The open road and an enclosed trailer are a great combination. Using a tow trailer for the first time can be exhilarating and a little bit unnerving. Drivers have a lot of new variables to consider both on-road and from the environment around them if they want their journey to be safe.
Towing a trailer requires some new techniques and a lot of common sense, but a few simple steps can make all the difference between a successful towing experience and a trip to the repair shop. This guide will familiarize you with key tow trailer concepts and offer tips on avoiding some common mistakes.
Why Tow Trailer Safety Matters
Almost 9% of American households own a recreational trailer, and more than 20.5 million say they intend to own one. This means a lot of trailer drivers on the roads with the potential for many accidents. Tow trailer safety practices are essential to avoid the common pitfalls:
Trailer Sway and Whipping
Trailer sway is a side-to-side motion that happens when towing vehicles reach a certain speed or are hit by high winds. Whipping is worse, with greater potential damage, and is caused by overly heavy trailers.
Bad hitching practice can make trailers come loose at corners, on steep climbs, or even on straight roads. This can cause a severe accident for anyone behind or inside the trailer.
Bad Weight Distribution
You can’t just load a tow trailer haphazardly. Owners who overload the front or rear of their trailer affect its center of gravity. This makes steering and control much harder when on the road.
Drivers can avoid a bad trailer trip with some hardware knowledge, a few expenses, and awareness of how trailers affect driving physics. Here are some tips to take with you, whether it’s your first trip or one of many.
The Top 9 Considerations for Trailer Safety
The prime concern in trailer safety is weight and the various forms this factor takes. Drivers must calculate for all of them to ensure their trip goes smoothly.
1. Confirming Tow Rating
Your vehicle owner’s manual will reveal its tow rating, but take note: This will be lower than your practical tow rating, and often significantly so, because tow ratings are basic figures that don’t take organic factors, such as those addressed below, into account.
2. Weight Will Multiply
Towing a trailer for the first time means weight from different sources. The mass of onboard possessions (and possibly passengers) will add to the tow trailer’s base weight when the trip is underway. Every trailer has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or Gross Trailer Weight (GTW), which is the maximum allowable weight of the fully loaded trailer before it gets hitched up, so check the manual or contact the manufacturer to be sure of this figure.
3. Weighing a Trailer
Public scales are available at truck stops, RV sites, or CAT sites, where drivers can place their tow trailer for a dry (unloaded) weight reading. Drivers can do the same with a loaded trailer, and the ideal situation when possible would be loading all required people and possessions while next to the scale and not driving to reach one while fully loaded. Another option is to record dry weight and note the weight of every individual item and person, which provides the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR).
4. Proper Pin Weight
The hitch weight on the towing pin should remain within a certain percentage of gross trailer weight. A good range is 10% and 15%, but a 5-wheeler can often handle 20% to 25%. Anything outside of this will decrease your vehicle’s towing ability and increase the chances of trailer sway.
5. Axle Weight
Each axle can only carry so much, and that combined figure is the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). Not all trailer interiors will be loaded the same way; you can meet the GVWR, while onboard positioning of mass can exceed the GAWR by overstressing front or rear axles. This is a delicate balance, so check the manual to find the GAWR.
6. Choosing Hitches
Vehicles without a built-in hitch can be fitted with one, and the best way to do this is to get it from your model’s manufacturer. Examine the hitch for three weight ratings – trailer ball, receiver, and ball mount – because each must match or be greater than the vehicle’s tow rating. Always hitch the trailer to your vehicle before loading. This lets you monitor weight as it’s added and watch out for any signs of imbalance or tipping.
7. Work With a Spotter
Unless your vehicle is fitted with a backup camera (and even if it is), it’s a great help to have a second party watching as you back up the trailer to connect it. Chock the wheels and ensure the ball and tongue are perfectly centered so you can successfully close and secure the latch.
Safety chains are essential when towing a trailer, and they must be crisscrossed, not straight. This creates a cradle that prevents couplings from hitting the road or pavement, and sufficiently loose chains allow sharp turns. You’ll know if they’re too loose if they drag on the ground while driving.
8. Maintenance Checks
Prepare for the road by giving your trailer the maintenance once-over. Are the trailer tires full and firm, including the spares? Are all oils, filters, fluids, and trailer lights filled up, fresh, and ready to perform? Remember that braking distances significantly increase when towing a trailer, so make sure your brake pads are in good working order.
9. Best Driving Practices
Slower driving is always best when towing a trailer, and certain states legally require fixed speeds. Making wide turns at corners or curves in the road is also a necessary skill to learn to compensate for your more extended profile. Buying a tow mirror for your vehicle makes it easier to monitor blind spots while driving and when backing up.
Any problems while on the road can seem more significant and need to be addressed faster when driving with a trailer. Driving in the right lane whenever you can provides readier access to the shoulder and affords a little extra stopping distance.
Developing all these skills will be invaluable for tow trailer safety. Give your trailer a short test drive in an area where you won’t feel pressured to get everything right.
Call the Experts With Any Questions
Even seasoned travelers can need backup if trouble strikes with their tow trailer. It pays to have a top towing team on speed dial for peace of mind.
Geyers Towing and Transport staff operate 24/7 to provide stress-free solutions to your towing service needs and much more. Contact our team and speak with an expert today.