Pre-road trip checklist to avoid towing trauma
The onset of warmer weather means taking to the outdoors, be it boating, camping or simply tackling big jobs in the backyard. The result is a heavy increase in traffic on the roads - and often tagging along with the extra vehicles are the trailers, boats and campers that can put motorists at risk.
In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 20,000 people require medical attention every year as a result of crashes involving trailers towed by passenger vehicles.
These recreational outings don't need to go sideways - nor does whatever you may be towing. Here's a safety checklist to ensure you are towing the right way:
Get hitched: A starting point to towing is knowing the pulling capacity of your vehicle, as too much weight can cause a load of problems, no matter how much power your engine has.
When it comes to connecting a trailer to the towing vehicle, a critical component, of course, is the coupler - the part of the hitch system that is attached to the trailer. The coupler needs to be secured, tight and locked.
On the towing vehicle, avoid using a ball mount and hitch that is rusted, cracked, corroded or poorly designed - anything that can compromise its integrity. A safe answer is applying a new hitch, like the Ultra-Tow Complete Tow Kit, which is a durable and easy solution to pull whatever you're towing.
Bottom line: Always reference the "coupling to tow vehicle" section of your vehicle manual to make sure it is done right.
Feel the (tire) pressure: An often forgotten element on the trailer towing checklist is making sure the trailer's tire pressure is at the right level. In addition, inspect tires for wear or trauma - and be sure to have a spare.
Be a chain agent: Once you place and pop in the coupler over the ball mount, the next step is applying the safety chains, which need to be rigged to the tow vehicle. Avoid the common mistake of rigging the safety chains to the hitch or ball mount itself. Safety chains are federal law and will keep the trailer from drifting in the event the trailer coupling separates from the ball mount.
Light it up: No matter what you're driving, communicating with other vehicles is paramount to safety - and that means having properly working brake, tail and turn signal lights. Before departing, sync up the trailer lights with the tow vehicle and test it out so that other motorists will know your actions.
Locked down and loaded: Once everything is hitched, it's time to load up the cargo. It's best to be balanced with weight distribution, but put heavier cargo in the front of the trailer. And of course, do not overload.
This pre-departure checklist is only a start. Once on the road, remember the basic safe driving practices when towing a trailer: Drive at moderate speeds, avoid sudden stops, don't use cruise control and allow more distance for stopping.
No matter how much of a rush you are in to hit the road this summer, don't take any shortcuts when it comes to towing safely.