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A travel trailer, pop-up, or mini-towable is different than a motorhome because it is towed behind your own vehicle. It is also different than a fifth wheel because it hooks up to your bumper hitch and a fifth has a special hitch inside the bed. Therefore, you will need to ask some specific questions before renting a travel trailer that you plan to tow.

I have a travel trailer and have towed over ten thousand miles, from local weekend trips to month-long road trips. Plus, we rent out this same travel trailer to others on RVshare and Outdoorsy. So we know all the important FAQs for renting a travel trailer.

Psst – if you want a discount for your next rental sign up for our newsletter and cheatsheet for RV discounts and hacks or go straight to Outdoorsy and use our $50 off coupon.

As part of our series on renting an RV, we covered all the essential questions to ask when renting any type of RV in a previous post. This article covers only questions specific to renting a travel trailer so also should read all the questions you need to ask about renting an RV.

Bookmark the other articles in the series for planning your vacation!

What is the weight of the travel trailer?

Camping with Alligators at Colorado Reptile Park

The weight of travel trailers varies widely depending on the size and construction of the camper. Travel trailers can weigh between 2,500 pounds and over 9,000 pounds dry. On average, travel trailers weigh 5,200 pounds dry (meaning before adding water and gear).

For example, our 35 foot Jayco bunkhouse weighs 8,200 pounds dry. See our RV for rent on Outdoorsy at the listing here

Your vehicle is designed to tow a certain amount of weight behind it. So you need to know the total weight of the trailer that you will be pulling. This includes the dry weight plus any gear. If you plan to boondock you were also be hauling water and that should be added to the total weight.

The towing capacity of your vehicle must be more than the weight of the trailer. You can find the towing capacity in the owner’s manual or a search for your vehicle’s make and model.

Pro Tip: When towing at altitude you lose up to 20% of your towing capacity. You will need the extra towing capacity to get over those mountain passes.

What is the hitch weight?

A travel trailer hooks up to the bumper of your tow vehicle and essentially leans on the hitch. Because the hitch is supporting some of the weight of the trailer, you must know how much weight can safely be applied to your tow vehicle.

In addition to towing capacity, the frame of a vehicle and suspension system is designed to hold the amount of weight placed on the bumper hitch. When the trailer is connected to your truck it will lean down on the hitch and apply some force, this is referred to as the hitch weight.

A weight distribution hitch will help with this so make sure to read the tips below about this special piece of equipment.

Can my vehicle tow this trailer?

The amount of weight that your vehicle can pull behind it is referred to as towing capacity. To figure out the towing capacity for your vehicle, start by looking in the owner’s manual. Frequently you will find the towing capacity and total weight in your owner’s manual under towing.

Also, look on the inside of the driver’s door for a sticker or plate that has the specifications for your vehicle. Otherwise, search online for the specific make and model of your vehicle for towing capacity.

As discussed above, the tongue (or hitch) weight which is how much weight force the trailer applies to the bumper hitch as it leans down on it. The tongue weight should be 10-15% of the total weight of the trailer and its load.

Exceeding your towing capacity and tongue weight can damage your own vehicle or cause you to lose control of the trailer. Even worse, you will likely void the insurance on the rental trailer, leaving you with the full cost in case of an accident.

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    Do you need a brake controller?

    Large trailers have brakes of their own so they do not rely solely on the vehicle brakes to stop them. Most states require trailers to have independent braking systems if the weight exceeds 4,000 pounds (some are even over 2,000 points).

    Read more about trailer brakes here: Towing Capacity Guide (Without Trailer Brakes)

    You will need a brake controller for your truck to coordinate the braking of the vehicle and the trailer. The controller senses when you step on the vehicle brakes and activates the braking system on the trailer at the same time.

    Your truck must be equipped with the trailer brake controller inside the vehicle. The controller is different for different makes and models of trucks so the rental owner will not supply this.

    What size ball do I need on the hitch?

    Most bumper pull trailers will have a receiver for a standard ball to connect the trailer to your bumper hitch. The standard ball size for a trailer hitch is 2 and 5/16 inches in diameter.

    It’s definitely worth asking to make sure you have the right set up though. Also, the owner may supply the correct ball or the receiver with weight distribution and a sway bar system.

