Towing Tips PRP Rescue Services Ltd        Tel: 01488 657651    Fax: 0844 8546681
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Towing Towing   a   trailer   requires   more   knowledge   and   skill   than   normal   driving   and   this   puts   additional   responsibilities   on   a   driver. You need to make sure that you understand the general principles of driving with a trailer before attempting to tow. The   correct   matching   of   a   suitable   towing   vehicle   with   the   right   trailer   is   the   first   step   to   ensure   safe   towing   practices. All cars   have   a   maximum   weight   that   they   can   safely   tow,   determined   by   the   manufacturers.   You   can   find   this   out   either   by looking   in   the   vehicle's   handbook   or   by   contacting   the   appropriate   dealer.   Very   generally,   the   weight   of   the   trailer   plus   any load   that   it   is   carrying,   (it's   laden   weight),   should   not   exceed   85   %   of   the   unladen,   weight   of   the   car. This   is   so   that   the   car is   always   substantially   heavier   than   the   trailer.   Basically,   the   closer   you   get   to   the   car's   weight,   the   greater   the   risk   of problems with control, and the more careful you have to be. Now   let's   hitch   up. The   best   way   to   connect   the   trailer   is   to   back   up   to   the   hitch   neatly   and   precisely. This   is   not   as   difficult as   it   sounds.   Firstly   you   need   to   get   the   vehicle   lined   up   with   the   trailer   hitch.   If   you   can   see   through   the   back   window   of your   vehicle,   position   your   head   directly   in   the   middle   of   the   vehicle.   Now   reverse   the   vehicle   lining   a   mark   in   the   centre   of the   rear   window   with   the   tow   hitch   of   the   trailer.   This   will   mean   that   you   are   lined   up   correctly;   all   you   have   to   do   now   is judge   the   distance   back. This   only   comes   with   experience   so   some   practice   with   a   helper   standing   back,   but   in   your   line   of vision would be helpful. Next   connect   the   two.   This   is   possibly   the   most   dangerous   part   of   the   operation   and   you   should   be   wary   of   trapping fingers   in   the   hitch   and   getting   trapped   between   the   trailer   and   the   tow   vehicle.   With   a   ball   and   socket   hitch   make   sure   the closest   your   hand   gets   to   the   hitch   is   holding   the   lever   on   the   top.   Do   not   try   to   couple   a   trailer   on   steeply   sloping   ground as both trailer and vehicle handbrakes can be notoriously unreliable. On   coupling   the   hitch   you   will   also   notice   a   piece   of   light   wire   with   a   hook   on   the   end.   This   is   to   be   connected   to   the vehicle   and   preferably   not   to   the   tow   hitch   itself.   The   idea   of   this   little   bit   of   wire   is   that   if   for   some   reason   the   vehicle   and trailer   become   separated,   the   wire   will   tension   and   apply   the   trailer   hand   brake,   bringing   the   errant   trailer   to   a   standstill rather   than   becoming   an   out   of   control   2.5   tonne   object   of   destruction.   The   reason   for   not   connecting   it   direct   to   the   tow ball   is   that   if   your   ball   should   fail   or   become   un-bolted   the   brakes   would   not   be   applied.   Next   it   is   time   to   connect   the electrics. This is probably the most temperamental part of trailer towing. There   are   two   main   problems   with   trailer   electrics;   damaged   cables   and   corrosion.   Damaged   cables   are   generally   caused by   either   the   cable   dragging   on   the   road   and   chafing   or   the   cable   being   stretched   by   forgetting   to   uncouple   it   when unhitching   the   trailer.   As   trailer   sockets   on   vehicles   tend   to   hang   low   under   the   vehicle   they   are   subject   to   the   full onslaught   of   the   elements   and   in   the   winter   the   added   bonus   of   salt   on   the   roads.   Corroded   terminals   mean   poor connections,   which   mean   faulty   lights. This   problem   can   be   alleviated   by   coating   the   socket   with   Vaseline   or   grease   and   a good spray of WD40 to prevent water getting in. Due   to   all   this   it   is   always   good   practice   to   check   trailer   lights   before   you   set   off.   