Car Care: Towing a trailer takes a little bit of practice

It can be difficult at first but knowing the rules will help get you going

Small gentle movements are best for ensuring the most control when steering. Picture / Bryan Kirk
Small gentle movements are best for ensuring the most control when steering. Picture / Bryan Kirk

Towing a trailer is a bit of a black art and when you're giving it a go for the first time, it can be difficult. Here's what you need to know to get that trailer out of the driveway safely.

Knowing the towing capacity of your vehicle is paramount - too much weight can cause a host of problems. There's a good reason that you don't see Daihatsu Miras towing boats. The vehicle's capacity can be found in the owner's manual or on the web - it's there for a very good reason.

Trailer checklist

If you are towing a light trailer (3500kg in weight when loaded), it must have a current warrant of fitness. To comply, your trailer must have the following:

*Tyres with a legal tread depth (1.5mm)

*Mudguards

*Brakelights, indicators and reflectors; front and rear

*A safe and strong coupling and chain.

*If your load is longer than the trailer itself, you must attach a fluorescent flag and make sure the load itself is not touching the ground.

*Regular vehicle testing stations such as VTNZ will provide you with a WoF - as long as the trailer passes of course.

Hitching up

Hitch the trailer by attaching the end of the draw bar to your tow bar. Once the trailer is attached, connect the trailer's brake lights to your car's trailer socket. If you dont have one, they can be purchased from Super Cheap Auto stores where you can consult a specialist for the right fit. Check brake lights and indicators a couple of times.

Check mirrors

After hitching up your trailer and hopping in, check your all-round visibility by way of your mirrors. If your trailer or caravan is obstructing visibility from your interior mirror, using your side mirrors and looking back out the driver's window should work.

Extended side-view mirrors work well for bigger loads, although they aren't pretty. These can be bought from automotive stores like Repco and Super Cheap Auto.

Check tyres

Your car's rubber will be under stress owing to the extra weight. So checking your tyre pressure and tread is important and will make the vehicle easier to drive - you'll have enough on your plate.

Right to go left

When reversing a trailer, steering is the opposite of what you think. Turning right will cause the trailer to swing left and vice versa. Anticipating the direction the trailer will turn in relation to your vehicle will help. Holding the steering wheel from the bottom with one hand will allow you to perform gentle movements, giving you more control. Do not be too eager with the throttle and apply gentle corrections either right or left. If you're hesitant, try practising somewhere where there's nothing to hit.

Easy does it

On the open road, allow extra time for overtaking, changing lanes and stopping. It also pays to give yourself more room when you come to park and turn. Being smooth by using gentle acceleration, braking and steering means the trailer is less likely to become unbalanced. As you are carrying more weight, your vehicle becomes less stable than normal. Applying the wet weather following distance of four seconds will give you more time to react in the event of an emergency.

Bright idea

If you are towing at night, make sure all your head and tail lights are working, as faulty or broken lights can be a danger to other road users. Ensure there is a solid electrical connection between the tow car and trailer, so lights and indicators work in tandem.

Parking

Firstly, do not attempt to park your vehicle and trailer on a gradient. If you have no alternative, place chocks or bricks underneath each wheel. Leave yourself plenty of room to get in and out, applying the same reverse steering steps mentioned previously. If you are still struggling, seek the help of someone close by to guide you.

Practice

Like almost everything, practice makes perfect. The more you practise the guidelines above, you will be towing with confidence in no time.

- NZ Herald

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