Trailer and RV Travel Towing and Braking Laws
Traveling with a trailer need not be a worrisome experience. A little planning and some additional experience behind the wheel, however, are helpful.
First, you should ensure that your trailer and related equipment comply with the laws of your state and all other states through which you intend to travel. These regulations vary widely from each state in the US. Then, if you still have questions, consult your AAA/CAA club.
Make certain that your towing vehicle is ready to handle the weight of the trailer. The rear springs should be strong enough to maintain the car at a nearly level position. Check the shock absorbers and wheel alignment. Adding a little air to the rear tires - usually no more than 4 or 5 pounds and never exceeding the manufacturer's specification - can be helpful.
Load your car and trailer for optimum stability on the road. Keep heavy items out of the trunk and rear seat to help the car absorb the weight of the trailer. Load the trailer with about 60% of the weight toward the front and 40% toward the rear. To provide a low center of gravity, place the heaviest items near the floor.
Cabinet doors and drawers are usually made so they will remain closed in transit. Most importantly, pack the cabinets, drawers and storage compartments securely in order to limit movement of contents. Secure large articles such as bicycles tightly to outside carriers rather than laying them inside where, unsecured, they can become dangerous during sudden stops.
If your trailer has an independent braking system, check the brakes before starting out. Inspect the car and trailer, paying particular attention to the hitch, the tires on both vehicles, safety chains, the load and how well both vehicles seem to remain level. On trailers so equipped, check the water, electrical and LP gas systems. It is a good practice to repeat the visual inspection at each stop along your route. Unusual noises should be investigated immediately, after pulling well off the highway. Do not drive an unstable car-trailer combination; a swaying trailer is both tiring and hazardous.
The two main causes of instability on the road are high speeds and traveling downhill. To minimize their ill effects, always obey the speed limit for towed vehicles. Anticipate downhill grades: Slow up before, not after, starting the descent and use a lower gear to keep from overworking the brakes. Use a lower gear on uphill pulls as well. You will get more power at less cost to your car. On long grades use the climbing lane if there is one, or pull over when the opportunity permits to let faster traffic pass.
Since a car-trailer combination is heavier and longer than a car alone, you will need to allow a greater distance for stopping, both in the city and on the open road. More time and distance are also required for passing. Remember that air suction, sometimes created when you overtake another vehicle, can cause both to lurch unexpectedly.
Keep in mind, too, that when turning corners or rounding curves, the trailer wheels will not follow the same track as your car's rear wheels. They will travel considerably closer to the inside of the curve. To compensate, and to avoid running over the curb of off the pavement, you will have to start your turn not only from farther to the outside but also from farther into the curve or intersection. Proceed with deliberation - and practice.
Practice is the key word for mastering the art of backing up a trailer. Although it is very different from backing a car, it can be relatively simple. First, place your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, then move your hand in the same direction you want the trailer to go. For example, move your hand left to move the trailer left. Should the trailer jackknife, pull forward, straighten up, then try again.
Before starting out, be sure to contact your AAA/CAA club for a routing that affords the most favorable terrain and road conditions for trailer travel.
WARNING! NEVER CARRY EXTRA GASOLINE, IN ANY KIND OF CONTAINER. Combustion from fumes or accident is a lethal possibility.