Driving Safely With a Trailer: 9 Essential Tips

One of the most useful skills you can learn as a driver, is how to drive your vehicle with a … Continued

One of the most useful skills you can learn as a driver, is how to drive your vehicle with a trailer attached. It’s significantly cheaper than hiring a van and means that you can move furniture/heavy equipment relatively easy. Many people are daunted by the prospect of driving with a trailer and we think that’s totally understandable. However, with the right type of information and plenty of practice, driving with a trailer on tow needn’t be difficult task at all.

Below we’ve put together an extensive guide to trailering. You’ll learn how best to drive with the added weight in tow, which essential checks to perform and which techniques are essential to practice before you attempt trailer driving for the first time.

When driving with a trailer there are often simple things to take into consideration that we often overlook. Things that could not only make your journey easier, but significantly safer too. Take a look at our trailer towing tips before you plan your next trip, so you can feel totally prepared and ready to go!

Our Top 9 Trailer Towing Tips

trailer on the road

Attach, Check, Attach

This might seem like an obvious trailer driving tip, but without a doubt the most important thing to do before you set off on your journey is to ensure that the trailer is 100% attached correctly! Now before you roll your eyes, it’s important to remind everyone that there are people out there that don’t pay enough attention to this tip. That’s why some drivers end up with swaying trailers or worse…a lost trailer.

The first thing you will need to do is to check your vehicle user manual to see how much weight your car can take. Don’t forget to calculate the weight of the trailer and the contents too. This is a vital tip as it’s easy to overload the trailer, which can cause serious accidents. Take a look and check that your vehicle’s connecting mechanism is compatible with the trailer. Some of the different mechanisms that are commonly used include a hitch, ball mount, ball and coupler.

Make sure your trailer is sat level with your vehicle. If not then you’ll need to hitch it up or use a special tow bar to raise or drop the connecting mechanism. The next thing to check is the ‘tongue’ – an often overlooked part of a trailer that actually does a lot of the hard work. Not only does the tongue keep the trailer and vehicle attached but it also bears the weight and pressure from bumps in the road whilst driving. Make sure you check that the trailer’s tongue can take the weight from the combined trailer and contents – normally this is around 10% of the trailer’s weight.

Check Your Load

Once you’ve checked that the trailer is attached correctly, the next stage is to look at the load. It’s important not to overlook this element of trailer preparation as an overloaded car may encounter serious issues on the road. Have an idea of the weight that you plan to load onto the trailer and check that the weight is compatible with your trailer, connector mechanism and tongue.

It’s important to balance your load and make sure that the weight of your belongings are equally packed into the front-rear and side-to-side. An in-balanced trailer may affect the trailer’s handling and make for a very dangerous drive. Make sure that any loose items are securely tied down or packed tightly so they don’t move during transit.

Don’t forget to also check safety chains and ropes to see if they are all securely in place. Check that the lights are working correctly and also the license plate…you’ll find yourself in a whole world of trouble without that visible!

Practice, Practice, Then Practice Again!

Trailer driving is different from regular driving in many different ways. Firstly, you’re going to notice that the acceleration is slower and that’s not going to feel so natural as you drive. Turning corners can also feel like a bit of a nightmare – which we will discuss in more detail later. The general handling of your car is going to feel unnatural and clunky and so the best thing to do is to practice.

Don’t underestimate how tricky this is going to be. Trust us, you’re going to need to practice just simply pulling out of your drive. These is no easy task. Take your vehicle around the block and see how it feels with different road conditions. Practice driving with a fully-loaded trailer so you can get a real sense of how it will feel when you embark on your real trailering adventure! Once you’re comfortable with the roads around your home then only then should you practice driving the trailer in heavier traffic. We can’t stress enough, the importance of a few practice runs in different environments.

car trailer

Relearn How To Reverse

This is also part of the practice tip but needed a whole section to itself as reversing with a fully loaded trailer is a whole different ball game altogether.

The problem with reversing a vehicle with a trailer attached, is that the trailer will want to go in the opposite direction. If you’re driving too fast then this action will be increased and is only going to frustrate you further. That’s why it is important to drive at slower speeds, especially when you are reversing.

When slowly reversing, keep one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. If you need to turn the trailer left then move that hand to the left. Same rules apply on the other side too; to turn right then you will need to slowly turn your hand right. This sounds easy but definitely takes some practice!

