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Planning, slow speed key to trailer safety: BCAA

Aug 16 2012

A summer holiday can go sideways in an instant if you don't take care while towing travel trailers or boats, cautions a B.C. Automobile Association spokesman.

"You need to make sure the vehicle that you are operating has the capacity to tow the trailer that you purchase," said Ken Cousin of the BCAA.

His advice comes after an incident on the Nanaimo Parkway Monday in which a travel trailer towed by an SUV fishtailed and landed on its side, blocking the southbound lanes for more than an hour.

None of the passengers were hurt but the crash put a damper on the family's holiday plans.

It's important to have a tow vehicle and a trailer that are compatible in terms of weight ratio, engine size and brakes, Cousin said.

"It's easy with modern vehicles to forget you have a trailer on the back because they're so powerful," he said.

"Most people think the biggest challenge is backing the trailer up. But really, the biggest challenge is getting to your location safely and understanding the vehicle you're in."

Trucks designed to tow bigger trailers have bigger engines and bigger brakes, he said.

Most trailers have electric brakes, which should be adjusted appropriately through a controller in the truck.

The type of hitch can also make a difference.

Having a trailer with "sway control" capacity in its hitch decreases the effect of a passing transport truck, Cousin said.

An equalizer hitch transfers weight from the trailer to the front wheels of the truck "so you're not pointing up in the air when you're going down the road," Cousin said.

By moving the weight forward, the driver is given better stability and control.

Equalizer hitches are mandatory for heavier trailers.

Fishtailing, where the trailer sways back and forth behind the vehicle, can be triggered by a gust of wind or the movement of other traffic. It will continue until the driver slows down.

"Speeding up is terrible" for fishtailing and just makes it worse, said Cousin.

The bottom line is anyone planning to tow a travel trailer should plan a route and not rush.

"You're not going to win any races, you're just going to use a lot of fuel by trying to hurry," Cousin said. "[Trailers are] designed to go the speed limit."


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