Towing Tips
“Safe Hands in a Crisis”
The Organisation of Horsebox & Trailer Owners        Tel: 01488 657651    Fax: 0844 8546681
© PRP Rescue Services Ltd 2016  
Towing Towing   a   trailer   requires   more   knowledge   and   skill   than   normal   driving   and   this puts   additional   responsibilities   on   a   driver.   You   need   to   make   sure   that   you understand   the   general   principles   of   driving   with   a   trailer   before   attempting   to tow. The   correct   matching   of   a   suitable   towing   vehicle   with   the   right   trailer   is   the   first step   to   ensure   safe   towing   practices.   All   cars   have   a   maximum   weight   that   they can   safely   tow,   determined   by   the   manufacturers.   You   can   find   this   out   either   by looking   in   the   vehicle's   handbook   or   by   contacting   the   appropriate   dealer.   Very generally,   the   weight   of   the   trailer   plus   any   load   that   it   is   carrying,   (it's   laden weight),   should   not   exceed   85   %   of   the   unladen,   weight   of   the   car.   This   is   so   that the   car   is   always   substantially   heavier   than   the   trailer.   Basically,   the   closer   you get   to   the   car's   weight,   the   greater   the   risk   of   problems   with   control,   and   the   more careful you have to be. Now   let's   hitch   up.   The   best   way   to   connect   the   trailer   is   to   back   up   to   the   hitch neatly   and   precisely.   This   is   not   as   difficult   as   it   sounds.   Firstly   you   need   to   get the   vehicle   lined   up   with   the   trailer   hitch.   If   you   can   see   through   the   back   window of   your   vehicle,   position   your   head   directly   in   the   middle   of   the   vehicle.   Now   reverse the   vehicle   lining   a   mark   in   the   centre   of   the   rear   window   with   the   tow   hitch   of   the   trailer.   This   will   mean   that   you   are   lined   up correctly;   all   you   have   to   do   now   is   judge   the   distance   back.   This   only   comes   with   experience   so   some   practice   with   a   helper standing back, but in your line of vision would be helpful. Next   connect   the   two. This   is   possibly   the   most   dangerous   part   of   the   operation   and   you   should   be   wary   of   trapping   fingers   in the   hitch   and   getting   trapped   between   the   trailer   and   the   tow   vehicle.   With   a   ball   and   socket   hitch   make   sure   the   closest   your hand   gets   to   the   hitch   is   holding   the   lever   on   the   top.   Do   not   try   to   couple   a   trailer   on   steeply   sloping   ground   as   both   trailer and vehicle handbrakes can be notoriously unreliable. On   coupling   the   hitch   you   will   also   notice   a   piece   of   light   wire   with   a   hook   on   the   end.   This   is   to   be   connected   to   the   vehicle and   preferably   not   to   the   tow   hitch   itself.   The   idea   of   this   little   bit   of   wire   is   that   if   for   some   reason   the   vehicle   and   trailer become   separated,   the   wire   will   tension   and   apply   the   trailer   hand   brake,   bringing   the   errant   trailer   to   a   standstill   rather   than becoming   an   out   of   control   2.5   tonne   object   of   destruction. The   reason   for   not   connecting   it   direct   to   the   tow   ball   is   that   if   your ball   should   fail   or   become   un-bolted   the   brakes   would   not   be   applied.   Next   it   is   time   to   connect   the   electrics.   This   is   probably the most temperamental part of trailer towing. There   are   two   main   problems   with   trailer   electrics;   damaged   cables   and   corrosion.   Damaged   cables   are   generally   caused   by either   the   cable   dragging   on   the   road   and   chafing   or   the   cable   being   stretched   by   forgetting   to   uncouple   it   when   unhitching the   trailer.   As   trailer   sockets   on   vehicles   tend   to   hang   low   under   the   vehicle   they   are   subject   to   the   full   onslaught   of   the elements   and   in   the   winter   the   added   bonus   of   salt   on   the   roads.   Corroded   terminals   mean   poor   connections,   which   mean faulty   lights.   This   problem   can   be   alleviated   by   coating   the   socket   with   Vaseline   or   grease   and   a   good   spray   of   WD40   to prevent water getting in. Due   to   all   this   it   is   always   good   practice   to   check   trailer   lights   before   you   set   off.   Put   the   indicators   on   and   firstly   check   your warning   light   or   buzzer   is   working,   this   will   tell   you   from   the   cab   that   the   indicator   is   working. Then   go   out   and   check   the   right one   is   flashing!   Also   check,   tail   lights   and   hazard   lights.   You   will   need   an   assistant   to   check   your   brake   lights   or   an appropriately sized block of wood to wedge the pedal down. Loading the Trailer Now   we   load   up,   leaving   the   horses   till   last.   