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11 Safety Tips For Towing A Trailer

By Jennifer Crump | Last updated: August 8, 2021
Key Takeaways

For many drivers, towing a trailer is a whole new experience with many challenges — here are a few tips to stay safe on the road.

Source: J. Michael Jones/iStock

As summer ends, more Canadians will hit the road with trailers in tow. That means more danger and the potential for more accidents. Whether you're towing a camper or boat for a little vacation or hauling a trailer to bring a child back to college or to help with a move, there are ways you can keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe. Here are 11 safety tips for towing a trailer.

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1. Take Your Time

Speed kills and is a leading cause of accidents. When you have a trailer, you need to slow down to a slower pace than you usually drive, generally no more than 55 km/h. If your trailer begins to sway, it could actually start to whip if you go too fast. Lower your speed if you notice this happening. Do not apply your brakes suddenly, as you could lose control. When going downhill, slow down and shift to a lower gear. When you're travelling uphill, shift to a lower gear and turn your flashers on to warn others that you'll be moving slowly.

2. If You Lose Control, Stay Calm

If you go off the paved roadway, do not steer sharply or apply your brakes. When towing something heavy like a trailer, sudden moves like that can be hazardous if your momentum sends you in the wrong direction. Instead, let off the gas gently and slowly drive back onto the pavement once your speed is reduced.

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3. Stay Within Capacity

Do not exceed the towing capacity of your vehicle or the load restrictions of your trailer hitch. Both can be very dangerous, triggering difficulties in handling, brake performance and causing damage to your suspension, engine or drivetrain. For these reasons, you should also include any extra cargo or passengers you are carrying when you calculate your total load.

4. Distribute the Weight

The distribution of your cargo is as critical to your safety as ensuring you stay within maximum load capacities. An uneven load can pull your trailer and your vehicle dangerously to one side and make steering more challenging. It can also cause damage to your trailer, hitch or vehicle. Pack your trailer so that the right and left sides of the trailer are equally weighted. The general rule is to keep 60% of your load in the front half of your trailer, and the tongue weight should be no more than 10-15% of the total load. Again, ensure your cargo is properly balanced and tied down as necessary.

5. Inspect Your Trailer

Be sure to perform a check of your trailer lights before you start. Confirm the trailer is correctly wired to the tow vehicle and manually inspect your connections. Ask someone to partner with you in checking the running lights, brake lights, turn signal and hazard lights.

6. Know Your Trailer and Practice Handling It

Don't set off on a long journey with a heavy trailer load without understanding how your vehicle and trailer work separately and together. Try a few practice runs in an empty parking lot so you can understand your turning radius, backing up and braking distance when you're operating your vehicle and trailer combinations. It is far easier to iron out any issues in an environment like that rather than in a crowded camp ground or busy roadway.

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7. Secure Your Load

Cargo that can slide around will affect the balance of your vehicle and can cause you steering problems and possibly a severe accident. Unsecured loads can also turn your cargo into a projectile in an open trailer. Check your load frequently to ensure nothing has shifted, and use ratchet straps and safety chains liberally to secure anything that may move around during turns and sudden stops or starts.

8. Maintain your Trailer and Vehicle

Ensure both your trailer and vehicle are in proper working order before you leave. Your transmission, steering, suspension and front-end alignment should all be inspected. Check the recommended cold pressure for your tires and ensure all wheels are set to the proper pressure. You can increase tire pressure on the rear tires of some tow vehicles to account for the extra tow weight but do not exceed the limits stamped on your tires.

9.Consider Tow Mirrors

A trailer can significantly increase your blind spots, a significant danger for drivers in even the best situations. Tow mirrors extend farther out from your vehicle, greatly enhancing the visibility of the entire length of your load, and should be a consideration for all drivers towing a trailer. They'll also help ensure you can see other obstacles and vehicles on the road.

10. Get the Right Equipment

If your vehicle doesn't come with a factory-installed hitch, talk to a professional and make sure you get one that connects to the tow vehicle's frame and not the bumper. The hitch ball must be the same size as the couple on your trailer. Use safety chains that hook the trailer up to the hitch. This ensures that the hitch won't dig into the pavement if your trailer becomes unhitched and cause an accident or significant damage.

11. Consider Additional Safety Equipment

If you're planning to do a lot of towing, particularly in remote areas, consider purchasing a tow vehicle with a larger fuel tank. Trailers use a lot more gas, and the last thing you want is to be stuck on the side of a road or unable to get gas when you need it. Wheel clocks are blocks you can set up on each wheel's front and back to ensure your trailer stays in place when you unhitch.

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Written by Jennifer Crump

Profile Picture of Jennifer Crump

Jennifer Crump is a former freelance journalist and author and now full-time content writer and strategist. She contributes to magazines and blogs throughout North America on issues related to business, training, financing and workplace safety.


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