Put   the   indicators   on   and   firstly   check your   warning   light   or   buzzer   is   working,   this   will   tell   you   from   the   cab   that   the   indicator   is   working.   Then   go   out   and   check the   right   one   is   flashing! Also   check,   tail   lights   and   hazard   lights.   You   will   need   an   assistant   to   check   your   brake   lights   or an appropriately sized block of wood to wedge the pedal down. Driving with the Trailer Finally   you   are   in   a   position   to   move   off   and   start   your   journey.   Most   horse   trailers   are   wider   than   the   towing   vehicle   and are   certainly   taller.   Firstly   check   you   can   see   behind   you   in   your   wing   mirrors.   If   you   cannot   see   past   the   sides   of   the trailer   you   will   have   to   consider   fitting   wing   mirror   extensions.   Having   a   trailer   wider   than   the   tow   vehicle   will   affect   your road   positioning;   drive   your   vehicle   on   the   kerb   and   the   trailer   will   be   bouncing   along   the   pavement.   Generally   though, people   will   tend   to   drive   wide   with   a   trailer   leaving   more   space   between   the   kerb   and   trailer   than   is   totally   necessary.   The best   way   to   check   your   road   positioning   whilst   going   along   is   to   glance   in   the   wing   mirror   and   see   where   the   trailer   is,   then look ahead and adjust your vehicle position to suit. As   the   overall   width   of   the   trailer   is   wider   than   the   tow   vehicle   take   special   care   when   turning   corners   or   pulling   alongside kerbs,   shop   signs,   fuel   pumps   and   the   like,   as   they   may   be   missed   by   the   tow   vehicle   but   not   the   trailer.   You   must   also remember   that   a   trailer   will   cut   off   the   corners   when   you   turn   and   thus   you   must   leave   enough   space   to   avoid   bumping   the kerb.   Riding   the   kerb   is   a   terminal   sin   if   you   are   an   HGV   driver,   indeed   it   can   lead   to   instant   failure   on   your   test.   Roads   are designed   to   take   large   artic   trucks   and   they   need   far   more   space   than   a   four   wheel   drive   and   trailer,   so   you   have   no excuse! If   you   do   find   the   trailer   starts   to   "snake"   whilst   you   are   travelling   down   the   road,   do   not   try   to   correct   it   with   the   steering wheel,   you   will   only   make   it   worse.   Hold   the   steering   wheel   straight   ahead   and   slow   down   gently,   do   not   brake   hard,   the trailer   will   eventually   come   back   in   control.   Some   people   will   tell   you   to   try   and   accelerate   through   it;   generally   this   is   a very   poor   idea.   Firstly   it   may   get   worse   before   it   gets   better;   secondly   you   are   never   going   to   be   able   to   accelerate   faster than you can slow down. Your   vehicles'   engine   will   work   hardest   when   climbing   hills,   and   therefore   great   care   should   be   taken   to   ensure   it   doesn't overheat. Keep a close eye on the temperature gauge at all times and investigate any sudden rises in temperature. When   descending,   make   use   of   the   engine   as   a   brake,   by   selecting   a   lower   gear   (before   starting   your   downhill   run)   -   as   a guide,   select   the   same   gear   going   down   as   you   did   coming   up.   (In   the   case   of   automatic   transmissions   it   is   permissible   to manually   select   a   lower   gear   in   order   to   maximise   engine   breaking.)   Never   descend   on   any   downhill   run   (short   or   long) with   the   gearbox   in   neutral   -   with   no   engine   breaking   whatsoever   the   vehicle   will   quickly   run   away   and   greatly   increase   the risk of losing control. The   most   important   thing   about   driving   with   a   trailer   is   anticipation.   Know   what   the   road   is   doing,   and   know   what   everyone else   on   the   road   is   doing   as   well.   If   you   see   a   car   far   in   front   put   its   brakes   on,   start   to   slow   down   yourself,   don't   wait   for the   car   directly   in   front   to   brake.   With   a   loaded   trailer   you   will   not   stop   as   quickly   as   you   are   used   to,   so   leave   plenty   of space. Anticipate traffic lights, if they have been green for a long time, expect them to turn red. With   a   trailer   attached   you   also   need   more   space   on   the   road,   so   dominate   it,   and   clearly   assert   your   right   of   way.   