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Trailer Towing for Beginners

You have bought a new trailer and you are ready to start out for the first time. Here are a few tips for towing your trailer safely. Remember handling characteristics will be startlingly different so practicing on quiet roads till you get a feel for how your vehicle responds both forwards and reversing. When turning while towing a trailer you must learn to compensate for a much wider turn. The trailers wheels will be much closer to the curb than the towing vehicles. The trailer will bump onto the curb if great care is not taken. Always look at your vehicle handbook before fixing on towing equipment.

Always drive at moderate speeds when towing. Some states even have laws and regulations for driving a certain speed below the posted limit when towing a trailer. Just be sure to leave plenty of time for your trip and do not get in a hurry. This will also put less strain on your towing vehicle and may help in avoiding breakdowns. Also, driving at moderate speeds can help to avoid trailer sway.

Planning ahead is essential as your braking distance will be increased so anticipate and brake early to avoid harsh braking or worse not being able to stop in time. Heavy braking can cause jack knifing and loss of control.

Travelling on a bumpy road can cause an effect known as floating and the only way to avoid this is to reduce speed. There are other problems in dealing with other traffic and wind conditions. Large vehicles can cause wind shifts as they pass you. Just keep your hands firmly on the wheel and avoid panicking. If your trailer starts swaying, do not brake sharply and try to reduce speed gently using the gears.

When overtaking allow extra distance to do within and never uphill. Signal well in advance and start to accelerate earlier and remember your tow vehicle will need much more time to pass when carrying a load. Make sure there is plenty of time to avoid oncoming traffic and leave plenty of clearance before moving back into your lane. You do not want to hit the vehicle your passing with your trailer.

When travelling on roads with soft shoulders, avoid getting the trailer wheels off the pavement. Contacting the soft shoulder can cause the trailer to start to sway. If it happens, do not panic. Do not try to steer right back onto the pavement or hard surface. Take your foot off the gas pedal but do not hit the tow vehicles brakes. Activate the trailer brakes by hand and easily tap your vehicle brakes. Downshift if possible. When you have reached a much slower speed and your trailer is under control, gradually ease the wheels back onto the road.

When encountering steep grades you will notice different handling characteristics when towing. On a steep downhill grade the trailer can actually push your vehicle. Anticipate this and downshift and let off the gas a little. You may have to use your trailer brakes hand control to slow you but do not ride them. Only tap them intermittently to avoid overheating of the brakes and ultimately, brake failure.. When facing a steep upgrade you should start accelerating early if possible. Again, you may have to downshift and keep increasing your gas pedal to compensate for the drag on you going uphill. As you reach the crest of the grade start backing off the pedal. A steep grade will test your tow vehicles limits.

Once you have reached your destination you have to find a place to park your "rig". It’s best to avoid parking on a grade. The more level the parking area the better. If you have to park on a grade, it is best to chock the wheels. Hopefully, you have some with you. If you have someone to help, have them guide you into the spot. You can not always rely on the mirrors as the trailer may block your view. Once stopped, keep your foot on the brake, turn your wheels toward the curb (pointed in on a down hill, out on an uphill), apply the parking brake and then shift into park, or with a manual, your lowest gear. This method helps avoid locking your transmission due to the extra load.

If you are on even a small grade and you plan to unhitch your trailer, you must apply chocks to the trailers wheels to avoid the trailer from rolling away when uncoupled. Just having the lift down will not make it stable. Jack stands also come in handy to level your load.