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Towing Tips: Towing Capacity and Other Things to Consider

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2013

With summer on the way, many drivers are eager to load up their families and head to a nearby lake or beach to relax. For many people, that involves towing, whether it's a boat or a camping trailer. So, if you're looking for a tow vehicle, we've listed several important considerations, from towing capacity to available options. Our list will be especially helpful to those looking to tow for the first time, since they may not be sure what to look for.

Additional cooling

 If you're planning to do serious towing -- and you want to do it often -- we recommend a vehicle with a transmission cooler. Many automakers offer this as part of trailering packages, which are good options for towing big loads. The transmission cooler is especially important, since towing can strain a truck's transmission.

Manual shift mode

 Nearly all full-size trucks and SUVs now come standard with an automatic transmission. But having a manual shift mode can be important when you're towing. It's useful for steep grades, both for climbing and descending. If you're climbing, you may need to shift down a few gears to pass a slower car. And if you're going down a hill, you may want to stay in a low gear to keep from overheating the brakes.

Suspension upgrades

 This is another recommendation for drivers who plan to do a lot of towing, or those who plan to tow heavy loads. Many automakers include upgraded suspension as part of trailering packages. Suspension upgrades can be important, since a heavy trailer (or constant trailer use) can strain a truck's suspension.

Towing capacity

 This measures exactly how much weight your truck can tow. It's important to remember that while the recommended capacity may seem low, you don't want to exceed it. That's especially true of inexperienced drivers looking to tow. The reason: In addition to being unsafe, exceeding the recommended capacity may cause major damage to your vehicle's engine and transmission.

Towing mirrors

 If you've ever wondered why the mirrors on full-size pickups are so large, towing is the reason. If you're towing a long trailer, you need huge mirrors -- and you need them to extend well beyond the truck's body so you can see past the trailer. For novices looking at a tow vehicle, this is important. But if your tow vehicle of choice doesn't have very large mirrors, don't worry. Many companies offer aftermarket mirror extenders that can help you when towing.

Trailer braking system

 Some automakers offer a trailer braking system in their full-size trucks. The system is important in a panic situation. The reason is that trailers don't have anti-lock brakes, which can cause the wheels to lock up under heavy braking. A trailer brake system controls the force to the trailer's brakes, helping to keep them from locking.

Trailer sway control

 Many full-size pickups offer trailer sway control. The system typically comes highly recommended by anyone who has experienced trailer sway. Sway can happen for several reasons, including wind, poor weight distribution and driver over-correction. Sway control systems monitor a truck's movement and can apply precise braking to stop a swaying trailer. For drivers inexperienced with towing, we strongly recommend searching for a vehicle with sway control.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Towing Tips: Towing Capacity and Other Things to Consider - Autotrader