Because trailer safety means people’s safety.
Practicing trailer safety takes time and practice, just like anything! It may not come to you naturally, but there are many steps you can take to ensure your trailer time is full of fun moments and without dangerous moments.
It may seem scary, but towing an average size trailer isn’t as hard as it looks. However, driver error is the common cause of most trailer accidents, not equipment malfunction, so we’re including some helpful safety tips to avoid an accident ruining your trip.
Related: Choosing the Right Tow Dolly
Know the weight of your trailer
Knowing the weight of your trailer dictates what equipment you need to tow and move your trailer. The weight capacity of your vehicle must be able to handle the total weight of what it’s towing and any cargo inside. This is known as your towing vehicle’s gross combination weight rating. It sounds more complicated then it really is, so consult your towing vehicles manual and you’ll know exactly the combo of the trailer, cargo, and passenger capacity it can handle.
Make sure your hitch is secure
Double and triple-checking your hitch hook up can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Make sure you have the right hitch for the job. For small or medium loads, a ball hitch will do, but for heavier loads, you may need a weight distributed hitch. Check that the safety chains, which should always be used, are crossed under the trailer tongue.
Let there be light on your trailer
You want to check and make sure that the lights of your trailer are displaying the lights from your tow vehicle. Most importantly, turn signals and brake lights. This requires attaching the lights with the wiring harness. Some towing vehicles have innovative systems for this, which is great, but to tow safely cars behind must be able to see your light indicators.
Secure your cargo
Whatever you’re pulling with your tow vehicle, make sure your cargo is secured and cannot cause a hazard on the road. You are responsible for anything that flies out and causes a hazard or damage to someone else on the road. This is also a good time to check if tires are inflated and you haven’t overloaded the total weight of your trailer.
Give yourself space to safely stop
It takes longer to stop with a trailer than with a towing vehicle alone, so the safest move is to allow for more room between you and the vehicle in front of you while towing your trailer. Not only does this increase safety during your tow, but it prolongs the life of your towing vehicle and trailer by avoiding excess braking, sudden acceleration, and awkward maneuvering.
Be extra alert for potential hazards
It takes longer to do anything when you’re towing a trailer. When you hit the road, make sure you are awake and alert, and scanning the road for potential hazards. If something does come up, it’s going to take longer for you to brake, accelerate, and change lanes. Staying aware while you drive will help avoid any sudden actions with your tow vehicle.
Beware of trailer sway
I’m sure you’ve seen it on the road before, and the trailer sway is real. Trailer sway can be caused by large gusts of crosswind, high speeds, and downhill grades. Check your side mirrors frequently and make sure your trailer isn’t swaying back and forth, encroaching on other vehicles on the road. If you experience trailer sway, take your foot off the gas and slow down, if you have a brake controller, engage that to realign the trailer.
Be patient when passing or changing lanes
The rule of thumb while towing a trailer is to allow more time and distance to do anything, including passing other vehicles or changing lanes. With a trailer, your blind spot gets larger than it normally is and you can’t speed up as quickly. Make sure you have plenty of space to change lanes, your signals are reflecting on your trailer, and you change lanes slowly. When passing another vehicle, allow enough room and ensure you can gain enough safe speed to pass. Passing on a two-lane road is not recommended.
Build up to stops when possible
You want to get where you’re going as quickly as possible, but stopping gradually can help keep you safe, and keep your equipment going longer. Towing a trailer requires extra effort from the brakes on your towing vehicle. By easing into stops, you can increase the life of those brakes and ensure you can stop in time. Also, make sure both your trailer brakes and towing vehicle brakes are well maintained.
Make friends with your side mirrors
When towing a trailer, your side mirrors have become your everything. You can’t see out the back of your vehicle and your blind spots are larger, so you rely heavily on those side mirrors. When backing up or maneuvering into a tight spot, use a spotter to help guide you, or a trailer dolly instead of your tow vehicle. Always allow more time and space to move in any direction while towing a trailer.
Make frequent stops to check everything
Stopping to check the connections of all your towing vehicle and trailer is never a bad idea. Something could have come loose or out of place while you were on the road depending on the weather and terrain. Have passengers check your turn signals and brake lights so you know you’re still hitting the road safely.
If you remember these tips, adjust your driving, and be more aware on the road, your towing experience will be safer and your final destination will be more fun!