Friends of mine down in the Twin Cities were driving southbound on Highway 35, talking about this and that, minding their own business, when wham! The side of their car was slammed by a northbound trailer with a boat on it. The trailer had become disconnected from the tow vehicle and flew across the median in a high velocity trajectory that could have killed our friends had it not been a glancing side scraper. Though the shattering glass put them in the hospital, it could have been much worse. It was an accident that shouldn’t have happened.
One morning while driving to work I was thinking about this very topic (towing safety) and right in front of me saw another towing accident. Someone towing his race car down Mesabi Avenue here in Duluth caused a traffic jam when the stock car left the trailer and swept wildly into the midst of rush hour traffic. Again, it was an accident that should not have happened.
Whether it’s a boat, a house trailer or your trash to the dump, towing requires attention to details. With spring cleaning and fishing openers approaching, here are nine key details to pay attention to for safe towing and longer vehicle life.
Make sure your trailer and whatever you’re hauling is within the tow capacity of your vehicle. Check the owner’s manual to find the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum load weight it can pull. Use the right trailer hitch and make sure it is hitched correctly.
2) Weight Distribution
If you experience fishtailing, where your trailer sways while accelerating, back off the gas and see if it stops. If it continues when you accelerate again, check to see how the weight is distributed on the trailer. It may not be distributed evenly from side to side, or else it’s too far back to put a sufficient load on the hitch ball. You want to try to carry 5 to 10% of the trailer load on the hitch. Redistribute the load as necessity dictates before continuing.
Connect brakes and signal lights. Double check to make sure the trailer’s brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with those of the tow vehicle.
I knew some people who had seventeen blowouts while pulling their trailer from California to South Texas. (True!) You would think they could have figured it out. They had too much weight in the trailer. Be sure you keep the proper air pressure in your tires, too.
When towing, you’re operating a vehicle combination that’s longer and heavier than you’re used to. So you’ll want to make compensating adjustments in your normal driving practices.
Backing up is tricky, but it’s a skill you can learn. Till you’re experienced, have someone direct you from outside in those tight spots or places where you have limited visibilty.
When barreling down the highway, avoid sudden turns. I know, sounds obvious. But
I was once the first person to an accident where someone decided at the last minute to take the exit instead of going straight. The car ended up upside down because the trailer had other ideas.
6) Buckle Your Seat Belt
In case your tow vehicle ends up upside down.
It’s a matter of physics. When towing, you have more momentum than you would without a trailer. Be sure you keep in mind that it therefore takes more time and distance to stop. Avoid tailgating and pay attention to what’s happening a little further down the road than you normally would.
8) Check Things Out As You Go Along
Maybe you forgot to fasten a chain, forgot to clamp the hitch or forgot to tie your car down. You’re in a hurry to get home after a long night. Things like that can happen. Once you’re on the road, make sure everything looks good back there. You really don’t want to be up all night trying to get your car out of a ditch somewhere. I know a boat owner whose yacht fell sideways on a two-lane highway halfway between Canada and Duluth, the middle of nowhere. Something wasn’t fastened properly. Bummer.
9) Synthetic Transmission Fluid
What kind of lubricant are you using in the transmission of your tow vehicle? Towing is one of the most demanding activities on a vehicle’s drivetrain system. In fact, because of the heat generated, towing is probably the number one killer of transmissions. For this reason many people install an oil cooler. An alternative is to use a high end synthetic lubricant. As a result of the reduced friction, the tranny will run cooler, and transmission life will be lengthened considerably. For example, AMSOIL synthetic automatic transmission fluid provides useful service up twice as long as conventional fluids. And our premium Signature Series Fuel-Efficient Synthetic ATF also has a fuel economy benefit.
When it comes to towing accidents, don’t say “It can’t happen to me.” Say instead, “It must not happen to me.”
Right now many states are calling for stiffer penalties when there are accidents caused by trailers that break loose. It will be criminal negligence, not a mistake. Pay attention to the details. Hitches, safety chains, handling, weight, the capacity of your tow vehicle, tires and all the rest will insure that you’re back in the running next week.