What should you know when towing a trailer?

  • Preparing to tow
  • Getting ready to tow
  • Before setting out

Preparing to Tow

Towing is sometimes a necessity, such as if you were to buy a mobile caravan, but also sometimes dependent on the situation, for instance, if you want to move a car, boat, horse, motorcycle, or haul a box trailer to help when moving house for example.

There are, however, some constants across either scenario, and a variety of things to be mindful of, the first of which is that towing isn't something to be taken lightly. Actually, this applies whether you've been doing it for years or if you're about to embark on your first time towing a boat/caravan/horse box etc., (all of which we’ll refer to as “trailer” from here on).

In addition to the new skills you’ll need to learn to pull a trailer behind your car, there are several tasks that should be part of any pre-towing checklist, but even before that, you have to know what sort of towing gear your vehicle will need.

Getting Ready for Towing

  • Choosing a towbar – If you have a vehicle that doesn’t come with a towbar – and the majority don’t – then seek help from a trailer, caravan, outdoor supply company, or your local independent workshop. Let them know what type of trailer you will be towing so they can advise you on the best options for towbars. Trailers that weigh more than 750kgs, when loaded, must be fitted with brakes – so two towing weights might be shown in your handbook – one that applies to a trailer with brakes, and one for those trailers without brakes.  The towbar, which actually connects your car to the trailer is obviously a critical piece of equipment . There are many different towbars and variations on the market, so it is vital that the one you choose is suitable for the weight and type of trailer you intend to tow and is also compatible with your vehicle, in terms of the electrics.
  • Checking your vehicle’s towing capacity – Not all cars can actually tow, so it is obviously important to find out, but if it can, your car will be rated with a maximum towing capacity, which will be in the handbook.
  • Mirrors. If your trailer is wider than your car, by law, as well as for common sense, you need to get wider mirrors to help see what’s on either side and what’s further behind. These will obviously also help minimise the trailer's blind spots while driving and will aid rear visibility when reversing.

Before setting out

  • Check trailer tyres – People usually remember to check the tyre pressures on their tow vehicle, but it is just as important to go through the same process with the trailer you are towing. It is also likely that your vehicle’s tyre pressures might need to be higher than usual for towing. Check your owner’s manual for the correct pressures. Checking on the trailer tyres for cracking, and potential rot, is also vitally important - especially if the trailer is stored outside and hasn't been used for a while. And, of course tread depth on the trailer tyres is as important as it is on the tow vehicle. Tyres also age, and so inspecting them – especially if the trailer is not one you have used before – can often show up signs of wear that could lead to tyre failure. 
  • Wheels –  Make certain the wheel nuts on both your car and the trailer are tightened correctly. Again, if in doubt, refer to the manual.
  • Maintenance – Make sure your car maintenance is up to date. Towing subjects the towing vehicle to additional and sometimes unusual stresses and strains, so before heading out, ensure that your vehicle is well maintained. Check items such as the oil, engine coolant and brake fluid oil levels. Brakes are vitally important, so it makes sense to check both your car’s and the trailer’s brakes.
  • Trailer lights/electrics – Make sure to check that the trailer's electrical wiring system is properly connected to the tow vehicle before you set off. The wires should be loose enough to be allow the trailer to make tight turns without getting disconnected from the tow vehicle, but not so loose that they touch the road. Check that the running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights of the trailer are all working as one with your car. You will usually need someone else to help with this. Also, don’t forget that you’ll need to display and illuminate you car’s registration plate at the rear of the trailer too!
  • Don't run the risk of getting stuck at the side of the road – Always make sure you have a spare wheel for the trailer, as well as a wrench that is specific to your trailer wheel nuts and a jack that will work properly with your trailer in case you need to change a flat tyre on the side of the road.
  • Wheel chocks – When unhooking the trailer, if there is a brake, make sure it is applied. In addition, for extra peace of mind, you can place a wheel chock (a sturdy, ideally wedge-shaped block) in front of and behind the trailer's tyres to ensure the trailer doesn't roll away when it is released from your car.
  • Loading trailers – Ensure the load on your trailer is as low as possible and, if necessary, secure using ropes and tie-downs so that your gear is firmly anchored. Remember, items that aren’t properly secured can adversely affect both your car’s balance and the stability of the trailer. 
  • Loading a box trailer – Always look to load the front of the trailer first and try to distribute the weight so that 60% is forward of the front axle, distributing it as evenly as possible across the trailer, because if something is moving around it could affect the balance while driving.
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