We’ve all seen the commercials with heavy-duty trucks towing a trailer with a heavy load across muddy, mountainous paths. In seeing this, it could be easy to think that pulling an overloaded trailer is as simple as hitching it up and going. However, there are many factors to consider. Furthermore, the heavier your trailer and cargo, the more thought required to keep you and your cargo traveling safely.

Pre-trip Checklist for Towing a Trailer

This may seem obvious, but your trailer won’t move without your vehicle and tires in proper working order. This applies to your vehicle and, of course, your trailer as well. This checklist is not all-inclusive, however, it’s applicable to most situations when towing a trailer.

Check Tires

Ensure your tires on your vehicle and trailer have sufficient tread and no visible damage or bubbles. Because it is very hard to inspect tire pressure visually, it is important to use a pressure gauge to verify that each vehicle and trailer tire is inflated to the maximum recommended PSI printed on the tire. The recommended tire pressure could change based on carrying heavy cargo or pulling a trailer. Check the VIN sticker or manual of your vehicle to see if the tire pressure needs to be adjusted for towing a trailer.

Check Lights

Some trailers can block the vehicle’s lights and turn signals, making it impossible to alert other vehicles on the road to the driver’s intention to brake, change lanes or even be seen at night. Once the trailer is connected to the vehicle, check that all lights and signals are illuminated and flashing.

Adjust Mirrors

A vehicle will naturally have a limited rear and side view from the cabin when hauling a trailer. It’s important to reposition the mirrors once the trailer is connected to combat blind spots and increase visibility around the trailer.

Check Brakes

Good tires offer great traction on the road, but good brakes are especially needed to provide adequate stopping. This is amplified when towing a trailer, as there is more weight pushing on your vehicle. If your vehicle’s brakes are noisy or take a while to stop now, it will be worse hitched to a trailer. Have worn brakes serviced before hauling a heavy-duty load.

Check Engine

Make sure you have no check engine lights on and that all fluids are topped off and clean. Your vehicle is going to be pressed to it’s limits when pulling a trailer with heavy cargo, which will make it need every bit of support from it’s fluids to keep its systems running smoothly.

Towing a Trailer - Montreal, CANADA - 1 July 2017: Moving Day in Montreal. In Quebec, July 1 (Canada Day) is also known as Moving Day.

Towing Weight Limits and Balancing Trailer Cargo 

Vehicle Limits (GCWR)

You can only pull as much as your vehicle is able. The Gross Combined Weight Rating or GCWR is how much your vehicle can safely tow in total. The GCWR includes the weight of the vehicle, passengers, vehicle cargo, trailer and trailer cargo.

Trailer Limits (GVWR)

Located on your VIN label of your trailer, you’ll find the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR. The weight of your trailer plus its cargo can’t exceed the GVWR. If you don’t know your trailer’s weight, you can take it empty to any truck stop or place with a certified scale.

Tongue Limits

Anywhere between 10-15% of the total trailer weight should be on the trailers tongue or coupling point. It may also be good to double check that your vehicle hitch assembly can handle the weight as well. Too much or too little tongue weight with heavy trailer loads can damage both your vehicle and trailer, as well as significantly hinder drivability on the road. Use this guide to help determine tongue weight.

Distribute Weight Correctly

60% of weight should be loaded up front, and smaller/lighter items should be stored toward the rear. In enclosed trailers, smaller and lighter items should be stored at both the rear and top of the trailer. For open trailers, smaller items shouldn’t be loaded above the trailer box. Make sure all cargo is packed tight, and tie down any loose cargo to prevent damage.

trailer trade-in white enclosed cargo trailer parked in front of a building

Towing a Heavy Trailer on the Road 

Planning trips are always easier when you travel alone. You can relate if you have children or pets; you learn how to accommodate them on the road. The same approach is true when towing a trailer with a heavy payload. When it was just your vehicle it was simple, now you need to consider your trailer tagging along for the journey. Here are some tips when hauling your heavy load:

Carefully Plan Route

Avoid places and landscapes that could prove extra challenging to drive through when towing a trailer. For example, dense city traffic, construction and steep mountains are all situations you may want to drive around if possible.

Carry Safety Aids

Have a roadside safety kit with things like flares or reflectors, first-aid supplies, jacks, a filled gas can, spare tires and whatever else you may need to accommodate a sudden roadside emergency.

Drive Safely and Patiently

Drive a slowly and safely as possible when pulling a heavily loaded trailer. Most trailers have a recommended top speed of 55 miles per hour, so stick to the right lane or slow lane to allow faster traffic to pass. Brake early and give additional time and space to change lanes and turn corners. Always use lights and signals.

Downhill Driving

Downshift your transmission to slow speed, rather than riding the brakes downhill. In not downshifting, you risk overheating your brake fluid and fading brake pedal response.

Parking Lot Perils

Be aware of your surroundings in parking lots and try not to block other vehicles in when parking with your trailer. In addition, ensure you will have sufficient space to back out or pull through your parking spot.

Fishtails and Fill-ups

If your vehicle starts to fishtail, reduce throttle input a bit and try rolling it out. Resist the urge to slam the brakes, as you will lose more control on the road. To make your start easier, do your vehicle’s initial fill-up before hooking up the trailer and starting your towing. Also know you will need to fill your tank up more frequently, so plan your stops accordingly.

As you can see, there are some important things to consider when towing a trailer with a heavy load. Your vehicle and trailer need to be trip-ready; you need to know your maximum weight limits while balancing your load, and know how to adjust your driving to cater to the extra length and weight that is being pulled. Have questions about what kind of trailer is the best for your job or needs? Contact us at M&G Trailer Sales and we’ll help answer any questions you have about your current trailer or assist you in buying a new trailer. Contact us today!

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