Trailer Towing Tips

As we plan and eventually set out for the many adventures this year, let’s plan for a great trip.  Here are some good towing tips to make it all go much smoother.

For RV’s or any other trailer, the tips are applicable to all.  It is long trips in the RV season, as well as all the short trips with a trailer for landscape materials, hauling junk, or taking the toys out for family fun.

We have a million reasons to use our trailers, and any disruption of a trip is inconvenient.  Annoying, or Frustrating are better words.  Anyway, planning ahead so everything is ready will certainly help avoid the infuriating, sometimes scary moments.  These trailer towing tips are to make the towing experience better.

I wish I didn’t need to point it out . . . many of these towing tips have legal ramifications.  Basically, the law calls it negligence if there is an accident and you have not done some of these.  If something falls out of a trailer; or if there is an accident and they determine the tow vehicle or trailer was overloaded; or if you did not connect safety equipment (brakes, chains) properly.  That’s the rub with trailers — towing adds responsibility.  However, doing it right frees you from that worry.

Fundamentals of the Trailer

The start to good towing is the trailer.  If the trailer is sketchy, there’s not a lot you can do to get good stable, dependable towing.  See the Rattle Traps we call trailers.  So . . .

  1. Make sure the trailer frame is straight and true.  If it has damage, fix it.
  2. Are the axles true to the trailer frame?  Measure from the hitch to find out.  See this article for all the measurements and how to do them.
  3. If you have tandem axles, make sure the axles are parallel, and make sure all 4 wheels and tires are the same.  (6 wheels for triple axles.)
  4. Choose tires that are appropriate for the load.  We recommend 10%+ over axle capacity.  Choose Automotive or Trailer tires — properly.  Tires are one of the big sources of towing trouble, so do it right.
  5. Secure all bolts and fasteners in vibration resistant ways – like Nyloc nuts, Loc-tite, cotter keys or wired nuts.  Make the method appropriate for the situation.
  6. Use strong safety chains – not wimpy ones – appropriate for the load capacity of your trailer.  Secure them properly.  Here is what we recommend for attaching safety chains.
  7. For more information on fundamentals – especially if you are building a trailer – check this article on Critical Things To Get Right.

Once or Twice A Year . . .

Here are some maintenance items we should not ignore.  Do these once or twice a year depending on how much you use the trailer.  Also, do these again if the trailer has been in storage for a long time.

  1. Inspect the trailer to assure there are no cracked welds, broken pieces, dangling wires, or other issues.
  2. Check bolts and other fasteners all over the trailer to make sure they are tight, and in good shape.
  3. Inspect wires for signs of wear or damage – especially those going to the main vehicle connector.
  4. Inspect the spare tire (if used) to be sure it is inflated properly and in good condition.
  5. Jack up the wheels, one at a time, and spin them.  Listen for any grindy noises.  If the wheels spin free and quiet, then you’re good to go.  If you hear something rubbing or grinding, take a few minutes to inspect.  Sometimes it’s a brake that touches the drum, which is not a big deal, but sometimes it’s a bearing — which may leave you stranded.
  6. When treated well, bearings and the bearing grease will last a long time.  However, it’s not a bad idea to grease the bearings once every few years.
  7. Check over the suspension.  You’re looking for broken springs or shackles, for bolts that are not tight, for bushings that have collapsed or worn through, and general overall condition.

Preparation – Each Time Before You Tow

When you’re loading up and setting out on a trip, taking a some extra time to inspect things is not the most appealing.  Yeah, I’ve been there.  While it seems like one more thing to delay departure, it can save hours of time and oodles of frustration.  Just take a few minutes to inspect things on the trailer.  A simple thing like tire pressure can make a trip pretty miserable, so here is a list of trailer towing tips.

Tires:

  1. Inspect the tires carefully – especially after storing.  Dry rot is a common tire failure mode for trailer tires.  Keeping tires covered when stored helps, but does not avoid it completely.  Check regularly.
  2. Watch for tire wear patterns as a hint that something is not running true.
  3. Set tire pressure appropriate for the load.  When traveling empty, tire pressure may be reduced significantly to allow more bump absorbing.  This can keep an empty trailer from bouncing, and shaking the tow vehicle.  That said, full tire inflation pressure is required for a full load.

