Towing in the state of Michigan often means fun, but not always. The image of hitching a boat or a travel trailer to the truck and heading out into adventure is delightful. But towing can also mean getting a car that has broken down to the mechanic.
Towing a trailer or another motor vehicle necessarily impacts traffic on a public highway, so most states regulate many aspects of towing, including how the towing vehicle is attached to the vehicle or trailer towed, the total length of the combination, and the safety features required. Before towing anything in Michigan, it's important to get an overview of the towing laws in this state.
General Towing Rules in Michigan
The general rule in Michigan is that a vehicle – whether a passenger vehicle or a pickup truck – cannot be driven on a public highway if it is towing more than one vehicle or trailer. (The exception to this rule is termed a "recreational double," discussed below.) When a pickup truck tows a semitrailer or other load, the total length of the combination must not exceed 65 feet.
Connections Between Vehicles
When one vehicle tows another vehicle, the drawbar or other connection between the two vehicles cannot be longer than 15 feet. That is, the distance between the two vehicles cannot be more than 15 feet. If the material making the connection is a chain, a rope or a cable, Michigan state law requires that a flag or cloth at least 12 inches long and 12 inches wide must mark the connection.
Whenever a vehicle tows another vehicle or a trailer, the two must be coupled in a manner that doesn't allow for much wobbling. Obviously, excess wobbling can cause a safety hazard for vehicles in other lanes.
To that end, Michigan requires that, when the tow occurs on a level, smooth, paved road, the vehicle towed or the trailer cannot swing more than 3 inches to either side of the trajectory of the vehicle doing the towing.
Use of Safety Chains Under Michigan Law
Additional connections are required, with safety chains or other material strong enough to tow the load by itself. The vehicle or trailer must be connected to the towing vehicle by these safety chains, one on each side of the coupling, running to the extreme outer edge of the vehicle or trailer.
Towing Trailers in Michigan
Anyone towing a travel trailer is usually off for a vacation. But before heading out, read up on Michigan's many regulations for towed trailers. First comes the administrative formalities:
- All trailers weighing more than 2,500 pounds must have a title issued by the Michigan Secretary of State.
- All trailer coaches (such as pop-up campers, travel trailers and fifth-wheel campers)
must have a title issued by the secretary of state.
- All trailers and trailer coaches of any vehicle weight must be registered and display a valid license plate.
- License plates issued for trailers cannot be transferred.
- Trailers must not be longer than 45 feet or wider than 8 feet, 6 inches to be towed.
- Towed trailer's maximum height is 13 feet, 6 inches.
Michigan trailer towing laws require that all towed trailers are equipped with certain features. These include:
- One or more working taillights.
- Tires with a minimum tread of 2/32 inches.
- Lights illuminating the trailer license plate.
- Mud flaps on the rear wheels.
- Trailers weighing 2,500 pounds or more must be equipped with turn signals and two red or amber rear stop lights visible from at least 100 feet.
- Trailers under 3,000 lbs. must have two red rear reflectors.
Heavier trailers – those weighing more than 3,000 pounds – must have certain equipment:
- One rear stop light.
- One amber reflector near the front of each side of the trailer.
- A red reflector near the back of each side of the trailer.
- Two amber clearance lights on the front of the vehicle and one on each side, visible from at least 500 feet.
- Single red clearance lights near the rear of each side of the trailer.
- Red clearance lights on the back of the trailer.
- Working brakes.
Towing Recreational Doubles
"Recreational doubles" in Michigan refers to a pickup truck pulling two trailers. Immediately behind the truck is a fifth-wheel trailer, and behind that is a second trailer. Sometimes called “fivers,” these types of trailers reputedly provide the greatest amount of comfort and living space.
In recreational doubles in Michigan, the second trailer or semitrailer must be attached to the first trailer in the same manner and with the same, secure materials as is required for the attachment between towing vehicle and the first trailer. The towing vehicle hitch shall be appropriately substantial for its purpose and well attached to the frame of the towing vehicle.
Other Michigan recreational vehicle (RV) towing laws specific to recreational doubles are:
- The pickup truck that is towing the two trailers must have a towing rating equal to or higher than the weight of the two trailers.
- Drivers towing a recreational double must have an “R” endorsement on their license.
- Total combined length of the three units — pickup truck, fifth-wheel trailer and second trailer — must not exceed 75 feet.
- The gross weight of the second trailer cannot exceed the empty weight of the pickup truck or the empty weight of the fifth-wheel trailer.
- Hitch used to tow the second trailer must be attached to the frame of the fifth-wheel trailer.
- Safety chains for the second trailer must be securely attached at the extreme outer edge of the fifth-wheel trailer with a locking mechanism.
- The trailer cannot drift more than three inches to either side of the path of the towing vehicle when traveling in a straight line on a level, smooth, paved surface.
In short, although it is possible for a car or pickup to tow a trailer or another vehicle in Michigan, there are more than a few standards that both the towing vehicle and the towed vehicle or trailer must meet. These rules are intended to keep everyone safe and anyone breaking them can be subject to prosecution.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.