Trailer Sway Tips, and the Motor MythBusters Test If Accelerating Helps
Approximately 50,000 auto accidents a year involve trailers, and trailer sway is one of the hardest situations for inexperienced drivers to handle. If you believe the interwebs, trailer sway can be tamed with enough acceleration, but the Motor MythBusters don’t want to spread misinformation that could endanger motorists.
Related: Sign up to the MotorTrend App today for a free trial and get caught up on every episode of Motor MythBusters!
Taming trailer sway by accelerating the tow vehicle goes against the accepted advice; most experienced drivers recommend gently slowing the tow vehicle or applying the trailer’s brakes (if equipped). Bisi Ezerioha has experienced trailer sway when towing his race vehicles and, even for the experienced driver, it can be frightening.
Bisi and the other two hosts of Motor MythBusters—Faye Hadley and Tori Belleci—are going to test whether it’s not only possible but also safe to calm trailer sway by accelerating under safe conditions. But we aren’t going to write the normal fun and educational anecdote enticing you to watch Motor MythBusters and other great MotorTrend App shows.
Instead, here are the generally accepted safe trailer towing guidelines. If you’ve never pulled a trailer before, these tips can help you get safely down the road. If you pull a trailer every day, it never hurts to brush up on the basics.
Safe Trailer Towing Tips
Use the tow proper vehicle: It doesn’t matter that your 1997 Dodge Ram 1500 can get a 25,000-pound trailer moving; using the proper tow vehicle is the first step to towing safely. Before you haul anything, make sure your rig is rated to haul the amount of weight you intend to pull and that your trailer hitch is rated for the weight. It’s also important to know what your state’s licensing requirements for towing trailers are. In California, if you want to tow 10,000+ pounds, you need a commercial driver’s license.
Load your trailer properly: An improperly loaded trailer can have a hugely negative impact on the handling and stopping capability of your tow rig, even lifting the front wheels off the ground if the weight is too far biased to the rear of the trailer. Loading your trailer properly is arguably more important than using the correct tow vehicle.
Related: What Is a Gooseneck Trailer?
Your trailer is loaded properly when 10 to 12 percent of the total weight is on the tongue of the trailer (the part that attaches to your tow vehicle), but it’s also important to note how much tongue weight your hitch receiver is rated for.
The bumper on our 2004 ford ranger XLT is a level-ii trailer hitch receiver rated at 2,000 pounds with a tongue weight of 200 pounds. Photo: Jordan Scott. [/caption]
Even though the Ranger is only rated to pull 2,000 pounds with the 3.0-liter Vulcan V-6 living under its hood, we prefer the increased safety factor of our bolt-on level-iii hitch receiver, rated at 8,000 pounds with 300 pounds of tongue weight when towing. Photo: Jordan Scott. [/caption]
Check your tires: Tires are the only point of contact between your tow rig, trailer, and the ground. Not only do they need to be properly inflated per the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations, they need to be rated for towing. You don’t want to run passenger vehicle tires on a trailer—they aren’t designed to handle the types of loading trailer tires are built for and could fail. Old tires can be dangerous, too. Rubber dries out and hardens as it ages, and hard, dry tries are a failure waiting to happen. What to do when your trailer starts to sway: It’s most important to remain calm; erratic and quick inputs to your vehicle’s controls can make a trailer sway situation worse. Gentle steering inputs and slow but progressive braking maneuvers are what’s recommended. If your tow vehicle and trailer are equipped with a trailer braking system, gently apply the trailer brake first to tame the sway. If your vehicle is not equipped with a trailer brake system or your trailer is small enough that they are not required by law, gently slowing the tow vehicle will have the same effect.
But what about accelerating to reduce trailer sway? You’ll have to watch this episode of Motor MythBusters and see what the team finds out. Sign up to the MotorTrend App today to watch every episode of Motor MythBusters and more!
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