Before you even pull out on the road, make sure the trailer hitch is in good shape, your wiring isn’t corroded or frayed, and your trailer is loaded correctly. You need about 60% of the load in front of the trailer axles. Not so far in front as to overload the tongue weight, but properly balanced front to rear and side to side. It should go without saying to make sure all of your cargo inside the trailer should be securely tied down. Plus, ALWAYS make sure you visually confirm that all trailer brake lights work, trailer turn signals, trailer hazard/flasher lights and any clearance or marker lights.
Make sure you have the trailer hitch hooked up correctly and all of the electrical connections made. The safety chains should be attached so they cross under the coupler like this:
Towing anything with a trailer hitch makes your rig is longer, heavier, less maneuverable, and takes longer to stop than most of the other vehicles around you.
The running joke is that common sense isn’t very common any more, but when it comes to towing a trailer a little common sense is all you really need to make it a safe experience. And safety should be the number one thing on your mind when you’re towing anything.
In fact, overconfidence just might be the most dangerous thing you can have when towing trailer. Modern tow vehicles and quality trailers and hitches make towing these days an easy task and it doesn’t take much to get lulled into a false sense that towing a trailer is a no-brainer. But you should never drive the same way with a trailer that you would drive without a trailer hitched to your truck. So what follows here are a few tips on driving safely when towing a trailer and a few guidelines to keep you out of the ditches and right side up.
Once out on the road don’t follow too closely and be sure to leave PLENTY of extra stopping distance between you and the car in front of you. It’s just basic physics that the increased weight of your rig means your brakes will take more time to bring everything to a halt. Because of this, many states have lowered their speed limits for trailers. This is for your safety so be sure to never exceed the posted limit.
After the first 50 to 100 miles, stop and check to make sure all of the hitch connections are still good and the load is still properly tied down and hasn’t shifted.
Be extra careful when changing lanes. Make sure you allow plenty of room for the extra length of your rig. Check your mirrors often and signal well in advance of the change.
Passing a slower vehicle should be a rare event when you’re towing but if you must pass, remember again about the extra length of your combination and don’t cut back into your lane too soon. When other cars are passing you be courteous and help them get the pass done quickly and safely by slowing just a bit until they are safely by. Most importantly be predictable and don’t make any sudden moves while being passed.
Always use care on long downgrades. Use lower gears and gentle, intermittent use of your brakes to keep them cool and that trailer under control.
Take in the big picture when you’re out on the road. Anticipation of the unexpected should become automatic. Look way ahead and notice what all the other vehicles are doing. Do the same thing behind you, check your mirrors often and always know what’s going on around you. Watch for drivers who could be a problem long before they get near you. Notice the guy who’s cutting in and out of lanes, talking on his cell phone, or going much faster than the rest of traffic and give those guys plenty of room.
No matter how good your tires are, the possibility of getting a flat on the road is always there. A flat front tire on the tow vehicle will make steering sluggish and heavy but you can still pull off the road and brake to a safe stop. A flat trailer tire will make your trailer sway and pull the tow vehicle around some, but you can still apply the trailer brakes and slowly get the rig off the road. A flat tire on the rear of the tow vehicle is probably the worst but if you just apply the brakes gently (never slam on the brakes) use the trailer brake controller and slowly pull the rig off to the side of the road you’ll be fine. In the case of any flat tire the basic rule is to not to panic or make any sudden or abrupt moves. Just be smooth and gently apply brake and steering input.
Bad weather requires even more common sense and good driving habits. We shouldn’t have to tell you that wet roads mean even slower speeds and longer stopping distance. High winds can cause your trailer to sway. But just like the flat tire example above, the best action is little action. Don’t make any abrupt movements but a slow and gentle reduction in speed and careful application of the trailer brake controller should bring that trailer right back in line where it belongs.
Finally, whenever you stop, whether for a rest, gas, or at your destination, make sure you have room to get out again. Don’t get stuck in a place where you have to make a lot of complicated backing moves just to get out. It would better to park across the street or on the side of the road as long as it doesn’t cause a safety issue.
Any time you have concerns or questions about safety while towing, the answer is just a phone call away to Chux Trux. We have the parts, equipment, and most importantly, the experience to help you make your next towing adventure a safe and fun one. If you’re in the Kansas City area, please stop in to any of our three stores and we’ll help you out. Whether you have a boat trailer, horse trailer, ATV / toy hauler, camper, or any kind of trailer, we’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt, and are more than happy to solve your problems and get you out on the road.