Towing Safely: What You Should Know in Advance
Regardless of your driving experience, there are some factors that need to be considered when towing your trailer to ensure your safety, and others around you.
Know your Towing Capacity
Firstly, you must check the vehicle’s owners manual for the towing capacity. Calculate the total weight of the trailer and/or equipment you plan to tow and ensure this weight does not exceed the capacity. Towing beyond your vehicle’s capacity can compromise safety. It can reduce stability, linger breaking distances and can ultimately strain the engine.
Use the Right Hitch and Equipment
Using the right hitch and towing equipment is an essential safe towing guideline. There are different types of hitches, including ball hitches, fifth-wheel hitches, and gooseneck hitches, all with different functions. Ensure you find one that matches the hitch receiver on your trailer. It is also important to look for any wear and tear on your trailer accessories, like the coupler, to ensure safe attachment of the hitches. Lastly, always use safety chains to connect the trailer to the towing vehicle. Crossing them underneath the hitch prevents the tongue from dropping to the ground in case of failure.
Load your Trailer Properly
Loading your off-road trailer and on-road trailer properly is crucial for safety and stability. Start by distributing weight evenly, using the 60-40 rule. When loading the trailer, ensure heavier items are placed towards the front and centre to prevent sway. After loading, secure it tightly using tie-downs, straps, and other restraints to ensure everything will not shift during transit. The tongue weight is often forgotten, so you must confirm it is within the recommended range for your trailer and vehicle. Too much or too little tongue weight can affect your trailer’s stability.
Check the Trailer Tires
It is standard procedure to check the tire pressures on your towing vehicle and the trailer. Check the trailer tires for signs of dry rot and cracking, especially if you store it outside or if it has not been used for months. While the tires might appear to have plenty of thread, they age over time, so it is important to have regular tire checks and replace when necessary.
Check Wires and Trailer Lights
Before you hit the road, confirm the trailer’s electrical wiring system is appropriately connected to the tow vehicle. During the inspection, use your hands to test if the wires are loose enough to make turns without disconnecting. They should also not be too loose when they touch the road. Have someone check the trailer’s running and brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights correlate with the tow vehicle.
Install Tow Mirrors
Sometimes, your trailer may be wider than the tow vehicle and can obstruct your rear view when driving. Consider getting wider tow mirrors to see the trailer’s blind spots while on the road and for better rear visibility when reversing and merging lanes. Fortunately, modern SUVs have blind spot warning systems that help with the vehicle’s blind spots and warn you about the trailer’s position.
Know your Driving Limits
Towing significantly impacts your vehicle’s handling and braking capabilities, so it is crucial to understand your driving limits. Towing increases your stopping distance, meaning you should leave more space between your vehicle and the one in front of you to compensate for the stopping distance. You should also be cautious when driving uphill since elevated roads strain your vehicle. In such conditions, use lower gears for more towing power. Conversely, driving downhill may affect your vehicle’s control, and you may consider engine braking. When on the road, avoid changing lanes suddenly, making sharp turns, or braking abruptly.
Confirm that your Tow Vehicle’s Maintenance is Up to Date
When towing, especially if frequently, it is vital to check your tow vehicle is maintained properly. This can include an oil and filter change, engine coolant filled, transmission fluid and brake pad check as examples. By doing so, you are reducing the risk of problems arising when towing. The wheel bearings should also be greased for the trip to be as smooth as possible and any trailer accessories should be checked prior to ensure maximum safety.
Be Mindful of Towing Regulations
Towing regulations vary from state to state, and awareness of local laws and restrictions is essential. Various jurisdictions have lower speed limits for vehicles towing trailers, so it is important to know when and where you need to adhere to this. A license may be required for towing trailers of certain weights and sizes. So, it is necessary to check if you need specific credentials before driving away with your off-road trailer or on-road trailer.
Understand What to do in an Emergency
You may encounter various problems during towing, from a flat tire to a trailer sway. Dealing with each case effectively and calmly is vital to keeping you, your vehicle and trailer safe. Carrying a spare wheel and the appropriate tools to change the wheel when going on a long trip is advisable. At the same time, ensure you perform roadside repairs safely and away from flowing traffic. Strong winds may sometimes affect a trailer, causing it to sway or snake behind the vehicle. If this happens, take your foot off the accelerator and let the vehicle and trailer slow down naturally without applying the brakes. You can regain full control as the vehicle slows down, and the swaying will subside.
Trailer towing is a special skill that lets you explore different ways to use your vehicle. Once you learn how to tow a trailer safely, it becomes second nature as you gain experience. The secret is always to avoid shortcuts, and as always, be aware of what is going on the road. Following these safety tips not only protects yourself and vehicle but for others around also.