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5 tips for safe towing over the summer

Tara Baukus MelloThe summer driving season has begun, and many Americans are getting ready to hitch up their boats, campers and trailers behind their cars as they head off for a weekend of fun. But that fun can quickly lapse into concern if your prized outdoor toy isn't towed correctly.

Not knowing the proper towing practices can result in damaging your car or the object being towed. Incorrect towing also can lead to car accidents, which can mean increases in car insurance rates if you are found to be at fault. Follow these five towing tips to help keep things safe.

Know your limits. Your vehicle can have a hitch or a tow package, but it might not be able to tow anything. Don't assume that because you have a large SUV or full-size pickup you can tow anything you want. Compare the towing capacity for your vehicle with your specific tow package and hitch to make sure whatever you want to tow is within the limits. Don't forget to recheck it if you buy something new to tow.

Inspect your car thoroughly. Towing puts a lot of additional wear and tear on your car's engine, drivetrain and chassis, so you want to make sure it's in tip-top shape before you start towing. Bring your car to a trusted mechanic for a thorough inspection to identify any potential issues. A preventive repair now is a far better alternative than a breakdown while you are on vacation.

Get comfortable. Even if you have the same trailer and are towing the same object as last year, it's likely your driving skills when towing the rig are a little rusty. Set aside some time to practice driving with your trailer. You'll want to get a feel for acceleration from a stop, acceleration when passing, braking at different speeds and, of course, backing up and parking.

Slow down. The extra weight and length of towing anything behind your car will naturally cause you to accelerate more slowly. However, if you are cruising on the open road, it is easy to let your speed creep up to the same speed you'd go when you aren't towing. That can be dangerous. If you need to swerve or stop suddenly, you could cause your car and trailer to lose traction and slide, skid or jackknife, resulting in an accident or damage. Keep watch on your speed or set the cruise control to ensure you keep it slow and steady.

Be alert and prepared. Towing increases the risk of a breakdown or other problem on the road, so you'll want to be prepared with emergency supplies for your car as well as to keep your family comfortable. Make a habit of giving your car and trailer a quick walk-around every time you stop on your journey to check for tire problems. Also, ensure your load is secure and balanced and your brake lights and turn signals are working. While you are on the road, be alert to any new sounds or smells as well as changes in performance such as with steering or braking, and pull over at the nearest safe spot to check if you suspect anything is amiss.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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