Utility Trailer Towing: Safety Tips from Everlite

October 30, 2018

Driving a vehicle with a utility trailer in tow is vastly different from driving the same vehicle alone. You can’t accelerate, maneuver, and brake with the same results. It also takes longer to get up to speed, you need more room to turn and pass, and more distance to stop. So, just give yourself time to adjust to the different feel and maneuverability involved. And, because of the significant differences in all aspects of towing a trailer, hazards and risk of injury are often amplified.  

However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. It just starts with a little training. 

1.    Practice driving. 

  • Find an open area with little to no traffic for your first practice. 
  • Consult your owner’s manual and follow all the instructions for inspection, testing, loading, and coupling. 
  • Adjust the mirrors so you can see the trailer as well as the area to the rear of it. 
  • Drive slowly, about 5 mph or so, and turn the wheel to get a feel for how the tow vehicle and trailer combination responds. 
  • Make some right and left-hand turns, watching in your side mirror to see how the trailer follows the tow vehicle. Remember, turning with a trailer attached requires more room. 
  • Stop the rig a few times from speeds no greater than 10 mph. If your trailer is equipped with brakes, try using different combinations of trailer/electric brake and tow vehicle brake. Note the effect that the trailer brakes have when they are the only brakes used. When properly adjusted, the trailer brakes will come on just before the tow vehicle brakes. 

 2.    Practice backing up. 

  • Before backing up, get out of the tow vehicle and look behind the trailer to make sure that there are no obstacles. 
  • Some drivers place their hands at the bottom of the steering wheel, and while the tow vehicle is in reverse, “think” of the hands as being on the top of the wheel. When the hands move to the right (counter-clockwise, as you would do to turn the tow vehicle to the left when moving forward), the rear of the trailer moves to the right. Conversely, rotating the steering wheel clockwise with your hands at the bottom of the wheel will move the rear of the trailer to the left, while backing up. 
  • Be careful not to allow the trailer to turn too much, because it will hit the rear of the tow vehicle. To straighten the rig, either pull forward, or turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction. 

Once you’ve practiced driving with your utility trailer in tow, it’s time to take it on the road. Follow these procedures to make sure you drive safely in traffic. 

  1. Use your mirrors to verify that you have room to change lanes or pull into traffic. 
  2. Use your turn signals well in advance. 
  3. Allow plenty of stopping space for your trailer and tow vehicle. Use lower gears for climbing and descending grades. 
  4. Do not ride the brakes while descending grades; they may get so hot that they stop working. Then you will potentially have a runaway tow vehicle and trailer. 
  5. Do not apply the tow vehicle brakes to correct extreme trailer swaying. Instead, lightly apply the trailer brakes with the hand controller. 
  6. Slow down for bumps in the road. 
  7. Do not brake while in a curve unless absolutely necessary. Instead, slow down before you enter the curve. 
  8. Do not drive so fast that the trailer begins to sway due to speed. Generally, never drive faster than 55 mph. 
  9. When you are towing a trailer, allow plenty of room for passing. A rule of thumb is that the passing distance with a trailer is four times the passing distance without one.
  10. Make regular stops, about once each hour. Confirm that: 
    • The coupler is secure to the hitch and is locked. 
    • Electrical connectors are made. 
    • There is appropriate slack in the safety chains.
    • There is appropriate slack in the breakaway lanyard.
    • The tires are not visibly low on pressure. 
    • The cargo is secure and in good condition.  

If you ever have any questions about how to drive with your open trailer, your local Everlite Trailers dealer is eager to answer them, and help you with any other towing needs.