Trailer Towing Safety: How it Works
Whether you’re relocating to a new neighborhood, or traveling across the country, trailers are an important part of transportation. It even saves you money, since you can go without hiring a service to do it for you. However, even if you own a car, truck, or van which is equipped for towing, you should still make sure you’ve taken all necessary precautions to safely tow your trailer. If not, you are putting your life (and your belongings) at risk. It is vital to understand trailer towing safety.
Trailer Hitch Types
First, you need to know about your vehicle’s hitching system if you want to ensure safe towing.
In general, there are three trailer hitch types:
Weight-Carrying Hitches and Weight-Distributing Hitches
The first two types are relatively similar. Both hitches use the trailer hitch receiver attached directly on the rear part of your vehicle. In addition, both require a ball mount and draw bar. The ball mount, as the name implies, is a metal ball of varying size fastened to the trailer hitch receiver with a locking pin. The kinds of trailers you can tow depends on the ball mount’s size.
How the trailer connects to your vehicle is with the tongue, which has a coupler on it’s end which fits over the trailer hitch ball mount. Here is where you will find one of the biggest differences between weight-carrying hitches and weight-distributing hitches. While the former requires the vehicle to hold the full weight of the tongue, the latter spreads the weight around to both the trailer’s and vehicle’s axels.
This kind of hitch isn’t fastened to the back part of your vehicle. Instead, the fifth-wheel hitch is hitched to a connector attached to the bed of your truck, placed before the rear axle.
Trailer Brake Lights
One step you must take while hooking up you trailer is connecting your trailer’s brake and light system to your vehicle’s system. These days, most vehicles capable of towing have a convenient connector for hooking up the two systems. If you want to power your trailer’s system using an older vehicle, the process is a bit more complicated. It might require hooking up the electrical systems by going through your vehicle’s taillights.
Towing Safety Tips
Make sure you know the following before you connect your trailer to your vehicle:
- Find the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can safely tow by reading the owner’s manual.
- Use a weight-distributing hitch if you believe your vehicle can’t handle the trailer’s tongue weight (the weight of the trailer pushing directly on the hitch). Alternatively, try balancing your trailer’s load.
- Never exceed the trailer’s weight rating. If you’re carrying more weight than the trailer can handle safely, you could suffer from equipment failure.
- Read the owner’s manual to find your vehicle’s gross combination weight rating (GCWR), or the total weight your vehicle can tow safely. The GCWR is a combination of the gross trailer weight (GTW), which is the weight of the loaded trailer) and the weight of your vehicle. Remember, it’s unsafe to surpass the listed rating.
- Make sure the trailer’s load is balanced to avoid trailer sway (or “fishtailing”).
- Know the laws (both national and local) regarding the weight and size of a trailer.
Connecting a Trailer to a Vehicle
Now that you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, let’s see how you go about connecting a trailer to a vehicle.
- Fit the coupler over the ball mount. If the equipment doesn’t fit together, then you won’t be able to safely tow your trailer.
- Use the coupler latch to secure the coupler to the ball, and lock the latch with a padlock. This will prevent detachment.
- Fasten safety chains to the tongue of the trailer, cross them under the coupler, and hook them onto the trailer hitch. Now, if your coupler comes off your hitch, the chains can catch the coupler and cradle it. Make sure they aren’t too tight, or you’ll have difficulty turning.
A large trailer can carry 1500 pounds or more likely has a breaking system installed.
These are the two main brake systems you’ll find in trailers:
Electric brakes, or electronically-controlled brakes, are connected to the electric of your vehicle, and can be activated by the driver using a control on the console.
Surge brakes are much like the brakes in your vehicle, that’s to say, hydraulic brakes. If the tongue of the trailer becomes detached from the hitch, a switch found in the tongue will activate the trailer’s surge brakes.
Trailer Electrical Connector Types
Since most trailers are equipped with electric systems, most have a connector to connect to the electric of the tow vehicle. Many basic trailers use a four-way connector, which powers the trailer’s brake lights, side marker lights, taillights, and turn signals. This way, if you were to brake or use your turn signals, they will light up on your trailer as well as your vehicle. Some trailers, however, use the seven-way connector. This type of connector powers the braking system, power supply, and reverse lights of your trailer. Try using an adapter if your vehicle and the connector are incompatible.
How to Tow a Trailer Safely
As is the case with many things, practice makes perfect, and practice is crucial when pulling a trailer. Driving with a trailer is going to be a far different experience from driving just your vehicle. Stopping can even be difficult when towing, so try practicing in an empty parking lot. Best in Class>
Your tow vehicle likely smaller than your trailer. In a case like this, you will need to install a larger set of mirrors or mirror extenders so you can see around your trailer. In some cases, you might be required to do so by state law.
In addition, be careful when turning a trailer. Due to the trailer’s width, it’s easy for your trailer to strike the curb or even another vehicle if you aren’t careful when you turn. This harms to the axle and wheels, so be sure to leave some extra space when turning.
Braking while towing and accelerating while towing is dangerous, too. The mass of your vehicle increases with the addition of the trailer, which means it will be harder for your vehicle to move. Additionally, the larger mass means greater momentum, so you’ll need extra space for slowing or stopping your vehicle. Make sure to keep a reasonable speed so you don’t overwork your engine since your vehicle needs more energy to move the trailer. It also will cause you to put too much strain on your brakes and suspension when stopping. To be safe, don’t follow closely behind other vehicles in case you need to make a sudden stop. Hotform Bending Oklahoma>>
Furthermore, if you drive too quickly, you will have to deal with trailer sway. Your vehicle and trailer are what’s known as an articulated vehicle (a large vehicle with two distinct sections), since coupler and hitch create a pivot joint. The pivot joint is needed, since without it you couldn’t really turn, but this also means the trailer can sometimes move independently from the tow vehicle. The result is trailer sway. When your trailer has an unbalanced load, accelerates, or is hit with a wind gust, it might begin swaying. While the swaying doesn’t always cause a problem, it can easily worsen, eventually leading to a loss of control and a car wreck.
If your trailer begins to sway, use the brakes on your trailer to gradually stop. Trying to correct your trailer by steering will make it worse. Once you’ve pulled off of the road, either attempt to properly balance the load in the trailer or call a Jenks towing service for assistance. Trailer sway has caused fatal accidents, and you want to avoid that at all costs.
Ultimately, with some practice, the right equipment, and a few precautions, you will have no trouble towing safely.
If your vehicle isn’t equipped for towing, or you’d rather leave it to someone else, contact a Regional Trucking company near your for help.