a permit or waiver if what you are towing isn’t quite legal in their domain.

Here in our home state of Michigan, for example, anyone wishing to attach a second trailer behind their fifth wheel needs a class “R,” or recreational double endorsement, added to their license before towing both vehicles. All trailers must be registered and display a valid license plate, and any over 2,500 pounds need a title.

Verify Specs

Start with your tow vehicle. Many major manufacturers will include sections on towing capacities, with specific RV model types for reference. Study those. You don’t want to find out after the fact that your truck can’t tow the shiny new trailer you just bought.

Quite often as you travel across various different locales and byways, there are weight detours, construction areas, or overpasses that all need some forethought before navigating.

Check Everything

That’s not an exaggeration. This isn’t a little firewood trailer you’re hauling, so treat it as another entire vehicle that needs inspecting to hopefully prevent any big surprises on Interstate 60 in the middle of heavy traffic. A few of the biggies include:

    • Tires—condition, tread depth, and pressure
    • Side mirrors—large enough to see all the way to the back of your trailer as well as down to your tires. Adding a fish eye mirror also helps when backing up and maneuvering.
    • Practice—get used to maneuvering and reversing with something that size attached to the back of your tow vehicle. This would be a great time to pick up a set of two-way radios, so someone can help guide you from the outside.

On the Road

Think of your setup as a semi-truck, because you need to drive like it is one. After all, you are now behind the wheel of a rig that is very large, very heavy, and very slow to react. Here are several ideas to keep in mind:

    • No sudden moves, whether accelerating, braking, or turning. Be slow and steady with your inputs.
    • Leave extra room for slowing or stopping. There is a whole lot of weight pushing the back of your vehicle.
    • Turn carefully, and swing wide so you don’t put your new trailer up on a curb, or worse, hook something.
    • Lock out your vehicle’s overdrive to prevent the transmission from constantly “hunting” for the right gear, which will quickly lead to overheating.
    • Don’t rush the trip. If you make 100-200 miles per day, that’s plenty, and after the first day you’ll see what we mean. Towing is hard work; it takes extra attention and constant monitoring, which can become exhausting after awhile. Take frequent breaks or switch drivers if you are able.
    • Avoid wind or areas with strong gusts that rock your vehicle. You need to stop driving if your trailer starts swaying, or if the wind velocity is more than 30 mph. Pull over and wait for calmer conditions, because driving a rig through gale forces is asking for an accident.
    • Check your lug bolts, lights, tires, and other major items every 50-100 miles. This may seem like overkill, but one day it will save you a headache, guaranteed. Lug bolts can work themselves loose, light bulbs burn out, and who knows why tires shred or blow out the way they do. Be ready, and see it coming before it hurts someone.
    • No trailer passengers. We do hope this is sort of common sense, but you never know. Don’t ever allow someone to ride in a trailer while it is being towed down the road. The reasons are many, beginning with the fact that most don’t have any kind of restraints in case of sudden direction change or stopping. Think pinball effect, and just say no.

Please remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Planning a cross-country trip can include much more than we could possibly cover here, so ask around and get familiar with the RV community. Of course, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below!

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