Borgman How To: The Tao of Towing

Simple Guide to Towing Trailers, Boats, and Campers Across West Michigan

One of the best parts of driving a larger Ford Truck or SUV in West Michigan is being able to tow heavier toys along on your next adventure. Whether you're towing a boat, a trailer loaded with dirt bikes or ATVs, campers, or even snowmobiles, there's a rugged Ford vehicle that's more than up to the task. Although, if you're new to towing, you might have some questions about all the ins and outs. In this latest Borgman How To, we'll cover some important mechanical, safety, and operating tips to get you towing like a pro in no time!

Be Kind To Your Powertrain!

This first part is very important: when you're towing something, your vehicle is heavier and needs to work that much harder to get moving. If you don't compensate for this, you could easily damage your engine, transmission, or both. Before you do anything, it will be worth reviewing your owner's manual and double checking your towing and payload weight ratings, as well as any vehicle-specific information not covered here.

To illustrate why this is important, we'll quickly go over how the engine and transmission work together. When you press the gas pedal, the engine spins and the more you press it down, the faster it goes. Without a transmission, the engine would have to work very hard to get the vehicle moving from a stop and rev much too high around 35mph - resulting in severe damage from both cases. Much like the gears on a bicycle, the transmission has different sets of gears for the different "stages" of acceleration. From a stop, the wheels spin slower but with much more force. The inverse is true in the higher gears.

When you add the extra weight of the trailer into this equation, you have to make sure the transmission doesn't shift too early -which overworks the engine. There are a few easy rules to follow here:
  • Use Tow/Haul Mode if you have it. Otherwise, use whatever setting you have to turn off overdrive (the highest gear.)
  • If you tow heavier loads, in hot weather, or over long distances, it may be a good idea to have a transmission cooler installed.
  • Keep an eye on how your vehicle is shifting: lower gears are preferred when towing up hills.


Check All Of Your Connections

Since every vehicle is different, you'll have to refer to your owner's manual for the proper procedures when attaching and loading a trailer. There are some important things to check for though in any circumstance. First and foremost, make sure all of your tires are properly inflated - and this includes the ones on the trailer. Second, ensure your trailer's brake/taillights are properly connected, attached, and working. While you're back there, it's worth noting that your trailer's license plate is attached and visible as well. Third, check your tongue weight. Usually, you want 10% to 12% of the trailer's weight resting on the tongue of the trailer but this may differ from case to case. Finally, check your connection to the hitch, as well as the chains. These are your safety net should the hitch fail, so give them as much attention as the hitch itself. After 10 to 15 minutes of driving, safely pull over and check these again - sometimes bumps in the road can wiggle them loose.

Everything looking good? Now it's time to get comfortable driving with a trailer!


The Secret To Safely Towing a Trailer: Practice, Practice, Practice.

Even if you feel confident about towing a trailer on public roads, it's absolutely necessary to get acquainted with it before heading out. Have an experienced friend bring your rig to an empty parking lot so you can practice things like backing up, braking, making lane changes, and adjusting to the change in handling. The key is to do everything slow and steady.

Though some trailers come equipped with brake assistance, you'll still be able to feel the extra weight when stopping. The heavier the load, the more pronounced this gets. Once you know what to expect, plan ahead and bring the rig to a stop with extra room to spare in front of you. There are two reasons for this. First is to give yourself some extra time to react should you miscalculate. The other reason is to allow about 10 feet or so to creep forward after coming to a complete stop. This releases some heat from the brake pads and rotors, guarding against "glazing" and prolonging their life.

Turning is also going to be much different - remember that the trailer is going to cut to the inside of your path so make sure you give it plenty of space!

Backing Up: You Can Do It!

 Another thing you'll need to experiment with is backing up, and just so you know: it can be very frustrating and counter-intuitive at first. Though many newer Ford Vehicles come equipped with Trailer Backup Assist, where all you have to do is turn a knob to steer the trailer, learning to do it the old-fashioned way is an invaluable skill to have.

Try this: grip the steering wheel on the sides and use only your mirrors to see. Go very slow. If the trailer needs to go right, raise your right hand. Raise your left to go left. If the trailer starts to "jackknife," or starts forming an "L" shape relative to your vehicle, stop and slowly pull forward to straighten it out and try again. Jackknifing will put strain on the hitch and the trailer, so it should be avoided if possible. The important thing is to not give up - it's not an easy thing to do, and will take practice and patience to get the hang of it. Once you've got it down, be sure to congratulate yourself and revel in your accomplishment!


Time To Hit The Road To Adventure!

Ok, so now you're comfortable with the added length of your vehicle with trailer in tow, and know what to expect regarding acceleration, turning, and braking. It's time to hitch up your camper or trailer and embark on your summer adventure! Be sure to run through the list above before setting out and double check all of your connections. If your trailer is taller than your vehicle, make sure you know the full height and plan your route accordingly. You'll also be going slower than normal and stopping for gas more often, so give yourself some extra time. Once everything is in order and your load is properly secured, it's time to head out.

Every time you stop after the first 10 minute "pull over and double check," be in the habit of inspecting the trailer for anything out of place. On the road, keep an eye on other vehicles and where they are in relation to the back of the trailer. If you have your signal on and aren't sure if it's safe to merge, some drivers know to flash their lights to let you know the trailer is clear. This is common "trucker code" and hope it comes in handy - no matter which end of it you're on.

What To Do If Your Trailer Starts Swaying or "Fishtailing."

It happens to the best of us: the trailer gets a little squirrely out on the highway. This can happen because of a sudden gust of wind, the rush of air from a passing car, or making sudden movements. The best way to guard against this is referring to your owner's manual for tips on loading the trailer and checking tongue weight or postponing the trip on windy days. Should you notice your trailer swaying on the road, here's what you can do to save it.

First, stay calm and resist the urge to hit the brake - this will only make things worse. Take your foot off the gas and gently apply the trailer brake. Newer Ford Vehicles equipped with Trailer Sway Control will do this automatically. Do this in short pulses until it straightens out; the trailer moving slower than your vehicle will "drag it" and only allow it to move forward, not side-to-side. In an absolute worst-case scenario, you can speed up a little bit to correct it on the opposite end, assuming you have room in front of you. However, your first instinct should be to apply the trailer's brakes and not your vehicle's.


Be Aware, Be Safe, and Tow Like a Pro on Your Next Adventure in West Michigan

Planning your next trip to the lake or up north this summer? No matter if you're going to use your new-found towing prowess or not, ensuring that your vehicle is in good working order is key to making your journey a success. The experts at the Borgman Service Center can help by performing a careful and thorough inspection of your vehicle's critical components like the engine, transmission, brakes, tires, and more. We can even help with more advanced features like the Trailer Sway Control or Trailer Backup Assist too.

Take a look at our latest Service Specials or use our easy Online Service Scheduler to make your next appointment. During your visit, be sure to ask about our Lifetime Warranty on Brake Pads as well as our Low Price Guarantee on our selection of name-brand tires. Come see why Borgman is the Best in the West!
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