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The Smart Guide to Towing Vehicles

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 6 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Towing Vehicles Driving Motorist Trailer

Ask the vast majority of motorists what their biggest gripe on a long motorway journey is, and the most likely answer will be those drivers towing other vehicles, such as trailers or especially caravans.

Many such drivers have earned themselves an unwelcome reputation over the years for poor driving and a lack of consideration towards the motorists stuck behind them.

There is, however, a smart way to tow vehicles, and if you identify the potential hazards and difficulties that go with towing a vehicle you should be able to ensure yourself a pleasant and event-free journey.

Before your Journey Begins

Before towing a vehicle anywhere, you need to make sure that your trailer or caravan is roadworthy. Part of the reason why you often see so many caravans broken down by the side of a road during the summer months is because they have been poorly maintained all year round and are only taken out perhaps once or twice a year.

To ensure that your trailer is always in optimum condition you should avoid parking it on long grass. Moisture can cause damage to a trailer. Before setting off on a journey, make the following checks:

  • Make sure that the load you are towing is evenly distributed and double check that it is firmly secured.
  • Make sure that all of the lights on the vehicle you are towing are in working order.
  • Ensure that the tyres of the vehicle are in good condition and that tyre pressures are correct and consistent across the towing vehicle.
  • Last but certainly not least make sure that the trailer or caravan is correctly coupled to your vehicle’s tow ball or pin. The coupling height between both vehicles should be broadly level.

Setting Off

It sounds obvious, but many drivers who are towing a vehicle for the first time are surprised how ‘different’ their vehicle feels. The weight of the vehicle or trailer being towed has a significant effect on the performance of the vehicle doing the towing. As a result, moving off requires considerably more effort and stopping takes a lot longer.

Similarly, when approaching a bend a driver should consider that the simple manoeuvre of turning a corner will take considerably longer to successfully complete.

Many caravans and trailers are considerably wider that the vehicle towing them. This means that drivers need to be extra aware of their road positioning, thinking not only about where the vehicle they are driving is located, but also just how far away from kerbs and other lanes the trailer is. Many caravan drivers have come a cropper by misjudging the distance between their trailer and the roadside kerb, petrol station or at a tollbooth.

You will find that your vehicle engine will be put to the test when expected to climb steep hills. Make sure that you keep your vehicle ascending the hill at a steady pace and be alert to signs that the engine might be overheating, checking the temperature gauge regularly.

Avoiding ‘Snaking’

The term snaking is used to describe when a caravan or trailer begins to weave from side to side. The scientific term is ‘yaw inertia’ and happens when the trailer moves horizontally away from the towing axle. This can be caused by relatively minor issues, such as driving too fast, sudden braking, gusts of wind or unexpected bumps in the road.

The best way to avoid snaking is anticipation. Avoid driving at a speed that would cause your vehicle to become unstable if you had to stop suddenly. Leave plenty of room from the driver in front so that if they brake suddenly it won’t cause you to snake.

For additional peace of mind, you can also buy a ‘stabiliser’ that is designed to provide greater balance for the towing vehicle. These can cost up to £250, however, and should not be considered as an excuse to drive faster!

Getting to Grips with Reversing

Reversing with a trailer or caravan is one of the most difficult driving manoeuvres to master. It is all too easy to get your timing wrong and ‘jack-knife’ the vehicle, putting the trailer at an angle that makes it impossible to continue backwards.

Practice is important. Take the time to practise reversing in an empty field or car park. You should try to find your vehicle’s jack-knife point. This can be found by driving forward on full-lock. The angle that is created between the trailer and the towing vehicle is therefore the maximum angle that you can achieve without jack-knifing. This should also tell you the tightest angle with which you can reverse.

Remember that you need to have a clear line of vision (it always helps to have someone you trust outside guiding your reverse) and don’t forget that you should be moving the steering wheel in the reverse direction of that which you would use when reversing without a trailer.

Towing a vehicle is not easy to do, so it makes sense to practise it as much as you can when you have time on our hands, instead of trying to complete the task when you have a large queue of traffic behind you criticising your driving!

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