High-Tech Towing Aids

Hauling anything behind your vehicle is not a task to be taken lightly, whether your plan is to tow a camper, a boat or a simple utility trailer. After the financial outlay (which is significant if you’re buying a boat or RV), you have to then get the hang of driving your new rig.

However, if you’re also shopping for a new or late-model used vehicle to tow your trailer, you’re in luck, because carmakers have come up with a number of high-tech tools in recent years to making towing safer and easier.

Chevrolet Silverado HDRear-view “transparent” trailer camera system

In 2019, General Motors launched a new generation of full-size pickup trucks with a trailer towing assist system that uses cameras to help the driver in a number of ways. Among 15 different exterior camera views is one that lets the driver see “through” a trailer.

GM’s transparent trailer view is based on the rearview mirror camera it offers in a number of its vehicles. It uses an accessory camera that you attach to the rear of the trailer to show you a view of what’s behind it. The truck then stitches together the images from that camera and the truck’s backup camera to provide a virtual uninterrupted rear view in the truck’s dashboard touchscreen.

GM seems to be the first auto brand to put transparent trailer tech into production. British SUV maker Land Rover first toyed with the idea in 2015, but the technology never made it into its production vehicles.

Trailer backup assist

As OntarioCars.ca contributor Lori Strauss wrote in an article from earlier this year, backing up with a trailer is one of the most difficult parts of learning to tow. (https://www.blog.ontariocars.ca/how-to-back-up-your-trailer/) However, the Ford F-150 pickup has a trailer backup assist system that nearly flattens the learning curve.

Reversing with a trailer involves counterintuitively turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction you want to move the trailer. With Ford’s system, you use the feed from the backup camera and turn a dial on the dash in whichever direction you want the trailer to go, and the F-150 does the calculations and controls the steering automatically. You have to calibrate the system for your specific trailer, but only before the first time, you use the system with it.

Trailer blind-spot monitoring

Blind-spot monitoring is a common safety feature in modern cars and trucks. It uses sensors in the rear quarter panels to “look” for vehicles in your blind spot and help avoid collisions. In most cases, these systems will trigger an audible warning (usually activated by the turn signal) if you begin changing lanes before it is safe.

Ford and Ram have created towing-specific blind spot systems that also cover the area next to the trailer you’re towing behind your truck. This is especially useful if you’re a towing novice getting used to the length of your truck-and-trailer combo.

Ram’s trailer blind spot monitoring system was named Best Technology Innovation in the 2020 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Car of the Year awards.

Pro Trailer Backup Assist helps take the frustration out of backing up with a trailer. It works by letting the customer steer the trailer with a control knob while the Expedition steers its wheels and limits vehicle speed. To operate Pro Trailer Backup Assist, the driver rotates a knob to indicate how much the system should turn the trailer, then the technology automatically steers the Expedition to turn the trailer the desired amount. The system can limit vehicle speed to enhance occupant comfort over various road surfaces. The result is less time required to back up a trailer along with added driver confidence; the technology can even help towing experts by reducing time lost to maneuvering mistakes.Camera-based blind spot monitor

Hyundai has expanded on blind spot monitoring tech with a camera-based blind view system.

While not specifically a towing aid, the new system is available on Hyundai’s Palisade large SUV (which can tow as much as 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs)), and gives the driver a better view of what is next to and behind the vehicle.

When the driver signals a lane change, the system uses cameras in the side mirrors to show an image of the left and right blind spots in the gauge cluster.

Hyundai’s blind view monitor is also available in the brand’s Santa Fe SUV and Sonata sedan. It was named Best Safety Innovation in AJAC’s 2020 Car of the Year awards.

Incidentally, using cameras to avoid blind spot collisions is not actually a new thing. Honda’s Lane Watch feature pre-dates the Hyundai system by the better part of a decade. However, the Honda setup only shows the passenger-side blind spot, while the Hyundai blind view monitor works on both sides of the vehicle.