9 Tips for Safe Trailer Towing

Trailer Towing - AMSOIL Blog

Friends of mine in Minneapolis were driving on Highway 35, talking about this and that, minding their own business, when – Wham! A trailer carrying a boat slammed into their car.

The trailer had disconnected from the tow vehicle and darted across the median in a high-velocity trajectory that could have killed my friends had it not been a glancing blow. Though the shattering glass put them in the hospital, it could have been much worse. It was an accident that shouldn’t have happened.

Safety tips for towing a trailer

One morning while driving to work I was thinking about this very topic and, right in front of me, I saw another towing accident. Someone towing his race car down Mesaba Ave. here in Duluth, Minn., 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 shouldn’t have happened.

Whether it’s a boat, a house trailer or your trash to the dump, safe towing requires attention to detail.

Here are nine key points for safe towing and longer vehicle life

1) Know your weight limits

Make sure your trailer and whatever you’re hauling fall within the towing or hauling capacities 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) Distribute weight evenly

If your trailer fishtails (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 place sufficient load on the hitch ball.

Try to carry 5-10 percent of the trailer load on the hitch. Redistribute the load as necessary before continuing.

3) Ensure the trailer lights work

Connect the brake and signal lights. Double check to make sure the trailer’s brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with the tow vehicle.

4) Properly inflate the tires

People I once knew suffered 17 tire blowouts while pulling a trailer from California to South Texas. (True!) You’d think they would have figured out they had too much weight in the trailer. In addition to staying within weight limits for your rig, be sure the tires are in good condition and properly inflated. Be sure to check your wheel bearings, too. An overheated bearing will sideline your rig as fast as a flat tire. Check out this video on bearing maintenance.

Trailer Towing - AMSOIL Blog5) Your vehicle will handle differently

When towing, you’re operating a vehicle combination that’s longer and heavier than normal. Be sure to adjust your driving practices accordingly.

Backing up is tricky, but it’s a skill you can learn. Until you’re experienced, have someone direct you from outside in those tight spots or places where you have limited visibility.

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.

When it comes to towing accidents, don’t say, “It can’t happen to me.” Say instead, “It must not happen to me.”

6) Buckle your seat belt

In case your tow vehicle ends up upside down.

7) Stopping requires more distance

It’s a simple matter of physics. When towing, you have more momentum than you would without a trailer. Remember that stopping requires more time and distance. Avoid tailgating and pay attention to what’s happening a little farther down the road than you normally would.

8) Keep your head on a swivel

Maybe you forgot to fasten a chain, secure the hitch or tie down your payload properly. If you’re in a hurry to get home after a long trip, things like that can happen. Once you’re on the road, frequently check your mirrors to make sure everything looks good back there. I know a boat owner whose yacht fell sideways on the highway halfway between Canada and Duluth, which is the middle of nowhere for those who’ve never been there. Something wasn’t fastened properly. Bummer.

9) Upgrade your transmission protection

Towing places enormous stress on a transmission. In fact, because of the intense heat, towing is probably the number-one killer of transmissions.

For this reason, the “towing package” on many trucks includes a transmission-oil cooler. It also helps to use a high-end synthetic lubricant. Synthetics reduce friction and provide better resistance to high heat, helping the tranny run cooler, shift confidently and last longer.

Shameless plug time: AMSOIL Signature Series Synthetic ATF handles heat so well, you can confidently double your vehicle manufacturer’s severe-service drain interval in passenger cars and light trucks.

Check out our Las Vegas Taxi Cab field study for all the technical details if you’re so inclined.

Stay safe out there!

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Comments

  1. This was a useful article with lots of safety tips for people that have never towed anything. It is very important to know weight ratios and what you’re towing. I too have seen some bad accidents that could have been avoided. Great write up.

  2. A very informative and detailed post on towing. I really liked that you covered every aspect of towing from weight distribution to transmission fluid in the towing vehicle, which normally people won’t even consider to check. Many of the points relay considerable importance when towing a car behind. These were really very good tips. Thank you for sharing this article.

  3. Thank you for sharing such an informative blog on towing tips. I found lots of information like weight, weight distribution, controlling, handling etc. In the blog you will also find some points on which everyone should pay attention to such as, safety chains, handling, weight, the capacity of your tow vehicle, tires etc.

  4. 17 blowouts! Wow! I remember being a kid and riding with my dad when he was towing a car on a trailer. The weight was not evenly distributed and started to fishtail! Scary!

  5. I love these tips! such an informative article here about towing. While towing might seem intimidating at first and Hauling heavy loads or towing a heavy trailer are complicated tasks.

  6. Thanks for such an informative post about towing and all the things people need to take care of research before just throwing a trailer on the back of their vehicle. Many people have no idea and can have some bad consequences for doing so. Always a good idea to follow a checklist and be safe and thorough.

  7. Jessie,
    Thanks for the question. I am not sure what kind of “great big truck” you are referring to, but I assume you are not referring to the massive house-sized trucks used in the mining industry. Since I have seen flatbed trucks used for towing bulldozers, and pickups used for towing trailer with 5-ton caterpillars, the principle is essentially the same. You need to be aware of the weight and what the trailer is designed to sustain. When in doubt, check it out. If the big truck is really tall, make sure you know your height, too, before you attempt to duck under any bridges.
    Hope this helps.
    ed

  8. I have this great big truck that I can’t imagine fitting on a tow truck. One thing you mentioned to take into account is weight. Is that the same for when you tow a boat as it is for a car? I just wonder how a truck would be towed.

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