After a brutal winter in most parts of the country, the arrival of summer vacation season is a welcome gift. It’s also time for many Americans to hitch up their boats, campers and trailers and head out to the campsite, lake or other far-flung location for fun and adventure. Unfortunately, those who fail to follow proper towing procedures can, at the least, cause undue wear and tear to their vehicles or, at worst, face a perilous journey.
The most recent information from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that an average of more than one person a day dies in accidents involving passenger vehicles with towing trailers. “Driving may still be the best travel choice for families this spring and summer, but for those who will be hauling their fun behind them, it is important to remember that without careful planning, attention to equipment and safe driving practices, these extra loads can be a hazard to driver, passengers and vehicle – and to other drivers as well,” says Brian Hafer, vice president of marketing with the auto service website AutoMD.com in Carson City, Calif.
To help road-trippers safely tow their recreational accoutrements, AutoMD.com suggests novices and veteran haulers alike consult their vehicles’ and trailers’ owner’s manuals for specific towing requirements and to never exceed the stated maximum towing capacity. This includes the weight of a boat, trailer and cargo. Overloading a vehicle can cause significant mechanical issues and/or transmission damage. What’s more, a too-heavy trailer can sway excessively behind the tow vehicle, causing control issues and dangerously encroaching on adjacent lanes of traffic.
Always have a tow vehicle checked out by a mechanic before hitting the road, especially fluid levels, brakes and tires; it’s a good idea to have the oil changed before embarking on a long trip. NHTSA reminds drivers that a vehicle’s tires may require additional air pressure for towing, especially when pulling heavy loads (again, check the owner’s manual for this information). Ensure that the trailer hitch – which attaches to the vehicle’s frame – is appropriate for the weight and type of load to be hauled. Once hitched and with the wiring harness connected, check that the trailer’s brakes, brake lights and turn signals are synchronized with the towing vehicle.
Make sure the load to be carried within the trailer is evenly distributed for optimal stability. Aim to place 60 percent of the cargo weight in the front half of the trailer to help properly spread the total mass across the tow hitch and trailer. Load heavier items first and secure them with ropes or cords, then fill in the extra spaces evenly, front to back, and side to side, but don’t pile things up so high as to block the motorist’s rearward visibility.
NHTSA suggests drivers – particularly novice haulers – take a test run with the trailer hitched up to the vehicle to practice accelerating, turning corners, stopping, backing up and parking to get a good feel for how the combination of vehicle and trailer behaves. A large empty parking lot is ideal for this exercise. Also, those taking longer trips should consult bordering states’ towing laws to make sure the rig won’t be violating specific towing height, width and weight restrictions. Always carry an emergency kit in case of a flat tire or breakdown that consists, at the least, of roadside flares and triangles, a tire jack, jumper cables, water and energy bars/snacks. Always travel with a fully charged cell phone.
Once out on the road proceed at a moderate pace and leave ample distance for stopping. Driving too fast and having to make a sudden stop can cause the trailer to jackknife, skid out of control or flip over. It’s prudent to pull over every 50 or 60 miles to ensure the trailer’s lights and brakes are working, the tires are at the proper inflation level and that the load within the trailer remains secure.
Proper towing preparation and execution will help ensure this summer’s vacation is memorable for all the right reasons.