Campers, RVs in field © iStock

Dear Driving for Dollars,

My wife loves camping, but she is sick of tents. My back isn’t loving sleeping on the ground, either!

So, this past winter we found a great deal on a pop-up camper that we plan to use a lot this summer, towing it behind my pickup truck. The truck came with a hitch and can tow a lot more than the weight of the camper, so we are set there, but I’ve never towed anything before.

What else do I need to know?

— Bernie

Dear Bernie,

Congratulations on your new purchase! My first recommendation is for you to read the towing section of your pickup owners manual. You can go online to the owners section of the manufacturer’s website to download it if you have lost your hard copy. The owners manual will have a wealth of information on exactly what is recommended for a pickup.

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There are two key things to remember. First, towing a camper or trailer is going to make your fuel economy worse. And, your stopping distances are going to be longer. If your pickup truck has a tow/haul mode — usually activated by pushing a button on the dash or near the shift lever, you’ll want to understand when and how to use it.

Tow/haul mode changes the shift points in vehicles with automatic transmissions. Essentially, it will force your transmission to shift earlier on hills and on uneven or steep roads to reduce the wear and tear on your engine and improve the truck’s stopping distance. That’s helpful not only if you need to stop suddenly but also in stop-and-go traffic.

Tow/haul mode further reduces fuel economy, even more than just towing, so it makes sense to use it only when it benefits the driving situation.

Finally, keep in mind that a pickup truck will respond very differently when you are towing versus when you are driving without a load. Make sure you know the differences and adjust your driving accordingly.

For more tips, read “5 tips for safe towing over the summer.”

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