Towing the line: Safety in trailer season

By Liz Dobson

Holiday travelers should remember towing safety. Photo / File
Holiday travelers should remember towing safety. Photo / File

As the peak trailer season looms, even veterans should revisit the basics, writes Liz Dobson

The fast-approaching Christmas holidays mean towing the boat, caravan, horse float or a trailer-load of bach essentials such as the kids' bikes, kayaks and barbecue.

Although some people are veteran towers, others will be tackling trailer fundamentals for the first time this summer. Whatever your experience level, it pays to take your time when packing the trailer and make sure your load is secured.

And don't forget - once you're on the road, if you've created a queue behind you, you should pull over and let traffic overtake.

Back it up
Reversing a trailer, boat or caravan for the first time can make the most experienced driver nervous.

Here are some simple tips to avoid the dreaded jack-knifing - but don't forget Murphy's Law: there will always be a crowd when you do mess up!

Make sure you leave yourself plenty of space to drive forward while reversing.

Before you start, make the tow vehicle as straight as possible.

While some people look over their shoulders when backing or lean out the driver's window, an easy way is to use your side mirrors. This way, if you turn too much, you'll see the towed vehicle in the left or right mirror.

Reversing with the steering wheel turned to the right will move the back of the trailer to the right - and a little steering wheel action goes a very long way when reversing trailers.

It is important not to get your car and trailer jack-knifed, so do not let the turn go too far. Ideally, you can back into the space in one smooth motion.

You will almost always have to stop and pull forward to achieve a straighter reverse.

Practise reversing into small spaces, around corners and doing complete about-turns.

Size does matter
The Automobile Association has important advice when it comes to towing:

When packing the trailer, ensure the load is evenly distributed. If it is unbalanced, it may cause swaying.

No part of the load should be in contact with the ground, nor should any part of the load extend more than 1.25m either side of the centre line of the trailer. If the load extends more than a metre behind the trailer, attach a white or fluorescent flag to indicate where the load ends. The load must not extend more than 4m behind the axle or the mid-point of two trailer axles.

Check there is a downwards force - around 30-40kg - on the towball, because any less may affect trailer stability. The drawbar should appear level or slightly nose-down.

Avoid filling your boot with gear, as this will further unload the front axle.

All trailers require a safety chain in case the coupling device breaks. The chain must be short enough to prevent the trailer coupling from dragging on the ground.

Don't forget your trailer requires a Warrant of Fitness and registration. If the trailer hasn't been used for a long time, check tyre pressures, tread depth and wheel bearings.

When towing, avoid sudden changes in direction.

If swaying develops, don't brake: just take your foot off the accelerator, pull over when you safely can and check your load is properly balanced.

Brake before cornering and reduce cornering speeds. A loaded, unbraked trailer has plenty of inertia and has a tendency to push the tow vehicle straight ahead. Avoid braking on slippery surfaces. Drop down to a lower gear on steep descents.

You must stay below 90km/h when towing. Keep at least a four-second gap between you and the vehicle ahead and check following traffic regularly in your rear-view mirrors.

When overtaking, make sure you have plenty of clear road ahead, as passing takes longer. Don't pull back in too quickly, either.

When towing a horse trailer, take extra care as the horse may move - especially when you brake or travel around corners - and this could affect the movement of the trailer.

- NZ Herald

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