Towing trailers: A guide to safe hauling
The weather is warm, and that means many of us will be towing trailers more frequently. There are some things to keep in mind before tugging that boat down the highway.
First — and this may sound obvious — compare your vehicle's towing capacity against the weight of the items you're towing.
Next, make sure you have the proper towing hitch. Hitches vary by the vehicle doing the towing as well as the class of trailer being towed and its gross weight.
Also, you'll want to figure out the trailer's tongue weight, which is the downward force that it exerts on the hitch. Typically, it's 10 to 15 percent of the gross trailer weight.
If you already have a hitch and trailer and you know they're appropriate for the task at hand, you'll want to check your tow vehicle.
Make sure that your car or truck's cooling system is in good shape. Temperatures easily reach the 80s or 90s, and if your cooling system was marginal last year, you should have your radiator checked or upgraded. Also, make sure your air filters are clean. Dirty air filters hinder performance. The same goes for fuel filters.
Next, check those brakes. The added weight and momentum of a trailer can tax braking systems. Again, if performance was marginal last year, consider having your brakes upgraded to a larger size.
Also, you'll want to make sure that the brakes and brake lights on your vehicle activate at the same time as those on your trailer. Make sure that all lights and turn signals are working.
Of course, the brakes won't be effective if your tires are worn. So be sure to check those tires. You want to make sure you have the grip needed to stop, start and steer. Some manufacturers recommend higher air pressure in the tires when towing, so be sure to check your owner's manual.
When loading your trailer, distribute the load evenly, both front to back and side to side. If you have an especially heavy item, however, place it toward the front of the trailer. Improperly weighted cargo can cause the trailer to sway or flip.
Once under way, plan on stopping after a short distance to make sure your load is still secure. It's a good idea to stop and check your load periodically to make sure nothing has become loose.
If you've never driven a trailer, you may want to practice driving it before you load it. Check the space needed to take a corner; practice backing up and parking. You might want to consider getting an after-market wireless backup camera system.
Finally, keep in mind that driving with a trailer means that accelerating, steering and stopping take longer and require more space. Drive slowly and smoothly.
Remember, you're trying to stay in this for the long haul.
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.