Towing a trailer can be precarious if you don't understand how the added weight and length can cause a dangerous situation. To stay safe while towing, there are a few simple guidelines that minimize and help prevent trailer sway.
"The leading causes of trailer sway are side wind, passing semi-trucks, driving too fast, emergency stops, improper trailer loading, incorrect hitch setup, undersized tow vehicles, or a blowout, which can cause accidents," said Kim Dewsnup, RV sales account rep for Equal-i-zer, a sway control hitch company
Sway can be both frightening and dangerous, but there are ways to prevent it. Prevention steps include: ensuring tire air pressure is correct, driving a reasonable speed, leaving plenty of stopping distance, arranging trailer cargo so the center of gravity is just ahead of the axel, making sure the tow vehicle is rated to handle the trailer weight and the brake controller is set up properly, and utilizing a four-point integrated sway control hitch.
Equal-i-zer's engineering team has been testing towing safety for 70 years. They offered some expert tips for proper weight distribution and sway prevention for trailers with braking systems.
- Load the trailer correctly. Heaviest items should go centered side-to-side, and the tongue weight should be between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total trailer weight. This gives the trailer the most stability, without overloading the hitch.
- If you are towing a heavy trailer, always use a sway control hitch. Regular hitches and ball mounts do not prevent sway, which leaves you without that extra level of protection when encountering road hazards and inclement weather.
- Sway control hitches have two different weight ratings. You should pay attention to the maximum trailer weight and maximum tongue weight. Never exceed either rating. The best way to avoid this is to actually weigh the loaded trailer and size the hitch accordingly.
- Follow the instructions in your hitch owner's manual for proper setup. Remember, when a trailer is coupled to a tow vehicle, the added weight causes the vehicle to teeter-totter over the rear axle. The front of the tow vehicle raises and the rear sinks. This causes a dangerous towing situation, because less weight on the front axle results in a loss of steering and braking control. Proper set up of your weight distribution hitch changes the way the tow vehicle and trailer couple together. It creates a bridge between the trailer and vehicle, helping them work together like one unit instead of two, distributing weight more evenly to the axles of both vehicles.
- Perform a tug pull test to make sure the trailer brakes work, and you are hooked up properly. When you get in the tow vehicle, apply the trailer brake only, and try to pull away. This is a helpful way to make sure the brakes are working, and to make sure the coupler is secure to the hitch balls before hitting the road.
- Ensure safety chains, breakaway switch, and cable are working and attached properly. If the system and batteries are working properly when you pull the plunger out it should apply the trailer brakes. If your breakaway cable is worn out or frayed, be sure to replace it before heading out on your trip.
If you start to experience sway, do not slam on the brakes. Jeff Jarvis, purchasing agent at Equal-i-zer, advises, "Slide the manual activator on your trailer brake system inside the vehicle while easing off the accelerator, this will apply the brakes on your trailer and help straighten out the trailer. Once the sway stops, slow down, pull over, and make sure everything is loaded and set up properly."