Towing Safety Tips and Tricks

towing safety tips and tricks

Whether you’re getting ready for a weekend off the grid, transporting your brand new sports car across the county, or taking your lawnmower over to mow your grandmother’s lawn, towing is an activity that requires safety, balance, and your full attention. Here are some essential instructions for towing safely:


Know your vehicle’s towing capacity

Some vehicles are built to tow more than others, and it’s important that you understand your specific vehicle’s towing capacity before you add on a trailer and cargo. There are two primary factors that will strongly influence your vehicle’s towing capacity:

  •  The manufacturer’s towing capacity for your vehicle. There are a few places to find this information, including your owner’s manual as well as the informational sticker located on the inside of your driver’s side door. It should take into account your engine size, whether you have a manual or automatic transmission, 4-wheel or all-wheel drive, and similar factors specific to your vehicle.
  •  The current condition of your vehicle. Your Honda CRV might be rated for a towing capacity of 1,500 lbs., however if your suspension is shot and you’ve got a slow leak dripping from your rear differential, your vehicle will realistically probably only be able to handle a fraction of that towing weight so it’s important to take note of any problem areas and address them before you think about towing up to your vehicle’s maximum capacity weight.

Once you know the limitations of your vehicle, make sure the weight of the trailer and cargo you will be hauling won’t exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity, and that the tongue weight stays in the acceptable range, which is 10-15% of the gross trailer weight. The gross trailer weight is the total amount of weight of the empty trailer plus all its contents when fully loaded.


Review your state’s towing laws

States vary in their towing regulations and it’s important to make sure you’re following the law of the state you will be towing in. Most states require non-commercial trailers weighing over a certain amount to be officially titled and registered. Others require all trailers to be titled and registered regardless of weight, and some states only require titling but not registration. Make sure your trailer is titled and registered to your state if it’s required, and also be aware of what other states you might be passing through, as you will be subject to those laws. As an example, South Carolina doesn’t require trailers to be titled or registered for in-state use and North Carolina does, so someone towing a South Carolinian trailer through North Carolina would still need it to be titled and registered so avoid any problems with the NC highway patrol.

Tounge Weight Comparsion

Load the bulk of your cargo towards the front

It’s all about maintaining your car’s center of gravity for better control and handling on the road, by creating a properly balanced load. This means making sure that your cargo isn’t putting too much pressure on the tongue of your trailer. This measurement is the tongue weight. Ideally, 60% of your trailered load should be centered between the trailer’s front tires and in front of front axle (but not too far in front). If you load everything too far back, there will not be enough tongue weight and this creates an incredibly dangerous experience in which your trailer could fishtail severely on the road, leading to accidents. If you load it too far in the front, there will be too much tongue weight, and this puts a lot of pressure on your back axle while simultaneously lightening the front suspension, which could lead to poor front braking and again, a loss of control.


Always secure your load

Moving objects become projectiles if they aren’t tied down, especially in the event of a crash or accident. Cam straps are great for lighter cargo, like kayaks (Click here to learn how to properly tie down a kayak to your vehicle); ratchet straps are a nice all-purpose solution for light or heavy cargo, and load binders such as ratchet binders and level binders are best suited for large, bulky objects or equipment transported via flatbeds. Never use bungee ties, as the elastic can become brittle over time and snap unexpectedly. Bungees are useful for non-transporting, light-duty applications like keeping a gate shut or hanging up a tarp while camping.


Check your trailer connection

The first thing you should have done when you hitched up your trailer was to cross the safety chains and connect them. If your primary connection point fails while you are on the road, the chains act as a second back-up to keep your trailer attached until you can safely come to a stop. After you hitch the trailer up to your vehicle, the safety chains should be the next things you attach. When doing a long haul, stop and double-check all of your hitch connections after the first 50-100 miles, as well as any tie-downs you used to secure your load. It’s better to stop more times and tow safely than to try to drive start through and potentially injure yourself or someone else on the road.


Be aware of your additional weight

For drivers that don’t tow frequently, it might be hard to get the feel of how to handle a heavier, longer vehicle but it’s a crucial factor in safe towing. Breaking with a trailer requires a longer stopping period than a standard car or truck, and it’s important to understand just how much additional room and time you will need. When on the road, keep a much larger gap between you and the person in front of you on the road than you normally would, and start to gently apply your brakes well before stop signs and traffic lights. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, using lower gears and intermittently braking when slowly down or coming to a stop will help you significantly.


Don’t pull into a space when you can’t see an immediate way out

This applies both to urban areas like parking lots or alleyways, as well as weekend warrior destinations like heavily wooded areas. If there’s no way to turn around easily, or no additional exit, you run the risk of struggling to either reverse your vehicle and trailer or attempting to make a 150 point turn that’s going to cause you to lose patience pretty quickly. In tight urban areas, the risk of damaging other vehicles is heightened in that situation. Tow mirrors are a handy accessory to have because they offer a better scope of vision for when you have to navigate situations that require tighter turning, and they will help you spot obstacles that would otherwise be in your blind spot.


Be smart about security

Just as you lock your vehicle; also lock up your trailer. You can use a coupler lock to prevent the unauthorized removal of the trailer from the hitch ball. For enclosed trailers, a padlock will keep out sticky fingers. For items that are being hauled on an open deck trailer, consider using a large chain with a padlock to connect your cargo directly to the trailer. Unfortunately, some of the more difficult-to-secure items, such as construction materials, will be a little bit harder to keep safe.


Anticipate emergencies

No one wants to dwell on the what-if scenarios of an emergency – but emergencies happen, and the best we can do is attempt to prevent them, or mitigate them once they occur. In addition to the common sense items, such as a jack, tire iron, tire gauge and inflated spare tire for your towing vehicle, here is a list of other essential items to carry with you while towing:

  •  Inflated spare trailer tire. Blowouts on a rear trailer tire can cause fishtailing and make it hard to steer – in those situations, just gently use off the gas and find a safe spot to pull over.
  •  Tool kit with duct tape. Don’t let a minor repair set you back when you can temporarily fix it until you reach your destination.
  •  Ratchet straps. If your load does come loose after 50-100 miles, having spare straps might be the difference in keeping your cargo secure for the rest of the trip.
  •  Fire extinguisher. Although the best advice is to immediately get out and away from a vehicle with a fire, a fire extinguisher can be a quick fix for a small flame, for instance if another driver tosses out a smoldering cigarette butt and it lands on the flammable cargo in your open trailer. Make sure you also alert the local fire department as soon as possible so they are aware of the situation.
  •  Warning triangles. Place them approximately 50 feet away from the stopped vehicle or trailer to reduce the chance of an accident or traffic jam. Three traffic triangles is recommended.