Summer is definitely the time for trips, travel, and towing.
Whether your trailer is a recreational camper, a pop-up sleeper, an equipment trailer or just for hauling loads to the dump, you need to know the rules, regulations, and requirements for your province or territory.
There are many different types of recreational trailers that could be towed by a vehicle:
- Travel trailer
- 5th wheel
- Tent trailer
- Toy hauler (for things like ATVs, snowmobiles and dirt bikes)
- Park model
- Boat trailer
Trailers must be registered and licensed before they can be used on the road.
In Canada, regulations for towing trailers differ across the country, from province to territory. The only common ground that is agreed upon across the nation is that trailers cannot be more than 8 feet, 5 inches wide (2.4 metres), and that trailers require working tail lights, brake lights, reflectors, and turn signals.
Maximum weight for trailers without brakes differs across the country, as do the rules on maximum heights allowed for a trailer. Safety chains are required across the country except in the Northwest Territories.
Know your vehicle before you tow
Before you tow any type of trailer, recreational or other, be sure to consider the condition of your vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you are towing a fifth-wheel, or a pop-up camper, you need to ensure your vehicle is capable of towing the trailer and the load within the trailer. While most mid-sized vehicles (cars, mini-vans, and light-duty pickup trucks) can pull a trailer, they cannot pull ALL trailers.
Towing a trailer that is heavier than the recommended weight provided by the car manufacturer can seriously damage your vehicle, and even void your warranty. Always check the manufacturers GCWR (gross combined weight rating) before towing anything.
You also need to make sure you have the right type of towing hitch. When purchasing a hitch, you need to know details such as the height and weight of the trailer, and the type of brakes the trailer has.
Always secure the load, and remember to balance the weight.
It is also important to remember load balancing when it comes to trailers. Always store heavy items low, and lightweight items high. Keeping the center of gravity low helps to minimize sway and wobble in a trailer. Make sure that all heavy items cannot slide around. Balance the weight of the load in the center between the two sides of the trailer, and place the heaviest items towards the front. A good rule of thumb is to keep 60% of the weight of the cargo in the front half of the trailer, but no more than 10% of the weight over the tongue.
For trailers up to 2,000lbs, no more than 200 pounds over the tongue
For trailers over 2,000lbs, tongue load should be only 10-15 percent
For fifth-wheel trailers, tongue load should be no more than 25%
Check and recheck your load is balanced and secure frequently throughout your trip. This is especially necessary for long drives or bumpy road conditions where items may shift or become loose.
Practice, practice, practice!
Towing a trailer also requires knowhow and skill. Almost half of the reported collisions from drivers towing a trailer are single-vehicle accidents, not caused by other drivers, but by the driver towing the trailer themselves. Another 20% were rear-end collisions because vehicles towing trailers require a greater distance to stop. In cases where it was determined that the driver was at fault, 30% of the accidents happened because the driver “lost control” of the vehicle.
Before driving off with a trailer in tow, practice in a safe area. Do a circle check to make sure all the lights, brake lights, and turn signals are working. Adjust your mirrors. And practice turning and backing up in a nice wide-open safe area. Remember, backing up is the most difficult part of maneuvering a trailer.
Towing also requires more time to accelerate, merge, brake, and turn.
Trailers and Insurance
Truck campers, pop-up tent trailers, equipment trailers, and any other type of trailer that is not drivable on its own (requires towing by a truck or other vehicle) can be insured by your auto insurance policy. However, there are limitations so be sure to check with your insurance company before you tow them. Many policies will automatically cover damage done by your trailer (liability), but they do not cover damage done to your trailer without an additional coverage option. These added coverages can be as low as a few dollars a month.
Contents of your trailer are normally covered under your home or renter’s insurance policy, which should provide for your belongings (no matter where they are located). There may be limits to the value of the coverage when it comes to towing, so be sure to check with your insurance company.
Larger travel trailers are a big investment, and should be considered for their own insurance policy. They can be added to your automobile policy, but with limitations.
A motor home or RV is not the same as a travel trailer. Because a motor home can be driven on its own (independently of other vehicles) it requires its own insurance policy.
With boat trailers, the trailer should be covered under your auto insurance. Some insurance policies do automatically cover boats up to a certain length.
Recreational Trailer Resource Links
Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) of Canada
RV Regulations for Maximum Dimensions, Towing, and Safety
Lighting equipment list and location requirements(downloadable PDF)
Recreational Towing Regulations by Province or Territory