How to Tow a Trailer: A Beginners Guide
When we first learn how to drive one of the most difficult tasks is learning how to properly back up. Backing up while parallel parking is our next biggest difficulty. Towing a trailer takes a completely different approach and goes against what we have been taught because now we are working with something that goes the opposite direction that we turn the wheel. A general rule of thumb when backing up is whatever direction you want the trailer to go in, the steering wheel needs to turn in the opposite direction of. We are getting a little ahead of ourselves though, let’s start at the beginning which is attaching the trailer to the vehicle we are driving.
The first two items to consider is: can the vehicle I am driving actually support the weight of the trailer I need to pull and its contents? The second item is whether or not the vehicle you are driving has a hitch that can attach to a trailer. There are different laws in different provinces and states for how heavy and large of a load you can tow behind your vehicle. Make sure you check to see what is legal in your area of residence. The GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is a rating included on all vehicles that tells you how much of a load you can pull. This number also includes the weight within a vehicle so if pulling a trailer is for moving purposes and you have a whole vehicle of boxes remember that this will affect the overall GVWR. The GVWR should be in your owner’s manual. The weight of the trailer should be listed on a plate somewhere on the trailer. This may take a bit of looking but it’s important to know the weight before starting out.
The next thing you want to do is hook the trailer up to your vehicle. You do this by raising the trailer socket high enough that it can clear the ball on your vehicle. The best way to do this is to back up as close as you can to the trailer and measure it out that way. You should be able to see if the clearance works when the ball and the coupler are a couple inches from each other. The trailer will have a jack that will lift the coupler over the ball with a crank mechanism. It’s a really good idea to have a spotter there because the next step is to back up to the point where the ball is just under the coupler. At this point turn off your vehicle and engage the emergency brake to ensure that you are safe when behind the vehicle. Next, you want to lower the coupler socket onto the ball and hitch of the trailer. This is done, again, with the lift and crank mechanism. There is a clamp on top of the coupler that will now need to be pushed down. This will lock the ball into place. There is also usually a locking key type unit on the coupler that will also lock the ball into place. Place the key in the designated hole then attach the chain under the unit to the vehicle. This chain helps keep the trailer from hitting the ground if it accidentally loses grip on the ball during movement. Finally, you want to make sure that you plug the connection for the lights on the trailer to the vehicle. There should be an electrical cord hanging off the trailer. This cord gets plugged into a small plug on the backside of your vehicle. Note: If the vehicle you are driving does not have this plug you cannot drive legally with a trailer. Because the trailer is attached to the back of your vehicle and because it blocks your brake lights, if the trailer cannot light up its own brakes, other drivers will not be able to see when you brake which will cause accidents. Make sure you are driving a vehicle that can pull a trailer.
You should be able to move the vehicle with the trailer now. Once back in your vehicle release the parking brake and start your vehicle. Have your spotter confirm that you brake lights on the trailer are working properly. When this is established pull forward slowly to ensure that the trailer is attached properly and hasn’t slipped off the ball. If everything was locked correctly slipping off the ball joint will not happen easily. Once it is established that the trailer is attached securely and the brake lights work you can start to tow your vehicle. Depending on how heavy the load is escalating and slowing down should be relatively easy. The heavier the load the more drag you will feel. The one thing that may take getting used to is braking. It will be a much more forceful stop when traveling with a heavier load. Going around curves and doing down hills will require slower speeds. The overall weight of the load is going to cause more force when at higher speeds. The brakes will also wear down faster when carrying a load. They wear down due to both the weight and the heat generated from the greater force. Slowing down will keep you safe and preserve your brakes.
Backing up with the trailer is the toughest thing to do when towing a trailer. As mentioned in the intro, the trailer will go in the exact opposite direction as the steering wheel which can be very disorienting. If this is done incorrectly the trailer will end up hitting your vehicle and wrecking the vehicles body. It’s important to practice backing up with a trailer in areas that are more remote. When backing up just remember whatever direction you instinctively think the trailer should go is the opposite of how it should actually go. It seems a little difficult at first however with time this will become more like second nature.
In conclusion, make sure you are driving safely and cautiously. If you are carrying a load that is too heavy for your vehicle this will ultimately damage your vehicle and will be hazardous to other drivers on the road. Also, make sure that the vehicle you are using to tow the trailer with can tow a trailer. If there is no plug-in for the trailer’s lights other drivers will not know when you are stopping and this will cause accidents. Additionally, make sure you are checking to see what the laws are in your state or province to ensure that you don’t end up with a hefty ticket. When moving the vehicle forward, go easy on hills and curves due to the new amount of force of your load. When moving backwards make sure to move slowly and to pay attention to the direction you are turning your wheel to move it in the right direction and to stop from damaging your vehicle and the vehicles around you.
We hope this article helped put your mind at ease when towing a trailer and that you are able to drive with more confidence. Happy Towing!
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- Popular Mechanics – How to Tow a Trailer