Ever headed off for a riding adventure only to have your trailer swooping from side to side behind your truck like it was a happy participant in some kind of highway hoedown? It’s not only annoying, it’s also dangerous to you, to other drivers, and to whatever you’re hauling. Like so many things in life, towing a trailer is all about balance, and we’ll tell you how to tow a load safely.
There are two basic types of trailers for hauling ATVs and Side x Sides, fully enclosed or open deck, but regardless of the type, the rules for safe hauling are the same. Two of the most important factors are the number of axles your trailer has and whether it includes brakes on at least one axle.
Most small, two-place trailers offer a single axle, some with brakes, and some without. A single axle trailer is usually adequate for hauling a couple ATVs, but the ride can be a little bouncy. Dual axle trailers offer more load carrying capacity, a much smoother ride, and increased braking capability since they will almost always have their own brake system built in, either on one or both axles. Regardless of which type you have, load placement is critical, and you neither want too much or too little load on the hitch and the tow vehicle.
Before you ever load anything on your trailer, you need to check its level tongue height. With the trailer parked on flat ground and unhooked from your truck, adjust the jack height until it sits level. You can check this with a carpenter’s level, eyeball it from a distance until the deck and ground are parallel, or measure each end of the deck off the ground and adjust the jack until both ends read the same. Now measure the tongue distance off the ground. Remember where you measured from and what the distance was.
With your trailer level, you’ll also need to measure the tow vehicle hitch normal ride height. It’s unlikely this will be the same as the trailer height, so you’ll need a drawbar with an offset to make up the difference. An adjustable drawbar insures you’re ready for just about any type of trailer, and when figuring out the offset, don’t forget the height of the ball off the drawbar (usually about 2-1/2 to 3 inches) in your measurements.
Larger trailers often use “load leveler” or equalizer bars as a means to control the load. The equalizer bars hook between the tow vehicle drawbar and the trailer hitch, but they transfer load to the tow vehicle’s front axle. They improve the ride significantly and are a great investment for large trailers.
The Quick Hookup – Chains, Brakes, and Lights
Safety chains are mandatory with any trailer. When hooking them to the tow vehicle, cross the chains in an X pattern under the hitch. With the chains crossed, you insure neither will become too short on tight turns, and should the unthinkable happen and the trailer come off the ball on the highway, the tongue will come down on the chains, allowing you some control.
Thankfully, most trucks now come with an auxiliary light socket and hooking up your trailer lights and brakes is as simple as plugging them in. Always check your lights before heading out. A buddy can help you give them a complete run through, but on your own, it’s possible to give them a quick check by flashing your emergency hazard flashers and the daytime running lights.
Most electric brake systems will have a battery on the trailer that is charged from the tow vehicle. You should check this battery regularly. It’s what activates the trailer brakes should the emergency lanyard be pulled from the truck, indicating the two of you are going separate ways. If your truck has a trailer braking control system, you can check the trailer brake bias by gently applying it as you roll towards a stop. You should be able to feel it begin to slow you down. Adjust so it provides assistance, but doesn’t lock up the trailer tires and try to stop the truck as well.
With the chains attached, the lights connected, and the trailer tongue down on the ball, whatever you do, DON’T FORGET TO LOCK DOWN THE CATCH and INSERT THE SAFETY PIN! Finally, remember to crank up the jack and either remove it or pivot it out of the way for transport.
Locked & Loaded
With your trailer safely hooked to the tow vehicle, it’s now time for loading. Carefully drive each vehicle up onto the trailer and position the combined load approximately over the axles. This might mean rolling them around a little, but it’s important to try and balance the load. Too much weight on the vehicle hitch can make your truck steering very sketchy, while loading too much weight toward the rear of the trailer can leave you with not enough load on the hitch. This makes the trailer want to sway back and forth like a sailor on shore leave, which pushes the rear end of the truck like a buddy it’s leaning on.
The ideal weight bias is about 10 to 15% of the trailer’s load on the hitch. This can be determined accurately if you tow the same load every time, but few of us do. A quick check of our earlier measurements can tell us if we’re now slightly lower at the front. By trying to balance the load slightly forward of the axles and by bouncing the hitch a little with your foot, you can determine if you’re in the ballpark.
Regardless of what you’re hauling, it will need to be strapped down securely, and nothing makes that easier than plenty of tie down points already built into the trailer. Although it is possible to hook your tie downs on the underside lip of a trailer, you don’t want to place them against any sharp edges which will fray the strap and reduce its overall strength, or worse, cut through it from vibration.
On the Road
Tire pressure makes a huge difference in towing. Always inflate them to the manufacturer’s cold tire rating, and expect them to heat up on the road. Bearings must also be well lubricated and you should give them an annual check for free play and to make sure they’re packed full of premium, synthetic grease.
It’s important to check your tie down straps early in your journey, and then at every stop along the way. The straps will vibrate in the wind and tend to come loose from vibration or a rough ride. The last thing you want is your favorite machine cartwheeling down the interstate on your way to hunting camp. Each time you stop, check all your connections, feel the tires and hubs for excessive heat which could indicate a bearing problem or low tire pressure, and double check your tie downs.
Tow and Go
Regardless of whether you ride a Kawasaki, Honda, Polaris, or Kymco, every ATV and Side x Side owner has to haul their machine at times. Unless you ride, hunt, and never leave the property behind your house, you’re going to need a trailer and you need to tow any load safely.
101 E. Seneca
PO Box 287
Bancroft, IA 50517
Toll Free: 866-415-3285