We've mentioned it a few times in this article already, but trailer sway deserves its own section. Many things can cause a trailer to sway: Getting hit with a gust of wind, making a sharp turn, driving too fast or carrying an unbalanced load are just a few situations that might cause a sway problem. If a trailer is carrying a heavy load, the swaying can cause the tow vehicle's driver to lose control. The swaying trailer can rock the tow vehicle and cause a serious accident. In several incidents, a swaying trailer caused the tow vehicle driver to lose control to the point that both the trailer and tow vehicle rolled over.
A big part of the problem is that once a trailer begins to sway, it can be very difficult to make it stop swaying. Even an experienced driver can have problems getting a swaying trailer under control. To make matters worse, many drivers will try to regain control using their own vehicles' steering or brakes. Unfortunately, that usually contributes to more swaying.
It's best to take every step you can to avoid swaying in the first place. That means you should tow a balanced load, drive at a cautious speed (particularly downhill) and pay attention to the way your trailer behaves as you drive. If you detect swaying early, it's much easier to deal with the problem. If the trailer has brakes, you should use them to get the swaying under control. Don't use your tow vehicle's brakes, and don't try to steer out of the swaying pattern. After regaining control, keep an eye on the trailer. Should your trailer begin swaying again, you should find a place to pull over so that you can inspect it.
If the trailer doesn't have its own brakes, you should slow down by letting your foot off the gas pedal. If you do need to use your brakes, tap them lightly. Pressing too hard could cause the trailer to jackknife. You'll want to move off the road as soon as you can. Remember that you shouldn't attempt to compensate for the swaying through steering -- you may only make the problem worse.
In many cases, you can reduce swaying by redistributing the load in the trailer. Make sure that the heavier items are in front of the trailer's axle. By putting more of the weight toward the front of the trailer, you'll improve the trailer's ability to handle the road. You can also purchase equipment designed to reduce sway -- this equipment can help stabilize a trailer by providing resistance against swaying.
While the risks of towing are real, they're not insurmountable. With the right preparation and approach, you can tow with confidence.
To learn more about towing and other related topics, take a look at the links on the following page.
- AON Recreation. "What You Need to Know to Tow." 2007. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.aonrecreation.com/what-you-need-to-know-to-tow
- Camping-Canada. "Towing Tips." 2008. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.camping-canada.com/towing_tips_e.htm
- Cook, Miles. "Trailer Towing Q&A." Edmunds. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/howto/articles/44921/page001.html
- eTrailer. "Tips on How to Tow a Trailer." (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.etrailer.com/faq_trailertowtips.aspx
- Green Defensive Driving Course. "Tips for Towing a Trailer." 2007. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.solutions.ca/gddc-cep/2007/Resources/Towing_Trailer.pdf
- Gummersall, Bob. "Tow Bars, Brackets and Lights." RVers Online. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.rversonline.org/ArtDinghy3.html
- Henderson, Tom. "Newton's Laws of Motion." The Physics Classroom Tutorial. 2007. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/gbssci/phys/Class/newtlaws/newtltoc.html
- Henderson, Tom. "The Impulse-Momentum Change Theorem." The Physics Classroom Tutorial. 2007. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/GBSSCI/PHYS/Class/momentum/u4l1a.html
- Hokin, Sam. "The Physics of Everyday Stuff." (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.bsharp.org/physics/stuff/icebergs.html
- Niedermeyer, Paul. "The Great American Anti-Towing Conspiracy." The Truth About Cars. Feb. 23, 2008. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/the-great-american-anti-towing-conspiracy/
- Pegg, Harry. "More to towing than meets the eye." RV Living. June 15, 2007. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.calgarysun.com/cgi-bin/publish.cgi?p=187073&s=rv&x=articles
- Penske. "Tow Dolly Equipment Instructions." (Sept. 15, 2008) http://www.pensketruckrental.com/personal_rental/accessories/towing_tow_dolly.html
- Physics Classroom Tutorial. "Newton's Laws of Motion." 2007. (Sept. 22, 2008) http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/gbssci/phys/Class/newtlaws/u2l1b.html
- Remco. "Towing Tips." 2008. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.remcotowing.com/towing_tips
- Tools of the Trade. "Towing Safety." Tools of the Trade Magazine. Nov. 1, 2006. (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.toolsofthetrade.net/industry-news.asp?sectionID=1515&articleID=496182
- United States Department of Transportation. "Safety Tips for Driving with a Trailer." (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/Cars/Problems/Equipment/towing/safety_tips.htm
- Your RV Lifestyle. "Ten Towing Tips." (Sept. 23, 2008) http://www.your-rv-lifestyle.com/towing-tips.html
A gear ratio and tire size chart is essential to making your vehicle efficient. Check out this comprehensive gear ratio and tire size chart from HowStuffWorks.