We’ve all seen the driver speeding along the highway with a tarp billowing or furniture wobbling in the back of their truck. This scenario isn’t just distracting, it’s also extremely dangerous. Debris is one of the leading causes of crashes, injuries, and deaths on U.S. roadways every year. But it’s preventable if you properly secure your items either in a trailer, on top of your car, or in the back of your vehicle.
Use these seven expert tips to safely transport items.
1. Know how much weight your vehicle can carry or tow.
How much you can carry inside and tow behind your vehicle varies based on the car’s make and model, as well as any upgraded trailer or towing packages you have equipped.
To determine how much you can carry or tow, find your car’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) either on the inside of the driver’s side door or in your user manual. This is the maximum loaded weight of your vehicle. Subtract your vehicle’s curb weight (also in your user manual) from the GVWR to determine how much you can tow or carry inside, including passengers, gasoline, and cargo. For example, if your car’s GVWR is 4,610 lbs and your car’s curb weight is 3,370 lbs, you can carry 1,240 lbs.
“For the person who’s going to a home improvement store for just the normal things, they don’t need to worry,” says David Bennett, repair systems manager at AAA. “But they should pay attention to that number if they’re grabbing bags of cement or pallets of sod.”
How much weight you can tow in a trailer—such as a moving trailer or a boat trailer—relies on different metrics: tongue weight and towing capacity.
- Tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the point a hitch and trailer connect, and it shouldn’t exceed 10 to 15 percent of the total weight of your trailer. You can measure tongue weight with a vehicle scale.
- Towing capacity is the amount of weight your vehicle can tow.
Your vehicle’s towing capacity is listed in the user manual, but you can also determine the maximum by using a towing capacity calculator offered by ExploreUSA or Camping World RV & Outdoor Sports.
2. Properly install a hitch for a trailer.
If you’re planning to tow anything, you’ll need a trailer hitch. This structural component bolts to points underneath your car and connects to a trailer. Hitches must be compatible with your car’s make and model. Companies such as etrailer.com and U-Haul can help you determine what you need, and they provide instructions and video tutorials so you can install one on your own. You’ll also need to wire your vehicle’s lights so brake lights and signals appear simultaneously on the back of the trailer.
Not confident in doing it yourself? Hire a professional at a dealership, an auto repair shop, or through nationwide retailers such as U-Haul or Pep Boys. Expect installation to cost at least $100.