So, you know the old cliche: safety first. But it’s not always as simple as putting on a helmet or buckling a seatbelt.
Taking a trailer on the road—whether you’re going across the neighborhood or across the country—requires several safety precautions to protect your vehicle, your trailer, your cargo, and of course yourself.
For many drivers, especially those new to trailering, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
So we’ve collected some key trailer towing safety tips that the Blue Ridge Trailers community has found useful over the years. Paired with the safety instructions for your specific vehicle and trailer, these tips will give you peace of mind for a smooth trip every time you hit the road.
7 Trailer Towing Safety Tips
1. Learn your tow vehicle’s towing capacity
Keep your tow weight under capacity to prevent damage to your vehicle and trailer, and to ensure safe braking and stability on the road.
Your tow vehicle’s towing capacity will be found in the owner’s manual. Often you’ll find more than just a number—there may be instructions and trailer towing safety tips specific to your vehicle.
If you can’t find the manual, contact the vehicle manufacturer or dealer. Many models also have owner’s manuals available online.
Once you know your towing capacity, compare it to the combined weight of your trailer, cargo, and passenger weight. Again, detailed instructions for your vehicle will be found in the manual.
2. Secure the coupler and cross the safety chains
This is where you’ll ensure that your trailer remains attached to your vehicle throughout the ride. Don’t neglect this step even if you’re just driving around the corner.
First, ensure that the coupler is locked so you know your trailer is securely attached to your tow vehicle.
Next, hook up the safety chains that dangle under the coupler for a bumper pull, or on either side of a gooseneck. These safety chains are your emergency plan in case the trailer becomes detached from the coupler.
With a bumper pull, make sure to cross the safety chains under the coupler so they can catch the tongue if it slips out. Otherwise it would fall and smash onto the pavement.
3. Check your trailer electrics and brakes
Once you’ve got a trailer hooked up, it shares the responsibility of signaling and braking with your tow vehicle.
Before you depart, test your turn signals, emergency signals and brake lights to confirm your trailer electrics are all properly connected.
For trailers with electric brakes, confirm that the batteries are charged before you drive. You should also have a brake controller—your manual for the controller can tell you how to confirm it’s adjusted and functioning properly. Finally, once you’ve reached the end of these trailer towing safety tips and are ready to hit the road, take your trailer for a short test drive to triple-check brake function.
4. Adjust your mirrors
Don’t wait to do this until your key’s already in the ignition. Instead, hop in the driver’s seat once you’ve hooked up your trailer and take some time to thoughtfully readjust the mirrors.
You’ll quickly notice that your trailer significantly widens your blind spots. Depending on the size of your tow vehicle and trailer, you may even want to purchase mirror extenders for added visibility.
5. Fill tires to the maximum PSI
As we’ve discussed before, filling your tires to the maximum PSI is crucial to preventing blowouts.
Do this before you travel. The temperature around you doesn’t impact the maximum PSI, although you want the tires themselves to be rested and cool (not fresh off the road) to fill them properly.
6. Ensure proper weight distribution in your trailer
As you’re loading up your cargo or utility trailer, put the heaviest items over the axles. If you put them too far toward the front or back, weight won’t be distributed evenly. This will cause your tow vehicle to work harder and can ultimately damage the vehicle or the trailer itself.
(Note: weight distribution is somewhat less of a concern for horse trailers, which are designed to carry the weight of your horse or horses evenly.)
For bumper pull trailers (cargo, utility or horse) you can use a weight distribution hitch to diffuse weight from the bumper of your towing vehicle to the axles of the truck and trailer. These not only greatly improve handling as you drive, they provide added security if you’re towing weight that’s close to capacity.
7. Drive slower than you’re used to
I say this to everyone who’s never pulled a trailer before, but even veteran roadtrippers should keep it in mind.
Hitching up a trailer instantly makes your stopping distance much longer, because you have the weight of that trailer pushing into your tow vehicle. You should also be aware that you’ll need extra time and space to safely merge onto the highway.
If you’re trailering with a horse, remember that sudden stops will throw them off balance and could cause injury.
Want more expert trailering insights? Subscribe to the Blue Ridge Trailers monthly newsletter.