How to Hook Up a Trailer: Your Step-By-Step Guide

how to hook up a trailer

It’s summertime! This means it’s time to go trailer camping, mountain biking, fishing, boating, and more. Whichever one of these activities you plan to do, you’re going to need to learn how to hook up a trailer to transport your equipment.

Don’t fret though, hooking up a trailer isn’t as hard as it seems. It just requires the right equipment, some mental preparation, and a bit of patience. It’s a bit like putting new furniture together.

If you don’t hook up a trailer properly, however, it can damage your car, cause accidents, and potentially harm someone else’s life. Learn how to attach a trailer hitch safely to minimize risks and accidents.

How to Hook Up A Trailer Safely

In order to hook up a trailer to your car, the first thing you’ll need is a trailer hitch. The is the large metal piece that connects the trailer to your car and it is made up of two parts: the tongue coupler and the ball hitch, or sometimes known as the towed ball. The tongue coupler is attached to the trailer and the ball hitch is attached to the towing car.

You can buy a hitch at most car accessories stores or auto parts suppliers and it’s important that you select the right one for the amount of weight you’d like to tow. Once you have the right hitch, then you can begin to hook up the trailer.

Step One

Use a hand crank to raise the trailer’s tongue coupler a few inches above the ball hitch on the back of your car. This will make it easy for you to drop the coupler onto the ball and they won’t clash when you back up the towing car.

Step Two

Line up the center of the towing car with the center of the trailer. Then slowly back up the towing car until the coupler hovers over the ball hitch. You might want to ask someone to help guide you since you cannot see exactly how far or how close you are to the trailer. If not, you can also just back up slowly and get out of the car several times to check it.

Step Three

Once the coupler is directly on top of the ball hitch, use the hand crank to lower the coupler until it covers the ball hitch entirely. The full weight of the trailer should be on the ball hitch when it’s done.

Step Four

Push the coupler clamp down onto the coupler and lock the coupler and ball hitch in place with a hitch pin. This will ensure they won’t detach.

Step Five

Take the two chains attached to your trailer and hook them onto your car’s hitch. Make sure you cross the chains underneath the hitch as you do this. If they are too long, you can twist the chains to shorten them. These chains are there to help prevent your trailer from detaching completely if the hitch does become loose for some reason.

Step Six

Plug the trailer’s electrical wires into the towing car’s electrical system. Get in the car and turn on the lights to see if all the lights on the trailer are also working. If they are not, you cannot drive the trailer as it is dangerous and you can be fined.

Step Seven

For extra security, use a tongue jack to raise the coupler to make sure it doesn’t come off the ball hitch. Or, drive your tow vehicle forward a few feet to make sure the coupler and ball hitch is firmly attached.

Other Things to Know

Before towing a trailer, here are a few other things you should know.

Trailer Laws

It is a requirement in most states for trailers to have license plates. If the trailer belongs to you, you must go to the DMV to get a title for it and register it. If the trailer isn’t yours, make sure it has been titled and registered by the owner.

Towing a trailer without all the proper papers can get you into trouble with the law, and make sure you check the laws in your state before driving a trailer since the laws vary in each state.

Select the Right Trailer Hitch

Depending on what you’ll be towing and what kind of trailer you have, you’ll need a different hitch. Hitches are classified by the amount of weight they can tow. The smallest hitches are meant for towing lighter objects such as bikes. The largest hitches can be used to tow construction materials, boats, and trailers. Discover more about large trailers if you need tow something large.

Check the Towing Capacity of Your Car

If you need to tow something heavy but you’re not if your car is big enough to tow it, look in your car instruction manual for your car’s towing capacity. If you cannot find it, call the manufacturer to find out. Do not attempt to tow something that might be too heavy for your car. It can damage your car or break the hitch, which will result in accidents.


Last but not least, if this is your first time towing a trailer, practice driving your car around with the trailer before you go on your way. Driving a car with a trailer attached to it feels very different from just driving a car. Get used to how the trailer turns, how it accelerates, and how it brakes. Remember, you’ll also be going at much higher speed on the highway and you’ll want to know exactly how the tow car reacts when you need to switch lanes or stop suddenly.

Ready to Tow?

Anyone can learn how to hook up a trailer to a car. It’s not rocket science, it just requires focus and following the right instructions. The first time you do it, it’s always a bit confusing but once you get it, you’ll be able to do it much quicker the second time.

If you would like more tips and advice on how to attach a trailer hitch or any other common car problems, be sure to visit our blog for more information!