Towing a travel trailer is quite different to driving a car alone. One needs proper knowledge on how to setup the trailer load to the vehicle, and extra skills on how to safely steer with a heavy load behind. It’s also important to get the best weight distribution hitch based on the load, safety chains for added binding, and other trailer parts for added safety.
Apart from those things, here are five safety tips for towing a travel trailer.
1. Be Familiar With Weight Ratings
It’s mandatory to know how much a truck can tow for the simplest reason – to make sure that you do NOT overload. Overload anything and things begin malfunction and break. There are a lot of numbers to check, but here are some pointers.
- Always make sure the weight distribution hitch is built for the travel trailer and heavy load it’ll be carrying. This will require you to know the load size and weight, and total weight capacity of your trailer.
- Apart from the trailer’s weight capacity, check the vehicle’s towing capacity as well. The vehicle’s weight, plus the stuff it carries inside, and any other parts the vehicle will be towing add up to the entire load. The rule of thumb here is that the vehicle’s towing capacity should be always above the total load weight. Check with the vehicle manufacturer for these numbers to ensure that you don’t overload.
2. Distribute The Load Properly
Remember that a trailer follows the laws of physics and distributing the load properly can solve balance issues and prevent tail swaying, also known as fish-tailing. A balanced trailer makes maneuvering easier.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, so here are two tips that will help avoid that.
Make sure that about 12-15% of the trailer’s weight is on the towing hitch, nothing more than that. Place about 60% of the load weight in front of the trailer. This will help you drive more efficiently and it’ll won’t feel too heavy to tow. What happens when majority of the load is at the back end of the trailer? A bump or sudden gust of wind from passing vehicles may cause imbalance and the trailer may sway dangerously as you drive.
3. Schedule Inspections
Plan every drive with stopovers for inspections. No matter how much everything is tightened on the hitch and other parts, it may loosen while on the road. Every vehicle and trailer vibrates, jiggles, bumps and goes through temperature changes. Bolts might loosen, and connections might become disconnected.
Here are some of the important parts to check:
- Tie down system – Make sure to check and tighten the tie downs and chains.
Hitch system – Check the nuts, hitch pin and cables are still connected. Use safety chains for extra binding. In case the hitch is disconnected, instead of dropping the trailer directly to the ground, the chains will catch it.
- Brakes – Test the lever on the trailer brake system and make sure it responds. Check that individual brakes heat evenly. Electronic trailer brake systems run on batteries so make sure it’s charged.
- Head and trailer lights – When driving with a trailer, it is essentially the back of the vehicle. Check that the lights behind are working and test for turn signals.
- Tire Pressure for both the vehicle and trailer – For added driving efficiency and to save gas, make sure the tire pressure is at recommended levels. Check the manual or vehicle manufacturer recommendations for the vehicle when towing a trailer. Check tires for wear and tear and the wear pattern.
4. Drive Slow
Do not exceed the speed limit. No matter what, even when the highway is clear or you’re tight on schedule – never ever speed up.
Bear in mind that when towing a heavy load, increasing speed may lead to an accident. It will be difficult to stop safely when there is a red stop light or humps, or even maneuvering through sharp turns at higher speeds. Better be slow and steady.
Pre-trip preparation – For a steady drive, plan the route ahead of time and avoid roads with difficult turns.
5. Do Not Slam On The Brakes
Even when driving slow, hitting the brakes suddenly can be very dangerous. Remember that the heavy trailer behind, and although its electronic brake system may be responsive, a sudden stop may cause it to skid or jackknife. It is also likely to push the towing vehicle forward and put huge pressure on the towbar mounting and joints. Many states now require trailers to have their own electronic brake system and this helps the stopping process on the road.
Test the brake function on both the vehicle and trailer before travel and at every inspection stopover during the trip. Make sure that brake systems are synced and working well.
In summary, remember to setup properly the top weight distribution hitch system for your tow and complete all necessary checkups prior to the trip. Practice driving the trailer to learn manuevering techniques with the heavy tow.
Drive safely and enjoy the trip!