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Your Trailer Hitch: Use it Safely!
There may be no better feeling than heading out on the open road pulling your RV behind you. But towing a trailer is different than just driving your vehicle by itself. It means changes in acceleration, braking, and handling. Successful and safe trailering takes proper towing accessories that must be used properly. If you do not use the correct towing accessories and drive properly, you can lose control when you pull a trailer. For example, if your trailer is too heavy, the brakes may not be able to handle the load. If the trailer is not properly attached to the trailer hitch, it could become separated from the towing vehicle. You and your passengers could be seriously injured; you could also cause serious damage to your vehicle. But, by being aware of a few basic rules of towing safety you can avoid contributing to potentially hazardous conditions.
First, you need to make sure that you have the correct trailer hitch, and that it is securely attached to your vehicle. Strong cross winds, large semi trucks passing, and rough or uneven roads are just a few reasons why you need to have the right trailer hitch installed on your car or truck. If your vehicle did not come with a factory installed towing package, be certain to use a reputable trailer hitch installation center.
Once you have hitched your trailer to your vehicle, you should always attach safety chains between them. Cross the safety chains under the tongue of the trailer before attaching them to your trailer hitch. This helps prevent the tongue of the trailer from hitting the road in the event it becomes separated from the trailer hitch. Do not attach the safety chains to the bumper of your vehicle. Always leave just enough slack in the chains so you can turn the rig, but not so much that the chains drag on the ground. Instructions about safety chains and other towing accessories should be available from the manufacturers of the trailer hitch or the trailer.
After hitching the trailer to the vehicle you must hook up the trailer lights. Before starting out on your trip, do a visual check of the trailer lights by having someone stand behind the trailer as you step on the brakes, turn on the turn signals, etc. The brake lights on the trailer should light up when you depress the brake pedal in the vehicle, and the signal lights should respond to turning on the blinkers. The arrows on your vehicle’s instrument panel will flash each time you use the turn signal. If your trailer hitch wiring is properly connected, the trailer lamps will also flash, signaling to other drivers that you are about to change lanes or turn. However, the arrows on the instrument panel will flash even if the bulbs on the trailer are burned out. It is important to do an occasional check of the trailer lights during your trip to be sure the connection at the hitch is still secure and the bulbs are still working.
Towing a trailer requires a certain amount of experience, so before setting out for the open road, take some time to become familiar with driving your rig. Keep in mind that the combination of your vehicle and trailer is much longer and less responsive than your vehicle by itself. Stay at least twice as far behind the vehicle in front of you as you would when driving without a trailer. This practice will help you avoid potentially dangerous situations that would require hard braking and sudden turns. When passing another car or truck you will need to keep in mind that your rig is significantly longer, and allow more passing distance ahead. In addition you’ll need to go much farther beyond the passed vehicle before returning to your lane.
Finally, during your trip take the time to check occasionally to make certain that the load is secure, the trailer hitch and towing accessories are working properly, and that the lamps and trailer lights are still working.
Enjoy your trip!
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