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First time towing a trailer driving from Sacramento to Maryland

I am planning my first trip towing a trailer and have no idea where to begin. My main concern is traveling through mountains being a newbie towing a trailer. Also, what is the most scenic route and where do you find where you can pull over and sleep? Again, NEWBIE with all of this. I would love to visit some beautiful places and am not in a rush getting to Maryland. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
7599 posts

What sort of trailer? A 10 ft U-Haul cargo trailer or a 25ft 5th wheel? or..?

The 'scenic' routes are more likely to be the more challenging driving.

Is this a one way move, or a meandering vacation?

What time of year?

Posted by
3789 posts

For another set of experiences, TripAdvisor has a 'road trip' forum that is very active. You may also want to post there.

Posted by
1237 posts

I traveled 25 years in an RV (both trailers and motor homes).

Get yourself a good campground book/directory. Flying J gas stations (I used them) and most Walmarts (never used them) allow overnight "parking" for RVs. Flying J is also a good place for fuel as they have special islands for RVs with sufficient space to turn. The Good Sam Club has a good campground directory. Do NOT just park on the side of the road. Some states allow overnight parking in rest areas (I have not done this often and never in the last 10 years}.

For a cross country trip be sure your tow vehicle has plenty of torque (not just horsepower) and is rated to tow the weight of your trailer. Diesels have much more torque than gasoline engines and are great for towing. That said, I survived for 25 years with a gasoline engine. You NEED trailer brakes not matter what anyone tells you. Be careful on intestate highways. Passing vehicles, especially high speed, large trucks, will really throw your trailer around. All you can do is hang on tight. That reminds me, you will need a sway bar.

Plan your trip out , in detail, ahead of time. You do not want to get into situations where you have to make a U-turn or get in places where there just is not enough room for a turn (many gas stations and store parking lots). Having to unhitch and turn the trailer around by hand is no fun. Be careful of low bridges, especially when not on interstates. Know your trailer height INCLUDING the AC unit. Also know your total weight (loaded trailer plus your tow vehicle) and be aware of weight limited bridges. Some under river/bay tunnels (mostly on the east coast) do not allow vehicles with propane tanks. I can think of two on interstate highways (both in Baltimore, MD). Also tunnels going into New York City.

Practice backing up. When you are trying to back into a campground space is not the time to learn (been there, done that).

Posted by
3789 posts

.....and know the covid situations. Travelers have cited that not all gas station bathrooms are open - though I assume ones that would take a trailer would be larger service stations. And you would need to plot a route that allows you 'drive through' access without quarantine. Ensure you have more than enough water on board if this is going to be during summer...and a breakdown kit.
If this is a moving (U Haul) trailer, have you considered one of the Pod options instead?

Posted by
576 posts

Note that some of the more scenic routes will have limitations on trailer lengths. I’m not sure if they still do this but maybe find out if AAA still does road trip planing.

Posted by
1285 posts

I assume this is tag-along or 5th-wheel trailer. If you’re not good at backing a trailer, find parks with pull-through trailer spots. I still have problems backing my 2-horse tag-along after 30 years and no way can I back the boat trailer.

Stop early enough in the day so you can park and set up the trailer. A friend stopped after dark, couldn’t see a low hanging branch when backing in his 5th-wheel and damaged the a/c unit cover. Know how to hook up and dump the water and septic.

As others have said your tow vehicle makes all the difference. Our 1-ton diesel van loves to pull on the flat at 80 and hills are not an inconvenience, while my vintage 1/2 ton pickup hauls best on near-level roads. I think CA still has road laws that say big trucks and vehicles with trailers must stay in the right lane, so know the hauling laws for each state you’re driving through.

Before your trip practice driving pulling the trailer. One problem you will find is that you tend to slow down on hills or curves when you don’t need to. You’ll loss momentum and upset the people behind you.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you every one for you replies. They have been very succinct and informative. My rig is not big. I just sold my 350z and bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee towing a cargo trailer that is only 6x12 with a weight of 1800 lbs. I’m converting into a little bedroom with en suite essentially;) when I said newbie I meant it. Does the trailer still need brakes and a sway bar if it is so small and how hard Is it to maneuver anything bigger than a 350z through mountainous roads?

