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Trailer Towing Basics

Driving with a trailer, just some thoughts.

Trailer Towing Basics

Postby Babies_Dadeo [OP] » Jul 04 2012, 6:41am

Trailering…

I am going to throw this out there because I have seen some things on the highways this past weekend that truth be told, scare the hell out of me. In my time in the oilfield I have hauled around some really serious loads. 120 feet long and upwards of 200,000 lbs. I know that a holiday trailer is not a trucking load, but the basic driving techniques still apply. So, you can take this information for what it is, but if it makes people think a little bit I have done what I hoped to do.
I will assume for now that we have all done the math, weighed our toys and know that what we have as a rig is within the limits of both the GVW and GCVW. We will move right forward to actually hauling it.

-Slow down. A simple rule of thumb is that if you weigh twice as much you will take 4 times as far to stop. As hard as this is for a lot of people to comprehend when you are pulling a sizeable rig down the road you need to be aware that there is no such thing as an emergency maneuver. You will not be dodging around animals or other obstacles in the road. Trucker are taught from day one that when you encounter wildlife on a roadway, slow down as much as possible but stay on the same line. If that means you take the animal, do it. Much of the time when you see a truck laid over in the ditch, it is because the driver tried to do something with his rig that it was simply unable to do. Slower speed will allow you to have more time to react to a situation and be able to get stopped safely.
-Look 2 to 4 times further up the road then you normally do. As mentioned, your reaction time with a trailer will be nowhere near what it is empty. If you look further up the road you will be able to see situations develop with time to actually react to it. Believe it or not if you are focusing further ahead, you will actually have less problems with sway as well. Your rig will pull straighter and you will have a lot more control over your vehicle.
-Plan your moves and leave an escape route. If you have a trailer behind you, you will not be able to simply zip in and out of traffic like normal. Lane changes and turns will need to be prepared for long before you get there. This will allow you to move more smoothly through crowded roadways and not leave you stuck in a wrong lane waiting for a hole big enough to fit into. As I have mentioned, there is no such thing as a successful emergency maneuver with a big trailer behind you. Think of it like a whip, you move the tow vehicle 5 feet one direction quickly and that trailer is gonna whip with a lot more force then you realize to try and follow. Then it is gonna push back the other direction, instinct will make you jerk the wheel back in front of the trailer, but by then it has started back the other way and the whip effect multiplies. As you drive always be aware that you might need to get out of the way in a hurry, know where the traffic is around you and have a plan in the back of your mind.
-Corners. The way we teach new drivers is to” steer with the trailer”. As we all know, the trailer is going to track inside of your truck. The amount of track is going to be determined by the distance between the rear wheels of the truck and the wheels of the trailer. As you go around a corner, keep an eye of the trailer tires and allow their distance from the curb to determine the amount of steering you do with the truck. As everyone says… “Take it wide”, but always be aware of where those trailer tires are.
-Washboard, train tracks, rough road. Washboard is an offroad truckers worst nightmare. You can be hauling a huge, heavy load and washboard will still make your truck do wild things. The basic here is that the drive wheels of your pull unit is going to start hopping and go straight sideways (99% of the time to the passenger side) causing the trailer to feel like it is jack-knifing, the driver corrects and the maneuver whip process starts like mentioned above. This can happen on train tracks, cross road ruts etc. The only way to stop it from happening is to slow down. If you are looking ahead as we all should be, you will see it coming and be able to slow down enough for it. If it catches you by surprise and things go south on ya, do not panic, and do not slam on the brakes. Let up on the throttle, and altho it sounds stupidly simple, “Drive your truck” Do NOT do anything dramatic, just GENTLY work to keep the truck in front of the trailer. If you have the time to react and it will not come in line, you may be able to use the trailer brake to pull it straight. But above all, Do not panic and do your best to “drive the truck”.
-Passing. Simple answer here is just don’t do it. However… back here in the real world its gonna happen. Your truck is not going to perform like it does empty. Assuming you have a fair size trailer, you are going to need 3 to 4 times as much road to pass someone as you would with just the truck. Be aware of this and only attempt to pass when you are 100% sure you can do it. Always ensure that you are well clear of the vehicle you are trying to pass before dropping back into the lane you were in. Make your lane changes gently and predictably. As discussed that sway and whip factor is always in play. If you are passing a semi, be aware that he is pushing a huge wind wave in front of him and that wind may push your trailer around. Plan for it and “Drive the truck through it”
-Backing up. The bane of a lot of trailer towers existence. Practice practice practice. If you buy a new trailer you would be well served by spending some time in an empty parking lot learning to make it go where you want it to go. If possible always use a spotter. Spend the time with your spotter developing a set of hand signals so that you can communicate clearly with that person. Don’t over steer your truck. For most situations, you should not have to turn your wheels more than half to ¾ of a turn to get the trailer to turn for you. This will allow you to “get back under it” or “straighten out” fast enough that you do not overshoot the turn you are trying to make. So… your spotter… If they are behind you or anywhere near your truck or trailer directing you and you lose sight of them… STOP! Every year in the trucking industry, both Heavy Haul and Highway, Many people die because they were crushed while directing someone. I have heard a number of stories of this happening in campgrounds all over Canada. Don’t let it happen to you.
As I said, You can take this advice as you wish, but if I could ask anything of people out there hauling travel trailers, 5th wheels etc. (Myself included) It would be this… Understand your rig and how you need to adjust your driving behaviors to drive it safely and Use proper care and attention behind the wheel. We buy these things to enjoy with our friends and family and the hundreds of wrecks and deaths involving rvs every year need to make us think. I for one want to come home at the end of a great camping trip and go back to regular life, not have my relatives planning funerals and identifying bodies.
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby ASTE25 » Jul 04 2012, 6:45am

