SAFE TOWING WITH A VEHICLE
It may be summertime and you are on the road towing a trailer and headed
for camping enjoyment! You may be getting ready to haul a trailer as
part of your work. In any case, what things should you know?
1) Know Your Towing Capacity
Before you start loading cargo into a trailer or hitching up an 18-foot-long
boat, it's best to know the towing capacity of your vehicle. Towing
too much weight can cause a myriad of problems, no matter how big and
powerful your vehicle's engine is. The first thing to do is refer to
the owner's manual for the vehicle, which should give specific numbers
regarding how much weight can be towed. Keep in mind that there are
two weights to consider when towing, the tongue weight and the trailer's
weight. Too much tongue weight will affect braking and too little tongue
weight can make the trailer sway.
2) Proper Weight Distribution
In a trailer it is preferable to begin loading the heaviest cargo first;
tying it down with rope or bungee cords so it doesn't shift while the
vehicle is in motion. Smaller cargo should follow and fill the spaces
in between. The cargo's center of gravity should be kept low and about
60 percent of its weight should be toward the front. You should also
balance the load on each side of the trailer in order to reduce the
chance of it flipping. Once you have everything in its right place,
the next step involves being able to see behind you.
3) Check Your Mirrors
Without the ability to easily see the cars behind you, switching lanes
becomes a much more dangerous maneuver. If your side view mirrors don't
let you clearly see behind your trailer then you should consider adding
extended rear view mirrors.
4) Light Your Way
It is doubly important to have working lights when you're towing. Laws
in many states require that a towed vehicle, whether it's a car trailer,
a boat trailer or a camper, must have working brake lights, tail lights
and turn signals.
5) Tire Maintenance
Closely monitor all your tires when towing. Tires that are over or under
inflated can create trailer sway. Tires that feel really hot after traveling
a few miles maybe under inflated or overloaded. So, be sure to keep
ALL the tires properly inflated by following the manufacturer's
guidelines. It's also a good idea to check your lug nuts to make sure
they're secure. Proper tire inflation can also help you stop safely
when you apply the brakes, which brings us to our next towing tip.
6) Synchronize Your Brakes
Most state laws require that towed vehicles over a certain size need
to have separate braking systems. This prevents the tow vehicle from
having to do all the work when it's time to put on the brakes. If your
trailer has brakes, it is a good to make sure that the brakes are working
properly and synchronized to your vehicle. Poorly or improperly functioning
brakes could spell disaster on the road because the added weight from
the cargo would only make a collision that much more dangerous. So,
give yourself plenty of extra room for braking and avoid heavy braking.
Applying your foot gently to the brake is the best method. Another way
to reduce the risk of an accident is to watch your speed.
7) Slow Down!
With the added weight of a towed vehicle, the faster you travel, the
more dangerous things will get. Increasing your speed can increase the
amount of trailer sway and make it much harder to stop quickly without
fishtailing or jack knifing. Excessive speed also makes it more difficult
to maneuver in traffic. A little less speed and a little more caution
and awareness is the best way to ensure a safe trip while towing so,
slow down! The hitch is one of the most important elements in towing,
and choosing the right one matters.
8) Choose the Right Hitch
There are basically two types of hitches: weight-carrying and weight-distributing.
Weight-carrying hitches are the most common and recognized by one attachment
point or hitch and two safety chains. These are commonly used when the
combined weight of the trailer and cargo is 3,000 pounds or less. Weight-distributing
hitches, on the other hand, are recommended for heavier loads. Your
vehicle and trailer hooked together should not look like a shallow V.
If this is the case then a weight-distributing hitch may need to be
used to redistribute the trailer tongue weight to the axles of the tow
vehicle and trailer. Everything on the outside of your tow vehicle is
important, but the insides are equally so.
9) Stay Cool
By adding more weight to your vehicle when towing, you are making its
drive train do a lot of extra work. Extra weight leads to extra heat
under the hood and added strain on your transmission. It may be necessary
to add a transmission cooler or a higher-capacity radiator to prevent
overheating which can lead to engine or transmission failure.
10) Practice Makes Perfect
One of the best things you can do to ensure a safe towing trip
is to practice driving BEFORE heading out onto roads with other drivers
and tractor-trailer trucks. Choose an area that's far away from traffic
like an empty parking lot and perform simple driving tasks with everything
hitched up. Try backing up and using your mirrors and pay close attention
to the vehicle's turning radius. Learn to accelerate and brake slowly
on longer stretches of road -- remember, the more weight you're carrying,
the longer it's going to take to slow down.
Once you have the perfect tow vehicle and all the right equipment,
sticking to these few simple tips can turn a bumpy ride into an easygoing