8 Must-Know Trailer Towing Safety Tips
October 03, 2017
Towing a boat or a travel trailer to your favorite fishing spot doesn't have to be a white-knuckle, anxiety-producing experience. Like anything in the outdoors, the task is made easier with the right gear and well-practiced techniques.
From a gear perspective, today's pickup trucks are better equipped for towing than they ever have been, and no truck better reflects that evolution than the new 2018 Ford F-150. Ford's F-Series powertrains have benefitted from years of engineering development to make them both powerful and efficient. Chassis' have been refined, too, for strength, rigidity, and ride comfort, even with thousands of pounds hitched up. And today's onboard electronics not only provide entertainment over the long haul, they make the driving experience a lot more enjoyable, too.
Yet Ford will be the first to tell you that no electronic aid can take the place of a skilled, attentive driver. A safe and successful towing trip means the truck and driver work as a team. To help foster that teamwork, we've collected 8 useful tips for properly gearing up a new F-150 to maximize its towing ability and safety features.
Tip: The Right Tool for the Job
Ford offers the 2018 F-150 with a choice of four engine options - five if you include the 3.0-liter Power Stroke V6 turbodiesel that will be available next spring, but it's the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that earned the F-150 its best-in-class, 13,200-pound tow rating. That's because the EcoBoost, with its twin turbochargers and dual port and direct-injection technology, produces 470 pound-feet of torque1. And when you want to tug a laden trailer up a steep launch ramp or over a grade, it's the engine's torque that gets the job done.
Tip: Must-Have Accessories
To fully utilize the tow capacity available with the EcoBoost engine, make sure to check off the Max Trailer Tow Package on the F-150's order sheet. This equipment group includes a Class IV hitch receiver; integrated trailer brake controller (for trailers with electric brakes); upgraded front stabilizer bar; higher powered cooling fans and higher capacity radiator; 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness; the Smart Trailer Tow Connector, which alerts the driver to any connectivity or lighting issues; and Ford's class-exclusive Pro Trailer Backup Assist2 which allows the driver to control the direction of the trailer while backing up by using a mounted knob on the instrument panel.
Note that trailering mirrors are optional for the F-150 outside of Trailer Tow Package. They should be ordered for any truck that's going to tow, as their telescoping action — moving out away from the truck's doors — gives the driver the increased field of view necessary to see along the complete length of the trailer. Chances are good your trailer and its cargo will block the view from the inside rearview mirror, so the outside mirrors and a full field of view are key in maneuvering through traffic safely, parking the rig and backing down a boat ramp.
Tip: Trailering is BLIS
BLIS is an acronym for Ford's Blind Spot Information System. Available as an option on many Ford vehicles, including the F-150, BLIS uses sensors to indicate (via an LED light in the side mirror) when there's a vehicle in the driver's blind spot. When a trailer is connected to the F-150, BLIS with Trailer Coverage uses sensors in the truck's tail lamps to extend the detection area rearward to the end of the trailer. BLIS can be customized to the trailer's length (up to 33 feet) to ensure there's full coverage. The warning light really comes in handy in congested traffic situations when vehicles behind you may change lanes suddenly.
Tip: Activate Tow/Haul
The EcoBoost V6 engines in the 2018 F-150 are backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission. Why all the gears, when five (or even four) used to be sufficient? With that many forward gear ratios available, the engine is operating more often in its optimum speed (rpm) range, which improves fuel economy as well as performance.
This transmission is also equipped with a tow/haul mode that adjusts its shift patterns to the needs of a working truck. With tow/haul engaged the transmission will hold a gear longer, eliminating "gear hunt" when accelerating (which can overheat the transmission) and helping to control vehicle speed when going downhill or decelerating.
Tip: Allow More Time — For Everything
A 13,200-pound tow capacity means the F-150 could be hauling a trailer that's double — or more — its own weight. That means its acceleration, braking and handling performance will be vastly different when hooked to a trailer. Be sure to account for this in traffic; it could take twice as long to get up to highway speeds when merging, and to slow for traffic merging (or stopping) in front of you.
Use the four-second rule to calculate a safe distance between your truck and the vehicle you're following, and bump that up to six seconds in inclement weather or when road conditions are bad. There's a reason so many states have lower speed limits for vehicles towing a trailer: Slowing down gives you more time to react to changing road and traffic conditions.
Going slower will also help your fuel economy. At highway speeds more than half of an engine's power is being used to work against aerodynamic drag. And that's without a trailer. The added weight (and aerodynamic profile) of the trailer causes the engine to work even harder. Lowering your highway speed lightens the load on your engine, so a drop in fuel economy won't be as severe.
Tip: Sway Away
Trailer sway — the tail wagging the dog that could turn into a dangerous jackknife situation is something every driver needs to be aware of when towing a trailer. Reducing your speed is of paramount importance if this occurs. Ford's standard trailer sway control with AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control (available on the F-150) provides instant help to control this problem. Here's how it works.
If your trailer starts to sway, the stability control light will flash and a trailer-sway-reduce speed message will pop up on the information display. The trailer sway control feature will begin to apply the brakes to individual wheels and reduce the engine power if needed. If this happens, chances are your trailer is improperly loaded or the speed at which you were towing your trailer was too high. Slow down and pull your vehicle off the road. Check to make sure your trailer is connected correctly and your load is distributed properly. Then drive at a slower speed than you were before the sway occurred.
Tip: Pass Completion
Extended tow mirrors and Ford's BLIS system will help track traffic around you if you need to pass slower vehicles, but use them in concert with these tips:
Signal your pass — both when pulling out and pulling back in — to give drivers around you the opportunity to make room for the pass.
Pass on level ground. Your slower acceleration capabilities only worsen on an incline and could make you no faster than the vehicle you want to pass. Passing when going downhill could have the opposite effect, as the weight of the trailer could push your truck to speeds faster than is safe.
Don't Jerk The Wheel. Make smooth and easy steering wheel inputs to reduce the risk of trailer sway.
Change Lanes With Care. Remember the increased length of your truck with the trailer so you don't merge back into your lane too soon. (This is where BLIS with Trailer Coverage is very helpful.)
Tip: Check and Check Again
Before heading out with your trailer, do a walk-around. Check to make sure the trailer is attached correctly, all lights (running, turn signals) are operating, safety chains are in place, and that the tires on the truck and trailer are properly inflated. All truck's engine fluids should be fresh and/or topped off as well. Then, about 50 mile into your trip, pull over and check the hitch, lights and chains again to make sure nothing came loose on the road.
To see the new 2018 Ford F-150 in the field on action-packed fishing and hunting adventures, visit The Ford Outfitters.