Hitch and Safety:

  1. Check the attitude of your trailer when connected to the tow vehicle.  It should be pretty level, especially if it has tandem or triple axles.  Change the drawbar (if you are using that kind of connection) for more rise or drop so that the trailer is effectively parallel with the ground.  Perhaps use an adjustable hitch or ball mount?
  2. Grease the tow ball.
  3. Double-check the hitch and make sure the connection is secure.
  4. Connect safety chains to the tow vehicle with non-open methods.  Don’t twist the chains to make them shorter.
  5. Double-check the breakaway system – battery charged, cable connected, pin inserted correctly.
  6. Do you need a weight distribution hitch?  There’s too much on this topic to discuss here, but if you do, make sure it fits the trailer and tow vehicle situations.

Towing Prep:

Just a few things we sometimes overlook.

  1. Check the function of lights and brakes each time you hook up the trailer.
  2. Take a few minutes and check the brake function (if you have brakes).  Make sure they are working properly with the vehicle sending unit.
  3. Check tire pressure (and condition) of tires on the tow vehicle.
  4. Make sure you have mirrors that can see around the trailer.  Adjust them if needed.
  5. Double check the towing components to see that they all match.  Ball is the right size for the hitch, and both exceed the required capacity.
    How Much Can I Tow?
  6. Make sure all the feet are up — leveling feet, lifting jack foot (or wheel), stabilizing jack feet.

Towing Tips for Trailer Loading:

You are responsible for your trailer.  Anything that blows out or falls off is your responsibility.  Not just as litter, but flying items can injure or kill.  Fasten everything securely to the trailer.

  1. Secure the load so it will not shift or move in transit.  Keeping a lower center of gravity is also good.
  2. When securing a vehicle on the trailer, make sure to use straps or chains that are well over capacity.
  3. If the trailer or payloads are tall, avoid traveling when high crosswinds are present.
  4. Double check tie-downs, tarps, ropes, etc. so nothing will “flap in the breeze” or drag on the ground.
  5. It is a good idea to stop and double-check the load, tie-downs, hitch, and the overall situation after driving a few miles from the start.  The load will “settle in” with vibrations and bumps of the road.  Tighten any straps or ropes that have come slack.
  6. Support the end of the trailer when loading very heavy items onto the back.  Block the tires to avoid trailer movement.  This avoids most of the loading and safety issues that are so destructive.
  7. When using Ramps, make sure all 4 corners are solidly and securely placed – both on the trailer and on the ground.  Poorly placed ramps can move or twist under heavy, unbalanced loads.

Towing Tips For Stability:

  1. For stability, distribute the load on the trailer evenly – not disproportionate on one side or the other.
  2. For stability, load the trailer so that 10% – 15% of the weight is on the hitch.  (But, don’t overload the tow vehicle rear end.  If you can’t get that much tongue weight on the tow vehicle, you’ve got the wrong one for the job.)
  3. If you have a problem with swaying or instability, re-distribute the load.  Most instability issues come from improper loading.  Central loading is best.  Even if the tongue weight is right, loads that are significantly at the front and back of the trailer will contribute to instability.  Other issues come from improper assembly (things not lined up or square) – so, take time and care when building the trailer.
  4. Do not overload.  This means weight on the trailer as well as towing limits of the pulling vehicle and the hitch.  Vehicles have published limits, and so do many of the components on your trailer.  Trailer towing capacity is defined by the weakest part in the system.
  5. Do not overload the axles or tires.  We recommend tires with 10%+ over the required capacity.

Driving:

After all the other mechanics of inspecting, and loading the trailer, it finally comes down to driving.  I have learned to drive different with a trailer to avoid problems.  Here are a few towing tips for your driving.Parking A Trailer

  1. Allow added distance for acceleration and braking.  Both of these require more time and more distance.  Even if the trailer has brakes, it will often take a lot more distance to stop, so give space.
  2. Take corners a little wide.  Trailers take a shorter turn radius, and need more space than the tow vehicle, especially for a long trailer.  Hitting curbs and posts can cause big damage and high costs.
  3. Drive with greater awareness of what is happening around you on the road.  Maneuvering with a trailer takes more time, more care and more space – and the larger the trailer, the more it takes.
  4. Some say drive slower.  I disagree — partly.  Slower driving allows more time to see things happening and more time to adjust, but it does not compensate for other people going fast.  There is a balance between going slower for time and space, and being a hazard because you are going slow.  Don’t exceed tire speed limits, or the speed of your brain.  Use speed wisely.
  5. On the other hand, slowing down a little can make a big difference in fuel economy when towing.  Read that article for even more tips to save fuel.
  6. Backing up can be a little tricky.  Be patient.  Practice in a large parking lot before taking the trailer out.  Try backing into a parking space, or if you can back straight the full length of the parking lot.  Make it fun, while you learn how to handle your trailer.

Drive Carefully, and Enjoy The Towing Tips!!

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