Towing a trailer for the first time is intimidating. Anyone who tries to tell you differently has forgotten his first hours towing a trailer when his heart seemed to stay in the throat and sweaty palms made it impossible to grip the steering wheel any tighter.

Like any new experience that involves risks to body and property, there's a certain fear factor that comes with attaching trailer hitch to tow ball. But such anxiety disappears quickly after one understands the basics of towing and gains a little experience. The key is to focus on how your own tow vehicle and trailer react as a package--and making changes in your driving style and habits accordingly.

Initially, this is anything but intuitive, but eventually you'll get the feel for how the trailer affects your tow vehicle's acceleration, braking, and steering; the line the trailer's wheels take as you round a corner; how the tow vehicle and trailer react going over bumps and dips in the road or to a sudden gust of wind; how quickly the trailer reacts to changes in steering while backing up; even how sharply you can turn before the trailer tongue puts a crease in your tow vehicle's bumper or bodywork.

With practice, you'll develop a feel for all these things, and just like driving a vehicle without a trailer in tow, it will become intuitive.

The most critical aspect of towing any trailer is having the right tow vehicle. Just because your F-150 can get a loaded 30-foot toy hauler moving doesn't mean it's the right vehicle for the job.

Towing in a safe and sane manner requires knowing a couple of numbers and reading the tow vehicle's owner's manual. For instance, you need to make sure the trailered weight doesn't exceed the vehicle's maximum tongue weight or maximum weight-carrying capacity unless your tow vehicle is equipped with a weight-distributing hitch, sway control device, or both as stated in the vehicle owner's manual.

Tongue weight is the downforce the trailer applies to the back of the tow vehicle--and that force should never be more than 15 percent of the loaded trailer's weight. Weight-carrying is the conventional towing mode most often seen when towing a boat, utility, or ATV trailer attached directly to the ball/shank coming out of the hitch. Weight-distributing (W-D) mode is when the trailer is attached to a special hitch assembly that utilizes tension bars and adjusting chains like those commonly used on travel trailers.

Read the owner's manual and you'll find all Toyota pickups and SUVs require the use of an anti-sway control device on trailers weighing more than 2000 pounds (trailer/cargo). Ford F-150s require the use of a weight-distribution hitch on trailers weighing more than 5000 pounds, as do all half-ton Dodge, Nissan, and GM pickups.