Part of the allure of building a tiny house is the idea that you can take your home anywhere you want, almost anytime you want. And with their almost sticks ‘n bricks sort of building practices they are permanent homes that just happen to be on wheels! But with such travel comes great responsibility and with hazards such as other people on the road to not having the right tow vehicle to not being sure of clearance heights, being safe and observing a few towing rules can make your adventure a positive one each time out!
NOT KNOWING YOUR RATINGS
Whether it be a pickup truck or a minivan, an SUV or a U-Haul, your tow vehicle can only carry and haul so much weight. Burdening your vehicle, tiny house, or both can cause issues with the brake system, suspension system, transmission system, and even tires! Besides meaning a trip to the mechanic and a lot of money out-of-pocket these issues can also cause serious danger!
First things first. Look up your vehicle’s tow ratings before you attempt to tow anything and make sure your hitch system matches your vehicle’s towing specs. We have covered all of the acronyms before but they are always worth repeating. All of the following numbers need to be checked and complied with. You can generally find your tow vehicle’s specs in the owner’s manual and on the lip of your driver’s side door. Your trailer’s unloaded weight (if an RVIA approved model) can be found on the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plate.
- Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): The weight limit for your vehicle (including the vehicle itself plus passengers, cargo, and accessories).
- Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): The maximum weight of the tow vehicle plus the loaded trailer, equipment, passengers, fuel, and anything else you plan to haul or carry.
- Gross axle weight rating (GAWR): The amount of weight a single axle can safely bear. It’s important to know this value for both your tow vehicle and your trailer.
- Towing capacity: The amount of weight your vehicle can pull.
- Tongue weight: The amount of the trailer’s weight that is borne by the trailer hitch. Ideally, this should be about 10 percent of the total trailer weight. NOTE: Too much tongue weight will make your vehicle’s steering less responsive. Too little tongue weight and the trailer might sway. Tongue weight can be measured using a specialized scale (available at trailer supply shops).
If you want to be extra cautious regarding the combined weight of your trailer plus cargo, take your loaded tiny house to a vehicle scale at a weigh station, truck stop, or landfill.
NOT CHECKING LOCAL LAWS
No body wants a tickets when cruising down the Interstate, let alone having to pull your tiny house over. To avoid such remember that each state has its own set of towing laws. It is almost a given that a state requires taillights on your trailer and a safety chain from trailer to tow vehicle, some states may also require running lights, sway bars, special mirrors, etc. And that is just equipment. Laws vary from state to state on towing speeds, trailer width, lane of travel, etc. Be prepared. Plot your course and learn the laws.
NOT EQUIPPING YOUR BRAKES
Towing a tiny house gives your tow vehicle a lot of extra momentum. This means it takes longer to reduce speed or flat out stop. It makes good sense (despite any laws) to equip your tiny house trailer with a separate braking system. This will help improve control and will also stop your tiny house if separated from your tow vehicle. You can invest in one of two systems: an electronic braking system which is attached to a controller inside the tow vehicle or actually part of the vehicle’s tow package -and- surge which are independent hydraulic brakes operated by sheer momentum.
MISINTERPRETING YOUR LOAD
Make sure your cargo is evenly distributed. You should have 60% of the total cargo weight in front of the axle and the overall center of gravity should be low.
NOT CHECKING THE TIRES
If your tiny house has been sitting stationary for a while or it hasn’t spent time on the open road, chances are you need to have the tires inflated and maybe even balanced and/or rotated. Driving a fully loaded trailer with under-inflated tires is serious business. Under-inflation causes friction which can speed up blowouts or even assist in rollover accidents.