There are many types of trailers available from the simple camper and RV types as well as utility versions for boats, cargo, horses and motorbikes etc. This article will be concerned with towing trailers for recreation rather than for business purposes.
Some States will allow you to haul two trailers at the same time (usually the vehicle and trailer train will have a maximum overall length).
Depending on the state you are traveling through you may have to fit red or white flags and/or tail lights to your trailer to indicate the full width of the trailer.
Insurance for your journey
Although not necessarily a legal requirement you must ensure you have a valid accident policy that will cover you while towing.
You should have sufficient insurance to cover any accident you may have while towing a trailer. Some car insurance companies may cover you for towing and, if towing a boat, your boat insurance may cover you as well.
Mobile Phone Usage
While a mobile phone is essential in case of emergency, it should be turned off so you cannot make or receive phone calls while driving. Virtually every state has a ban on texting so don’t do it.
Driving License Requirements
In some States trailers may be towed if you have a normal driving license while others may require extra classes on your license. In addition each state has its own laws which vary considerably. Also, some states require extra classes if you are driving a fifth wheel trailer.
If you are a Foreign National driving in the United States, you may require an International Driving Permit from your country of origin as well as a valid driving license from your own country.
Tow Bars and Fifth Wheel Connections
There are three main types of trailer connections, the standard ball and socket hitch, a fifth wheel coupling and a military and farm style pintle hitch and tow ring.
Ball and socket hitches come in three main sizes, all with different towing capacities. Standard ball diameters are:
- 1 7/8″
- 2 5/16″
Both the ball and the socket must be matching sizes for safe towing.
Fifth wheel couplings systems are usually mounted on the back of a pickup truck so that the swivel pin is in front of the rear axle of the pickup truck. This ensures that the pickup truck takes the downward weight of the trailer.
The pintle and loop system is most often used by farmers and the military as it is most suited to off road activities.
Why You Should Always Use ‘S’ Hooks and Safety Chains
Although not every state requires you to use safety chains between the vehicle and the trailer they should always be fitted.
You are driving carefully down the highway and you hit a pothole! Your trailer jumps up and detaches itself from your ball hitch and you have several thousand pounds of speeding metal out of control. This uncontrolled missile is liable to hit oncoming or following traffic.
The chain must be capable of handling the full weight of the rogue trailer and be crossed over under the ball hitch to stop the trailer hitch from falling to the road surface while you stop.
As well as being suitable for the load being towed, the ‘S’ hooks should have spring catches. If noise is a problem you can buy vinyl coated safety cables to do the same job.
The safety chain is to stop the trailer running away, it cannot be used to tow a trailer that is not properly secured with a ball and socket connection.
Is That Tire Getting Hot?
Before leaving home, make sure your tires are in good condition and inflated to the correct pressure. Always carry a spare tire and check that is inflated as well. Brakes should be free and work correctly.
Tires and brakes can get hot on long journeys so you should regularly check them. You can buy non-contact infrared thermometers to check the tire and brake heat. If you get a digital laser version you can see that you are pointing the thermometer at the right spot.
Brakes and breakaway switches
Most states require trailers to be fitted with brakes that operate when the towing vehicle slows down. Please remember that the towing vehicle will take longer to start moving and a lot longer to slow down so leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front and do not pull out into moving traffic unless you have plenty of room before the vehicle behind catches up with you.
There are two main types of brakes, the electric brake which is battery operated, and the surge brake which is hydraulic and operates automatically. The surge brake does not require connection to the towing vehicle while the electric brake requires an electrical connection to operate and also to light the trailer’s stop lights and indicators.
Larger trailers with electric brakes may have to have a breakaway kit fitted to ensure that the electric brakes operate if the trailer becomes disconnected from the towing vehicle. As well as the breakaway switch you will require an auxiliary battery fitted to automatically stop the trailer in case of disconnection. A quality breakaway kit may trickle charge the auxiliary battery while the engine is running. If not, always charge the battery fully.
Mirrors for Towing Vehicle
Trailers are often wider than the towing vehicle so you should fit extra wide mirrors. There are two main types, replacement or add on mirrors. Replacements are fitted permanently to the car and removable mirrors are fitted before the journey and removed afterwards. Both should be capable of being folded in to prevent damage when not in use.
Our trailer camera & mirror guide can help you find the right tools to help you increase your vision when you’re hauling a load.
You should always check your local trailer towing laws, legal regulations and state requirements before setting out on your journey.