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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tips for Safe Summer Driving: Towing Boats and Trailers

With the arrival of summer and the allure of going on vacation, more drivers will be towing various types of trailers, some for the first time. Whether towing a boat, camping trailer, or cargo trailer, there are some common rules to remember.

If you have never towed a trailer before, the first important element to consider is whether or not your vehicle's engine is strong enough to handle the trailer's weight. The trailer's weight (including cargo) should never exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your towing vehicle. Your trailer hitch should be rated for both the towing vehicle's frame and the weight of the trailer being towed.

Make sure that the electrical connections between the vehicle and the trailer are in working order. With someone else to help, verify that the trailer’s lights, stop lights, and turn signals are in working order.

For those who are inexperienced in towing a trailer, you should be aware that the trailer's weight will push your vehicle, making it harder to stop. You can't stop in the same distance that you can with the towing vehicle alone. While towing boats and trailers, allow extra space between you and the vehicles ahead as extra stopping distance. When approaching a traffic light, make sure you start slowing early. You should try to get a feel for the tow before you take it out on an open road at highway speeds.

Be aware that the trailer may tend to sway. Hopefully the sway control will prevent this, but if it doesn't, you should stop and check to see if your load has shifted. Ensure that your load is evenly distributed.
When carrying loads in an open trailer or boat, make sure that the load is secure and there is no chance that the wind can lift anything out and send it flying onto the roadway.

If you pass another vehicle, remember that you will need twice the distance before returning to your lane. Remember also that your center rearview mirror may be ineffective if you are towing a vehicle that blocks the view. Your outside mirrors are also less effective for determining the distance from a following vehicle. If you are towing a large trailer, you may need to install larger outside mirrors. Your blind spots will be much bigger. Be extremely careful when changing lanes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides the following pre-departure safety checklist for towing boats and trailers:
Check and correct tire pressure on the tow vehicle and trailer.
Make sure the wheel lug nuts/bolts are tightened to the correct torque on the tow vehicle and trailer.
Be sure the hitch, coupler, draw bar, and other equipment that connect the trailer and the tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted.
Check that the wiring is properly connected; not touching the road, but loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires.
Make sure all running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights are clean and working.
Verify that the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly.
Check that all items are securely fastened on and in the trailer.
Be sure the trailer jack, tongue support, and any attached stabilizers are raised and locked in place.
Check load distribution to make sure the tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced front to back and side to side.
Check side and rearview mirrors to make sure you have good visibility.
Check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels.
Make sure you have wheel chocks and jack stands.

Have a safe and enjoyable trip!

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