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Safe Winter Towing

 Updated on: January 28th, 2022

Car towing in the Winter
Car and trailer backing up by the river

Towing in slick, icy or snowy condition requires more planning and preparation than you might think. Winter weather can easily turn a trip that should be uneventful into a dangerous, hair-raising experience. In addition to understanding regular Towing Safety Tips and Tricks, there are several winter-specific points you should keep in mind for safe traveling during the winter months.


Prepare your vehicle to handle snow

Before you hook up your trailer, make sure your vehicle is ready for the winter roads. Have a mechanic winterize your vehicle, paying special attention to your brakes and tires. Depending on how often you will be driving through snow and ice, you might want to swap your tires for a set of dedicated snow tires, which will provide added traction and control. Having a set of tire chains on hand is a good idea as well, in case you encounter an unexpected snow storm or your route takes you through an area where chains are required. If you are going through a tire chain control area, carrier a set of chains for the trailer too; some states, like Oregon and California, require a set of tire chains to be installed on trailers equipped with brakes. If your tow vehicle is equipped with a trailer brake controller, it is generally recommended that it be adjusted to provide less braking power. This will help prevent the trailer tires from locking up and going into a slide; however, stopping distances will be increased.


Properly load your trailer

Even when towing a trailer in good weather, it’s important to balance the load in your trailer so more weight is distributed at the front than at the back; typically, you want 60% of the weight towards the front of the trailer. This will keep the trailer from swaying back and forth in transit, or “the tail wagging the dog.” In addition to properly loading your trailer, think about investing in a weight-distributing trailer hitch with an integrated anti-sway system that will eliminate the majority of potential trailer sway. Make sure your load is firmly secured with tie-down straps so that it stays in place while you’re in motion.

Know what to do if your trailer starts to jackknife
Know what to do if your trailer starts to jackknife

Know what to do if your trailer starts to jackknife

A trailer that’s jackknifing is dangerous even in the best driving conditions. Add snow, ice and a bit of arctic wind and you can find yourself in an incredibly dangerous situation. It’s critical to know how to not only prevent your trailer from jackknifing, but also how to regain control of your trailer to prevent accidents.


Maintain forward momentum

This is crucial to avoid getting stuck. If you know you will be driving through a patch of snow or up an incline, try to maintain your speed as much as possible, if the situation allows it. By keeping your velocity constant, you are more likely to be able to push through areas that will get you stuck if you go slower.


Slow down and plan ahead

That being said…. Reduce your overall speed! In winter, your forward momentum should be constant but appropriate for the weather conditions. Compared to towing in summer, you should leave even more room in front of you as you travel, since your stopping time on icy roads will be reduced even further. Check the weather along your route in the days leading up to your trip, especially if traveling through multiple states. In cases of extreme weather, changing your departure time might be your safest option.


Leave cruise control turned off

You will need to maintain constant vigilance as cruise control will be no match for your eyes. Rely on your sense and instincts – cruise control won’t be able to identify that upcoming patch of black ice, and if you aren’t paying attention you might not see it until it’s too late.


Carry emergency equipment with you

Hope for the best and plan for the worst! Prepare for the unexpected with extra tie down straps, spare trailer and car tires that have been inflated and inspected, an emergency roadside kit that includes reflector triangles and/or flares, additional food and water, as well as spare batteries for any flashlights, cell phones or other important electric items. Jumper cables are another invaluable piece of emergency equipment, and have a first aid kit on hand for small injuries.

Proper preparation is crucial in mitigating potential emergency situations and should not be taken lightly. With advanced knowledge of weather and road conditions, cautious driving on the road, and a well-balanced trailer load, you will be in a much better position to handle towing in unpredictable winter weather. Good luck!