Your guide to staying safe and sound on the road while pulling a load
Whether you are a first-time trailer owner or a seasoned veteran, proper towing practices equip you with the knowledge and confidence to successfully tow a trailer with your vehicle.
Proper trailer-towing practices begin with your equipment. Let’s start there.
Ensure that the weight capacity of your vehicle can handle your trailer and load. In addition, a trailer hitch and all its components ꟷ ball mount, trailer ball, hitch pin, trailer coupler, safety chains, trailer wiring harness ꟷ must be of the right size for your towing system and attached properly.
Hitch up your trailer and double check all connections. Now, check the weight distribution of your vehicle and trailer. There should be a balanced, flat plane across the two. An unbalance can cause the trailer to sway, or wag back and forth while underway.
Remember to check your visibility and your brake lights. For visibility, you should see the rear of your trailer through both side mirrors. For brakes, ensure the brake and signal lights work. If they don’t, check the connection at the trailer hitch. Also, make sure your brake controller is set correctly.
Finally, consider using a hitch lock to keep your trailer hitch secure. Trailer theft happens.
BEFORE STARTING OUT
Trip planning is always beneficial prior to hitting the road. Know the height of your trailer and avoid any bridge, tunnel, or overhang lower than that height. Give yourself some overhead room, just in case. Plan your route ahead of time. A plan will help you avoid low obstacles, narrow roads, construction, dense city traffic, steep grades, and busy highways.
ON THE ROAD
Take It Easy
When pulling a load, you will be driving more slowly than regular traffic. If your slow speed is blocking other drivers, pull over and let them pass. Go at a comfortable speed and never feel compelled to go faster to match traffic flow. It’s more important to arrive at your destination safely than to arrive quickly.
Give Yourself Space
Keep in mind that it takes longer to stop a vehicle towing a trailer, so allow plenty of stopping distance. And with more mass to stop, brake early. Always be cautious, and stick to the right lane, or slow lane.
If you need to change lanes, initiate the change early and be patient. Always use your turn signals early and often to allow other drivers to react and open a space for you.
When turning, be cautious. Take wide turns. The longer your trailer, the wider the turn.
Do your best to anticipate whether you’re entering an area that will require a complicated maneuver. For example, a small parking lot may be easy enough to get into but require an entirely different effort to get out of.
Because backing up a trailer can be tricky, practice until it feels natural. Try this trick to help you get started with the process. Grip the bottom of the steering wheel. Move your gripped steering hand to the right if you want the trailer to go right. To move the trailer left, move your hand to the left. Slow and steady. Even a small effort can make a big turn.
Pulling a trailer over hills and mountains require that you play it safe, either going up or down.
When ascending, slow down, keep to the right, and, if you are going slower than the speed limit, consider using your hazard lights. Avoid trailer sway primarily by controlling your speed (drive slowly). If you are caught in a sway, do not try to correct it by counter steering. That could make matters worse. Instead, use the brake controller if you have one or gently brake to reduce speed until the sway has stopped.
When descending, slow down, keep to the right, use a lower gear, and take your foot off the accelerator unless you need to control speed on level areas. Again, if you are going slower than the speed limit, consider using your hazard lights. Also worth the reminder, your stopping distance is longer when pulling a trailer, so always maintain a good distance between you and the vehicle in front.
You got this! These guidelines will get you going, and a little experience and common sense will take you a long way.