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Tips for Packing a Trailer to Avoid Dangerous Sway

 Updated on: November 12th, 2020

Tips for Packing a Trailer to Avoid Dangerous Sway
Truck hauling a trailer down the highway

People who are new to pulling trailers on their vehicles tend to be most concerned about how hauling a trailer will impact their driving. While it’s true there are some ways you will need to adjust your driving with a trailer, it’s important to remember that your ability to safely drive with the trailer behind you also depends on your ability to safely load the trailer.

Improperly loaded trailers can be a major safety hazard on the road. The most common problem tends to be an uneven weight distribution. Poorly distributed loads can contribute to potential rollovers, or a general swaying and loss of control of the vehicle. They can make it difficult to steer the vehicle, and can cause fish tailing.

In addition, too much weight on side of the vehicle can make it difficult for you to maneuver around corners and curves. When driving on slippery surfaces or hills, where you need more traction, an uneven load will cause the tires on the heavy side to have more traction than the tires on the light side, which produces some instability.

What to know before packing

Before you can begin packing the trailer, you must have a basic understanding of your trailer’s capabilities.

The most important factors to consider include:

Trailer weight

Trailer weight: How much does your trailer weigh when it is fully assembled and empty?

Gross vehicle weight ratingt

Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): You can find this statistic on the trailer’s VIN label. This measures the most weight allowed of both trailer and cargo.

Payload Capacity

Payload Capacity: To determine the total weight capacity of the trailer, subtract its weight from the GVWR and multiply by 80 percent.

Tongue weight

Tongue weight: This is the weight transferred to the tow vehicle through the trailer tongue or gooseneck.

Understanding each of these factors will help you determine how much you can safely pack into your trailer, preventing potential overloading—one of the most common mistakes in trailer usage.

Safely packing your trailer

Once you have a clear determination of exactly how much you can carry in your trailer, you can begin with loading.

Here are a few tips to follow to prevent any potential loading-related accidents.

  1. Know the weight of your items: Before you start loading, make sure you have an accurate weight for the items you’ll be transporting. Do not exceed the capacity of your trailer. If the items do not have a listed weight, you may need to weigh them yourself to be certain you have the capacity to safely tow them.
  2. Pack the items properly: If you’re towing items packed in boxes or containers, it is important you pack them properly. Use packing paper, bubble wrap or other fill to prevent items from moving around inside the box. Otherwise, if items have room to move around inside, there’s a possibility they could shift around on the trailer, especially if not properly secured.
  3. Properly distribute the weight: Most of the weight of whatever you’re towing should be on the front end of the trailer, closer to the hitch connection. A good general rule is to keep about 60 percent of the weight (and the heavier items) on that front half, with the rest at the back, toward the trailer door.
  4. Use ramps: Loading ramps for trailers are highly beneficial when loading heavy objects, when towing vehicles or when using a dolly to transport items into the trailer. Any ramp you use should also have a sufficient weight capacity to handle the load it must hold.
  5. Center the weight: When loading the trailer, try to keep the weight centered on the trailer as much as possible. Start loading from the center, and work an equal distance to the left and right.
  6. Various sizes: When packing items of various sizes, you can use smaller objects to balance the weight of larger objects.
  7. Secure the items: Anything you pack in your trailer must be secured with ropes or tie-down straps to prevent movement during transport. All cargo should be packed closely and firmly together to provide additional stability, even when tied down.

It is, of course, important for anyone driving with a trailer behind them to be comfortable with trailer driving technique before hitting the open road. But do not let proper trailer loading fall by the wayside. Follow these steps to set yourself up for success and prevent potential loading-related accidents.

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