How to Get Your Tow Vehicle Ready for Peak Season

Is Your Tow Vehicle Ready for a Season of Camping?

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If you own a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or small camping trailer then you rely on your tow vehicle to get you safely from destination to destination. Before you embark on your next adventures for the peak travel season, you should make sure your tow vehicle is as ready as you are. Here are a few quick and easy steps for ensuring just that.

Address Basic Maintenance

Truck Towing Trailer

Sometimes it is the simplest things that we overlook. So, the best place to start when it comes to getting your tow vehicle ready is to make sure you are up-to-date on its basic maintenance needs. This includes things like changing the oil, servicing front and rear differentials, and checking the remaining life on your front and rear brake pads.

If you have a local mechanic shop that you trust, go ahead and schedule an appointment for a pre-trip inspection. Most shops will check these basic maintenance needs while also checking all lights, turn signals, window operation, the status of engine and cabin air filters, and much more.

For those of you who live and travel in a fifth wheel or travel trailer full-time, you should consider utilizing Yelp to find a reputable mechanic in your area. Or, you can also look into finding a mobile mechanic who can come directly to you for a quick inspection.

Check Your Tires

Tire Maintenance

Most auto repair shops will send you to a tire shop to get new tires, but they can certainly check whether or not it is time for a replacement. Of course, it really isn’t too difficult for you to check the status of your own tires.

You can either purchase a tire tread depth gauge or use the ‘Lincoln trick.’ If you use a tread depth gauge, make sure you place it on the tread located at several spots on your tires.

To perform the Lincoln Trick, find a penny. Then, locate one of the tread grooves in the tread on your tire. Finally, place your penny in the tread groove upside down. In other words, President Lincoln’s head should be upside down when the penny is in place. If Lincoln’s head is entirely visible up to the last little tuft of hair at the top of his skull, it is definitley time to replace your tires.

Some people recommend doing this test with a quarter instead of a penny. Both work, but the quarter will mean you replace your tires earlier when there is still a few millimeters worth of tread available.

Check Your Hitch

Basic hitch maintenance should also be part of getting your tow vehicle ready. Start with a visual inspection of your hitch receiver, hitch mount, hitch ball, and hitch pin. Look for obvious cracks, dents, or bends; they signal that your hitch is compromised.

Of course, the presence of cracks, dents, or bends should not be a surprise if you have been driving your tow vehicle during the off-season. However, that this is not always the case, and that accidents happen.

On a preventative note, it is also a good idea to remove your hitch ball and store it in a safe place in your garage or in the trunk of your tow vehicle during the off-season. This will reduce the likelihood of unexpected damage occurring and will also minimize the buildup of rust that often occurs during the winter months.

Clean Up Hitch Ball and Receiver

Truck Hitch

Speaking of corrosion, this is also a great time to clean up your hitch ball and receiver. You should focus on removing excessive amounts of rust. In some cases, negligence can cause so much rust to accumulate between your hitch mount and hitch receiver so much so that it becomes entirely stuck in place.

If this is the case, you may need to use WD-40 to break down rust and free your hitch ball from the receiver. You may also use some sort of soft dead blow to gently hit the hitch mount from all sides until it breaks loose from the receiver.

If you don’t have a stuck hitch ball, you can simply use fine-grit sandpaper to remove the rust from the hitch ball and mount. Removing rust from the inside of your hitch receiver can be a little trickier, but a narrow wire brush will come in handy. From there, you can use a leaf blower or air compressor to blow the loose rust particles out of the receiver.

Schedule an Alignment

If you put new tires on your tow vehicle (or have changes made to shocks, tie rods, or other elements of your vehicle’s suspension or steering system), you will need to get your vehicle aligned properly as well. This will guarantee that your steering wheel isn’t off in one direction or another when you are actually going straight down the road.

It will also maximize the life of your new tires and other new parts you have installed on your tow vehicle. Tires are going to wear in an uneven fashion on a vehicle that isn’t aligned properly. As you might imagine, the problems that come with this will only be exacerbated when you are towing a trailer.

Any good mechanic shop should recommend an alignment if they perform any major work on your tow vehicle. If they don’t, however, it is always good to ask why that is the case and to request an alignment if your shop overlooks it.

Cooling System Maintenance

Fluid Check Towing Vehicle

Your tow vehicle will be under more stress when you are towing. So your cooling system will need to function properly to keep your engine from overheating. If that happens, you will be worrying about much larger problems.

In the simplest terms, your vehicle’s cooling system includes your radiator, water pump, thermostat and housing, cooling fan, and all associated switches, hoses, and fluids. Cracks in hoses, low fluid levels, or malfunctioning parts can all cause issues with your vehicle’s cooling system.

So, it is a good idea to ask your mechanic to inspect your cooling system when you already have an appointment for general vehicle maintenance. At the most basic level, a mechanic can drain the refrigerant and coolant and recharge the system to make sure it is operating with clean fluids, and that your fluids are at the proper level.

The health of your family and your travel trailer depends on your tow vehicle being ready for peak season. So it really can’t be stressed enough how important it is to put some time, energy, and financial investment towards preparing your tow vehicle.

In many cases, it can be useful to set an annual budget for tow vehicle maintenance. If you start saving now, you will be ready to make the investment to maintain your tow vehicle when peak season comes around again.

Tucker Ballister
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