Towing Trailers

Whether you’re making an autumn move or driving a college student back to school, you might choose to lug your load in a trailer.

Will your policy cover both ends of the tow? In general, if you’re using an insured car to pull it, yes. But there are risks involved, so be sure to take safety precautions before you tow the line.

Check the weight

According to David Freeman, vice president & manager, Personal Lines Underwriting, it’s important to make sure your vehicle’s towing capacity is adequate to tow the trailer you’re using.

“Every vehicle has a manufacturer’s designated towing capacity based upon vehicle size, weight and horsepower,” says Freeman. “Typically, if you’re looking to pull a 50-foot trailer with a Volkswagen, the rental company isn’t going to rent it to you.”

To make sure — or if you’re borrowing rather than renting — check your owner’s manual, which will tell you how much weight you can safely tow. If you exceed the recommended weight, you run the risk of losing control which often leads to overturning.

“Just because your vehicle has a trailer hitch on it, it might not have the capacity to tow a trailer,” emphasizes Freeman.

And never try to MacGyver your hitch into towing something it’s not designed for, which can increase its risk of breaking free.

Check the brakes

According to Freeman, it’s also important to check the trailer’s brake lights.

“If the trailer’s light wiring harness is plugged in correctly, when you hit the brakes on your car, it will trigger the trailer’s brakes to light up,” Freeman says. “If they don’t, you become a hazard to other vehicles on the road — even in the daylight.

“If you hit your brakes and the person behind you can't see them, they may rear-end you,” he adds.

Secure the load

Another key precaution is to make sure your load is secure within the trailer.

“Imagine someone buys a big new plasma TV and loads it in without tying it down,” says Freeman. “They slam on the brakes, and it flies right into the car. Or they accelerate too quickly and it slides out the back.”

Also, an unbalanced load can cause vehicle sway. To minimize wobbling, place heavy objects on the floor near the front of the trailer and balance the load side-to-side.

Adapt your driving

Towing a trailer requires some changes to your driving style.

“When you turn a corner, you’ll have to swing out wide,” advises Freeman. “Otherwise, you might end up with the trailer climbing a curb. And if you make any sharp steering corrections, it may cause the trailer to jackknife.”

Also, remember that your stopping distance can be doubled when you’re towing a trailer. This means you need to begin braking sooner in order to stop safely.

In general, adds Freeman, “There are lots of things the average driver might not even think about.”

For more safety tips related to towing a trailer, check out these National Traffic Highway Safety Administration links:

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