EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HITCHING A CABOOSE
You don’t just wake up one day with the experience and confidence to jump behind the wheel of your three-ton rig and hitch up another three tons worth of caravan or boat.
For many of us, the benefits of towing a trailer or boat only dawn on us after we purchase our first 4WD.
The good news is that towing is fairly straightforward. It’s mostly about knowing the proper protocols to become a safer driver.
Make sure you know how your vehicle behaves when your trailer is hitched up, maintain and regularly inspect your trailer and towing hardware, and you’ll already be ahead of the curve.
Here’s a five point plan to get you started, and we’ll be back next week with some more advanced tips.
(i) TRAILER PRE-CHECKS
A proper scan of your trailer is essential each time you tow. It doesn’t have too take long, but it should be thorough and you must know what to look for.
A good starting point for camper trailers and caravans is to ensure that everything that can be locked or shut is bolted down.
Wind pressures when driving at highway speed can be intense, and the last thing you want is for some hatch or other to be flapping away causing distraction or damage.
Before hitting the highway it’s important to check your tyre pressures. Know the appropriate pressure for your trailer’s tyres and adjust either at home in the driveway or at a servo prior to hitting the blacktop.
Check that all your trailer brake light and indicators are working. You’ll need to enlist someone to stand behind the trailer to check while you work the controls from inside your 4WD.
(ii) HITCHING UP YOUR TRAILER
Sounds like a no brainer, but it’s important to get the basics right. If you’re dealing with a caravan or heavy boat trailer, you might want to wear gloves for this step – getting your finger pinched in a tow hitch is no fun at all!
Make sure you’re on level ground and grab a spotter to help you line up your 4WD precisely with the trailer. Depending on the type of trailer you’re working with, you might need to raise and lower a jockey wheel. Once you’ve successfully snapped the tow hitch in place, fasten the chain for extra security.
When unhitching, it’s doubly important to work on level ground, and chocking the wheels of your trailer before starting out can be a good idea. Make sure that the safety chain is the last thing you undo, in case your trailer moves unexpectedly during the unhitching process.
(iii) ON THE ROAD
Spatial awareness is king. You’re driving an oversized vehicle and you need to keep this in mind. Stick to the left lane when on the highway, and keep your speed in check. 10km/h or so under the speed limit is a good starting point.
When maneuvering or changing lanes, ensure you look for big gaps in traffic and signal your intent well in advance. A lot of drivers will steer clear of vehicles that are towing loads, but of course you can never rely on other drivers’ courtesy.
When taking corners, approach at low speed, drive as far forward as possible before turning the steering wheel and then making a sharp turn. This will create extra space for your trailer going into the turn.
(iv) BACKING UP
This is the horrifying thought that stops a lot of drivers from ever learning to tow. Reversing a large trailer is difficult if you don’t know how, but fairly simple to master.
Remember to make small movements, and don’t over correct if your trailer is veering off in the wrong direction. You want to drive very slowly, so that your small adjustments of the wheel have plenty of time to play out without anything going off track.
It’s a great idea to enlist a spotter for this step, and ensure that you’re both in clear communication for this part of the process. Make sure that they know how to signal to you which way to go and are able to communicate clearly.
When reversing straight back, you can keep an eye on the rear corners of your trailer, when they start to veer off to either side of your tow vehicle, bring them back in line with small adjustments of the steering wheel.
When reversing at an angle it’s possible for the trailer to end up in a jack-knifed position that you certainly don’t want. If you feel this starting to happen, remember to stop before you cause any damage, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction to how you had it and to drive forward to pull out of the position.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and we’ll be back with slightly more advanced towing tips next week.
(v) USE THE BEST QUALITY GEAR
We’ve been taking trailers way into the gnarliest of deserts for weeks on end…
We’ve had to reverse boats into wave-smashed shorelines with just a matter of seconds up our sleeve…
For those long-distance towing solutions that require bulletproof componentry, to those fast-twitch make or break situations, we have relied on one Aussie brand for our seven years making offroad and offshore content – Hayman Reese.
This may seem like a gratuitous plug, but they’ve supported our vision for a high quality content since inception, and they’ve saved our bacon (and our cash) out in the field on so many occasions that it would be insane of us not to give them a shout-out.
As most of you know, they began in Melbourne in the years after WWII, and they’re still leading the way. An Australian brand that’s as ubiquitous for homegrown quality as a Hills Hoist, an Alvey fishing reel or an ARB bulbar.