It is extremely important to properly load your construction trailer. Uneven distribution of weight can cause problems with tire wear and in some cases can result in tipping, causing property and/or bodily injury. Please follow the manufacturer’s loading instructions carefully and remember that proper trailer loading is key to proper function and safety.
Be sure to check your vehicle’s towing capacity before towing your trailer. This means checking the vehicle recommendations and the tow hitch limitations. In some cases, a truck may be able to pull more than the factory installed toe hitch can handle. In this scenario, be sure to replace the factory tow hitch with one rated to handle more weight than you anticipate hauling. For example, if you plan to pull 10,000 pounds of trailer weight (including the trailer) you would be best to provide a trailer hitch and vehicle that can haul upwards of 12,000 pounds. It is always better to have a tow hitch and towing capacity greater than your maximum towed vehicle.
Lightweight cargo trailers are not designed to be pulled by trucks larger than 1-ton capacity. This is an interesting caveat to the above theory that the bigger the better when it comes to trailer towing capacity. For most individuals, this will not be an issue as a ¾ ton truck is the most popular truck for most builders and home owners. Nonetheless it is good to know that vehicles larger than one ton trucks can actually be a problem with lightweight trailers and should not be used.
The most important ingredient in towing vehicles is the operator. Be responsible from start to finish. Know how to load, tow, and drive your trailer well before you take it to the road. The data shows that the three main causes of trailer accidents are all based on operator error. They are, in order of magnitude:
- Driver error. This includes many sub headings and can be considered general mistakes made by the operator.
- Failure to match speed with conditions.
- Improper loading – less than 10% weight over the hitch.
Driver error covers many items from driving while tired to talking on a cell phone while writing down appointments. Of course neither of these are good ideas; however, to draw each sub heading out into its own column would be overkill. The rules of the road for driving a vehicle all apply to towing a trailer and a few additional ones should be considered. Vehicle mirrors should extend beyond the trailer to allow for good vision on both sides of the trailer. Backing up should only take place after you have performed a full walk-around of the vehicle to ensure there is nothing unseen behind the trailer. With a trailer, you become a vehicle which makes wide right turns. Surely you have seen the writing on a tractor trailer informing you that the vehicle makes wide right turns. This is obviously the case with larger trucks and trailers yet even a small trailer can affect your turning angles.
Road conditions have a large effect on the handling of the trailer. Rainy and slick conditions have a much bigger impact on a towed vehicle than on a powered truck or car. The dead weight behind your towing vehicle is more likely to be caught by the wind or by puddles in the road. As a result, slower speeds must be used under inclement weather conditions. This may sound obvious, but all too often I see construction trailers hauling down the road at full speed as they slide side to side in the wind and rain. The most subtle movements caused by the weather conditions can ultimately flip the trailer, but may not be obvious to the driver until it is too late. This is why driver adjustments need to be made before the conditions adversely affect the towing vehicle and trailer.
As discussed above it is crucial to properly load the trailer. In most cases, people think about the side to side weight of the trailer but miss out on the front to back loading. The trailer hitch cannot have less than 10% of the weight of the vehicle over it. If it does, the trailer will be in a “pulling” position off the hitch. It will be constantly in this “state of pull” and any large bumps could release the hitch from the trailer causing a dangerous situation. Keep the tongue/hitch weighted while being sure not to overload it. Again, follow the recommendations of the trailer manufacturer.
Do NOT twist your chains when you attach them to the vehicle. Do not cross them either. Both of these scenarios are common place, especially at rental yards where most people get their first introduction to driving a trailer. The chains at a rental yard have to be long enough to accommodate a range of vehicles. Your trailer chains, however, should be cut to perfect length. If they are crossed or twisted, they will not be stable should they be needed in an emergency and the trailer will quickly end up out of control. Straight chains, installed as tightly as possible for the vehicle are the best emergency backup.
Perhaps the most challenging and intimidating aspect of working with trailers is backing them up. Many people do not know how to back a trailer with confidence. The larger the trailer, the easier it is to back, so that should be helpful when you decide to purchase a jobsite trailer. There are techniques to know that make the process simple. First, plan ahead. Make your move towards an object in gradual increments. If you try to make a dramatic move all at once, you will likely miss the target and end up needing to readjust your position before you can continue. Consider the backing of your trailer like a chess match, you need to be at least three moves ahead to win.
Creating the interior design of the trailer can be fun. Always design to your specific needs as best you can. I suggest you use lightweight aluminum and plywood to build any shelves to limit the additional weight and thus minimize the impact on your load reduction. Using wood framing or cabinets will reduce the amount of tools and materials you can carry.
What you buy, how you load it, and how you drive it are all up to you. Knowing the truth about trailers is important before you buy and certainly before you drive one. Don’t take for granted the impact of a trailer on your driving skills. Take the time to learn how to drive the trailer so that you can be comfortable on the road. When you find yourself in a situation needing to back down a narrow road without hitting cars on both sides, you will be happy you took the time to practice the art of driving a trailer.