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Top 10 Tips for Towing a Trailer

September 14th, 2015

Regardless of whether you’re an amateur or an expert at towing a trailer, we’ve outlined some tips and tricks to help ensure your next trip goes off without a hitch.

Summer is winding down and soon it will be time to pull those boats out of the water, which means many motorists will be driving home with trailer in tow. We consulted with Director of Muskoka Wharf Marine in Gravenhurst Greg De Marco who offers rental and timesharing packages for everything from lighter kayaks and Waverunners to heavier and more substantial wakeboard and pontoon boats. Regardless of whether you’re an amateur or an expert, we’ve outlined some guidelines to help ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.

10) Pick the Right Tool for the Job

Inevitability during the summer months seems to be witnessing a vehicle that has no business towing a trailer, chugging along with its rear end sagging and safety chains scraping the road. Despite the size and stature of your vehicle, it is best to reference your owner’s manual for the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity and gross combined weight rating (GCWR). This refers to the total amount of weight allowed for your entire setup, including vehicle, occupants, and cargo, in addition to the load on the trailer and the trailer itself. Renting a proper truck for towing purposes may seem costly, but so is replacing the transmission and shocks on your own vehicle.

9) Trailer Inspection

It never fails. Every summer you will inevitably pass numerous boat trailers and campers left stranded on the side of the road after suffering from seized wheel bearings or a flat tire. Recreational trailers are often treated poorly and left sitting idle to corrode for months on end, so ensuring that your load is road worthy is crucial before setting off. It may save your family vacation, and possibly your marriage.

8) Getting Hitched

Many tow vehicles will be equipped with factory-mounted hitches, but there are several options and variables based on your vehicle, trailer and load in general. A weight-carrying hitch is recommended for if the combined weight of the trailer and its cargo is up to 1,500 kgs. Weight-distributing hitches are recommended for heavier loads which will apply significant pressure onto the tongue and hitch ball which would throw off the balance of your towing setup and make handling difficult.

7) Let there be Lights

In addition to inspecting the overall road-worthiness of the trailer you will be towing, ensure that the brake lights and turn signals are working properly. Here’s a helpful tip to help you save time; rather than walking back and forth from the vehicle to the back of the trailer to inspect turn signals, turn on the hazard lights to cover both sides on one trip.


6) Practice Makes Perfect

Towing a trailer, particularly backing up, are not necessarily intuitive tasks and take some time to become second nature. Before you’re forced into a challenging situation with obstacles and an audience, why not visit an empty parking lot to practice the basics? Learn the characteristics of your setup and become accustomed to your turning radius. You can likely avoid many situations where backing up would be required, but it is still an essential skill if you plan on towing a trailer of any kind.

5) Secure your Load

It is always better to err on the side of caution when fastening your cargo into place to ensure that it doesn’t throw off the balance of your vehicle, or heaven forbid, become a projectile. It would be very unfortunate to damage your costly investment for the nominal price of a ratchet strap. It is also important to check and then re-check once you have moved to ensure that the load has not shifted. Safety chains should be fastened in an ‘X’ fashion in a manner that allows sufficient turning radius but aren’t dragging on the ground.

4) Mirror, Mirror

In most cases your rear view mirror will be obstructed by your trailer deeming it useless. You will also have a much longer wheelbase which will create significant blind spots that will need to be checked when backing up, merging or negotiating lane changes. Adjust your mirrors outward accordingly and explore the possibility of acquiring additional mirrors to increase your visibility.

3) Use a Spotter

One of the most infuriating experiences of my life occurred when three different people were all attempting to throw their two cents in as to how I should navigate a large moving van down a narrow driveway in between two houses without hitting parked vehicles or pedestrians on a crowded street. Avoid confusion and potential jail time by appointing a spotter and have them stand in a location where they can be both seen and heard. Clear communication and proper directions will make backing up an infinitely easier task.

2) Weight Distribution

Keep in mind that it is always best to have heavier items down low so that they don’t fall or throw off the balance of the trailer. Pack heavier items first and fasten them into place if possible to ensure they don’t move around. Weight should be kept low and towards the front of the trailer as much as possible.

1) Take your time

It’s not a race. Towing a trailer involves carrying extra bulk and weight which means you should allow more time to accelerate, merge, brake and negotiate turns or park. Nothing good will come out of being in a rush so leave yourself extra time and space. Avoiding heavy braking or maneuvers will save your brakes, tires and safety of your load.

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