One of the greats things about a truck or SUV is the ability to tow a trailer so you can not only take your truck off-roading, but also dirt bikes, ATVs, and even go-carts. Towing a trailer isn’t as easy as it looks though, as there are quite differences from driving your truck un-hitched that become evident pretty quickly. Towing safely not only helps protect your cargo, but keeps other people on the road safe, too. Below are six tips to get you started with towing correctly and keeping yourself and others safe in the process. With a little knowledge you’ll be off and towing in no time.
Load Your Trailer Correctly
The first towing tip is useful before you even turn your truck on. Loading a trailer correctly is about more than jamming cargo on it until it’s full. If you’ve ever seen a trailer weaving on the highway, it’s most likely due to improper loading. This is why you need to pay attention to how you load your trailer so it doesn’t hinder your ability to drive it safely. Basically the front of the trailer should be heavier than the back, keeping more of the load closer to the trailer hitch than the rear tires. Ideally you should load the trailer evenly with just a little more weight near the front and you should be good to go.
Know the Physics of Towing
You’re probably aware of the term Center of Gravity
(CG) in relation to how tall your truck is versus how much it weighs. With your truck, the higher it is, the more top-heavy it becomes and the worse it handles corners.
The same goes for a trailer. Your trailer will naturally want to rotate around its center of gravity, no matter where this is. Like we said in the last tip, keeping the load slightly toward the front of the trailer will help it to turn on the trailer’s axle and at the hitch, but keeping too much of the load forward can make the trailer not want to turn at all. The center of gravity for the load should be about 6 inches ahead of the trailer’s wheels, with the rest of the load spread out as evenly as possible around that. Note in the image above the the heaviest part of the bike, the engine, is just slightly in front of the trailer's axle.
Be Aware of the Extra Draw on Your Engine
A loaded trailer adds quite a bit of weight to your truck. While this is an understatement that you hopefully already understand, it’s worth noting so you remember that the additional weight means more of a draw from your engine. In other words, your engine will have to work harder to maintain speed than it does without the trailer. Because of this, pay attention to your trucks oil level as well as temperature and warning lights. Before towing it’s a good idea to check your fluids and top any off that are low. Every system on your truck will be working harder than normal, so take it easy and keep your eyes open for any issues.
Braking with a Trailer
One system on your truck that’s hit extra hard is the brakes. Not only do they have to deal with additional weight, but offset weight as well. This means longer stopping distances and more possibility for front wheel lockup in wet conditions. Avoid excessive braking whenever possible, leaving extra room between you and any vehicles in front of you so you have the additional room to safely stop in case of an emergency. When you do brake, do so in a straight line when possible for the safest possible brake, and remember that the more the load weighs, the more room you need to stop. Some trailers come with a trailer brake, which can help with this. If you have a trailer brake installed, make sure you’re familiar with how it works.
Moving in Reverse
Reversing a trailer can be a maddening experience for the unseasoned operator. Here are some basic tips for getting your truck and trailer to play nicely when you are trying to back up. 1. Start to go in reverse with both the truck and the trailer in the same straight line. 2. When turning the trailer, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction that you wish the trailer to move in. You can also hold onto the bottom of the steering wheel instead of the top or sides to get a better feel for where you’re going. 3. Only make slight turns, as too sharp on a turn will result in jack-knifing the truck and trailer. 4. If things start to go bad, put the truck in drive and straighten the trailer out, then start again. It’s far easier to start from scratch than to fix a wrong turn.
Other Safety Tips
Make sure to follow the load requirements for your specific trailer, hitch, and truck. Use all safety features that come with your trailer, including the safety chains, correctly. An unsafe tow means that your trailer can become unhitched while you’re driving, which will destroy whatever you’re towing, but can also kill someone if the trailer hits their vehicle. Make sure you secure the load correctly and account for bumps and emergency braking in case they come up. Bring extra tie-down straps with you in case you have a break, and never use damaged tie-downs. Remember, it's worth the price of a new tie-down strap if it keeps your ATV on your trailer. Towing is serious business, but with a little patience and a strong attention to safety and detail, you’ll pick it up in no time and start enjoying all that your truck has to offer.