Towing Safety Tips
Whether it's hauling the boat up north to the cabin, towing a camper for an extended vacation, or just moving across town, Minnesotan's do a lot of towing. Before hooking up your trailer it's important to follow safety rules to ensure you aren't putting you're family and other motorist in danger and to ensure you don't cause damage to your suspension, engine and drivetrain.
1. Know the Towing Capacity of Your Vehicle, Hitch and Trailer
Check the owner's manual for your vehicle to ensure it is up to the job of towing your trailer. Be sure you are looking at your exact vehicle's ratings, since towing capacity can vary by body style, bed length, powertrain and other specifications. Exceeding the towing limits of your vehicle can cause unsafe handling and reduced braking performance. Also check the trailer hitch rating. It should be labeled with the maximum and minimum tongue weight so you can ensure it is capable of handling your trailer’s loaded weight.
Also factor the gross vehicle weight rating (GVW). This is the weight of the tow vehicle itself, including all passengers and cargo. The loaded vehicle and loaded trailer should not exceed the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) set by the manufacturer.
2. Load the Trailer Correctly
It's critical that you pack the trailer correctly without exceeding it's weight rating. Generally, you will want to place 60% of the trailer’s load over the front half of the trailer. The tongue weight for a conventional hitch trailer should be between 10-15% of the total weight of the loaded trailer. Evenly distribute cargo on the left and right side of the trailer and be sure to secure the load to prevent it from shifting.
3. Check Your Tires
Check the tires on the tow vehicle and tralier to ensure they have good tread life and are properly inflated. Be sure to check the spare tire as well. Under-inflated tires can cause rolling resistance, poor fuel economy, and unsafe handling. Low tire pressure also increases the risk of a blow out.
Trailers with smaller tires typically have a lower speed ratings than standard vehicle tires, so be sure to know the tire speed rating limits and stay within them.
4. Check the Brakes
Small trailers are usually not equipped with trailer brakes, but larger trailers rated to carry heavier loads will often have a trailer brake system. Check your owner's manual to see if trailer brakes are required for trailers over a certain weight.
If the trailer is equipped with brakes, check that the emergency breakaway cable is correctly attached to the vehicle. Should the trailer disconnect from the vehicle while in motion, the cable will activate the trailer's brakes to stop the trailer.
5. Check Your Lights
Have someone stand behind the vehicle to ensure the turn signals, brake lights and marker lights are all working correctly. Make sure that any cargo attached to the outside of the trailer does not obstruct the lights.
6. Check Visibility Inside the Vehicle
Before setting off, always check that the vehicle's mirrors are positioned to allow you to see the end of the trailer. While backup cameras are a great convenience, they should not be relied upon as a substitute for checking your surrounding using the mirrors.