You have bought a new trailer and have your first trip all planned out. Are you ready to start out on your trip? Assuming you have done all inspections for your trailer and cargo, then here are a few tips for being on the road and towing your trailer safely. Remember, there is a big difference between just driving your vehicle and hauling a load behind it. Handling characteristics will be startlingly different. Practicing on roads with little traffic or even in empty parking lots will help to give you a feel for how your vehicle will handle in different situations. And while in a deserted parking lot, it is a good time to practice backing and parking.
To back a trailer, turn your wheel right to back right and turn your wheel left to back left. Oversteering can cause the trailer to turn sharply, so do gradual movements. If you get in a bind, just pull forward and straighten everything out and try again.
Don't forget to consult your vehicles's owners manual for information on the correct driving gear when towing. If your manual is unavailable, call the dealer for your make of vehicle. Usually the service department has all the information you need and may have a few tips on the do's and don'ts that may be useful to you.
Always drive at moderate speeds when towing. Some states even have laws and regulations for driving a certain speed below the posted limit when towing a trailer. Just be sure to leave plenty of time for your trip and don't get in a hurry. This will also put less strain on your towing vehicle and may help in avoiding breakdowns. Also, driving at moderate speeds can avoid trailer sway .
While driving, it is essential you stay alert for potential problems ahead. Lane changes and braking are best when planned. Heavy braking can cause great problems such as sliding or even jack knifing, not to mention the extreme strain on your trailer, cargo or animals. A good rule of thumb on following distance of the vehicle in front of you is one and a half to two car lengths for every ten miles an hour of speed when towing. If people pull in front of you, drop back. Better safe than sorry. Try to anticipate having to stop for lights or traffic and begin slowing ahead of time. Remember, your braking time and distance are going to increase with a heavy load behind you. Try to avoid sudden steering maneuvers that could put you out of control when towing a load.
If the road you are traveling is bumpy or even gravel, you will need to travel at much slower speeds to maintain control. Gravel or "rutty" roads can even cause your vehicle and/or trailer to "float" and cause you to face disaster. Road and weather conditions will have an even greater effect on how you drive when towing.
When you make your first turn towing a trailer, you must remember to compensate for a much wider turn. The trailer's wheels will be much further to the inside of a turn than the towing vehicle's. The trailer will ride up on the curb, or into a ditch or, on left turns, even sideswipe vehicles.
There are other problems on the highway in dealing with other traffic and wind conditions. Large vehicles can cause wind shifts as they pass you. Just keep your hands on the wheel firmly and avoid over compensating. If the winds start your trailer swaying, do not hit the brakes. Instead, use the trailer brake activator to lightly apply the brakes on your trailer. Try shifting into a lower gear and decreasing the speed of your vehicle. Just hitting the brakes on the tow vehicle can make the sway worse as centrifugal force pushes the trailer forward.
If you have to pass another vehicle by changing lanes, please anticipate the much longer time needed for most vehicles when towing. Signal well in advance. Avoid passing on steep grades.You will need to start acceleration earlier and realize your tow vehicle will need much more time to pass when carrying a load. Make sure there is plenty of time to avoid oncoming traffic and leave plenty of clearance before moving back into your lane. You don't want to hit the vehicle your passing with your trailer.
When traveling on roads with soft shoulders, avoid getting the trailer wheels off the pavement. Contacting the soft shoulder can cause the trailer to start to sway. If it happens, don't panic. Do not try to steer right back onto the pavement or hard surface. Take your foot off the gas pedal but don't hit the tow vehicles brakes. Activate the trailer brakes by hand and easily tap your vehicle brakes. Downshift if possible. When you have reached a much slower speed and your trailer is under control, gradually ease the wheels back onto the road.
When encountering steep grades you will notice different handling characteristics when towing. On a steep downhill grade the trailer can actually push your vehicle. Anticipate this and downshift and let off the gas a little. You may have to use your trailer brakes hand control to slow you but don't ride them. Only tap them intermittently to avoid overheating of the brakes and ultimately, brake failure.. When facing a steep upgrade you should start accelerating early if possible. Again, you may have to downshift and keep increasing your gas pedal to compensate for the drag on you going uphill. As you reach the crest of the grade start backing off the pedal. A steep grade will test your tow vehicles limits.
Once you have reached your destination you have to find a place to park your "rig". It's best to avoid parking on a grade. The more level the parking area the better. If you have to park on a grade, it is best to chock the wheels. Hopefully, you have some with you. If you have someone to help, have them guide you into the spot. You can't always rely on the mirrors as the trailer may block your view. Once stopped, keep your foot on the brake, turn your wheels toward the curb (pointed in on a down hill, out on an uphill), apply the parking brake and then shift into park, or with a manual, your lowest gear. This method helps avoid locking your transmission due to the extra load.
If you are on even a small grade and you plan to unhitch your trailer, you must apply chocks to the trailers wheels to avoid the trailer from rolling away when uncoupled. Just having the lift down will not make it stable. Jack stands also come in handy to level your load.I hope this article has provided you with useful information but it is not intended to be the " be all and end all" of trailering safety. Read everything you can and talk to other more experienced trailer owners for tips on do's and don'ts. Contact your state governments transportation department and familiarize yourself with laws, regulations and even local ordinances regarding trailers and towing.
About the author:
W. H. Ingle is the webmaster for http://www.longhornsales.comand a published author specializing in articles on the subject of trailering and transporting cargo and livestock.