Posted by
774 posts

I learned how to drive towing a travel trailer around most of the mid-west and mountain States, and I've driven back and forth across the USA more times than I can remember. You have two basic routes available; I80 to PA and then drop down to MD, or I80 to Laramie/Cheyenne and then drop down to I70 and across. Both are good roads, and your definition of "scenic" may differ from mine, but I'd take the southern route. Frankly I dislike I80 east of Chicago more than I dislike I70 east of St Louis. For a Scenic route east of the Mississippi you might want to consider taking I64 from St Louis, which would take you through KY and WV. The roads in WV may not be what you want to drive with a trailer though it's a much prettier route.

You can't just "pull over and sleep". A lot of the States that's not acceptable (especially east of the Mississippi). Turnouts aren't always the best places to stop, but the ones where you see truckers are best, and as long as you don't block them with your trailer you'll be okay. Campgrounds are best; look for chains like Good Sam or KOA. They will have hook up and showers, and you're going to want those. Truck stops are good too, especially the big ones, as you can sleep there and grab food and a shower, although with C19 that may be less prevalent than in the past.

I80 over the mountains is a good road. even with a trailer. Just remember your manners and stay to the right and don't let the back up behind you get more than 6-8 vehicles. Use a lower gear for downhill sections and save your brakes, that extra weight will push you.

One more thing, between Cheyenne - Des Moines, or Denver - Kansas City, there's not much to look at and the drive gets monotonous. Do not fall asleep! Stop at least ever 2 hours and get out and eat/drink/ stretch. And stop at night. In those rural areas half the population on the road after dark is under the influence of something.

Have a good trip.

Posted by
3554 posts

It sounds like you plan to tow a tag trailer. Is the 1800 pounds fully loaded after modifications or empty?

How tall is the trailer?

Depending on your route and time of year, wind could be an issue. If you don't have a sway bar, the tail could wag the dog. Worst case scenario, the wind could turn the trailer over and take the Jeep with it.

Is the trailer single axle, double axle or triple axle?

As for the trailer brakes, keep in mind that a 12 foot trailer, fully loaded could easily weigh the same as the Jeep, so without trailer brakes, you'd be stopping 2 Jeeps with the brakes of only one, or not.

Our rig is substantially larger than yours, but the principles are the same. I asked my husband about the braking issue and he provided the info above.

Will the trailer be heated or air-conditioned? Will it have any kind of power? A generator?

You will need to have a brake light and running light set up. That comes off the Jeep's battery while you're running. One thing you don't want to do is run down the Jeep's battery by using power from it while you're stopped.

If you're staying in some kind of campground with power hookups, you'll need a set up to reach them with a substantial all weather power cord.

Check the Jeep's manual for the maximum load you can tow. Do not exceed the towing capacity of your Jeep. Don't believe anything anyone might tell you (even my husband or me). Do the research yourself.

One more thing. Trailer tires are not regulated. They don't last very long. Be sure to have at least 1 or 2 spare tires on wheels so you can easily change a tire if needed. If you're traveling in hot weather, their road life is shorter.

If you're traveling any route where there could be snow or ice, that's a whole other challenge, for both the Jeep and the trailer.

And you will have to license the trailer. All the details I've described are regulated by the state where you license it.

As you can tell, my orientation is toward your safety making this trip. Once you get your towing set up squared away, you can decide what route(s) to take and how to travel them.

Posted by
1237 posts

I definitely concur with the advice you have been getting above.

Sway bar and brakes are needed. You will absolutely need trailer brakes on mountain roads or you will find the trailer is pushing you. Any road you would be driving through on would be easily driven with a short rig like yours. I drove a motor home, towing a car with a combined length of 50 ft over many roads across the Rockies and Sierras and, with care, had no major problems. I am not familiar with the engine(s) available in Jeep Grand Cherokees and am concerned about your ability to haul mountain grades, especially at high altitudes. The tow capacity listed for the vehicle only means the frame can handle the additional weight. It does not mean the engine or brakes have the capacity to handle the additional weight.

