Do you know what it’s like to have a whining child sulking along behind you in the supermarket? You’ll feel just the same about a trailer. Loaded well, it’s a pleasure to pull. Loaded badly, you might wish you’d never got hitched.
Like your car, a trailer must be registered and have a current license plate. You also will want to be sure to routinely check tires, lighting and the hitch to ensure everything is working properly.
Hitching Your Trailer
First, the trailer must be hitched correctly. Attach the cup-like end of the trailer draw bar to the tow ball of your car. Some will fit directly over the ball. Others will have a handle on top which must be pulled upwards (and sometimes turned) before being lowered onto the ball. There’ll be a chain hanging from the trailer draw-bar. Making sure that the chain isn’t tangled, fasten it directly to the car tow bar (usually using a D-shackle). This is your extra security should the major coupling break. Some car draw-bars have a spring-loaded coupling through which the chain can be attached.
A D-shackle is shaped like a D. Unscrew the bolt in the straight side. Pass the D through the chain and around the hole in the draw-bar (with the non-threaded side upwards. Screw the bolt downwards through the top shackle hole, through the draw-bar and into the lower threaded hole of the shackle. Hand tighten. (Do not screw the bolt upwards through the shackle and draw-bar. It is likely to undo in transport.)
Connect the electric cord and plug on the trailer to the lights connection on your car. Then, make sure your trailer lights are synchronized with your car indicator lights.
Loading Your Trailer
Always place a heavy load (bricks, sand or piano (!)) in the middle of your trailer, over the main axle or axles. This will keep the trailer balanced. If placed at the front of the trailer, a heavy load will tip your trailer down in front, put weight on the draw-bar and pull your car down at the rear, making it groan like a constipated hippo. A heavy load on the back of the trailer will lift the draw bar, and the rear of your car, so the car’s wheels will lose traction.
Make sure your car is able to pull the load safely. The weight of the load and the trailer (standard trailers are about 240-250 kg) should be less than the rated weight of your tow bar. If you’re considering pulling a very heavy load, consult the retailer for advice on relative weights. If there is any doubt, carry a smaller load or hire a truck. Check the internet for your local requirements.
Securing the Load
When you’re tying articles onto a trailer, remember that the load will tend to move forward if you stop suddenly. Pack soft material between items of furniture to stop them rubbing against each other in transit, and protect them from rope burns with rolled-up newspaper or old towels. Place the heaviest items in the centre. If you have to stack your load, place the heavier items at the bottom. If any part of your load overhangs the length of the trailer, check your road code for allowable limits. Attach a rag or moving object to the overhanging portion to make sure the overhanging portion is visible to following traffic.
Cover the load with a tarpaulin and then cover that with a bungee net pulled tight to the trailer hooks. Take care that no part of the load or the tarpaulin is covering the trailer lights. If you’re carrying your favorite furniture, cover the tops with fabric, before you apply the tarpaulin, to protect it from the sandpaper effect of movement of the tarpaulin in transit. If the load is made up of small particles, such as plant clippings, sawdust or firewood, you’re obliged to cover it with a tarpaulin under the bungee net to prevent particles flying into following vehicles.
If you use a rope to tie down the tarpaulin, it should be at least 14 m long. You will need to know some basic knots. SEE ‘Knots and their uses’ in the Contents List of this website – via its Home page.
• Lay the tarp evenly over the load. If the load is a low one, for example firewood or sand, begin tying your rope with a bowline loop or a half hitch on a trailer hook or steel loop on the side of the trailer closest to the front.
• Squeeze a corner of the tarp and tie a half hitch around it.
• Pass the rope under the draw-bar and cross to the other side of the trailer at the front, keeping the rope taut as you go.
• Tie a half hitch around the corner of the tarp there and hook the rope around the trailer hook on that side, pulling the rope taut.
• Crisscross the rope from side to side down the length of the trailer, pulling the rope tight at each trailer hook.
• Tie the occasional half hitch to a hook as you go to keep the rope from slackening off.
• Repeat the process with the corners of the tarp at the far end.
• Pull the end of the rope through the last trailer hook and tie it off on a trailer rail with a double half hitch, or – better still – pass it under a rope in the middle, at right angles to the end you’re holding, and pull it up tight. This will help tighten the crossing ropes as well.
• Tie off with a double half hitch.
If you have a high load and need to pull down as you tie off the last of the rope, tie an overhand loop in the rope about a metre from the trailer rail or hook, loop the rest of the rope around the trailer rail or under a trailer hook and pass the rope back up through the overhand loop. Pull it taut and tie it to the rail below with a double half hitch.
If you own or use a trailer regularly it’s a good idea to purchase some trailer tie-downs. These are straps that can be pulled up tight on a ratchet or cam buckle and don’t need fancy knot-tying.
Driving With a Trailer
You’re loaded and ready to go. Test drive the trailer for a kilometer or so. If the trailer sways unnervingly, you might have to reload and balance the load more carefully.
Throughout your trip, keep an eye on the load in your rear-vision mirror to make sure it remains stable. Any wobbles in your superstructure should be checked out! If you remove any part of the load during the trip, reassess the load positions and tie-downs.
The road code will determine the legal speed at which you can travel with a trailer.
When driving, the extra length of your vehicle group must be taken into account! Because the trailer doesn’t follow the exact path of the car and tends to ‘cut the corner’, you have to swing out wider when travelling around bends or corners. If you’re going through a narrow gateway, line up the car and trailer straight to the gateway before entering (if you value the gatepost!).
Remember that a trailer is like a shunting locomotive. It’ll push you from behind if you stop suddenly. MAKE ALLOWANCES for the weight of the trailer. You’ll take longer to stop than usual, so allow a three-car-length stopping distance between you and any car ahead. Slow down well before intersections to make sure you can stop in time.
What to Avoid
If the trailer starts to sway, DON’T apply the brakes. Take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slow down. Steady the steering wheel. Do not attempt to steer out of the sway. Sudden turns can worsen the sway. Always use a lower gear when travelling downhill.
Avoid changing lanes or cornering suddenly, especially on gravel or greasy roads. If you apply your brakes suddenly the trailer could jack-knife (i.e. swivel round sideways, pushing your car out of control).
Don’t be a road hog. Drive carefully but be considerate of following traffic by pulling over at a suitable place to let them pass.
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