Stay safe when towing a trailer
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On average, seven people die each year on New Zealand roads in crashes that involve cars towing trailers.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) states a further 45 people are seriously injured in crashes where light vehicles are towing anything from garden trailers to horse floats and caravans. Incorrect loading can be a significant contributing factor in these crashes, so it’s vital you get it right.
The trailer must display a current WoF sticker, registration label and plate. Before you set off on any journey check all your trailer lights are working and, if necessary, replace any bulbs.
Be mindful of the weight you’re adding to your vehicle as overloading could compromise the vehicle’s braking ability, cooling system, transmission, clutch, or even the engine longevity. Your car’s handbook should provide its maximum loading weight and the unladen (unloaded) weight. Taking the maximum weight minus the unladen weight will you give you the maximum load that a vehicle can carry.
Here are four useful tips to remember when loading a trailer:
●Spread the load evenly across the floor or deck of the trailer, keeping the height as low as possible. Where stacking is unavoidable, make sure the heavier or larger items are at the bottom. Doing this will help to avoid the risk of the trailer swaying.
●Arrange loads so objects aren’t sticking too far out the side. Try not to exceed the width of the towing vehicle. Minimise projecting loads to reduce the risk of injury to the yourself and other road users. The standard maximum towing width is 2.5m.
●Position the load on the trailer as close to the axle as possible. Avoid placing heavier loads towards the rear of the trailer, and ensure there’s a downward force at the point of attachment to help improve the overall handling.
●Secure the cargo to prevent shifting. Objects will move around as the vehicle brakes, turns, accelerates and drives over uneven surfaces, so prepare for every condition.
Take care of your trailer. A badly maintained trailer is hard to tow safely, no matter how good you are at towing. The following basic checks should be carried out periodically, especially if you use the trailer only once or twice a year:
●Check the trailer’s tyre pressures and look for signs of wear or damage.
●Clean all lights and reflectors.
●Check that all lights are working.
●Take it to a garage to check the tow coupling and brake mechanisms are well lubricated.
●Jack the trailer up, spin the wheels and listen out for any rumbling noises as this may indicate worn wheel bearings.
●Check that all tie-down points are tight and that the chain and D shackles are in place.
Familiarise yourself with the road rules for light vehicles towing trailers and with the vehicle’s tow rating. The maximum open road speed is 90km/h, as long as you have a rigid connection between the vehicle and the trailer. But, for those using or considering a rope or non-rigid connection, the maximum speed is 50km/h.
Sometimes the road conditions may require you to drive slower to remain safe. Most vehicles are awarded tow ratings by the manufacturers, while also specifying the recommended gross trailer weight — braked, unbraked or both. The NZTA says “although the law does not require these tow ratings to be followed, we recommend that they be taken into account”.
When towing, be conscious of your steering and braking. Allow extra space for stopping, apply the brakes lightly before turning, and always use a lower gear when travelling downhill. Be aware of any swaying from the trailer being towed. Many new vehicles a have anti-sway technology built in, but swaying can be reduced by avoiding sharp steering. If you encounter “sway” do not apply the brakes as this might cause the trailer to jackknife; instead back off the accelerator allowing the vehicle to gradually slow down.
More information can be found at the NZTA website.