How to tow a trailer, part two: Hit the road, Jack

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Jack-knife Truck on the Hi-Way Diecast Diorama: Traffic is at a crawl as crews wait on a heavy duty wrecker to arrive to assist getting this "Yellow" double back on its' axles and on the highway after an unfortunate mishap.

Slow down and inspect your connections to avoid jackknifing. It can be deadly. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/PMC 1stPix/Flickr)

Making sure your travel trailer is prepped for your summer driving adventures is just the first step. You know to inspect the connections, lights and wires, and now you need to know how to tow a trailer on the road.

Practice in a parking lot

If you’ve never driven a vehicle towing a trailer, it pays to get in some practice time in a parking lot first. Slow and steady is the key. Backing up can be a challenge because you have to to turn right if you want to go left, and vice versa. Find a large parking lot during non-business or slow hours so you’ll have lots of room.

Turns, clearance and braking

When it comes to making turns, swing wide enough to make the turn without losing control but not so wide that the trailer strays off the road. If you are cutting a corner too tightly, stay calm and stop immediately. Back up and try again with a wider arc.

If you’re going to hit the nation’s highways, you’ll probably come across a freeway overpass or two. Thus, it’s extremely important to know whether your trailer will have clearance. If the bridge is 10 feet high and your trailer is 12, you’ll need an alternate route.

Slow and steady should always be your motto when towing a trailer. Maintain an extra-large space cushion and anticipate where you’ll need to stop as much as possible. The extra weight you’re carrying will require a longer braking distance.

Beware jackknifing

Jackknifing is when your vehicle and the heavy trailer form a V-shape on the highway. At worst, the trailer can swing around and smack other cars, pedestrians or the cab of your vehicle, which could be deadly. At best, it will only damage your hitch and trailer.

Jackknifing occurs most frequently when backing up or when going around turns too fast and the trailer wheels loose traction. To avoid this horror, never let the trailer do anything more than form an L-shape with your vehicle. Slow down if it starts to happen; don’t try to over-correct. Try to pull straight forward to straighten out.

Jackknifing brings you and your trailer up close



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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