Following These Towing Tips Can Prevent a Disaster

As the busy season approaches, refresh your crew on the rules of safe and effective towing of restroom trailers and transport trailers.

Following These Towing Tips Can Prevent a Disaster

With an overweight load raising the front wheels in the air, the driver of this SUV will have diminished control of the vehicle in an emergency situation. (Photo by Jim Kneiszel)

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I don’t know where the tow vehicle and trailer rig was headed, but I hope the driver was stopped by law enforcement or the state patrol before making it too far down the road. Check out the photo I snapped of this SUV-trailer tandem parked at a gas station. Many choices made by the driver indicate a lack of knowledge in basic safe towing and driving dynamics.

The driver risked the lives of everybody he or she encountered on the road that day, seemingly oblivious to the reckless way the trailer was loaded and the tow vehicle was overburdened. How did the driver not notice the nose of the SUV was pushed so far in the air that the front wheels had very light contact with the road? How is the drastically overweighted hitch not scraping on the pavement with every bump in the road? You would expect every turn or tapping on the brakes to be a white-knuckle experience.

As I pulled away from the pump, I was conflicted about whether to stop and suggest the driver rethink this haul. Maybe they were only going a few blocks and nothing bad would happen, I told myself. For the rest of the day, I had some regrets over not stepping in and saying something … for the safety of the driver and all motorists on the road that day.

This was an extreme example of a driver who likely never pulled a trailer before and may never pull a trailer again. But this photo is a good reminder about the importance of safe towing for anyone who carries heavy loads, including portable restroom operators who set out every day pulling restroom transport trailers or VIP restroom trailers.

As the busy season approaches, it’s time to brush up on towing basics for everyone in the industry so you never see your crews pull out of the yard popping a wheelie or dragging their rear bumper through the gravel. A great source of information about towing is found in a 26-page pamphlet from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, www.nhtsa.gov. I’ve pulled a few tips that you can share with your drivers as they prepare for a full schedule of equipment deliveries and pickups:

Start with the right tow vehicle:

If you have any questions about the ability of a vehicle to safely pull your inventory of trailers, check your owner’s manual for manufacturer’s guidelines on towing. Confirm the maximum loaded weight and tongue weight of your trailer; both are critical, and it’s best to be well within the limits of your tow vehicle. The closer you are to reaching those maximum capacities, the more risk you’ll encounter a problem on your trip.

SUVs might be fine to deliver a small one- or two-stall restroom trailer shorter distances for a wedding party, but they may fall short for long flatbeds you use to transport loads of individual restrooms. Larger series pickup trucks have stout frames that make for surer towing, and vacuum trucks built on daycab rigs from makers like Kenworth and Hino, for example, will probably pull anything in your yard with little strain.

Where the rubber meets the road:

All trailer tires should have the same and correct size per the trailer manufacturer. Don’t mix and match bias-ply and radial tires. The same rules apply for your tow vehicle. Watch for underinflation or overinflation, and frequently inspect tires for damage or rot. While drivers can be diligent about checking vehicle tires, sometimes the condition of trailer tires can be ignored until there is a problem. The last thing you want is to blow a trailer tire, imperiling your load, sending your vehicle out of control or stranding important equipment on the side of the road.

Get properly linked in:

Do you have the correct tow package fixed to the frame of your vehicle? Follow manufacturer’s guidelines for a secure system that will support the truck’s weight rating and maximum tongue weight. Are your hitch receiver and ball in good condition and properly aligned with the trailer tongue for a level load? Are you getting reliable electrical connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer to operate lights and electrical brakes effectively? Are your safety chains free of wear and corrosion and adequately sized to secure the trailer in the event of an emergency? You are responsible for maintaining the link between vehicle and trailer that keeps all motorists safe.

Watch the weight distribution:

Load preparation is key to safely hauling your equipment. Take your time when you hitch up the trailer. When you drop the tongue on the hitch ball, step back and look at the rig from front bumper to the tail of the trailer. It should be level, indicating proper tongue weight on the hitch and a balanced load. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists these important elements to preparing the load:

  • Balance weight from side to side.
  • Secure and brace all items to prevent them from moving during travel.
  • Adjust the height of the tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Apply load leveling (weight distributing hitch bars) as needed.

When crossing state lines:

Some PROs are located near state borders and frequently cross over into another jurisdiction. Others occasionally have jobs in other states, for example working with another contractor to deliver an extra restroom trailer to a special event. It’s important to understand varying towing rules for each state. These include the type of brakes required for different trailers; different height and weight limits on certain roads, bridges or through tunnels; and special equipment rules governing things like the size of rearview mirrors.

Take it easy behind the wheel:

The most important thing to remember is that pulling a heavy trailer can drastically change the performance and handling characteristics of your tow vehicle. I know that every time I hook up and pull a trailer, I am surprised by the lengthening of braking distances and the changes in power requirements of my vehicles. I compare adjusting to hauling a load to getting used to driving on ice and snow. Every season it takes a few miles behind the wheel to adapt.

Follow a few simple guidelines and you’re less likely to get into a dangerous jam. Increase following distances, and avoid sudden stops and steering maneuvers that lead to swaying that can have disastrous results. Downshift to aid braking. Slow down when driving on rough roads or when crossing railroad tracks and ditches. Slow down and make wider turns to account for the greater length of your rig.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Your trucks and inventory of restrooms and VIP trailers are valuable, and you don’t want them damaged through careless towing. But more importantly, your crew is precious cargo riding up front, and you want to take care of them the best way you know how. So take some time this spring to review safe towing. You’ll be glad you did. 


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers this checklist PROs can follow before setting out on their daily routes:

  • Check and correct tire pressure on the tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Make sure the wheel lug nuts/bolts on the tow vehicle and trailer are tightened to the correct torque.
  • Be sure the hitch, coupler, drawbar, and other equipment that connect the trailer and the tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted.
  • Check that the wiring is properly connected — not touching the road, but loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires.
  • Make sure all running lights, brake lights, turn signals and hazard lights are working.
  • Verify that the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly.
  • Check that all items are securely fastened on and in the trailer.
  • Be sure the trailer jack, tongue support, and any attached stabilizers are raised and locked in place.
  • Check load distribution to make sure the tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced front to back and side to side.
  • Check side and rearview mirrors to make sure you have good visibility.
  • Check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels.
  • Make sure you have wheel chocks and jack stands.


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