    Do I need a weight distrubution system and sway bar?

    Large trailers can have a significant weight in the front on the hitch. Even ultralight trailers with a wheelbase side towards the back can be quite heavy. (Ours for example is 900 pounds on the hitch.)

    A weight distribution bar helps transfer some of the load from the bumper hitch and distribute it more evenly across the frame and tires of your vehicle.

    A sway bar helps to stabilize the trailer from large side to side motion while driving. Frequently, weight distribution and sway bar were will be in a system together.

    It’s worth adding this information from the comments here:

    There is always the risk of unknown forces causing your travel trailer to roll. Having a stabilizer bar under your travel trailer’s chassis can minimize the threat of sway and improve road safety. A sway bar for a travel trailer is an aftermarket accessory that RV owners install in their travel trailer’s suspension to improve its handling characteristics. Sway bars work by controlling wheel suspension action, keeping the travel trailer’s wheels in constant contact with the road surface.

    Reader of FTF

    Do you supply weight distribution and sway bar with the rental?

    Not all rentals will come with weight distribution and sway bar. The entire setup costs between $200-$500 so not all owners will supply this. Some might charge an additional flat fee.

    I supply a sway bar and weight distribution with the rental of our trailer. When someone arrives I train them on the use of this equipment before they leave.

    Note: Although a sway bar is designed to minimize the back-and-forth movement while driving a trailer, it will not prevent an accident if the trailer loses control. You will still need to drive slowly and cautiously.

    How long is the trailer from bumper to hitch?

    Tips for your First RV Family Camping Trip with a Toddler
    Tips for your First RV Family Camping Trip with a Toddler

    Travel trailers are generally described as the length of only the usable space in the trailer itself. But the front end will have a hitch extending out from the front which attaches to your vehicle. This will not be included with the advertised length of the trailer.

    Most campsites are also rated in the length of the trailer as advertised. So you would see a 35-foot trailer and choose a campsite for 35 foot or larger RVs. However, you may need to know the total length in case of a tight campsite.

    Further reading: What is the Best Length for a Travel Trailer?

    You may also need to know the total length of your vehicle plus the trailer.

    Another time when we’ve been measured is taking the ferry from Seattle across the sound. We were in with the commercial vehicles and measured the bumper of the front of the truck to the bumper of the back of the trailer. We measure 59 feet in total.

    Will the insurance cover the travel trailer while I am driving? 

    Rental agencies carry commercial insurance on the RVs and generally cover everything towing. Sometimes you choose the level of coverage to purchase with your rental. This can get get a little confusing when you are driving whether your car insurance covers the accidents while driving.

    For example, you can rent an RV on Airbnb, but the insurance only covers stationary rentals. Meaning while the RV is in motion you may not be covered. In this case, you want to hire the owner to deliver and set up the RV. (this makes renting from Airbnb a little cheaper since you do not have to purchase additional insurance. Plus you can get a $35 coupon for your first rental in our newsletter here: $100+ in RV rental discounts.

    Other peer-to-peer rental companies, RVShare and Outdoorsy, both offer $1M insurance coverage with each rental.

    I have also seen private companies that require you to get a binder on your own insurance to cover an RV rental.

    Do you have a hitch lock?

    Travel trailers are easily stolen without a hitch lock. Anyone could back up a truck, remove the chocks and hook up the trailer. A hitch lock prevents the ball and hitch from properly fitting together, making it impossible to tow. You always want to make sure that the hitch is locked to prevent theft.

    This device is generally a pin and lock but other contraptions are possible.

    Wrapping up the Questions to Ask Before Renting a Travel Trailer.

    Travel trailers have a unique set of requirements because you are towing behind your own vehicle. You will be dealing with the hitch and towing. This article only covered questions directly related to travel trailers. You should make sure you ask all the important questions related to renting an RV. These will save you time, money and oh, so many headaches.

    Questions to ask before renting a travel trailer.  Get all the important FAQs for hiring a travel trailer and towing with your own vehicle.
    Questions to ask before renting a travel trailer

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      Shauna Kocman founder Family Travel Fever
      Shauna Kocman founder of Family Travel Fever

      Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever.  We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug!  I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.

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