One thing most people find hard to believe, a short trailer is much harder to back up than a long trailer. It will jack-knife in a blink. So practice, practice and practice some more. If you put your hand on the bottom of the car steering wheel, the trailer will turn in the direction you turn the wheel.

Be sure you have emergency chains on your tow hitch and that you cross them when you put them on (will catch the trailer tow bar if the hitch breaks). Do not let anyone tell you this can not happen. The hitch broke (a bad weld) when I was towing a trailer and the chains caught the trailer tow bar and prevented a complete disaster. Best bet for sway bars, brakes, lights and chains is go to a good RV dealer that sells trailers and have them set you up correctly. Not only will they set you up but they will teach you the proper way to hitch up. Also add to the hitch accessory list a break away cable.

Being new to this, do not even consider driving any where there is snow or ice.

Posted by
1285 posts

Bob said "If you put your hand on the bottom of the car steering wheel, the trailer will turn in the direction you turn the wheel."

A tip one of my horse trainers taught me that works: When you look at your side mirrors and see more trailer on one side, turn the steering wheel to that side to straighten out. I hope your Jeep has right and left side mirrors.

Also make sure your trailer lights work and check them everyday while you're on your journey. I don't recall seeing if you bought this trailer or if it's a U-Haul.

A road side assistance plan you may want to consider is US Rider. It is designed for people pulling horse trailers but will work for anyone. If you have AAA, they will leave trailer and horses on the side of the road and only tow your car (this is for real).

Posted by
102 posts

Mimi, reading your posts I suspect you already have the cargo trailer. If so: 1. Is it 1 or 2 axles?; 2. Does it already have brakes?; 3. Is it wired for the legal lights?; 4. What is the maximum loaded weight capacity of the trailer?; 5. What are you planning on building & hauling in the trailer? Your Jeep needs a class 3 or better trailer hitch with a ball to match the trailer coupling. Also, your tow vehicle must be wired with a connector for trailer lights. Many states require trailers over 3000 lbs gross weight rating have brakes. So your Jeep will need a brake controller and trailer connector. Plus adequate mirrors - the stock mirrors usually are not sufficient. 2 axle trailers tow better and have greater weight capacity. If it doesn't have brakes installed, it will be very costly to add them. The trailer should have special trailer tires in good condition, preferably load range E or better. And unlike passenger car tires, trailer tires require very high air pressures. Besides the towing capacity of your Jeep, you have to consider the Jeep's load capacity as well. Weight in the Jeep affects the towing ability and limits. Cargo trailers usually have a short hitch distance, making them easier to jack-knife when backing up - practice. Sometimes the only way to change direction is to unhook the trailer and reposition the tow vehicle - multiple times. In short, you have undertaken a not trivial task. Expert help is recommended with personal instruction.

Posted by
404 posts

You have been given some great advice here. #1 is make sure you consult with an expert to make sure your setup is safe.

I tow my 2-horse, bumper pull horse trailer often, usually several times a week, year-round (although not this summer 😞). With respect to your route, I would advise you to stick with major highways as much as possible. Towing a trailer on small, winding roads is an active process for the driver and eventually makes you very tired. The trailer exerts a lot of force on the tow vehicle, and the driver needs to be aware and constantly correcting. There are short trips (under 15 miles) around here that I will not do with the trailer because it is too much work; I go around the long, straight way instead (plus it’s easier on my horses).

Towing on snow and ice is really, really challenging. Since towing is brand new to you, avoid slippery situations on this trip and until you have time to practice under safe, slow conditions.

Another tip I would give you is be aware of your gas gauge. You will use ungodly amounts of gas while towing, especially up and over any mountains. My big SUV gets way less than half the mileage per gallon when I tow. So plan your route, make sure there are plenty of trailer-friendly gas stations, and fill up before you get low.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
1190 posts

Be sure to watch the 1954 Movie "The Long, Long Trailer" with Lucille Ball!

Posted by
7599 posts

how hard Is it to maneuver anything bigger than a 350z through mountainous roads?

You will find the Jeep, by itself, is a BIG change in driving dynamics from the Z. The greater mass and higher center of gravity will be a huge difference for you. Add a trailer and its learning to drive all over.

