Use Guidelines for Trailers

Perform a safety inspection before each trip: Make sure that the pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact, the hitch coupler is secured, spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches), safety chains are properly attached, and the electrical plug is properly installed. Check for rust on the hitch components.  Once a year, remove and check the ball mount which can rust within the receiver.  If any component shows evidence of perforation, take it to repair facility before using. 

Practice trailer backing: Backing a trailer into tight places is easier than it looks, but it does take some practice. It's best to practice in a parking lot and in a vehicle that allows you to see the trailer through the rear window. Vans, trucks and campers that have obstructed rear views require more practice and the use of side mirrors. In either case, be patient and make steering adjustments slowly and a little at a time.

Watch your tongue weight: How a trailer handles down the road depends upon tongue weight. Too much or too little weight will cause the rear of the trailer to sway and make the tow vehicle difficult to control or even overturn. The tongue weight should not exceed 200 pounds for trailers up to 2,000 pounds. Tongue weight for trailers over 2,000 pounds should be 10-15 percent of the trailer's loaded weight. 

Take care of tires: Tires have different load ratings as well. The load rating of the tires must equal the GVWR of the trailer. Tires have the load capacity printed on the sidewall. Take the load capacity of one tire, multiply by the number of tires on the trailer and be sure that number is higher than the GVWR.

Hitches also have a load capacity rating printed or embossed on them. The rating of the hitch must be high enough to tow the GVWR of the trailer. Also, the insert for a receiver hitch that the ball or pintle is attached to has a weight rating, as do all trailer balls. Every component in the hitch setup must be rated to handle the GVWR of the trailer. If the specification data is not present or visible on any component, do not use it. There is no way to know what weight it is rated for. The pin that holds the insert into the receiver is an exception, as they do not typically have a weight rating printed on them. The best practice is to use a brand name pin sold for trailer use. Do not use pins made for other applications, bolts, rod, rebar or any other type of material for this application.

The ball and coupler hitch is used on a wide variety of tow vehicle combinations. This hitch consists simply of a ball attached to the rear of a tow vehicle and a coupler (socket) at the tip of a tongue or A-frame attached to the front of the trailer. This hitch is commonly used on recreational trailers.

It's wise to periodically check tires for wear, cuts or other damage and replace as needed. Above all, maintain the tire pressure recommended by the manufacturer, located on the tire sidewall. Improperly inflated tires will cause them to wear out quicker and reduce fuel mileage. 

Keep bearings greased: Wheel bearings are the heart of trailers. They need to remain airtight and packed with fresh grease. Poorly greased bearings will overheat and deteriorate, creating serious problems if they fail. They should be inspected and repacked at least once a year, depending upon the amount of use. Lay your hand on your wheel hubs after traveling. If they feel unusually warm, you may have a problem. But why wait? Routine maintenance is good prevention.       

Go wide on turns: Be careful making sharp turns or sudden moves when trailering. The trailer tends to cut corners more sharply than the tow vehicle, which can be dangerous when cutting corners close to curbs, other vehicles and roadside obstructions. Striking solid objects at an angle can cause tire damage, and more importantly, cause you to lose control momentarily.

Be a weight watcher: When loading, balance the cargo with 60 percent of the weight near the front.

Secure the trailer: Keep the safety chains provided on most trailers fastened securely to the tow vehicle in case the hitch fails. Cross the chains under the trailer tongue and allow slack for turning. For additional security, padlock the trailer hitch to the tow vehicle. That will also prevent someone from stealing the trailer while you're away from the vehicle. 

Keep the lights working: The trailer's electrical components are subjected to a great deal of adverse conditions, so check them periodically. Ask someone to step behind the trailer to make sure the taillights, brake lights and turn signals are working properly. If signals are dim, perhaps there is a bad connection or you need a more powerful flasher unit on the tow vehicle. An occasional shot of WD-40 into the pigtail wiring connector will reduce corrosion. If you see a green coating beginning to form on the connector terminals, contact your repair person to replace the connector as failure may be imminent.

Make sure your vehicle has towing power: Just because a vehicle has the power to pull a loaded trailer down the road doesn't mean it has the guts to haul it up steep hills, or that brakes are capable of holding it on a steep incline. Follow manufacturers' towing guidelines and never exceed tow limits. Too much trailer weight can cause an accident, or pull the tow vehicle down a steep incline.