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Trailer Towing Safety Tips
By Henry J. Pratt
Millions of motorists across the United States each year engage in a widely-practiced highway pastime, towing a trailer behind their car or pickup truck. Some drivers tow a trailer behind their car or pickup only occasionally, such as to haul their household goods on job transfer or take their personal effects away to college. Other people tow a trailer several months a year as their RV.
It doesn't take a special breed of cat to tow a trailer, but you should realize there's more involved than just driving a vehicle with nothing hooked behind. Here are some trailer-towing safety tips to help you:
Personally inspect the trailer and hitch safety chains for proper connections. Ensure the electrical hookups work for the trailer wiring and brakes. Check tire air, oil, fuel and coolant levels, as always, before taking any trip. Make certain the vehicle and trailer lights operate.
Load the trailer heavier toward the front for proper weight distribution. About 60 percent of the cargo weight should be in the trailer's front half. This properly places about 10 percent of the loaded trailer weight on the tow-vehicle hitch.
If you're not now a trailer-towing veteran, take time to practice before beginning a long haul. When backing up, place one hand on your vehicle's steering wheel at the six o'clock position.
To move the trailer's rear end to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right. In more complex towing situations, such as boat launching, use low-range gears for extra power and control.
Avoid sudden moves that might create side force on the trailer. Allow more room to the inside on right-angle turns since the trailer wheels will be closer to the inside turn path than the vehicle wheels.
When passing a slower motorist or changing lanes, signal well in advance and move gradually into the next lane. After passing, allow the trailer or RV extra room before returning to the driving lane. Avoid passing on steep grades - up or down. Driving while towing a trailer requires a greater distance to stop. A good rule-of-thumb: Allow one vehicle and trailer length between you and the vehicle you're following for each 10 mph of speed. Eliminate panic stops by shifting to a lower gear and pumping brakes lightly to cut vehicle speed.
When parking your whole kit-and-caboodle, place a foot on the brake and have someone outside your vehicle help you. He/she should place blocks behind the tow vehicle wheels on an upgrade, or in front of the wheels on a downgrade.
Slowly release the brakes until the blocks are holding the vehicle and the trailer is at rest. Fully engage the parking brake and leave the transmission in first or reverse gear if you have a manual shift, or in park for an automatic.
Keep personal items most-frequently used in the vehicle, not the trailer, for convenience. When packing clothes, use pliable bags and carrying cases that compress when stored, to save space.
Be sure all items stowed in the trailer are tied down. Check RV cupboard latches, closets, bathroom and storage doors to see they are secure before heading down the highway. Distribute passengers equally over the available seating space to promote better vehicle riding and handling characteristics. It's safer not to allow passengers to ride in the RV while it's being towed and it's against the law, too, in some states.
You should make sure both the trailer and your towing vehicle are within load recommendations. Hauling too much can result in handling and trailer-stability problems. Observe all posted speed limits; in bad weather or slippery road conditions, it's always wise to slow down.
Another tip before you get your show on the road: Read the helpful towing information in the owner's manual. Last, but not least, check and make sure anyone else driving your vehicle with a trailer in tow is fully clued in - before the towing begins.
Henry J. Pratt is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colorado.
Reprinted from Woodall's Monthly Regional RV/Camping Publications.