Great post. My God, how long did it take you to write that?
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby davidbarrett » Jul 04 2012, 1:36pm

What a great post, very useful to us all, one other thing I do is after I hook up my trailer and checked the lights, I do a full walk around the truck and trailer and make sure everything is as it should be, it saves a lot of problems later.
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Trailer Towing Basics

Postby Machster69 » Jul 04 2012, 1:45pm

Very well written and stated!
As a professional driver myself*cocky voice*(bahahaha). We train with the ole smith system:

ALL: Aim high in your steering

GOOD: Get the big picture

KIDS: Keep your eyes moving

LIKE: Leave yourself an out *this is the big one

MILK: Make sure that they see you
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby EKinMN » Jul 04 2012, 2:13pm

This is "sticky" worthy! Thanks!

I would add 2 things:
For a small to medium sized trailer, have your spotter use hand and voice commands together. "STOP!" can get a faster reaction than a hand up.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to practice backing. If you buy a new trailer, go somewhere to practice backing, turning, lining things up, etc. If it's a boat, head to a boat ramp during slow times (mid-week afternoon or off-season). Practice backing down the ramp. If it's a ramp that accommodates multiple lanes, be able to back down all of them. I have had to bite my tongue on many occasions on a busy ramp day. Sometimes I just want to say "hey man, mind if I do that for ya"? But I know that's not cool...so get out there and practice!


Great post. Thanks again!
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Trailer Towing Basics

Postby Machster69 » Jul 04 2012, 2:25pm

EKinMN wrote:I would add 2 things:
For a small to medium sized trailer, have your spotter use hand and voice commands together. "STOP!" can get a faster reaction than a hand up.
!

And...
Dont confuse the hand wave backwards pushing to forwards and your spotter saying WOAH for the hand wave forwards to pulling backwards and your spotter saying go GO!!! Lol, good idea to use closed fists up for stop, and the "roll em up" motion from patty cake(lol im grinning typing this) for "come on bak"! Ask me how i know ;)
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby WPSPSS » Jul 04 2012, 2:31pm

I have a 24' enclosed car hauler. Hooked up to my truck the whole thing is over 55' long! I was almost taken out a week ago by a (polite choice of words) "senior citizen with vision problems". He tried to push me out of my lane going 60+mph! How do you miss a rig that is over 55' long?!?!? Anyway my 2 cents is expect the unexpected and count on all vehicles containing "senior citizen with vision problems". Happy 4th to all!!! Be safe
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby StarsnBars » Jul 04 2012, 5:17pm

Nice write up.
Being a city bus driver I carry over my training while towing my 30f T.T. You cant to to careful out there these days.
I second this post becoming a sticky. ;)
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby DOMESTICated » Jul 04 2012, 5:32pm

Thank you for taking the time to write this, There are many people on here who are experienced with towing via either being a proffesional driver or having enough experience with their travel trailers etc. There are also many people (like me) who have no towing experience, and this post is great for us.
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Re: Trailer Towing Basics

Postby EKinMN » Jul 04 2012, 10:30pm

Moderator Note. This has now been stickied.
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