Successful towing for first-timers

So you have bought yourself a trailer and are looking forward to heading out to your first show, but before you think about setting off you need to make sure you can see down both sides of the trailer as this is required by law. If additional towing mirrors need to be fitted these must not project more than 200mm beyond either side of the vehicle or trailer, whichever is wider and should be removed when you are not towing.

It’s also worth noting that coupling up is much easier with two people. The assistant should use a hand signal to indicate the position of the trailer hitch with one hand and wave the driver to reverse up with the other. If not directly under the coupling it is better to be at one side than too far forward but it is important to exercise caution when handling any trailer off the vehicle. Even a small trailer can be difficult to control without using the brakes, and care should be taken as back strain can occur.

Once the trailer and towing vehicle are attached the coupling on a towball can be confirmed by winding down the jockey wheel to try to lift the rear of the towing vehicle slightly. Do not rely on the pop-up button in the coupling head to confirm the coupling is secure as these can often stick up permanently with grease and dirt. Both the ball and coupling head should be cleaned, inspected and re-greased regularly.

The “breakaway” cable needs to be connected to a point on the vehicle’s towing bracket, or chassis, not merely looped over the towball. This cable has a specific load capability designed to apply the trailer brakes if the coupling fails, before breaking. Anything weaker may not successfully apply the brakes so it should never be replaced with anything else.

When checking the trailer lights, always have your assistant call out the direction indictors for each side, not just that they work – the most common error in trailer plug wiring is to reverse the left and right feeds – also check for a bad earth on one side by checking brake and indicator lights simultaneously.

Reversing tips

Reversing in a straight line is best achieved using the mirrors. With the combination in a straight line, make sure you can see equal amounts of the trailer in both mirrors. As you reverse the trailer will soon run off line one way or the other, if it appears in the right mirror, steer right hand down, slightly. It will then swing the other way and as it appears on the left mirror, steer a little left. With practice you will be able to reverse the trailer through a slalom.

A short wheel base 4×4 with a long trailer is easier to reverse. It reacts more slowly to the applied lock, coming close to the relationship of an articulated truck and trailer. The worst combination is a long wheel base and small trailer, which will jack-knife easily. Practise regularly and soon you’ll be able to recognise your combination’s characteristics.

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