What you need to know before you tow

How to prevent that trailer full of recyclables from flying past you on the highway

By Jens Nielsen

Living in the North, light trailer towing is fairly common. You may need to tow a trailer for your ATVs, bikes, snowmobiles, boats, or garbage runs. Whether you are new to towing or are just having a few problems when towing, the following information and tips can help make it easy and safe.

The first thing to look at is the weight capacity of all your equipment. Towing components all have a maximum weight capacity which is usually displayed on each piece. Each and every one of these components: your vehicle, hitch, ball mount, ball, and safety chains all need to be rated higher than the trailer with full cargo (gross trailer weight). Hitches are usually rated for maximum weight capacity and maximum tongue weight capacity. The maximum weight capacity is the heaviest trailer with full cargo the hitch can pull, and the maximum tongue weight is the maximum weight the hitch can handle pushing down on it. Your tongue weight ideally should be between 10 and 12 per cent of your total trailer weight.

You can check your gross trailer weight and tongue weight at the government weigh scales located on the Alaska Highway between the South Access and the Two Mile Hill. They recommend that you do so in the evenings when they are less busy, and that you call ahead. The number is 867-667-5729.

The next step is making sure everything is in proper condition and safe. This includes checking your trailer tires to ensure they are properly inflated and have lots of tread left and checking that your trailer’s wheel bearings are in good condition and properly greased. Trailers with electric brakes also have a battery that normally charges from your vehicle when the trailer plug is connected. This battery needs to be checked to ensure it is properly charged. If it isn’t charged and won’t charge have the wires and battery checked.

Remember that the whole system will only be as strong as the weakest link.

Before hooking the trailer up to your vehicle make sure the hitch height is correct. It’s important that the trailer be level with the ground after it is hooked up to your vehicle. You may need to adjust the height of your hitch. This can be done by either using an adjustable drawbar or finding a hitch with the right offset. This may take some fiddling around the first time to make sure it’s right, but once it’s done it will be good for future trips.

Once your trailer is hooked up to your vehicle properly and the trailer lights are plugged in and tested, attach the emergency brake cable and safety chains. Always cross the chains in an X configuration under the tongue. That way if the trailer ever did slip free it would hopefully land on the chains and not the ground.

Make sure that whatever you are hauling on the trailer is positioned right to ensure proper tongue weight. If the load is too far back there will not be enough tongue weight. This will cause the trailer to sway while driving down the road. If the load is too far forward the tongue weight may exceed the hitches safe tongue rating.

It may be necessary to use an equalizing hitch to ensure proper tongue weight and safety. Equalizing hitches help spread out the weight load and improve a vehicle’s ability to turn, brake and steer.

Make sure the load is properly secured before departing. Ratcheted tie down straps would be better than rope as they can be tightened down better. Never trust that the load will remain properly secured. Road vibration and bumps can loosen the load even if it was tightly secured.

Once you’re on the road stop after about 20 kilometres and check the hitch and load again to make sure they are still secured. Do a safety walk around the trailer every few hours. Check the hitch and load again, but also check the tires, bearings, wiring and lights to ensure everything is still working properly and safe. Tires can be checked with a simple kick or using a tire gauge. Watch for overheating tires or bearings. You can use your hand and look for one being significantly warmer than the others or an infrared thermometer. Tires become warmer with less tire pressure so if one is warmer than the others it may have a leak. Warm bearings are a sign of trouble. They may be on the verge of failing.

If you take the time to understand towing safely, you will enjoy it much more and save yourself headaches and expensive repairs.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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