We race. Which means we need to have some sort of tow vehicle and trailer. For most of us, it’s a pickup truck and an open or small enclosed trailer. For others, it’s a 53-foot semi. They requires a special license and the trailing that goes along with it. For the rest of us without all that training, towing pretty much comes down to common sense. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of people on the road with a serious lack of that!
Even though all your on-track experience will, in most cases, make you a better driver on public roads, you still need to worry about everyone around you. Beyond that, regular maintenance and inspections of your truck and trailer can help you be a lot safer on your way to and from the track. The next few pages will cover some of the obvious, and not so obvious things to remember, look for, and inspect each and every time you take your truck and trailer out.
1. Check Tire Pressures
Tire pressures on your truck and/or trailer are usually one of the most common things that go overlooked. This can make for a very dangerous situation. Low tire pressure can lead to excessive heat in the tire, which will lead to a blow out. When your trailer is holding your race car, spare parts, tools, and other equipment, the sheer dollar value of the contents should be reason enough to inspect everything. A blown tire can lead to a loss of control, and you could lose everything.
Most trailers are stored outside. The exposure to the elements can be very hard on many of the components, especially the wiring. Frayed or broken wires can result in lights that don’t work or the loss of brakes. Each is extremely important. Damaged wires should be fixed properly to ensure a solid connection with enough room for the wire to move (if the wire is in motion on the road).
3. Brake Controller
A brake controller is a must for any racer with even a small open car trailer. The combined weight of the trailer and race car can equal the weight of the truck, and the total weight is more than any truck’s brakes are designed to handle on its own. A good brake controller will give you the ability to adjust the trailer brakes to help you safely stop your rig. The level of trailer brakes should also be adjusted every time you use the truck and trailer. Keep in mind that the level will depend on the weight of the load and what type of driving you’ll be doing.
4. Service Axles
If you use your trailer on a regular basis, the axles should be inspected and serviced on a regular basis as well. The bearings should be greased and the axles checked for alignments. The axle bearings support large amounts of weight, and take a beating on the road. Maintenance is the key for long life.
5. Inspect Hitch and Ball
Your hitch and ball are extremely important, as these are what connect the truck and trailer together. The hitch and receiver support huge loads, and although they are built to be very tough, they should still be inspected for wear and cracks. Trailer balls should be greased regularly to prevent binding, wear, and rust like the one to the left. The ball is how the trailer locks to the truck. If it wears, the truck and trailer could become separated on the road leading to huge problems.
6. Balance Load
Loading your trailer correctly is important. Be sure you have plenty of D-hooks and tie-down points for you car and equipment.
Loading your car and equipment is a very important part of towing safely. The load should be centered over the trailer’s axles. If the weight is too far back, it can cause the trailer to sway, which can result in a lack of control at highway speeds. Put the load too far forward and the truck is carrying more of the load than it should. This cause premature wear in shocks, springs, and tires.
7. Proper Strapping
Good quality straps are extremely important. If you see excessive wear or tears in your straps, replace them immediately. Strapping your car and equipment is also extremely important. Be sure the straps are clear and any suspension components or other equipment that could sever a strap. There a couple of schools of thought when it comes to strapping a car. Some people cross straps, which keeps the car straight. While this does keep the car straight, if a strap does brake, the other diagonal strap will pull the car to that side of the trailer. At that point there are essentially no straps keeping the car tied down. If you keep the straps as straight as possible, any one strap can brake the car will stay in place.
Trailer brakes should be inspected often. What good are having trailer brakes if they don’t work? Be sure the shoes are in good shape and all electrical connections are solid. If you trailer through a hilly part of the country, trailer brakes can really be a lifesaver!
Let’s be honest, you need the people around you to be able to see you on your way home from the track. It’s easy to overlook the lights on your trailer, but you should inspect the marker lights, brake lights, and flashers every time you use your trailer.
10. Safety Chains
In the event your trailer breaks away from your truck, the safety chains are there to catch it. It sounds simple, but most people connect these incorrectly. Safety chains have to be crossed without excessive slack to be effective. When you cross them, they will catch the tongue of the trailer if breaks away. Without the chains crossed, the tongue of the trailer will dig into the ground. This could result in a complete loss of control, and with other drives around you, that’s the last thing you want.
Trailering isn’t all about your trailer. Tuners for late-model trucks can give you more power and better fuel efficiency. With the price of fuel as high as it is, any saving you can get at the pump are greatly appreciated!
The biggest safety aspect of trailering is you. You have to drive smart! Tailgating, speeding, or changing lanes too quickly can lead to accidents or damaged equipment because trucks and trailers aren’t designed to handle that. Slow down and take your time. Also be sure to drive with plenty of rest. The effects of fatigue are amplified with a trailer behind you. You need to be rested so you can react with plenty of time to whatever may happen on the road.
Be sure to give the structure of your trailer a thorough inspection. If your trailer has suspension, be sure to inspect it regularly. Broken spring shackles like this one to the right can lead to some serious damage!