Whether you have been hauling large trailers for years and are a seasoned tower, or you are about to embark on your first family vacation this Easter period with a small travel trailer, towing isn’t something to be taken lightly.


To pull a trailer or caravan behind another vehicle, a driver needs to develop a whole new set of skills. Just the process of hitching and unhitching a trailer from a tow vehicle requires know-how and numerous steps and forgetting even one crucial element in the process could compromise safety.  


In this week’s article, we delve into key tasks that should be part of any pre-towing checklist and finish up with some driving tips to help towing adventures go more smoothly and safely.


Getting Ready for Towing

  • Check those trailer tyres. A lot of people check the tyre pressures on their pickup truck, SUV or towing vehicle, but they forget to check the tyres on the trailer. Always inspect the trailer tyres for dry rot and cracking, especially if the trailer is stored outside and has not been used for months. Even if the tires appear to have plenty of tread, they age over time and that can lead to tyre failure. Also, your tow vehicles tyres may require a higher pressure for towing, as outlined in the owner’s manual. Do not forget to make sure the wheel lug nuts on the trailer and tow vehicle are tightened to the specified torque.


  • Make sure your tow vehicle’s maintenance is up to date. Towing puts additional stress on the tow vehicle, so before heading out on a towing road trip, be sure your vehicle has recently had an oil and filter change, the brake pads have plenty of life remaining, the engine coolant is filled to the proper level in the reservoir, and the transmission fluid is topped off. It is also a good idea to have your trailer’s brakes (if it has them) checked and adjusted and keep the wheel bearings greased.


  • Do not get stuck on the side of the road. Always make sure you have at least one spare tire for your trailer. You will also want a lug nut wrench specific to your trailer’s wheels, as well as a jack that will work properly with your trailer in case you need to change a flat tire on the side of the road.


  • Use trailer safety chains. All trailers should have safety chains that hook up to the hitch. Always cross the trailer’s safety chains, as opposed to running them straight. If anything is to happen and the trailer gets disconnected from the tow vehicle, the crossed chains will form a ‘cradle’ for the tongue of the trailer to fall onto, instead of digging into the pavement.” The chains should have enough slack to permit sharp turns but not drag on the road.


  • Check trailer lights. Before hitting the road, double check to make sure the trailer’s electrical wiring system is properly connected to the tow vehicle. Inspect the wires by hand; they should be loose enough to be able to make turns without getting disconnected from the tow vehicle, yet not so loose that they touch the road. With a partner to visually confirm, check that the trailer’s running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights are all working in correlation with the tow vehicle.


  • Consider getting tow mirrors. If your trailer is wider than your tow vehicle, investigate getting factory or wider aftermarket tow mirrors to help see the trailer’s blind spots while driving and to aid rear visibility when backing up. Have a look on Start My Car for our towing mirrors. It is advisable to get all the mirror width you can get when you are towing a wide trailer or caravan. Many new vehicles and SUVs are also available with blind spot warning systems that not only help with the truck’s blind spots but also give warnings for the entire length of the trailer.


  • Use wheel chocks. When unhooking the trailer from the tow vehicle, place wheel chocks (sturdy, wedge-shaped blocks) in front of and behind the trailer’s tires to ensure the trailer does not roll away when it is released from the tow vehicle.

Once your trailer is safely hooked up to your tow vehicle, it is finally time to hit the open road and let the adventure begin.

But wait: Towing a trailer—regardless of whether it is a small 5ft Venter, a 20-foot powerboat —requires practice, skill, and an even greater degree of driver attention than what most people are used to.

Below we highlight some important tips for getting you, your truck, and your trailer on down the road to your destination safely.  


Key Driving Tips for Safe Towing

Know your trailer. In many cases, the trailer weighs as much as the towing vehicle. All that extra weight behind your vehicle will have a huge impact on your vehicles ability to stop quickly and navigate sharp turns

Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailer’s wheels will end up closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, the trailer tires are more likely to hit or ride up over curbs. Safe towing requires that the driver take constant care to give a wider berth than usual around any corner.

Allow for longer stopping distances. Stopping distances will increase from what your tow vehicle can normally achieve on its own, because of the added weight of the trailer. This means you will need to be more attentive to vehicles stopping suddenly ahead of you when towing and begin braking sooner than if you were not towing. It is advisable to keep a longer following distance than usual, should you need to emergency brake.

Drive in the left lane on highways. Try to drive in the left lane as much as possible, so you can use the extra stopping room of the right shoulder of the road in case you need to brake suddenly. Driving in the left lane will also make it easier to get over to the shoulder in the case of a tire blowout.

Do not ride your vehicle’s brakes on long downhills. Shift your vehicle’s transmission to a lower gear to help slow the vehicle and take some strain off the brakes. Many of today’s pickup trucks have a tow/haul mode that, when the driver engages the system, will automatically downshift the transmission when it senses the truck is on a long downhill. Applying the brakes at intervals to keep the speed in check (as opposed to constant application on the brake pedal) will help keep the brakes from overheating.

Use a spotter when backing up. Have someone outside at the rear of the trailer while backing up whenever possible; mirrors—even wide tow mirrors—typically cannot provide all the visibility you may need, particularly in situations where there are other vehicles, objects, or people in close proximity.

Practice driving with a trailer. “Before hitting the road, it is a good idea to practice accelerating, backing up, braking, making wide turns, and using your sideview mirrors. This is especially important if you are brand-new to the art of towing a trailer behind your vehicle.

Disconnect wiring before launching a boat. Disconnect the trailer’s wiring from the tow vehicle before backing the trailer into the water at a boat launch. This will avoid any electrical problems that might arise from submerging the trailer’s lights in the water.