Handle With Care

Driving with a trailer, loaded or unloaded, is far different from ordinary driving. You need to anticipate how the trailer will respond to your every move, especially when slowing down, turning, and stopping. Knowing how to operate trailer brake controls or react when a trailer veers out of control requires training and practice.

When towing, drive at moderate speeds and maintain additional space between you and the vehicle ahead–your vehicle's brakes may be capable of stopping you and your load but will require extra stopping distance. Remember to allow considerable extra room when passing or maneuvering around other vehicles. A wider turn radius is also necessary to avoid curbs and roadside obstacles, and to prevent pinching or jackknifing the trailer tongue. To improve driver visibility, mount side mirrors on extensions and remove your pickup's tailgate, especially when towing small or low-profile trailers that are difficult to see from a vehicle's cab.

Backing a trailer requires practice and finesse. Assign a helper to guide you and flag oncoming vehicles. Turn in small increments–even minor input at the steering wheel results in large movements at the trailer's far end. Make turns by placing one hand at the bottom of the wheel and moving your hand in the direction you want the trailer to turn.

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Extra care should be taken when inspecting the hitch, safety chains, and electrical connections.

Credit: Photo: Michael Morris

A few of the information resources noted below offer pre-trip checklists of vehicle and trailer equipment that drivers should refer to before hitting the road, as well as lists of driving safety and maintenance tips. Concise, handy, and reprintable, these lists are something contractors and other vehicle owners might want to hand out to employees or tape to the dashboards of their trucks.

–Michael Morris is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.

Towing Resources

  • For more information on the Master Lock towing study, towing equipment offered by the manufacturer, and tips on how to safely operate and maintain trailers on or off the job, check out the Master Lock Web site, www.towingtroubles.com.
  • Ford Motor Co. recently published a free 32-page "RV & Trailer Towing Guide." Although much of the information is keyed to the manufacturer's 2007 lineup of pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans, the booklet is loaded with generic towing tips, specs, and stats. This guide would be indispensable for Ford truck owners or buyers, but it's also useful for anyone who tows with similar vehicles.
  • The federal government offers a comprehensive trailer towing guide as a free download from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov). There's a lot of straightforward information and advice on everything from choosing and purchasing a trailer to the types of permits typically required for special equipment, plus state and federal requirements for towing.
  • Your concern may be hauling equipment or lumber, but don't overlook other sources of towing information, such as organizations like Boat U.S. (www.boatus.com) and the recreational vehicle industry (www.rvia.org and www.gorving.com). These sites keep members and non-members up-to-date on trailer news, safety and security topics, and critical issues such as trailer equipment recalls. Also, publications like Trailer Life (www.trailerlife.com and www.rv.net) cover every aspect of trailer use.
  • The RV Safety & Education Foundation (www.rvsafety.com) offers complete self-education programs and conducts seminars hosted by local groups throughout the country. The U.S. Coast Guard also offers towing instruction and maintains a Web site (www.uscgboating.org) dedicated to boat and trailer safety.
  • The National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (www.natm.com) offers an excellent search feature that lists trailer manufacturers by vehicle type and state-by-state location, as well as sources for trailer parts and equipment nationwide.