5 basic trailer tips

How to safely make it to your cottage this weekend

By Andrew LuptonAndrew Lupton


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Constable David Hobson and his colleagues at the OPP often trade war stories about highway trailer mishaps: an ungreased wheel bearing so hot with friction it disintegrated at 120 km/h; the nylon cord on a trailer full of mattresses that came loose and cast the contents over three lanes; and Hobson’s favourite, a load of concrete blocks piled too far back on the trailer that lifted the towing vehicle’s rear wheels and caused it to spin off the road. “The driver wasn’t hurt,” says Hobson, “but when I got to him, he was ready to kiss the ground. He was as white as a sheet.”

Spring is the worst time for trailer troubles, when cottagers haul a season’s worth of tools, toys, and building materials. Most mishaps are preventable and Hobson offers these basic safety tips. Since trailer laws vary by province, check with your highway ministry to ensure your trailer and pulling vehicle meet local standards.

Get it inspected

In Ontario, if a vehicle and trailer have a combined weight or weight rating of more than 4,500 kg, both must be inspected every year. But with countless exemptions, the only way to be certain is to take the trailer to an inspection station or contact the Ministry of Transportation. “No one told me I needed an inspection,” is a line Hobson often hears as he issues the $240 ticket for a missing inspection sticker. And don’t count on the guy who sold you the trailer to tell you—vendors sometimes gloss over safety rules.

Check the chains

All trailers require safety chains. Connect them in a criss-cross pattern to form a “basket” beneath the draw arm. Make sure your chains have closed hooks at the end so that they stay attached to the vehicle’s towing bar.

Lock down that load

Wedge blocks under the wheels of ATVs and such, and use tensioned tie-downs instead of ropes. Keep the weight over, or at least forward of, the trailer’s axles. If anything extends beyond the back of the trailer (long pieces of lumber or a boat, for example), make sure it’s marked with a well-secured red flag.

Do a pre-drive inspection

Walk around the trailer and double-check your equipment. Make sure the hitch ball is securely locked (pull up on the draw arm, hard). Check that the trailer-tongue lock is secured in the “down” position with a lock. Be certain the tires are in good shape and properly inflated. Make sure the lights work; brakes too, if the trailer is equipped with them. Ask yourself, as Hobson suggests, “If I were driving behind this vehicle, would I feel safe?”

Adjust your drive

Leave additional time for the trip and double the normal following distance from the vehicle in front of you. Check mirrors frequently, take extra care when overtaking, and don’t stay in the passing lane.

This article was originally published on February 15, 2011

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