If   you are   travelling   down   a   road   with   parked   cars,   position   yourself   firmly   in   the   middle   to   induce   others   to   give   you   right   of   way. They   can   back   up   easily,   you   can't.   If   you   want   to   turn   left,   move   out   to   the   right   a   little   to   give   yourself   room,   you   will cause   less   of   an   obstruction   temporarily   blocking   both   lanes   than   you   will   jamming   your   trailer   up   against   the   kerb   or hedge. After   travelling   a   few   miles   pull   up   in   a   safe   location.   Walk   methodically   around   the   trailer   to   ensure   all   is   in   order.   Check the   coupling   and   safety   chains   are   still   fastened,   lights   are   working,   tyres   are   inflated   correctly   and   everything   is   properly secured. On long trips, repeat these checks every 2-3 hours when taking a rest stop. Reversing the Trailer Reversing   with   a   trailer   is   the   one   aspect   that   really   sorts   the   men   from   the   boys,   do   it   right   and   everyone   will   be impressed,   mess   it   up   and   no   one   will   forget.   The   first   and   foremost   rule   is   slow   and   steady,   the   faster   you   do   it   the   faster you can get into trouble. Learning   to   reverse   a   trailer   takes   practice. The   best   thing   to   do   is   find   a   big   empty   field   or   car   park,   preferably   out   of   sight of   anybody   so   you   can   quietly   make   your   own   mistakes.   The   first   thing   to   do   is   to   find   the   jack-knifing   point   of   your   trailer. Jack-knifing   is   when   the   trailer   and   towing   vehicle   are   at   an   angle   whereby   you   cannot   recover   the   position   by   going backwards.   To   do   this   drive   forwards   in   a   circle   on   full   lock.   The   angle   made   between   the   trailer   and   tow   vehicle   is   the maximum angle you can manage without jack-knifing. This is also the tightest corner you can back your trailer round. Check   the   immediate   area   around   and   behind   the   trailer   using   the   tow   vehicle's   mirrors.   If   unsure   what   is   behind   the trailer   the   driver   should   get   out   and   inspect   first   hand. Alternatively,   have   someone   guide   the   driver   whilst   standing   in   the driver's field of vision (and never behind the tow vehicle or trailer). The   next   challenge   is   to   make   it   go   around   a   corner.   The   ultimate   success   of   this   operation   or   indeed   any   reversing operation   starts   before   you   even   begin   to   go   backwards.   Where   you   start   from   ultimately   defines   where   you   end   up.   Start in a position with as straight a line as possible to where you want to end up. To   steer   the   trailer   you   need   to   move   the   wheel   the   opposite   way,   for   first   timers   this   is   difficult,   but   the   more   you   do   it   the more   natural   it   becomes.   With   one   hand   placed   on   the   bottom   of   the   steering   wheel,   move   it   to   the   right   to   move   the   trailer to   right,   or   to   the   left   to   reverse   towards   the   left;   in   other   words,   steer   the   tow   vehicle   in   the   opposite   direction   to   that normally   taken.   Start   by   just   trying   to   reverse   the   trailer   in   a   straight   line.   This   will   require   constant   input   from   the   steering wheel   to   anticipate   the   trailer's   every   move.   If   it   starts   to   go   wrong,   pull   forward   and   start   again.   There   is   no   easy   way   to do it; it takes practice, practice and some more practice. General Advice Even   though   you   are   not   an   HGV   you   are   largely   governed   by   the   rules   and   regulations   of   the   highway   that   apply   to   them. The   speed   limit   on   motorways   is   60   mph   and   you   are   restricted   to   the   inside   and   middle   lanes.   Venturing   into   the   fast   lane in   the   view   of   a   member   of   the   local   constabulary   will   reward   you   with   a   £40   fine   and   three   points   to   endorse   your   licence. You   can   also   be   pulled   over   and   escorted   to   the   nearest   public   weighbridge   if   the   officer   considers   you   to   be   overweight.   If you are towing for hire or reward you will also need an HGV tachograph fitted and conform to driver hour’s legislation.