Whether you’re towing the boat to the lake or embarking on a cross-country camping trip with the family, nobody wants to have their trip derailed by unwelcome and unexpected bad luck. Fortunately, a good portion of breakdowns and incidents involving trailers are completely avoidable with the right preparation. And the best part is you don’t have to spend a fortune or invest a ton of time to be prepared. Without further ado, let’s cover the essential tips and tricks so you know how to practice safe trailer towing.

Know and Maintain Your Equipment

First and foremost, towing a trailer safely starts with preparation. Take the time to familiarize yourself with your trailer, hitch, tow vehicle, and any other equipment or components that could malfunction or fail. This means understanding weight limits, how they function, and being able to recognize when something isn’t quite right.

Just as critical as knowing your equipment, conducting routine maintenance so everything is in working order before you hit the road is a surefire way to avoid most trouble. This includes but is not limited to trailer tires/wheels, axles, lights, hitches, and any fasteners that hold it all together. In particular, pay close attention to critical connection points involving the hitch (both standard and weight distributing), chains, trailer tongue, ball mount, and coupler. For any moving parts, take a minute to check that they move freely. Likewise, if you store your trailer for long periods of time in the “offseason,” make your best effort to store it in a way that minimizes rust and corrosion.

Properly Load and Double-Check

The simplest way to tow safely is by taking the necessary time to properly load and balance your trailer before leaving home. This starts with knowing your vehicle’s capabilities, as well as any other load capacity that could limit how much you pull. Specifically, you should know the weakest link in your towing system. For example, if you have a hitch with only a 5,000 lb weight rating and a truck with a maximum towing capacity of 14,000 lbs, you’re limited to 5,000 lbs. Also, be sure to pay attention to how the towing weight distribution can change depending on the hitch height and position of loads within the trailer. Check out this article for more info on how to install an adjustable hitch.

Of course, you want your trailer to be balanced and level, with the load distributed so tongue weights are around 10% of the trailer weight. Rushing through this process without double-checking could result in swaying, braking issues, or worse yet, cause you to lose control while cruising down the highway.

Familiarize Yourself with Driving Your Trailer

Nobody wants to be the next person in a viral video who can’t back their boat in at the dock and embarrasses themselves every time they tow a trailer. Of all the possible tips for safe trailering, few things trump having a feel for how your vehicle and trailer work together when you hit the road.

If you’ve got a new trailer or tow vehicle, take a test drive to see how it handles. In particular, pay attention to highway speeds and braking in different scenarios. If you feel the trailer begin to sway or experience difficulty turning, you know you’ve got adjustments to make. This also exposes possible mechanical issues, which often go unseen until you hit higher speeds. These issues are far easier to address close to home with extra time instead of the beginning of a trip when hopes are high and time is limited.

Be Prepared for Worst-Case Scenarios

This is a two-fold category – it involves preparing yourself with the knowledge to handle specific issues, as well as having the right tools to solve common problems. In the event you find yourself on the side of the road with a mechanical issue, you’ll want a few basic items on hand:

  • Hazard triangles
  • Wheel chocks
  • Safety vest
  • Basic tool kit
  • Spare tire(s)
  • Hydraulic jack
  • First aid kit
  • Tire inflator
  • Jump box or jumper cables

All those are great to have and could save you headache, time, and money, but you’ve got to know how to use them also. Be sure to have an understanding of the common issues that can arise, especially when pulling a loaded trailer. This includes changing tires, repacking bearings, troubleshooting light issues, and more. Knowing these could be the difference between getting back on the road quickly or being stranded and waiting until you can get service.

Staying safe on the road doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Assuming you take these steps so you understand how to practice safe trailer towing, you’ll be set up for hassle-free adventures. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.