Trailer Breakaway SystemIn some states, any trailer with a braking system is required to have what is known as a "breakaway system." In the event of a trailer hitch failure-if the trailer becomes disconnected from the hitch-the breakaway system will automatically apply the trailer brakes to stop the now-independent trailer. Trailers equipped with electric brakes carry a separate battery to activate the breakaway system, while braking force is applied hydraulically in surge brake applications. (A cable locks the brakes in a break-away situation.) Check the applicable laws to see if breakaway systems are required in your locale.
Trailer Buying TipsThere are many factors to consider when buying a trailer. TrailersForLess offers the following tips:
1 Go with an established trailer manufacturer. As with anything else, you usually get what you pay for, so go with the best that you can afford. After all, there's no sense spending umpteen dollars on your lowrider, only to lose it off of a cliff because you skimped on the trailer.
2 Look for highway-rated tires. TrailersForLess strongly recommends the use of bias-ply tires, advising that radials tend to produce an unsettling sidewall "walk" that can cause problems. If you must use radials, inflate them to the highest pressure allowed by the manufacturer. Other industry experts on the other hand, say that they love radial tires and recommend them. The decision is yours; just make sure that the tires are in good condition and rated for the load that they will be carrying.
3 Look for low deck heights and long ramps. This will help you avoid "high centering" your low-slung lowrider when you're driving it on or off the trailer. If your car is particularly low, be sure to get a "beavertail" and extra long ramps. Ask the seller for a guarantee that the trailer will load your car.
4 Avoid bolt-together trailers. According to trailer retailers who service many types of trailers, bolt-together types have an inordinate amount of problems. Look for welded trailers with components of structural steel rather than rolled form sheet steel. All-aluminum trailers, if welded, are also excellent but expensive.
5 Be an informed buyer. A knowledgeable trailer salesperson should ask you several questions pertaining to your intended cargo load. Know the weight, wheelbase, width and center of gravity of your intended load (don't forget, the car can be loaded on the trailer facing in either direction to balance the load). Decide on any options you might need, like a tire rack or storage box. It's important to know these things beforehand, so a trailer can be built to accommodate all your needs.
6 Trailers should have adequate and effective suspension travel. Otherwise, your beloved lowrider will be forced to absorb the majority of the road shocks... not a wise thing. The torsion suspensions now featured on many trailers, like Featherlites, Pace Americans and most other quality enclosed trailers, are a popular option.
7 Look for proper tie-down points. Is the tie-down point strong enough to hold the load? Vehicles should be tied down at the chassis, with the trailer absorbing any road shocks. There's some controversy surrounding this item, but the folks at TrailersForLess see this as the proper way to secure a car.
8 If you're purchasing an enclosed trailer, look for one with a curved or V-shaped frontal area because this significantly reduces aerodynamic drag. Also, look for a ramp door with more than two hinges to support the load. Four hinges in the same area tend to distribute the weight on the door more evenly, prolonging both hinge and door life. And unless you're into serious weight-lifting, make sure that the ramp door has spring assist.
9 Ask about the warranty. Does the manufacturer stand behind its work, or is it an unreliable operation?Ask plenty of questions. If you're dealing with a reputable outfit, they won't shy away from your questions and concerns. Remember, the more you know, the less chance you'll have of getting suckered into a bum trailer.
Trailering TipsOnce you've purchased the trailer that meets your needs, the following safety and operational pointers should be observed:
1 Always check the trailer to make sure that it's locked securely to the hitch. Never assume that "the other guy" did it. It pays to check. Also, use a trailer lock or padlock to secure the release latch in the down position.
2 Try to use about 10 percent of the trailer weight as tongue weight. This means that if you're pulling a 5,000-pound load, you should try to place about 500 pounds over the tongue. More tongue weight will stress the hitch and restrict the steering capacity of the tow vehicle, while less weight can cause dangerous fishtailing. Never have less than 75 pounds over the tongue.
