On towing an RV travel trailer

What we tow

We heard from a bunch of folks to, “buy too small instead of risking buying too big”.  We took this to heart! Our Jayco Jayflight 145RB is 16.5 ft long with just enough room for the essentials.

2020 Jay Flight SLX 7 145RB Floorplan

Our tow vehicle

When we started, we didn’t want to blow our budget to see if this lifestyle was for us. We opted to keep our Jeep Wrangler JKU mainly because our light trailer was within the tow capacity. I installed a hitch to the frame under the bumper and a brake controller easily enough. (A HUGE Thank You! to Kenny for the help here)

when she was “new to me”

This worked really well for hopping from RV Park to RV Park. After 3 months, we became bold enough to start exploring mountains and wanting to boondock at >5,000ft elevation. The Jeep could tow well enough on the highway, but it quickly became a struggle to pull uphill on steep grades. Add in some wind while on a steep uphill grade, and you’re in 2nd gear trying to maintain 40mph. Likewise, engine breaking downhill in 3rd gear would rev the engine to 4000rpm. For the peace of mind and safety factors, we decided to made a significant change to our setup.

RVLifer’s that tow, usually do so with a truck.  This is the obvious move for safely towing larger travel trailer RVs.  We decided to shop around for a little quarter ton truck after attempting to tow up a dirt and gravel campground trail in the Jeep. (That ended with us backing out carefully.) Not wanting to give up on boondocking off of some “scary” roads, we ended up getting a GMC Sierra with 4×4 AWD and a built-in brake controller.

2016 GMC Sierra 1500 4×4 AWD

We were fortunate enough to get a great deal on both the trade-in of the Jeep and our new (to us) truck!

Brake controllers

We’re all familiar with the brake pedal for stopping our cars. When you’re pulling something heavy behind your vehicle, it’s very important to have the stopping power to cover both your vehicle and that heavy towed payload. Brake controllers help sync the trailer brakes up with the brakes of your tow vehicle. By pressing the brake pedal, you apply brakes on both your vehicle and the trailer that you’re towing. Some additional features allow you to engage trailer brakes independently of the vehicle brakes (useful in controlling dangerous trailer sway situations).

Our Jeep Wrangler didn’t have a brake controller installed from the manufacturer, so I opted to install our own. We ended up getting a REDARC EBRH-ACCV2 Tow-Pro Elite Controller. Most aftermarket brake controllers are large and blocky gadgets that eat into your dash or leg space under the dash. This unit was largely hidden underneath the dash and I only needed to mount a small button/knob for engaging/tuning the trailer brake power.

REDARC EBRH-ACCV2 Tow-Pro Elite Controller

As we were shopping for a truck, we made sure that it would come with a brake controller installed from the manufacturer. The GMC brake controllers interface has one nice feature upgrade over the aftermarket solution we had on the Jeep: a lever to engage the trailer brakes as heavily as you push the lever. The REDARC break controller offers a simpler solution: a button that will engage the brakes as long as it’s held.

Weight Distribution

What is a weight distribution system?

  • These systems distribute the weight of your tow load across all of the axels of the tow vehicle and trailer. 
  • Folks towing without a weight distribution system, describe their drive as white knuckling it. And after install, they can barely tell they’re towing anything behind their truck.

we were able to transfer some weight to the front axel

Why is weight distribution important?

  • even tire wear
  • better braking power
  • stiffer handling: more control through turns

Before I installed our weight distribution hitch, the front of the jeep sat high while the rear sank down.  This meant I had a lot of wear on the rear tires, my headlights were pointing high into the faces of oncoming traffic, and it felt like a gust of wind would blow me right over.  After this new setup was in place, the drive felt balanced and easier to control.

Sway Control

What is sway?

Have you ever driven down the road on a really windy day and an 18 wheeler passes you and multiplies the wind you’ve been fighting to stay straight on the road?  How about that same situation but towing something just as big as your vehicle?  Towing an RV before using sway control felt like I was dragging a huge sail behind me…causing a constant battle with the wind, the whole drive. You correct one way and that correction is multiplied, so you correct the other way and the same happens; repeat.

Why is sway control important?

Tow hitches

Not all tow situations are the same, and so not all need a weight distribution hitch. As another safety precaution, we picked up Husky’s Centerline 32215 Weight Distribution Hitch.

Centerline 32215 Weight Distribution Hitch

This hitch is a bit more expensive than some other models you’ll find out there, but covers both weight distribution and sway control in a single system.

As we switched from the Jeep to our GMC truck, I did have to re-configure the distribution system slightly to allow more weight to rest on the rear axel of the truck. YMMV

See you guys on the road!

We’ve learned quite a bit about towing a travel trailer. Some will likely find the truck’s towing ability plus the weight distribution hitch w/ sway control as overkill. I do like that the weight distribution bars keep a force applied on the trailer wheels which keep them pinned to the ground in the case we hit some bumps at higher speed. We at least feel much safer towing on the highway, and I suppose that’s all we’re really chasing after!

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