With the passing of the Memorial Day holiday, we have officially entered into vacation season in North America. That means packing your gear into the truck, car, or SUV and heading off to beautiful beachfronts and scenic mountaintop destinations, from coast to coast. Whether you are taking the whole family or just planning a personal getaway, trailering can be a critical part of the trip.
Maybe you are skipping the vacation and “laying up some corn for the famine” by starting a lawn care business or other entrepreneurship that will require trailering your equipment from one location to another. Boat (and other personal watercraft) trailers, lawn care trailers, heavy equipment trailers, livestock trailers, and even motorcycle and automobile trailers provide an easy and convenient way to transport toys, equipment, and farm animals to far away places. Campers allow us to setup a home away from home anywhere that we have access to an electrical outlet and a water supply, saving us money on motel costs and leaving our families with memories that will last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, some travelers are left with bad memories of trailering experiences. These negative recollections are often propagated because of improper trailering techniques and poor vehicle and trailer maintenance practices. Here are ten trailering tips that will help you to ensure that all of your vacation and work memories are good.
Check the Pressure
Tire pressure is critical to a good trailering experience. Check not only the tire pressure of the vehicle tires, but also the tire pressure of the trailer tires. Locate the maximum tire pressure rating on the sidewall of each tire and inflate the tires accordingly before trailering. Visually inspect the tires as you inflate them, paying attention to tread depth and sidewall condition as well as looking for objects that may have partially punctured the outer shell.
Most responsible vehicle owners make sure that their spare tire is in good working order. After all, you would never want to get caught out of cell phone range with a flat and no spare. The same is true of your trailer. Always have a spare trailer tire with you (just in case). It may seem like a cumbersome inconvenience but if you have a flat, you will be so glad that you brought it along. Unlike automobile tires, trailer tires are frequently sold with the wheel included. Find a reputable recreational vehicle (RV) service facility and the staff should be able to help you in matching a wheel with the correct lug pattern for your trailer or camper.
Without Vision There is No Hope
Successfully pulling a trailer or camper requires better than average vision. Factory mirrors may not provide a sufficient field of vision when pulling a large camper or trailer. Extendable permanent mirrors are available for many pickup trucks and temporary mirrors offer a more universal fit. The key to choosing the proper mirror is found in pre-trip preparation. Hook your trailer to your vehicle and make sure that you can safely observe both sides of the trailer (all the way to the rear) and the trailer tires. Note: Make certain that all lighting works properly and that the lighting harness (between the vehicle and trailer) has enough slack for cornering, without dragging across the pavement.
Balance is Key
When loading a heavy trailer, make sure that at least 10-percent of the total weight is on the trailer tongue. After that, arrange the weight evenly from front to rear. Use ratchet straps and turn-buckles whenever necessary and check your load regularly to ensure that heavy items remain secure. Never exceed the maximum weight capacity of the trailer as specified by the manufacturer and avoid hauling a trailer that exceeds vehicle capacity and maximum tongue rating for the trailer hitch.
Pan ahead to make sure that restaurants, stores, and fuel outlets at which you will stop, provide sufficient space to maneuver your trailer. Even if you have a lot of experience at backing a trailer, it is better if you can simply pull completely through and be on your way. It takes the stress out of driving and makes the trip more enjoyable.
A Backup Plan
If you are not experienced at backing a trailer, this task can be daunting. Here is a simple system that will help you to become a “trailer master”. Instead of placing your hand on top of the steering wheel, place it on the bottom. Look over your shoulder and proceed backwards. Now, move your hand (the one on the steering wheel) to the right, to make the trailer go to the right, and to the left to make the trailer go to the left. Easy-peasy; if the trailer begins to jackknife or go in the wrong direction, just pull forward and start over.
When taking 90-degree corners, try to pull slightly more forward (into the intersection) than you would when driving a vehicle with no trailer. This should allow you to turn a little wider than normal in order to avoid jumping curbs or scuffing the sides of the trailer against foreign objects. Proper trailering requires practice, much like any other “athletic” maneuver.
Despite the fact that many trailers are equipped with electric brakes, coming to a stop from highway speeds will require more effort. The heavier the trailer, the further the area required to bring your rig safely to a stop. Allow more space between yourself and the vehicle (or other objects) in front of you. It is better to have excessive room than not to have enough (crash-boom-bang!). Note: If your trailer or camper is equipped with electric brakes, they must be operational when trailering. Make sure that your vehicle is equipped to power the trailer braking system before pulling the trailer. Aftermarket, adjustable trailer brake controllers are available in almost any auto parts store. Just follow the directions, carefully.
Whoa, Steady There
Trailer sway is an unfortunate part of life when trailering. You will want to drive slightly slower when trailering than when you are not. If your trailer should begin to sway at highway speeds; gently ease off the accelerator pedal and allow it to stabilize. Never hit the brake abruptly or continue to speed up. Once you have established a safe top speed, be careful not to exceed it.
When choosing a route to your destination, avoid steep grades (up or down) if at all possible. When driving up hill, take your time and do not push your vehicle beyond its limitations. It is better to take a little extra time to arrive than to stall on a steep mountainside. When driving downhill, slow down just prior to ascending a steep grade and make sure that any engine (diesel “Jake” brake) or transmission brakes are activated.
I hope that this helps you to have a safer trailering experience. Now, go and enjoy your summer.