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Here are some crucial skills you need to learn both before you set off, and behind the wheel…
In part one, we explained all the rules and regulations related to towing a caravan or trailer. Now we get down to the nitty gritty, with advice on basic towing skills, from how to load your trailer or caravan correctly, to cornering with a rig in tow…
Beware of overloading
This is the most common mistake. As we mentioned in part one, the GVM, or gross vehicle mass, is not the weight limit of what you can load onto it. To work out the maximum mass you can load, you need to subtract the trailer’s tare mass (its actual unloaded mass) from its GVM. In other words, if your trailer’s indicated GVM is 750 kg and its tare mass 150 kg, the maximum you can load is 600 kg.
Assuming yours is a single-axle trailer, pack heavy goods as close to the axle as possible. Place them towards the rear and you’ll create lift at the nose, while mass near the front of the trailer compromises stability. The ideal centre of gravity is just ahead of the axle to give a nose loading of around 10% of the trailer’s GVM. Commonly accepted weights are between 75 and 100 kg. If your load shifts during towing (on a single-axle trailer), this alters the nose (also called the tongue) mass and affects stability, so be sure to secure the luggage. You can measure the load using a bathroom scale under the jockey wheel, as long as it can handle up to 150 kg.
Remember the jockey wheel
When you’ve hitched the trailer or caravan, don’t forget to raise the jockey wheel and secure it tightly with the clamp so that it doesn’t work loose and drop. There’s usually backup safety in the form of a steel spring clip inserted through a hole in the down tube. If there is no hole, have one drilled and pass a length of wire through it to secure.
Before each trip, check that the trailer lights work. The couplings and pins can develop poor connections due to rain and dirt ingress.
It’s a critical safety item. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to unhitch the trailer and leave your trailer/caravan while you seek assistance – never a good idea in high-crime areas.
Preventing and correcting trailer sway
Trailer sway is usually caused by an incorrect load, which results in the centre of gravity sited behind the trailer axle instead of ahead. Gusting winds amplify this and can even result in jack-knifing. If trailer sway begins to affect the vehicle you are driving, ignore your instinct to brake and accelerate slightly until stability returns before gently slowing down again.
This is definitely something you should practise, as it is not easy if you don’t do it regularly. It also helps to think ahead and plan your route; you wouldn’t want to have to reverse on a tight fuel-station forecourt, for example.
The basic rule of thumb is that, where possible, you should factor in additional turning radius to avoid clipping a kerb.
Another tricky operation. Always remember the combined vehicle length is much more than your tow car’s. Afford overtaken vehicles extra distance before you return to the left lane.
Towing a boat
If you carry boating goods that require reversing into sea water, remember that salt is not a friend of steel. Clean your trailer after each trip and check the wheel bearings periodically for adequate lubrication. A seized bearing will leave you stranded. Make sure the spare wheel is up to pressure and that you have a jack and spanner stashed.
Ensure your trailer or caravan has one and that it is in working order. Always place the safety chain over the tow-ball mounting before driving off. This will save a serious accident if the trailer hitch breaks.
Read part one here, which details what SA law says about towing…
*From the October 2016 issue of CAR magazine
Author: Peter Palm