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Trailering Practice Tips

Updated on February 10, 2013

Boat Trailering

Boat trailers at a lake
Boat trailers at a lake | Source

Towing Guide

Towing can increase how much your vehicle, usually a truck, can transport from one destination to another. This is a big advantage in time and fuel since you can get more done with one trip instead of two.

One thing to make sure of is what your vehicle can safely tow. Each vehicle has specifics for maximum towing and it is critical that you don’t exceed this. These limits are in place to keep you and other drivers safe so if you don’t know what these limits are consult your owner’s manual or search the internet to get the specs.

For my family we have two different trailers at our disposal. The smaller one is actually my parents’ utility trailer but we keep it at our house since we use it more than they do and we have more room to store it than they do. The other is ours and it is our two horse trailer; I’ll get into their specifics later.

Believe it or not both of them have pretty substantial differences in them when we pull them, loaded or not loaded. I guess that is just another thing to consider when you are towing something.

Trailer Guide

The actually pulling part is pretty easy because the trailer will want to follow your towing vehicle; of course there is more to towing a trailer than it blindly following you but that is the general rule.

I am no expert but after a couple years of using trailers I have firm handle on them and feel completely comfortable using them. I have also learned how subtle differences in them can alter the way that people use them and maneuver them.

There are a few tips that I want to share that should make trailering an easier chore.

Trailer Length

Since each trailer has different profiles (size) make sure you know how much longer a trailer will make your vehicle be. I’m sure you already know all you need to know about your towing vehicle but the trailer becomes an extension of this vehicle and adjustments need to be made to how you drive it.

It is always a good idea to know how long a trailer is. I’m not suggesting that you get the exact measurement of it but knowing if it is eight feet or fifteen feet long is an important thing to know. Many people can estimate the length but if you aren’t very good at doing this measure it or ask someone.

Trailer Turning Radius

As mentioned earlier a trailer will basically follow you but this will vary a little bit when you are turning. The best thing to remember is that you should make your turns wider than you normally do because the trailer will take a smaller path than your towing vehicle. This is why knowing the trailers length is so important because the longer the trailer the wider you need to turn.

Take a look at tractor trailers (big rig’s) to see my point. Look how far they usually have to turn to get the rear axles of the trailer to clear a sidewalk curb or street light. Sure many of us aren’t towing fifty foot long trailers but we still need to take into account obstacles when we are trailering.

Trailer Backing Up

The biggest challenge for people towing is backing up because you need to turn your towing vehicle in the opposite way that you would without a trailer. It takes practice but once you get a feel for it you are set.

For our house backing up is the biggest challenge because we have a long and narrow driveway. The driveway is about ten feet wide and is about one-hundred and twenty feet long with vegetation on both sides.

I was always taught to put my hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and turn it where I wanted the trailer to go. If I wanted the trailer to go left I pushed my hand clockwise up the wheel to get the trailer to go that way. This method has worked pretty well for me but wasn’t as well received by my wife, luckily she got a better way from her younger brother.

My brother in law was in the Army for two years and moved trailers around as part of his duty. He either learned or was taught to use the side mirrors of the towing vehicle to tell him which way to turn.

Basically he would put his hands on the top of the wheel and he would turn toward the trailer when he saw it going one way too much in the side mirror to straighten it out again. My wife is way more comfortable with this method so I’m glad he shared it with her.

Reese Hitches

Trailer Axles

The number of axles on a trailer can affect how it tows as well as how you maneuver it. Our utility trailer has one axle and backing it up takes a bunch of subtle corrections to keep it going straight. The horse trailer has two axles and gives us way more room for error.

Having two axles also increases the amount of weight a trailer can be since more tires are on the road, just remember that tractor trailers have a total of eighteen wheels between the truck and trailer.

I know a few truckers and it is unanimous, based on information from them, that they would rather back up their long fifty foot trailers than a utility trailer like ours.

5X8 Utility Trailer

Our 5' X 8' small utility trailer
Our 5' X 8' small utility trailer | Source

Small Utility Trailer

First things first, I appreciate what this utility trailer can do for us. We can get more than twice the amount of hay and firewood in it versus the bed of our truck. We also have a bunch of trees and plants that need constant trimming and manicuring so filling it up with extra green waste for a landfill run is more efficient than trying to cram it all into our one waste can.

The only real drawback to it is how complicated it is to back up because of its smaller size. I have gotten better coercing the trailer into places I want it to go but I still get a little bit flustered at how easy it is to get off track.

Horse Trailer Repair

Used Horse Trailer

My wife bought a used two horse trailer a few months ago because our daughter wanted to join a pony club and her pony needed a method to get to the events. Horse trailers can be pretty heavy, easily over a ton, so she was pretty pleased with herself when she found one weighing just under eighteen hundred pounds.

Pulling this thing with our truck is easy and we haven’t had any complications yet on any of the pony adventures we have done.

Getting this thirteen foot long trailer down our slim driveway is pretty simple too. I just make a few subtle corrections and we are right back on track.

Circle J Horse Trailer

Our two horse trailer
Our two horse trailer | Source

Trailer Test

If you were given a test on driving a trailer how whould you do?

See results

Trailer Tips

Now that the basics of trailers have been covered let’s go over a couple of things that any driver can do to improve their trailering ability or get more comfortable with trailers.

The simplest thing that can be done is find a large parking lot, preferably with parking stalls painted in it. Make sure you will have more than enough room to turn around completely with your trailer; you don’t want to feel restricted because you are trying to practice and get more comfortable using a trailer.

The painted stalls are helpful because it gives you a guide to pull into and even back up to. If you can’t use a painted parking lot parking cones or any other visual aid will work just fine.

I would also suggest going slow to start. The slower you are going the more attention you should be paying to any movement of the trailer. If you are going too fast your instincts will probably kick in and you will revert back to your driving experience and react in a way you might not want to when towing a trailer; this is especially true when you are backing up. This isn’t a race, take your time and get familiar with trailering.

Another tip is practice slowing down. With the extra weight behind you it will take longer to slow down. Our utility trailer has no brakes but the horse trailer does and they both feel different when we are slowing down. The consistent for both of them is that the trailer and its weight will want to push your tow vehicle so extra slowing down space and time is crucial. Again use your cones and/or visual aids to create an obstacle that you are trying to stop in time to avoid.

It might seem like there is so much to consider when towing a trailer, and there kind of is, but it really isn’t that difficult. As long as you get some practice time in and pay attention on the road your trailering experience should be as routine as driving to the grocery store.

Back Up Trailer


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    • Rahuleiet profile image

      Rahul Singh Yadav 4 years ago from Chandigarh, India

      Amazing ...!

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      Sharkye11 - I wish I had some better advice when I first started pulling trailers because I would have been the guy getting laughed at. Thanks for commenting and voting.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wow. I never would have thought an article on trailers could be so interesting. Great tips in here, especially for backing up. I would highly recommend that everyone read your information, especially new trailer owners that try to back boat trailers into the lake. I have seen them do some very dangerous (and sometimes funny) stuff, mostly because they go to fast and jerk the wheel to correct. Voting up!