Useful Car Tips

Safety Tips for Pulling a Trailer

October 12, 2018
Chances are you see them on the highway wherever you go: large RVs, long fifth wheels, open flatbeds with off-road vehicles strapped to them, or perhaps (stinky) horse trailers that whinny as you drive by. What you might not realize as you’re passing these big rigs is that there are certain skills necessary for driving them safely. One day, you might have to learn these tactics, so don’t honk at those slow-moving caravans as you pass them—unless you’re waving with a smile.

Before You Hitch Up and Head Out

If you’re going to pull a trailer, you’ll want to consider a few key aspects before you start bragging to your friends. First, how much weight can your car or truck tow? It is not recommended that you push this limit as it could incur serious damage. Staying below the recommended weight is optimal to insuring a safe experience. Next, do you have the correct size hitch ball for the trailer you’re pulling? “Almost” and “close enough” are incredibly dangerous ways to pull a trailer, so take the extra time and money and purchase the correct part the first time. You’ll also want to make sure the connection between the car/truck and trailer is secure. Leave slack in the chains so that you can turn corners, but not too much. It’s best to have 2 chains connecting the vehicle you’re driving to the trailer, attached in a crisscross pattern that will allow for equal distribution of pulling power. Always check your trailer connections any time you stop. It’s easier to address a problem standing still than at highway cruising speeds.

What to Consider When Pulling a Trailer

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re operating your vehicle with a trailer. Incorporating these factors into your safe driving techniques will do a lot to insure a safe trip.
  • More weight means more stopping distance. Think about the difference between a bicycle and a car. How long does it take for you to bring both to a stop? Considering the weight of the objects, the bicycle will stop first because there is less mass to slow down. This same principle applies to driving with a trailer. The heavier the trailer, the more room you’ll need to come to a complete stop—safely.
  • Wide loads mean wide turns. Drive near any semi truck and you’ve probably seen the sticker that shows you shouldn’t drive alongside one that is turning right. Not only can the driver not see you, but you’ll get pinched between the turning trailer and the curb. The same goes for personal trailers. Turn wider than you would normally and turn slowly. Watch the entire length of your trailer and be sure to account for all obstacles nearby.
  • The hitch is a pivot point that can cause jackknifing. The same assembly that allows you to turn corners can also create problems if you don’t know how to keep the trailer from jackknifing. Jackknifing is when the trailer moves to the side, resembling an acute angle. Pay attention to how the trailer moves as you clock the steering wheel. If the trailer begins to jackknife, pull forward and straighten it out.
Transporting a trailer, no matter the size or weight, isn’t a job for everyone. If you don’t feel comfortable with pulling a trailer, practice in your driveway or nearest large parking lot, or find another solution and/or driver. The most important thing to remember is the safety of you and those around you.
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