Most   incidents   involving   trailers   are   preceded   by   "snaking",   where   vehicle   and trailer   start   swaying   from   side   to   side.   Nine   times   out   of   ten   this   is   caused   by   poor   loading,   causing   the   tail   to   wag   like   a   dog. The   idea   of   a   trailer   is   to   carry   the   weight   on   the   trailer   axles,   not   on   the   back   axle   of   the   vehicle   so   do   not   go   putting   copious amounts   of   tack   and   feed   right   at   the   very   front.   Ideally   a   trailer   should   be   loaded   with   a   weight   of   between   50kg   and   75kg   on the drawbar. This means an average man should be able to pick up the nose of the trailer when it is loaded.  For further information on Loading Problems and Advice click to check out our Loading a Problem Page Driving with the Trailer Finally   you   are   in   a   position   to   move   off   and   start   your   journey.   Most   horse   trailers   are   wider   than   the   towing   vehicle   and   are certainly   taller.   Firstly   check   you   can   see   behind   you   in   your   wing   mirrors.   If   you   cannot   see   past   the   sides   of   the   trailer   you will    have    to    consider    fitting    wing    mirror    extensions.    Having    a    trailer    wider    than    the    tow    vehicle    will    affect    your    road positioning;   drive   your   vehicle   on   the   kerb   and   the   trailer   will   be   bouncing   along   the   pavement.   Generally   though,   people   will tend   to   drive   wide   with   a   trailer   leaving   more   space   between   the   kerb   and   trailer   than   is   totally   necessary.   The   best   way   to check   your   road   positioning   whilst   going   along   is   to   glance   in   the   wing   mirror   and   see   where   the   trailer   is,   then   look   ahead and adjust your vehicle position to suit. As   the   overall   width   of   the   trailer   is   wider   than   the   tow   vehicle   take   special   care   when   turning   corners   or   pulling   alongside kerbs,   shop   signs,   fuel   pumps   and   the   like,   as   they   may   be   missed   by   the   tow   vehicle   but   not   the   trailer.   You   must   also remember   that   a   trailer   will   cut   off   the   corners   when   you   turn   and   thus   you   must   leave   enough   space   to   avoid   bumping   the kerb.   Riding   the   kerb   is   a   terminal   sin   if   you   are   an   HGV   driver,   indeed   it   can   lead   to   instant   failure   on   your   test.   Roads   are designed to take large artic trucks and they need far more space than a four wheel drive and trailer, so you have no excuse! If   you   do   find   the   trailer   starts   to   "snake"   whilst   you   are   travelling   down   the   road,   do   not   try   to   correct   it   with   the   steering wheel,   you   will   only   make   it   worse.   Hold   the   steering   wheel   straight   ahead   and   slow   down   gently,   do   not   brake   hard,   the trailer   will   eventually   come   back   in   control.   Some   people   will   tell   you   to   try   and   accelerate   through   it;   generally   this   is   a   very poor   idea.   Firstly   it   may   get   worse   before   it   gets   better;   secondly   you   are   never   going   to   be   able   to   accelerate   faster   than   you can slow down. Your   vehicles'   engine   will   work   hardest   when   climbing   hills,   and   therefore   great   care   should   be   taken   to   ensure   it   doesn't overheat. Keep a close eye on the temperature gauge at all times and investigate any sudden rises in temperature. When   descending,   make   use   of   the   engine   as   a   brake,   by   selecting   a   lower   gear   (before   starting   your   downhill   run)   -   as   a guide,   select   the   same   gear   going   down   as   you   did   coming   up.   (In   the   case   of   automatic   transmissions   it   is   permissible   to manually   select   a   lower   gear   in   order   to   maximise   engine   breaking.)   Never   descend   on   any   downhill   run   (short   or   long)   with the   gearbox   in   neutral   -   with   no   engine   breaking   whatsoever   the   vehicle   will   quickly   run   away   and   greatly   increase   the   risk   of losing control. The   most   important   thing   about   driving   with   a   trailer   is   anticipation.   Know   what   the   road   is   doing,   and   know   what   everyone else   on   the   road   is   doing   as   well.   If   you   see   a   car   far   in   front   put   its   brakes   on,   start   to   slow   down   yourself,   don't   wait   for   the car   directly   in   front   to   brake.   With   a   loaded   trailer   you   will   not   stop   as   quickly   as   you   are   used   to,   so   leave   plenty   of   space. Anticipate traffic lights, if they have been green for a long time, expect them to turn red. With   a   trailer   attached   you   also   need   more   space   on   the   road,   so   dominate   it,   and   clearly   assert   your   right   of   way.   If   you   are travelling   down   a   road   with   parked   cars,   position   yourself   firmly   in   the   middle   to   induce   others   to   give   you   right   of   way.   