10. Towing Safety
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With the right equipment, some practice and a healthy amount of confidence, towing can be almost as easy as regular driving. Yet safety should always be one of your highest priorities when pulling a trailer. No matter how comfortable you may become with towing, the fact is that the combination of your vehicle and trailer weighs more and does not maneuver or stop as easily as your vehicle alone.
In this chapter, we will cover some of the safety rules and precautions that should be observed while towing, as well as how to back up your trailer successfully.
Just as it is your responsibility to know the capacity of your vehicle, trailer and towing system and making decisions based on that knowledge, it is equally your responsibility to make wise decisions on the road. This starts by loading your trailer the right way.
The key is to make sure your trailer has the right amount of tongue weight. This is typically between 10 and 15 percent of the gross trailer weight. The load should also be centered evenly side to side and the center of gravity kept as low as possible.
When packing your trailer, make sure all items are properly secured. Loose items can cause damage to other items, to your trailer or to your vehicle and can be very dangerous if they fall out along the road. Contain small items within a bag or tote and tie down large items with quality cargo straps. A little extra time spent strategically packing will pay off and could save you a lot more time and money.
The leading cause of accidents both in towing and in normal driving situations is driver error, not faulty equipment. Some of the main reasons people get into accidents is because they are not paying attention, they are driving too fast, they are tailgating the person in front of them and so on.
The following are some simple safety rules and precautions to help promote safe driving while towing a trailer:
1. Hitch up your trailer correctly. Make sure you have followed the proper procedures for hooking up your trailer. Double check all connections, including the coupler and wiring, and make sure your safety chains are crossed under the trailer tongue and securely connected.
2. Allow plenty of stopping distance. You need to increase your following distance when towing a trailer. It takes longer to stop your towing rig than your tow vehicle alone. Also, you should avoid sudden acceleration, braking and maneuvering.
3. Anticipate problems. Since it takes longer to accelerate, stop, change lanes and turn with a trailer, look ahead farther than you normally would. You can see many problems developing a long way off. Observe traffic flow and be ready to react.
4. Keep an eye out for trailer sway. Crosswinds, large trucks, downhill grades and high speeds can all lead to trailer sway. If you are not careful, your trailer can start swinging back and forth like a pendulum. The best way to address this problem is with a sway control unit. If you experience trailer sway, you can also take your foot off the gas and manually apply the trailer brakes with the brake control. Press the button once and your trailer should align with your tow vehicle.
5. Be extra careful when changing lanes. Changing lanes is a challenge, especially when towing. With a trailer, your blind spots increase, and you cannot accelerate as quickly. You should consider installing tow mirrors to increase your view.
6. Be patient when passing other vehicles. You have to allow more distance when passing another vehicle. Passing on a two-lane road should almost never happen.
7. Stop gradually whenever possible. Towing a trailer requires extra work out of your brakes. Keep your vehicle and trailer brakes maintained and your brake control properly adjusted.
8. Do not pull in where you cannot see out. It is easy to get stuck with a trailer. You might pull into a small parking lot and have to perform a complicated backup maneuver to get out. Parking farther away may be a better option.
9. Be safe with a trailer lock. Trailer theft is a serious problem. A trailer left unattended can easily be uncoupled and stolen while you are away. Use a coupler lock when towing, as it not only keeps your coupler secure but also deters theft.
For most people, one of the most dreaded things about towing a trailer is having to back up. Drivers do all kinds of things to avoid it. However, the fact is that if you are going to tow a trailer, you are going to have to put it in reverse at some point. The following tips are intended to help you get started. Remember, backing up with a trailer takes lots of practice.
Tip #1: Hold the steering wheel in the 6 o'clock position. With your hand in this position, it is much easier to visualize which way to steer your trailer. Moving your hand to the left will cause the trailer to go left. Moving your hand to the right will steer the trailer to the right.
Tip #2: Look over your shoulder if you can. If your view is blocked by your trailer, roll down your windows and make sure you have a good view through your side mirrors. Face forward and use your side mirrors to keep track of your trailer's movements.
Tip #3: Think of your vehicle pushing your trailer. Try not to think about them as one complete unit moving together. As you back up, visualize the back end of your vehicle pushing the coupler of the trailer. Think of it as a person pushing the handles of a wheelbarrow. If you want to turn the wheelbarrow to the right, you have to move the handles to the left and vice versa.
Tip #4: Make wide initial turns but go slowly. To steer the trailer, you have to steer the vehicle, and some inexperienced drivers tend to turn too little. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but making wider turns will become more familiar with practice. One note of caution: do not move too quickly and do not exaggerate your turns so much that it causes the trailer to jackknife.
Tip #5: Do not jackknife the trailer. This point is worth repeating. A jackknifed trailer can cause damage to both the vehicle and the trailer. When backing up, go slowly and correct excessive turns by steering the tow vehicle the same way the trailer is moving or by pulling forward and trying again.
Towing Tip: When backing up, a shorter trailer will swing around faster with the slightest turn of the steering wheel. Long trailers are comparatively easy to back up. Keep this principle in mind when towing your own trailer, and be especially cautious when towing an unfamiliar trailer.
You may have additional questions about towing and towing equipment. The CURT Tech Support team is an excellent resource and can be reached at 800.798.0813. You can also reach us using our Contact page.