Going on a trip? Let’s get your vehicle & trailer ready

Since the summer is a time for camping, traveling, hiking or sightseeing, and being out-of-doors, it is also time to make sure you are ready for many other things along the way.

Sun, bugs, scrapes, cuts, flats and breakdowns. Have I changed anyone’s mind yet?

Well, couch potatoes we ain’t, so let us get our gear ready to pack, tote, store, and maintain. Since it is the out-of-doors, we need to be ready.

Bob Brennecke

If you are traveling by private vehicle make sure it has been maintained from over the winter. Check all fluid levels (look at your owner’s manual), tire pressure, lug nut torque, battery, and all bolts on the trailer hitch (if you will be towing). 

This check goes for your trailer, also, especially the lug nuts. I have spoken about wheel bearings before, so don’t forget them.

There are many things to check when towing a trailer and the larger the rig, the more to check. The one set of items that has to be on the checklist is the trailer’s physical hook-up at the hitch. 

I have gone to classes on towing and have used trailers for years and have been educated through the school of hard knocks, also. 

Some hitches have flip-over catches and some have a screw-down type. Note the crossed chains. 

When connecting your trailer to the ball hitch make sure the locking mechanism is open when setting the trailer onto the ball socket, so the ball inserts into the trailer cup locking mechanism.

Also, you should use a locking pin to make sure the lock stays connected to the ball. DO NOT USE A KEY-TYPE LOCK! 

You ask why? Well, when towing your trailer if there is an emergency and you need to remove your trailer from your vehicle, you might not be able to put your hands on the key quickly. 

There have been instances when a trailer has caught on fire and the keys were locked in the burning trailer. Not only was the trailer a total loss, but the tow vehicle was also. This would leave you in “more than in a bad spot.” 

There are times that a lock on a hitch can make you feel better leaving the trailer alone or attached to the tow vehicle, but not while towing. The lock may deter a criminal but if they have the time or tools and they want your rig, it’s gone.

Another simple thing to remember is to attach the safety chains. Ah, yes! The safety chains, but how? 

If you cross the chains and the trailer comes off the hitch the trailer will fall into the cradle of the chains that are crossed, keeping the trailer from swinging from side to side. 

Also, make sure the chains are the correct length. You don’t want them dragging the pavement and you don’t want to twist them to make them shorter because that will weaken the chains’ safety capacity. 

You should also check your emergency break-a-way brake switch on your trailer. This device is a normally “off” connection but when the plunger is pulled out, electricity flows to your brakes, in turn stopping your trailer.

A black plastic plunger pushes into the brake switch housing, turning off the electric brakes. When the trailer comes loose, the plunger pulls out and applies brakes. Surge brakes are similar, only surge brakes do not operate electrically. 
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When vehicle brakes are applied the trailer weight pushes on the hydraulic cylinder attached to the trailer tongue and applies trailer brakes. So don’t try backing up a steep hill, it will apply the trailer brakes.

Many trailer owners use the spring-type plastic connectors with a clip on the end to connect from brake switch to the vehicle. These springy plastic connectors definitely make it easier to use because they are very flexible. 

Some trailer owners use small wire rope or heavy woven wire string about 1/8-inch diameter to connect to the hitch. 

There could be problems with both methods if the lengths are not correct. The springy cord “may” be strong enough to pull the plunger from the break-a-way plug (if) it is short enough.

If your trailer has come loose from the vehicle the chains have hopefully held the trailer from going into oncoming traffic or running into the ditch.  

A tag attached to the surge brake reads, “Hook emergency brake chain to center of vehicle. Leave enough slack to allow vehicle to turn without tightening.”

If the cord is not short enough or strong enough to pull the plunger from the trailer’s electric plug mechanism and put the electric brakes on, the trailer will whip side to side pulling the tow vehicle with it. 

Having the brakes pull back on the tow vehicle will help you stop in a more controlled manner.

The sure method is to use woven or twisted wire string/rope cut to the proper length and properly connected to a hook so as to be able to pull the plunger, and set the electrical brakes on the trailer.

All you have to do is measure carefully to get the correct length while leaving room for the turning trailer. There are kits for connecting the 1/8-inch woven/twisted wires into loops to connect to the plunger and hook.

Another check is the lights on the rear of the trailer, (blinkers, stop, and running). Have someone in the back checking. 

Check also that the steps are up. Many steps have been torn off by not putting up and locked into place.

Roof vents, TV antennas, or anything that needs to be down for clearance must be stowed properly. 

All windows should be closed and locked along with everything (too much to mention) inside the trailer. Loose items should be tied or secured so as not to fall or break while traveling, including the ice box/refrigerator. 

It is a lot of work cleaning up orange juice, mayonnaise, cookies and crackers off the camper floor from an unsecured fridge door. 

Also, check the water levels. You may not want to travel with a full tank of water but a little water might come in handy for washing hands or cleaning the mess from the fridge. 

Check the propane tanks for fuel and turn them off while traveling (for safety). Some people do travel with the refrigerator operating on gas, but you should always turn off the gas refrigerator while refueling. There is an open flame and gasoline fumes in close proximity to one another. 

There are many safety tips in many towing books and trailer manufacturers’ manuals, and these are but a few I have come across and may not apply to your situations. 

Check all your tow vehicle’s instructions and trailer towing instructions before “hitting the road.”

(Bob Brennecke lives in Ballwin, Mo., and can be reached at robertbrennecke@hotmail.com.)

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