Back in 2004 I put tongue in cheek and wrote about the trailer tug test. You hook the trailer up, drive off and look in the rear view mirror, if it’s still following you, carry on! I found myself behind a couple of vehicles pulling trailers yesterday and wondered if their drivers had missed the fact that I was being facetious. Neither trailer had any functioning lights and I can only guess what else might have been overlooked.
It may seem silly, but the first issue is capacity, hitch ball size and safety chains. The entire hitch assembly must be strong enough to handle the gross trailer weight. The diameter of the ball must match the size of the coupler on the trailer. The lock must be locked. Safety chains must also be strong enough and if two are present, crossed like a cradle under the hitch.
Simple enough you say? Well, sometimes we do forget about this. Just ask the RV technician who coupled a holiday trailer up to an undersized ball for delivery to a customer after doing repairs. After bouncing over the railroad tracks the coupler pulled off the ball, the safety chains didn’t hold and the tech was left to explain to the customer why his trailer was in the ditch.
Make sure that the electrical connection between the tow vehicle and trailer is clean and undamaged. Plug it in.
Now that we’re hitched up, it’s time to worry about the trailer brakes. In certain circumstances brakes are not needed, but if the trailer is equipped with them they must work properly. Check that the brake fluid is clear, straw coloured and full if the trailer has hydraulic brakes. Activate the breakaway brake and try to move forward. The brake should prevent you from doing this. Reconnect the breakaway and if you can apply only the trailer brakes from the driver’s position, do so and try the tug test again.
While we’re in the driver’s seat, lets take a look back. Are your mirrors adequate to see behind you as required and are they adjusted properly?
A circle check of the entire combination should be done. Do all of the lights light? Are any of them missing, broken or obscured by the load? Do the tires have sufficient tread, are they properly inflated and are the wheel nuts tight?
If you are using the trailer to carry a load, is it secured properly? Gravity is not an acceptable method of load security. Is the total weight of the trailer and load less than or equal to both the manufacturer’s maximum capacity and what you have licensed it for with ICBC? Many Ubilt utility trailers are licensed for 700 kg GVW, the total weight of the load and the trailer. Often these trailers are significantly overloaded.
Having reached this point, if all is well, you are probably ready to go. There are other things that you might want to check and a suggested pre-trip inspection routine can be found in ICBC’s publication Towing a Recreational Trailer.
One last thought, and that is you are no longer a shorter, more agile vehicle. Longer braking and following distances are needed along with careful consideration of your new turning radius!
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Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)
DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.