At one point or another you may have needed to tow something behind your car; it could be your camper trailer, boat or caravan. Getting these things hitched and pulled by our vehicles can be a ordeal specially if you don’t follow some basic safety guidelines. Towing significantly alters the way you need to drive your car. Handling tolerances are narrowed significantly. Neglecting to do some basic safety procedures before driving with a heavy load could result in disaster. Planning ahead is critical when towing. If it happens to be your first time, you need to ‘over’ prepare.
Untoward incidents can be prevented by following some of these safety procedures when towing.
1. Vehicle Safe Load
The first thing we need to do is consult the car’s users manual for the maximum load that our cars can handle. We don’t want to go towing and halfway our destination then find that our cars break down because it is no longer able to pull the additional weight. We have to remember that additional load will make the components of our cars, like the engine, transmission, diff, clutch etc, work harder to compensate for the added weight and thus we need to have our cars at tip-top shape.
2. General Condition And Roadworthiness
Next is to check the parts of our car and make sure they are in tip-top shape. Make sure the coolant and engine oil levels are at the right level. If you have not done an oil or coolant change for quite sometime, it will be best to do those things first before towing. Heavy loads can make the engine work harder and this in turn can generate heat fast. And we know that insufficient engine oil or coolant can cause engine malfunction due to overheating. Next is to check the tyres. Make sure the tyres have the right pressure. Over-inflated or under-inflated tyres could cause trailer sway and ultimately a jack-knife!! If you have ever had one of these events your knees may be still shaking! Also make sure to check the tyres on the trailer or camper van are free of cracks on the sidewalls and have a good tread. Another thing we need to do is to bring spare tyres and wheels. Bringing spares will never hurt and can prove useful in case they are needed.
3. Brakes And Lighting
Ensure that our vehicle lighting and braking systems are working. Having our vehicle’s lights in working condition is a must. This is particularly needed when you are driving at night. Driving with a busted light could endanger not only ourselves but other drivers and pedestrians as well. Worse still, you are violating the law which could earn a ticket or worse if caught driving with that faulty lights. How many times have accidents happen simply due to failed brake lights? Your brakes are particularly important when towing. It is also ideal that the thing you are towing has a separate braking system to minimise having the vehicles working overtime. This is critical if you are towing a major bit of kit. Your car may be completely overwhelmed and pushed into an accident or off the road if the thing you are towing does not have its own braking systems working as expected. Neglecting to check that ALL brakes are working properly could be a disaster on the road if they fail. Yes, the added weight due to the extra cargo can increase the damage significantly. Believe me I have seen it! The results can be frightful!
4. Properly Rated Tow Bar
We need to use the appropriate tow-bar(s) for our vehicles. A very good tow-bar to use is one that returns both the car and the caravan to a level position once set-up properly. If you are unsure of what tow-bar to use, it is better to consult an expert. Asking for advice will help prevent unwanted events from happening like accidents. We also need to consider proper weight distribution to avoid the trailer or caravan from flipping or swaying. Ideally, the weight 60% of the weight of the caravan should be loaded towards the front. The correct rating for the tow bar is not something that you should guess at. You need to make sure that the mountings and the bar itself are all appropriate for what you intend to tow. Get this wrong and you are driving a death trap!
5. Practice Towing! It’s A Skill
Once we have checked everything, it is essential for us to get accustomed driving with the load of a tow. You can do this by doing short trips with the trailer. The best time would be early morning where there is less traffic. This is necessary for you to get used driving with the towed cargo. This can help you determine the driving speed you can be comfortable with. You can practice parking with the towed vehicle and also help determine if your car is able handle the additional weight of the trailer.
6. Car Mirrors
Your car’s mirrors also play an important role when driving with your towed cargo. Ensuring that the mirrors give you the ability to view both rear and side traffic clearly. Failing to do so is dangerous and will create an ordeal for you especially when overtaking. You many need to fit extended mirrors! If you can’t see, you can’t tow!
7. Maintain Safe Margins When Driving
When driving, you need to remember to maintain a safe speed. Driving fast, though it is nice to do sometimes, would make it more difficult to control the car and the towed vehicle. There is also a possibility that the trailer would sway forcing you to lose control. If you have ever seen this happen you will know how frightening it is. Driving fast usually puts a strain on things when braking and of course on the tyres. With the added load of the trailer, this will add further to the difficulty when braking.
So in summary, towing is not for the badly prepared driver with the wrong and underrated vehicle or equipment. Do your homework and be prepared. If you do not. You will be risking your life and that of others. Seriously, it is one of the most underrated risks you can take with your life. Get it right and its a joy. Get it wrong and you will regret your carefree attitude for sure.