Whether it’s a boat, camper, or utility trailer, towing seems simple enough. After all, thousands of people tow things every day. But make no mistake, there’s an infinite amount of things that can go wrong, which could threaten the safety of yourself and anyone else on the road. Fortunately, avoiding the majority of these hazards is easy with some basic knowledge and a trailer safety checklist. So if you want to get from point A to point B without a hitch (pun intended), let’s dive into your first towing adventure – the definitive safety checklist.

The Towing Vehicle Checklist

Safe towing starts with a tow vehicle that’s up to the task. Your vehicle doesn’t need to be perfect or brand new, but it should be reliable and in good mechanical condition. No doubt, pulling a trailer of any size puts additional stress on the vehicle. It’s critical to know your limits when it comes to weight ratings and don’t exceed them. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) can be found on the inside of the driver’s side door frame.

Specifically, remember that your towing limit is based on the weakest link in the system. For example, if your vehicle is the weakest component and can only tow 7500 lbs, but you’re using a hitch with a weight rating of 14,000 lbs, then you cannot tow more than 7500 lbs. While you don’t need to check or test major parts like axles and transmissions before each trip, these should be maintained according to your manual so you can trust they’re in sound condition. Always do a quick check of your tires, turn signals, and lights before you hit the road.

Here’s a full list of what to focus on before hitting the road:

  • Transmission
  • Axles
  • Brakes
  • Tires (condition and tire pressure)
  • Hitch and components
  • Lights/ tow wiring
  • Turn signals
  • Adjust mirrors
  • Legal documents (insurance, registration, etc.)
  • Weight limits

The Trailer Safety Checklist

Similar to the vehicle, you want to verify the basic necessities function as expected. Major parts, such as the trailer frame and suspension system, don’t need a thorough inspection before every trip but should be maintained per the manufacturer. Attaching the trailer to the vehicle properly is arguably the biggest factor when it comes to avoiding trouble. Always follow basic safety standards such as attaching the safety chains correctly, having proper tongue weight, and ensuring all the key components are in good condition.

If you’re towing something like a boat or open utility trailer, always verify everything inside is secure so nothing could fly out when driving. And if you notice anything unusual when you drive off, such as side-to-side movement or unexpected noises, stop and investigate.

For trips where you’re towing a camper, don’t forget about waste management and water needs. This means having your sewer hoses and water hoses clean and in good condition, along with an abundant supply of fresh water. To make things easier and cleaner, bring a few pairs of rubber gloves and double-check the valves and caps on the hoses seal correctly.

The open road isn’t easy on vehicles and trailers, even when everything is in excellent condition. Sometimes, things just go wrong. Fortunately, the most common issues can be fixed roadside. Always have a jack, spare tire (for both vehicle and trailer), and know how to change it with the right tools. In addition, keep a bright vest, safety triangles, and wheel chocks on hand so that if you’re on the side of the road, you’re visible to others. Many drivers even carry a tire repair kit and a small tire inflator powered by your car battery or 12V DC outlet. These tools are included in the trailer checklist below.

  • Trailer frame
  • Suspension system and axles
  • Trailer Brakes (when required by state law)
  • Tires (condition and tire pressure)
  • Electrical system (lights and brakes)
  • Tongue weight and proper loading
  • Trailer jack function
  • Turn signals
  • Coupler
  • Legal documents (insurance, registration, etc.)
  • Spare tire(s)
  • Tire repair kit & inflator
  • Jack
  • Safety vest, safety triangles, wheel chocks
  • Sewer/water hoses (camper)
  • Fresh water supply (camper)