Car Trailer Basics 101, Part II

What you need to know to buy your next trailer

Rich Lagasse Apr 7, 2008 0 Comment(s)
Corp_0607_03_z Car_trailers Rear_view_camera 2/4

The rear of the trailer with the rear camera location highlighted.

While towing, consider that you have a large and heavy unit behind you to stop as well as accelerate. Turns need to be taken wider than normal. When making sharp turns, it is advisable to make more of a "square corner" and start your turn a little later than normal to avoid the trailer tires from clipping the curb. You also have to allow more time to get into traffic and need to allow more space for safe stopping. Things will happen more slowly, so plan ahead.

When backing up, it's a good idea to have someone behind you to direct you. Some folks feel that holding the steering wheel by the bottom helps to guide the trailer in the direction you want. By turning the wheel to the left, the trailer will go to the left, turn to the right and it (hopefully) will go to the right. The most important advice is to take your time, know what is behind you, and go slowly.

If your tow vehicle has a transmission "tow mode," that mode can be useful to change the transmission shift points to help handle the additional weight. On the Allison transmission, it also provides for downshifts when slowing down to use the force of the engine instead of placing additional demands on your brakes.

You may also find that buses or tractor/trailer units will cause wind buffeting or a push as they pass. Usually you can feel the push from the wind as they approach alongside, and then as they get just about even with the front of your vehicle, the steering correction you've been making to counter that force will change, and you'll have to readjust your steering. You may find yourself first counter-acting the wind force by steering a little to the left, and, then as they pass, a little correction to the right will be necessary. Larger tow vehicles, more aerodynamic trailers, and the better the sway controls will reduce that effect. Useful ItemsJust to round out the practical things we might need, we also carry a complete tool box, Halon fire extinguisher, hand cleaner, paper towels, 12-volt tire pump, battery jumper, flashlight, and have mounted hooks for clothes. We've also found a winch to be handy, especially when moving a nonrunning car or chassis from place to place. You may not need it often, but, if you do, it's a nice thing to have.

There are other trailer options, such as cabinets, workbenches, closets, finished walls/ceilings, and aluminum wheels, but they are not essential. Something you might not have thought about is to install a camera on the back of the trailer. Our camper had one, and we found it very useful. The one we use on our trailer is available from Camping World, and it includes a 7-inch TV monitor in the truck cab. We mounted the camera on the rear top center of the trailer. It also has a one-way speaker so you can hear the person directing you when backing up. It also has a night-vision feature so you can see well at night. It makes backing up easier, and it's also great to be able to see directly behind the trailer, especially when pulling out to pass or pulling back in. We also mounted a camera under the rear bumper of the truck, which takes care of that blind spot when not towing the trailer. You can install a quick disconnect so you can easily switch between the two cameras.

Now that we have used a camera, we would feel lost without it. Some monitors mount on the mirror or on your visor for easy visibility.

For safety's sake, the most important things to check and maintain are the tires, wheel bearings, and the charge in your winch battery, and hitch setup. Regular greasing of the bearings is a must, as is checking the tire condition, tire pressure, and lug-nut torque. The trailer ball should be lubed with the grease designed for that purpose, and checks should be made of the safety chains, wiring and connections, the weight distribution bars, and sway control. Test your trailer brakes regularly and note how evenly they pull, as well as listen for any unusual sounds.

Beyond that, a good wash and waxing when needed will keep your trailer looking great. That's not a job we look forward to, but we use a Porta-Cable buffer to make that job easier. Your choice of color can also impact how much work you have to do. Usually the lighter colors are easier to maintain.

Most insurance policies will provide the liability coverage for your trailer at no extra cost. However, it will not automatically provide the physical damage coverage. Check with your insurance agent or company to ensure you get the coverage you need and want.

This article started out to cover just the basics, but it just seemed to grow. We hope our suggestions are a help if you are considering buying a car trailer. A trailer is certainly a major investment and not needed or wanted by everyone. But if you like to do your prep work at home or will be traveling long distances, it can come in handy. At the very least, it will give you a nice place to store the lawnmower over the winter.

Here are a few links to sources for rearview monitors. The first one is a wireless setup, which should simplify the installation. Others require running a cable from the camera to the monitor.

- Nevada Products
- Hitch-Cam
- Mobile Video Store
- Northside Customs
- Electronics Pluz
- Visor View
- Camping World


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