January 2004 Safety Thoughts
Trailer Towing Safety
by Dave Hansen,
This time of year, many of us will be making plans for Daytona Bike Week
or other warm places that provide an opportunity to ride if we have our bike with us.
This means trailering and towing your bike.
If you donít properly prepare yourself, your tow vehicle and your trailer, this
can be eye opening, expensive, and even dangerous experience.
Proper preparation can help make it a pleasurable, safe experience.
Before you tow, hereís some things you should know:
- Hitches -
- Hitches are categorized as Class 1 to Class 5.
Each hitch class has a specific gross trailer weight and tongue weight
The gross trailer weight includes both the trailer weight itself and the weight of itsí cargo.
If you have a light weight open motorcycle trailer, a Class 1 hitch, good for 2,000 lbs. can be used.
Enclosed trailers will need a Class 2 or Class 3 hitch.
Generally speaking, most receiver hitches (with a 2Ē square socket) are at least a Class 3 rated hitch.
- Hitch balls come in different sizes, commonly from 1-7/8Ē to 2-1/2Ē in diameter, and must be sized correctly for the specific
coupler on your trailer.
- Safety Chains -
- All trailers must also have the proper load rated safety chains.
- Trailer Brakes -
- If the trailer itself weighs more than 1500 lbs. it should be equipped with trailer brakes.
If your trailer has electric brakes, your tow vehicle needs to be equipped with a
properly wired & installed trailer brake controller.
- Trailer wiring -
- All trailers should be equipped with proper lighting,
including tail lights, turn signals, brake lights & side marker lights.
The tow vehicle and trailer wiring connectors must be the same to mate
Standard mating adapters
are available that will allow a tow vehicle with a 7-wire connector to work
properly with a 4-wire trailer connector.
try to adapt a 7-wire trailer connector to a tow vehicle 4-wire connector; the
7-wire trailer connector requires more signals for proper operation than what a
4-wire tow vehicle connector has available.
- Load Weight & Distribution -
- Never exceed the load capacity of the trailer, its' axle(s) or tires.
- A properly loaded trailer should have a tongue weight
of 10% to 15% of itsí total loaded weight.
How will you know if your loaded trailer is correct?
- Only be actually weighing it when itís loaded.
Note that the tongue should be level when weighed.
Some vehicle-trailer combinations may require a weight distributing or
load equalizer type hitch mechanism.
- Sway Control -
- Some trailers may be equipped with an anti-sway
This could be either a dual
pivot or friction pad design.
helps prevent the trailer from swaying behind the tow vehicle.
Before you tow, be sure your tow vehicle is ready for
Your tow vehicle check
list should include inspection of the brakes, charging system, cooling system,
transmission, and tires, including any inflation adjustments the manufacturer
may recommend for towing.
system inspection is extremely important.
if your trailer has brakes, your tow vehicle brakes will need to be in top shape
to ensure proper stopping capabilities.
The trailer should also be checked prior to your
trip, including coupler, safety chains, lights, brakes, tires, wheel bearings
& lug nuts.
Making The Connection:
- Inspect the tow vehicle hitch for any loose bolts,
structure damage, metal fatigue or cracks.
for the trailer coupler.
& mate the coupler to the ball.
the coupler to the ball.
connection to be sure it is solid & will not come unhooked.
If you use a load equalizer hitch, attach &
adjust the spring bars.
Verify the vehicle & loaded trailer sit level.
Inspect the safety chains for structural damage to
either the hooks or the chain links themselves.
Typical damage occurs when the chains are too long & drag on the
ground, grinding away material.
rust is not the same as structural damage.
the safety chains.
Be sure to criss-cross
the safety chains under the trailer tongue.
Be sure the chains are not too long and wonít drag on the ground.
If the safety chains are too long, they can be shortened by
Connect the wiring.
Be sure the connectors are securely seated & wonít come apart
without using positive force.
adequate wire slack for making turns, but no excessive wire slack that could
drag on the ground or get caught in the hitch mechanism.
Inspect the lighting for proper operation.
Finally, test the trailer brakes by manually applying
the trailer brakes only via the brake controller while the vehicle is moving
Now youíre connected.
Your tow vehicle & trailer have both been serviced, inspected and are
ready to go.
Last item on the
Most accidents involving towing trailers are
attributable to driver error.
just hop in & take off as you might without the trailer behind you.
Always remember itís there behind you.
Youíll need more room to make a turn.
Youíll need more room to stop.
vehicle will handle differently.
the expressway, youíll need more space for lane changes.
Passing & being passed may cause buffeting and sway-induced steering
inputs that youíll need to be ready for.
Words of Safety