3 Bent tongue jacks are a common problem, since people often do not wind up the jacks enough to clear the ground. A swing-away jack is therefore preferable, and will usually cost no more than $25 extra.
4 Before you even start, make sure that your vehicle is capable of safely towing the load. Check your owner's manual for towing capacities and make sure that you buy a hitch that is capable of safely towing the load. Finally, never have more weight behind you than in front of you. The tow vehicle should always weigh more than the trailer and load.
5 Check the trailer's ID plate and the sidewall of the tires to determine the maximum tire inflation pressures. Always run the maximum recommended tire pressures. Check the tires, lug nuts and the wheel bearings often to ensure proper operation.
6 Double safety chains should always be used. Most trailer companies recommend that you cross the chains under the coupler, with one hookup going from the left side of the trailer to the right side of the hitch, and the other crossed under the coupler from the right side of the trailer to the left side of the hitch. Make sure that the safety chains are attached properly. Keep the chains short enough to be effective, but long enough to allow proper turning movements. If they're too long, just twist them.
7 Never overload the trailer. Check the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rating on your trailer to determine capacities. Avoid using bumper hitches that aren't attached to the frame. Also, avoid using the factory truck bumper with holes for the trailer ball. Many of these bumpers are very weak, and may only be held to the truck with two or four hardware-quality bolts. Adjust the brakes every season. They can wear down to almost no stopping power if you let them slide.
Hitch TypesAnother important ingredient in the towing equation is the proper towing hitch. The use of the wrong hitch can lead to disaster.
Receiving And Nonreceiving HitchesThere are two basic categories of hitches: receiving and non-receiving. Receiving hitches feature a removable ball mount containing the trailer ball; this coupler is connected to a receiving hole on the tow vehicle. This allows for various types of ball heights and types to be used. To change heights, you simply slide one receiver out and slide a new one in. Non-receiving hitches are one-piece hitches that attach permanently to the tow vehicle. Ball height is generally not adjustable, which eliminates some of your ability to ensure level towing. (A trailer will tow better when very close to level; an un-level trailer may overload one axle.)
Weight-Distributing HitchesWeight-distributing hitches apply "leverage" between the trailer and the towing vehicle, thus allowing the tongue weight (TW) to be carried by all axles of both the tow vehicle and the trailer. These trailers are ideal if you have a very light tow vehicle and a very heavy load to tow. Greater TW loads can be towed with this type of hitch; in addition, a weight-distributing hitch gives the vehicle and trailer a level tow, which provides better control and less stress on all components. Weight-distributing hitches will also help to eliminate sway, but only if the sway is attributable to an imbalanced trailer load.
These hitches are also height adjustable, but because they can interfere with the transfer of braking forces, they are not recommended with surge braking systems. This is because the weight-distributing apparatus can often keep the surge cylinder from completely engaging or disengaging. Therefore, electric brakes must be used with these hitches.
TrailersForLess points out that these types of hitches are often sold for applications where they are not really needed. So, check around before buying one. The wrong hitch can make things worse.
Tongue Weight And Gross Trailer WeightThe two most important factors to selecting the proper hitch equipment are gross trailer weight (GTW) and tongue weight (TW). Tongue weight is the downward force placed upon the hitch ball by the trailer tongue (or coupler). In most cases, it should be 10- to 15-percent of the gross trailer weight (GTW). The gross trailer weight is the weight of the trailer combined with the weight of the load being trailered.
To determine tongue weight, simply place a scale under the tongue jack. To ensure proper readings, make sure that the trailer is level. Use a box or pieces of wood to bring the coupler up to normal height. A household scale can usually measure up to around 300 pounds.
If you'd like to measure higher weights, place a household scale and a brick of even thickness 3 feet apart. Set a piece of pipe on each, and lay a wood beam across the two. Reset the scale back to zero to account for the weight of the wood and pipes. Center the tongue jack on the wood beam, making sure that the trailer is loaded and even. (Be sure to block the trailer wheels so that it doesn't move.) To calculate the TW, simply multiply the scale reading by three.
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