Is the Jeep new or a used car? The older it is the more important it becomes to have a good mechanic/tech go through it to make sure it does not leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. ( Brakes, cooling, transmission and running gear)

Posted by
3 posts

The Jeep is used but it is a 2017. I talked to the company that put my hitch on and he said I do not need a sway bar and brakes on the trailer. I am waiting for a quote from him as I think I am going to listen to people on this forum because they are travelers and seem to know what they are talking about. What is most confusing is almost everyone on this forum says it is very important to have these and the man that installs them, also making the money off of my purchase says I don’t need them. My gut says I do, especially since I am used to a little low profile z and am already nervous about the transition to this bigger rig.

Posted by
5657 posts

You may be able to get by without a trailer brakes if you stick to the Interstate Highway system and avoid the scenic mountain rads. The Interstate design standard specifies a maximum grade of 6%. That being said, give your self breaking space and don't tailgate or draft the big rigs. You may also want to keep your speed to truck-towing-trailer speed limits.

https://drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/trailer-brakes/

CALIFORNIA

Every trailer and semitrailer manufactured after 1940 with a GVW of
6,000 lbs. or more and operated at a speed of 20 mph or more must be
equipped with brakes; trailers and semitrailers built after 1966 and
with a GVW of 3,000 lbs. or more must have brakes on at least 2
wheels; every trailer or semitrailer built after 1982 and equipped
with air brakes must be equipped with brakes on all wheels.

Every trailer coach or camp trailer with a GVW of 1,500 lbs. or
more must be equipped with brakes on at least 2 wheels.

Posted by
404 posts

Get a second opinion.

When I tow my little pop up (1450 lbs empty, and we don’t put anything in it for travel), which has no brakes, my SUV (an Expedition with heavy duty tow package) knows it’s back there. You will be pulling a heavier trailer with a much smaller SUV.

And remember that the stuff you load into it counts. 1800 lbs empty is not 1800 lbs loaded up. My 3500 lbs horse trailer is 6500 lbs loaded, and that’s the weight I need to worry about for towing.

Posted by
102 posts

Mimi, is the company telling you that you don't need brakes also the company selling you the trailer? They should know California law regarding trailer brakes. And not just California, most of the states you cross enroute to the east coast require brakes on 3,000 lb gvw trailers. When/if you get a quote to install a brake system, please post the amount here. There are people here who would know whether the $ is reasonable. All of the 6x12 Uhaul trailers have brakes and dual axles. Some trailers have "surge brakes" which do not require a vehicular controller and wiring. They are not as effective as the wired controller type but might be adequate if you keep the weight down. You will need a sway bar with surge brakes. And a dual axle utility trailer tracks better than a single axle. If the cost starts getting too high, you might consider renting or buying a tent or a small tear-drop trailer. You should be able to cancel the trailer deal due to state law violation. You will have to get the trailer registered and DMV knows the rules. It is a shame that we no longer have Click & Clack to turn to for humorous advice. Good luck.

Posted by
102 posts

We have talked more about the vehicles than the driving. What has been said is right: it is different and difficult. I have driven vehicles small and large towing loads small and really large. It requires a different level of attention, different habits and different driving procedures. As has been said, the vehicles have to be setup right for the task. A route should be planned that accommodates your skills and the rig's abilities. Other drivers often do not allow room for maneuvering, starting up or stopping. They tailgate where you can't see them. They pass in bad situations and cut back in too soon. They stop suddenly without allowing for your stopping distance. Even some truck drivers (who should know better) regard you as an obstacle, passing too close rocking your rig from their slipstream. It is difficult, but with care you, as have many others, can do it. Prepare well, drive defensively, stop often to rest and do not push yourself to meet unrealistic schedules. And if you are not comfortable with the traffic speed, seek an alternate route or slow down a bit. Being cursed is better than being wrecked.

Posted by
1275 posts

KGC
I rise in defense of the people who live west of des Moines. We are not boring, and only a few of us are drunk.

Posted by
774 posts

doric8 -

I never said people in the area I defined were boring. And based on what the law enforcement agencies I worked with in MO would cite, alcohol is the least of the worries; meth and speed were much more common.