They can   back   up   easily,   you   can't.   If   you   want   to   turn   left,   move   out   to   the   right   a   little   to   give   yourself   room,   you   will   cause   less   of an obstruction temporarily blocking both lanes than you will jamming your trailer up against the kerb or hedge. After   travelling   a   few   miles   pull   up   in   a   safe   location.   Walk   methodically   around   the   trailer   to   ensure   all   is   in   order.   Check   the coupling   and   safety   chains   are   still   fastened,   lights   are   working,   tyres   are   inflated   correctly   and   everything   is   properly secured. On long trips, repeat these checks every 2-3 hours when taking a rest stop. Reversing the Trailer Reversing   with   a   trailer   is   the   one   aspect   that   really   sorts   the   men   from   the   boys,   do   it   right   and   everyone   will   be   impressed, mess   it   up   and   no   one   will   forget.   The   first   and   foremost   rule   is   slow   and   steady,   the   faster   you   do   it   the   faster   you   can   get into trouble. Learning   to   reverse   a   trailer   takes   practice. The   best   thing   to   do   is   find   a   big   empty   field   or   car   park,   preferably   out   of   sight   of anybody   so   you   can   quietly   make   your   own   mistakes. The   first   thing   to   do   is   to   find   the   jack-knifing   point   of   your   trailer.   Jack- knifing   is   when   the   trailer   and   towing   vehicle   are   at   an   angle   whereby   you   cannot   recover   the   position   by   going   backwards. To   do   this   drive   forwards   in   a   circle   on   full   lock.   The   angle   made   between   the   trailer   and   tow   vehicle   is   the   maximum   angle you can manage without jack-knifing. This is also the tightest corner you can back your trailer round. Check   the   immediate   area   around   and   behind   the   trailer   using   the   tow   vehicle's   mirrors.   If   unsure   what   is   behind   the   trailer the   driver   should   get   out   and   inspect   first   hand.   Alternatively,   have   someone   guide   the   driver   whilst   standing   in   the   driver's field of vision (and never behind the tow vehicle or trailer). The   next   challenge   is   to   make   it   go   around   a   corner. The   ultimate   success   of   this   operation   or   indeed   any   reversing   operation starts   before   you   even   begin   to   go   backwards.   Where   you   start   from   ultimately   defines   where   you   end   up.   Start   in   a   position with as straight a line as possible to where you want to end up. To   steer   the   trailer   you   need   to   move   the   wheel   the   opposite   way,   for   first   timers   this   is   difficult,   but   the   more   you   do   it   the more   natural   it   becomes.   With   one   hand   placed   on   the   bottom   of   the   steering   wheel,   move   it   to   the   right   to   move   the   trailer   to right,   or   to   the   left   to   reverse   towards   the   left;   in   other   words,   steer   the   tow   vehicle   in   the   opposite   direction   to   that   normally taken.   Start   by   just   trying   to   reverse   the   trailer   in   a   straight   line.   This   will   require   constant   input   from   the   steering   wheel   to anticipate   the   trailer's   every   move.   If   it   starts   to   go   wrong,   pull   forward   and   start   again.   There   is   no   easy   way   to   do   it;   it   takes practice, practice and some more practice. General Advice Even   though   you   are   not   an   HGV   you   are   largely   governed   by   the   rules   and   regulations   of   the   highway   that   apply   to   them. The   speed   limit   on   motorways   is   60   mph   and   you   are   restricted   to   the   inside   and   middle   lanes.   Venturing   into   the   fast   lane   in the   view   of   a   member   of   the   local   constabulary   will   reward   you   with   a   £40   fine   and   three   points   to   endorse   your   licence.   You can   also   be   pulled   over   and   escorted   to   the   nearest   public   weighbridge   if   the   officer   considers   you   to   be   overweight.   If   you are towing for hire or reward you will also need an HGV tachograph fitted and conform to driver hour’s legislation. Many   people   still   believe   that   their   normal   breakdown   scheme   covers   the   vehicles   transporting   their   horses.   It   is   important   to realise   that   no   livestock   is   covered   whether   in   a   trailer   or   lorry.   Membership   to   a   dedicated   rescue   scheme   is   therefore paramount.   A   recent   survey   showed   82%   of   trailer   owners   believed   they   were   covered   by   their   normal   breakdown   service when   towing   their   horses.   Unfortunately,   they   are   wrong. Although   they   may   receive   help   for   their   towing   vehicle   their   horse will   be   left   behind.   The   police   and   major   equine   bodies   recognise   the   Organisation   of   Trailer   Owners   as   the   experts   and strongly recommend having breakdown cover for your trailer.