What is typically the "weakest link" in a tow vehicle?

couple in front of trailer
This pleasant couple looks completely unaware of the numerous risks involved in towing their beloved trailer.
Nick Daly/Getty Images

There are multiple components of a vehicle and a trailer that go into towing. You have axles, hitches, bearings, mirrors, transmissions and so on. It's a surprisingly intricate orchestra of parts and measurements that must meld together harmoniously to transport your load safely. But like most ensembles, someone strikes a sour note at some point -- a bassoon out of tune or missed piano note. When towing, the cost of a weak link is far greater than a harsh tone in the ear. It could mean a ruined boat, wrecked camper or worse.

In some ways, the weakest link in a towing vehicle is you. This isn't meant to get your spirits down before hitching up the trailer for a fishing weekend at the lake. It's simply a reality check. The most common cause of trailer-related accidents is driver error [source: Sunrise Trailer Sales]. Maybe your collection of motocross bikes has exceeded your vehicle's cargo weight limit. Or perhaps you didn't take the time to properly distribute the load over the tire axles. And of course, we can't forget the inherent difficulties of driving a car or truck with a trailer attached. Simply getting down the road scot-free can be as tricky as carrying a large box through a crowded hallway without hitting other people.


That's why it's imperative to take your time when it comes to towing. Check out 10 Towing Risks to Keep in Mind to get a grip on the safety basics. Consult your owner's manual for your vehicle and trailer to brush up on weight restrictions and recommended maintenance schedules. Before hitting the open road, practice driving with your loaded trailer in an empty parking lot to ensure that you can manage it.

While driver preparation is important, what part of the towing vehicle should you keep a special eye out for? Is there an Achilles heel in towing? Wear and tear from towing activities will affect different trailers and vehicles in different ways. However, the trailer tires are especially susceptible to failure. The BoatU.S. Trailering Club receives more than 100 assistance requests every month regarding flat trailer tires [source: BoatU.S.].

­If you don't inflate your tires enough, the pressure from the load can lead to blowouts. When that happens, it could cause the trailer to sway -- which can affect your steering control. On the other hand, pumping up a tire too much reduces the traction between rubber and road, diminishing your braking control [source: RV Advice]. And remember that even when not in use, tires steadily lose air pressure with time.

Like your towing vehicles, tires have load ratings you should adhere to. Putting too much load on top of a tire opens the door for a flat. For that reason, consult your tire's ratings and distribute your cargo as evenly as possible across the tire axles. Once you know how much the tires can support, check the tire air pressure. Each tire should be equally inflated. Try to measure it only while the tire is cold or hasn't moved more than a mile recently. When the tire has been in use, a hot reading will underestimate your air pressure.

If your tires are properly pumped and you want to learn more about how to prep your vehicle or trailer for towing, roll on to the links on the next page.


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More Great Links

  • "General Trailer Safety." Sunrise Trailer Sales. (Nov. 5, 2008) http://www.sunrisetrailersales.com/pdfs/trailersaftey_tips.pdf
  • Polk, Mark K. "RV Tire Failure 101." Explorer RV Insurance. (Nov. 5, 2008) http://www.explorerrv.com/articles/RVTireFailure101.pdf
  • "Towing a Trailer." National Highway Safety Administration. April 2002. (Nov. 5, 2008) http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/CARS/PROBLEMS/Equipment/towing/Towing.pdf
  • "Trailers: A Word About Safety." Trailer Safety Industry Coalition. August 2005. (Nov. 5, 2008) http://www.kendausa.com/_DOWNLOADS/PDFS/Safety_Tips.pdf
  • "When Something Goes Wrong." BoatU.S. Trailering Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2008) http://www.boatus.com/trailerclub/mag/towing.asp