Tips for Driving with a Trailer
May 1, 2019
King of the highway. Queen of the thoroughfare. Master of the mountain pass. A responsible hauler that makes smart, real-time decisions, ensures the safety of other cars, and keeps their vehicle in good condition by being mindful of the quirks that come with towing a trailer. While you may feel like one (or more) of those first three, it’s that last one that can really be rewarding.
If you’ve got a few moments, check out some tips for driving with a trailer:
The right lane is the right lane
Unless you really need to pass someone because your life depends on it, keep to the right lane. It’s the “slow” lane for a reason. Not only is it the law, it allows traffic to move smoothly—and is safer should something happen and you need to immediately pull to the side of the road.
With an extra set of wheels (and a bunch of weight) behind you, passing other cars takes more finesse. You need more room to accommodate both the tow vehicle and the cargo trailer, time to accelerate, then enough space to merge back into the right lane. You’ve also got a few more blind spots to keep in mind as you tow. So, pass with caution. Or take it easy and cruise the right lane until your destination.
Speaking of passing… keep an eye on your speed. While it varies from state to state, AAA has a good list of speed requirements for those towing a trailer in different parts of the country. Reflectors are also a worthwhile investment to ensure other vehicles spot you as you merge.
What’s your angle?
Your first time backing up a trailer can be a logistical nightmare, as it’s counterintuitive. For starters, when you back up with your steering wheel turned to the left, the trailer is going to move to the right. So, slow and steady is key here. The less you turn the wheel means less of an angle for your trailer and the more you can control the direction of it.
So, you don’t want to just turn the wheel and gun it, because you’ll likely send the front of the trailer into the back of the tow vehicle. Trust us, we’ve been there, done that. But, don’t let that stress you out. Utilize your mirrors and, if possible, get someone to help you out. That extra set of eyes will ensure you don’t get too close to the tow vehicle, nearby objects, and that you’re heading in the right direction.
When in hill country…
Taking on steep inclines and declines in the road can already be a matter of stress for some drivers. Especially for those in mountainous regions where the turns are sharp and the shoulders of the road are non-existent.
When you’re towing a trailer, you need to account for the extra weight. Which means, slowing down is going to require a lot more time. So, keep your distance from other vehicles like you would around a semi-trailer or school bus. And, going up a steep incline will require more momentum and a vehicle capable of handling the extra stress the weight of the cargo adds.
Uphill or downhill, you’ll want to drop the vehicle into a lower gear, as this will reduce strain on the engine as well as provide a consistent speed that helps with engine braking.
While not all states require safety chains, many do, so make sure you’ve got them equipped. In fact, you should always use your safety chains in case the hitch is compromised and the trailer detaches from the tow vehicle.
Just as you would with the tow vehicle, make sure all lights are working properly (brakes, turning, headlights, etc.) and that brakes are in good shape.
The stress test
At the end of the day, you’re human. And so are the other drivers who may not sympathize with your sense of safety as they fly by in search of another mocha latte like it’s a matter of life and death. And trust us, you probably care more about how you’re driving than they do.
While towing a trailer can seem intimidating, it’s really easy to learn and get used to. And while we don’t want to downplay safety while driving, we advise drivers to use common sense. Just take it slow, take the extra second to think about your next move, and when in doubt, wait it out. After all, you’re probably hauling items you or someone else cares about, so making sure they get to their destination in one piece is the reason you’re towing in the first place.
Want more towing advice? Your local Everlite Trailer dealer is ready to answer any questions you may have!