Whether you’re moving your child back home from college or hauling equipment for your business, a trailer helps when you need some extra space to pack things. While towing a trailer may not seem much different than driving a car, there are a few things to keep in mind before you hitch your trailer.
VERIFY THE TOWING CAPACITY
Just because you have a vehicle with a trailer hitch doesn’t mean it can tow any type of trailer. It’s important to verify that your vehicle’s towing capacity is adequate to tow the trailer you’re using. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time getting started and may cause damage to your vehicle.
Start by checking your owner’s manual, which will tell you how much weight your vehicle can safely tow. If you exceed the recommended weight, you run the risk of losing control. That often leads to overturning.
Remember: Never try to manipulate your hitch into towing something it’s not designed for. This can increase its risk of breaking free.
Also, never set off without securing the pin in the hitch. The pin keeps you from potentially losing your load when you go over bumps in the road.
CHECK THE BRAKES
Another important aspect to check is the trailer’s brake lights. If the trailer’s light wiring harness is plugged in correctly, it will trigger the trailer’s brake lights to light up when you hit the brakes in your car. If they don’t, you will be a hazard to other vehicles on the road – even in daylight – and may be rear-ended.
Have the light wiring harness fixed before using the trailer if it’s not working. If your wiring harness is plugged in and some of your lights aren’t working, you’ll want to replace the bulbs that aren’t.
When you’re securing the wiring harness, you’ll also want to attach the trailer’s safety chains to your hitch. These chains serve as a last resort in the event your hitch fails. A best practice is to cross them in an X formation.
SECURE THE LOAD
Before driving off, make sure your load is secure within the trailer. An unsecured load has the potential to topple over or fall out if you’re using an open-ended trailer.
Make sure the load is balanced, as well. An unbalanced load can cause the vehicle to sway. Place heavy objects near the floor at the front of the trailer to minimize wobbling. Be sure to distribute other lighter objects evenly as you load up the trailer.
ADAPT YOUR DRIVING
Towing a trailer requires making some changes to your driving style. When turning a corner, you’ll need to swing out wide. Turning like you normally would in your vehicle could result in jumping a curb or nicking another vehicle. Never make sharp steering corrections, as the trailer could jackknife.
Remember that your stopping distance is essentially doubled when you’re towing a trailer. Begin braking sooner than normal in order to stop safely.
CHECK YOUR AUTO INSURANCE COVERAGE
Lastly, make sure your auto or business insurance policy has enough to cover your trailer and the goods you’re hauling in it. Generally, liability for your trailer is covered by your auto insurance policy as long as you’re using an insured vehicle to tow it. Physical damage coverage for your trailer is also available, and can be purchased separately.
Whether this is your first time towing a trailer or your 500th, you want to set out knowing that your trailer and its contents are covered. A quick conversation with your ERIE agent can help confirm you have the right coverage for the job.