Towing Tips

The driver of the towing vehicle must:

Allow for the extra length and width of trailers and their tendency to “cut-in” on corners and curves;

Allow greater stopping distances.

Brakes should never be applied more than very lightly when cornering or travelling around a curve, particularly when the road may be wet or slippery.

Reversing with a trailer can be quite difficult and takes practice. With large trailers and caravans it is a good idea to always have someone outside the vehicle giving directions.

The ride and handling of the combination of a vehicle and a large trailers are affected by wind, road roughness and passing vehicles to a greater extent than the vehicle alone.

Trailers tend to jerk the back of the tow vehicle around and can cause sway (snaking). If a trailer starts to sway, the tow vehicle’s brakes should not be applied, except as an absolute last resort. If the trailer’s brakes can be operated by themselves they should be applied gently, otherwise a steady speed or slight acceleration should be held if possible until the sway stops.

As trailers reduce the towing vehicle’s performance, much greater care is needed when overtaking because it takes much more time and distance and you will need to avoid “cutting off” the vehicle just overtaken, when returning to the left lane.

Longer distances must be allowed for joining a traffic stream, crossing intersections and when braking. A bigger gap must be left ahead to allow for the reduced braking ability and for overtaking vehicles to rejoin the left lane.

Sudden lane changes and changes of direction must be avoided to minimize the chances of causing sway.

When you are driving, you should look even further ahead than normal so that you can react to any changes in traffic or road conditions before they become a problem.

Accelerator, brake and steering must be operated smoothly and gently at all times. Unnecessary movements of the steering wheel must be avoided because of the ease with which trailer sway can occur.

A lower gear should be used when travelling downhill to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes.

Before using any vehicle it is the drivers responsibility to check tyre pressure, wheel nut torque, general structural integrity and a visual inspection.

The addition of a trailer adds weight and length to the tow vehicle. More weight means more time to speed up and more importantly, slow down. Overall handling is also affected. When towing, allow for extra time when switching lanes, stopping and passing other vehicles. To assist in slowing down, trailer brakes are a very good option. The extra length can also cause problems on turns.

Because the trailer does not follow the exact path as the vehicle on turns, remember to swing out wider when travelling around bends and corners.

To conserve fuel when towing, travel at moderate speeds. Faster speeds increase wind resistance, reduce fuel mileage, and place added strain on the vehicle and trailer. When travelling over large hills or down gravel roads, use a lower gear to ease transmission and engine operation. Shifting out of overdrive and into a lower gear may also improve vehicle gas mileage.

Be extra cautious of potholes and other large bumps. Riding over one can damage the tow vehicle, trailer hitch and/or trailer. When pulling a trailer take your time and be careful. If for some reason (a gust of wind, a downgrade, a pass by a larger vehicle, etc.) the trailer does begin to sway, the driver needs to assess the situation to determine the proper course of action.

Loading Tips

With large trailers, fuel consumption increases greatly at higher speeds. The size of loads should be limited to what can be carried completely within the trailer;

Winches on car trailers are to winch your car onto the trailer only. DO NOT use the winch for securing the car onto the trailer or unloading the car from the trailer. Proper ropes, straps or chains must be used at all times.

Where a load must project it must not extend more than 150mm beyond the trailer’s width or to more than 2.5m overall width, whichever is less.

Loads that project more than 1.2m behind a trailer must have a red flag attached to the end of the load. This flag must be at least 300mm square and clearly visible to vehicles behind the trailer.

The overall length of the combination of vehicle and trailer including its load must not be more than 19m.

Loads should be kept as low as possible and should be positioned as close as possible to the axle or axles with about 60% of the total weight forward of the centre of the axle or axles;

The way you load the trailer can determine how easy you can tow it. While loading, keep in mind that the tongue weight should be 10% to 15% of the overall trailer weight. One of the main causes of trailer sway is not having a large enough percentage of trailer tongue weight compared to gross trailer weight. To help prevent the trailer from swaying back and forth, a few things can be done.

Try placing heavier cargo in the front of the trailer, ahead of the trailer’s axle. Also center the cargo left-to-right and use tie-downs to keep the load from sliding.

Trailer Sway can also lead to a loss of vehicle control. When starting out with a new load on a trailer, make sure it will not sway by gradually increasing your speed in intervals until highway speed is reached. If the trailer does begin to sway, try adjusting the cargo and equipment accordingly and then repeat the test. If repositioning the load and equipment did not help reduce the sway, a sway control or a weight distribution system with sway control may be needed.

The weight capacities of the tow vehicle, the trailer hitch, ball mount, ball, and safety chains must not be exceeded by the gross trailer weight (GTW). The towing system will only be as strong as the weakest piece.

Glossary of terms

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) = the weight of the loaded trailer. To determine GTW, weigh the loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.

Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) = the weight of the loaded trailer. To determine GTM, weigh the loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.

Tongue Weight (TW) – the downward pressure placed on the ball by the coupler.

Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM). The total mass of the laden trailer when carrying the maximum load recommended by the manufacturer.


Another important area to be aware of is the trailer bearings, races, and seals. The bearings, races, and seals are all vital parts that should be kept in good repair in order to keep your trailer working correctly. If the bearings are not working correctly, the internal rollers are not moving freely, it could cause damage to the spindle and hub assembly. If the bearings are not properly greased, they can get so hot that they will actually weld themselves to spindle assembly. In order to prevent this, the wheel bearings should be repacked every 4,000 kms or every 6 months. Pulling the trailer more often will actually help to distribute the grease throughout the bearing.

Trailer Tires

Check tire inflation and tread wear often. Fill the tires to match manufacturer’s guidelines. Tires with too much or too little air pressure can cause the trailer to sway. Filling tyres can be dangerous and risk explosion please contact a professional first.

Trailer Wiring

Always make sure the turn signals, brake lights, tail lights, electric brakes, and breakaway switches are working on the trailer prior to each use. If the trailer has some wiring problems, a wiring diagram is available which shows the proper way to install trailer wiring.

Trailer Couplers

The inside of the coupler should be clean and slightly lubricated with grease. This will help prevent binding during turning and help any moving parts inside the coupler move smoother.

Safety Chains

Always connect the trailer’s safety chains securely to the trailer hitch or tow vehicle by crossing them underneath the coupler. The safety chains should only be long enough to allow for tight turns.

Anything longer may weaken the safety feature of the chains if other connections fail. Also make sure the chains cannot wiggle or bounce free and do not let them drag on the ground.

The above information should be used as a guide only. A professional should always be consulted prior to towing/ loading / repairing or customising a trailer.