Don’t forget that the trailer will add extra length onto your vehicle, so pay attention to reversing in confined spaces. Tight spots can be tricky, to say the least! When you’re out on your practice drive, take a spotter with you to step out of the car and check that you’re not going to hit anything. There will always be a pivoting action between the vehicle and trailer, so bear this in mind when the back of the trailer starts to turn in the opposite direction.

Remember To Take Wide Turns

Remember when you were a learner driver and had to get accustomed to the physical car itself? The vehicle becomes an extension of you and your learn the size of the vehicle pretty quickly and learn how much space you have on either side etc

With a trailer, everything is extended, and it will take a while to get used to this. When it comes to turning the car you will always need more space than you think.

Find an empty car park and practice turning corners, in particular 90-degree corners if possible to get a feel for the vehicle and how much extra space you will need.

Just be mindful of the fact that you’ll need to give yourself plenty of space before turning or the trailer could end up cutting a corner or even worse…mounting the curb!

Also, it’s a good idea to get practice in order to get a feel for the trailer tyres. They act differently from your usual vehicle tyres and turn in a tighter arc, so you’ll need to allow for this when turning corners.

Check Your Speed

It’s common sense really, but when you’re driving a vehicle with a trailer towed behind, then it doesn’t make sense to drive fast. Not only is this possibly illegal but potentially very dangerous too. Check to see what speed restrictions apply for when you are driving with a trailer. If you’re unsure then slow down.

Driving slowly will give you enough time to tackle tricky tight spots on the road and also give you enough time to react fast and safely if needed. Whatever the speed limit is, stay a little under.

Another important trailer towing tip is to stay further back from other vehicles than you would do normally. This may seem really obvious but it’s better safe than to be sorry.

When towing a trailer you need more space, much, much more space. Take this into consideration when changing lanes on the highway or passing other vehicles. Remember, a car with a trailer will be slower to accelerate, so you’ll need to have this in mind on busy roads. Best piece of advice when it comes to overtaking with a trailer: don’t do it.

caravan

Stop, Inspect, Often

You can never check your vehicle enough. If you’re planning a long journey then this is especially important. Stop frequently and check to see if everything is still fixed in place and secure. Has anything become loose? Fix it. Are your trailer contents moving around too much? Secure them. Check the trailer, the connection and the tyres. How is the tyre pressure? Do they need more air? You know our answer….fix them.

Learn How To Deal With The Sway

Trailers naturally sway; unfortunately it’s just the nature of the beast. There are a number of different factors that will cause a trailer to sway. The weather has a huge influence on the sway of your trailer… if it’s windy outside then likely that trailer be a swayin’.

Large vehicles such a trucks and buses can also cause your trailer to sway as well as the gradient of the road.

But, it’s important to note that a trailer that has a well-balanced load and one that has been correctly and securely hitched should never sway excessively. If your trailer is swaying excessively then it’s important to not panic.

Here’s what to do when your trailer starts to sway:

  • Slow down – speeding up isn’t going to straighten up that wobble.
  • Keep the steering wheel as steady as possible.
  • Don’t slam the brakes – hammering your foot down on the brakes would be one of the worst things you could do right now. So, you’ll need to take your foot off the gas and slow down first and never steer in the opposite direction of the trailer.

Consider Your Parking

Remember earlier when we spoke about the importance of a few practice runs? This is why! Parking is not easy when you’re towing a fully loaded trailer on the back of your vehicle. We’ve already established how difficult it is to reverse. Well, parking is even trickier. There will be some spaces that are simply impossible with a large trailer. So you might have to think in advance where you’re heading and look at parking options.

It’s not just about parking. If you’ve managed to squeeze your trailer into a parking spot it might become a bit of a nightmare to get back out! One way of getting around this is to find a parking space with plenty of room around it. Find a remote space in the parking lot if possible.

caravan on the road

Check List

We hope that this article hasn’t scared you from driving your car with a trailer. There are many benefits to this type of transportation. It can be more cost-effective than hiring a van and so it can be a better option for people looking to save money. A trailer can really come in handy when it comes to moving house or transporting things like motorbikes and furniture. It’s just a matter of practice when it comes to towing a trailer for the first time. Practice everything and you won’t get caught short on a long journey.

Make sure you know how to correctly load your trailer so everything is secure and balanced. Ensure that you’ve done proper checks on the trailer and everything is ready to go. Practice this and basic maneuvering and you’ll have it worked out in no time at all!

Sources:

  1. How to Tow a Trailer – wikiHow
  2. How to Back a Trailer – wikiHow
  3. How Travel Trailer Towing Works – howstuffworks