Whether you’re towing a boat, caravan, camper trailer or just a general purpose trailer, you need to make sure it’s well maintained and in good working order. Even for experienced drivers, towing a trailer can be dangerous. It affects the handling and performance of your car, can increase braking distance, reduce responsiveness and destabilise the vehicle.
Whether you’re an experienced driver or a complete towing novice, there are a number of trailer safety checks you should carry out before you hit the road.
These checks will not only ensure a safe towing experience, but can also make towing easier, improve handling, reduce fuel consumption and prevent fines and police defects.
One of the first checks you should carry out is a tyre check. Checking the condition of the tyres on your trailer is extremely important for safety and vehicle handling.
Just like you would on your car, first check the condition of the tyres. Most tyres will have tread wear indicators in the principal groves. Once the tyre is worn to the legal limit of 1.5mm, the indicators should be level with the surface of the tread.
You should also check that the tyres are wearing down evenly.
If your trailer has remained in storage or unused for a while, it’s also worth checking for flat spots or perishing in the sidewalls.
Check the pressure on all tyres, including the spare tyre (if the trailer has one). The recommended pressure depends on what type of tyres you are using, the road conditions you will be travelling on and the weight you will be carrying.
Check that all tyres are suited to the rims they are fitted on and that all tyres are matching (especially for dual tyre or double axle configurations).
Check that rims and wheels aren’t cracked, misshapen or damaged. Make sure all wheel nuts are attached and properly tightened. Finally, make sure you have a tyre iron and a jack with the lifting capacity to handle the trailer plus the load it’s carrying.
Brakes and Suspension Checks
Brake and suspension systems can vary depending on the type and size of trailer. To properly inspect the brakes and suspension you will need to raise the trailer and remove the wheels. You may also need some mechanical experience dealing with these systems. If you’re unsure, it’s best to leave these checks to a mechanic or trailer professional.
Some general brake checks include:
- Ensuring all brake components are securely mounted and not leaking
- Ensuring no brake cables are broken or damaged
- Checking the trailer has the appropriate braking mechanisms for its size and weight
- Ensuring all brake wiring is connected, secured and undamaged
- Checking the brakes in the vehicle operate the brakes on the trailer
As with the brakes, the suspension should also be checked prior to hooking up if the trailer hasn’t been used in a while. Different trailers have different suspensions systems. If you’re unfamiliar with the suspension components, you should get the trailer serviced by a pro.
Some suspension checks include:
- Checking for leaks in the shock absorbers
- Checking for cracked or broken leaves
- Tightening all bolts
- Check for perished or split bushes
Lights and Wiring
One of the most common trailer problems is issues with the lights and wiring. Before hitting the road you should ensure that all lights are working and all wiring is in good condition and securely connected.
Hook the trailer up to the car and check that all the lights are working. This includes brake lights, reverse lights, indicators, hazard lights, number plate light and any other lights or reflectors. Check that the brake lights and indicators work in sync with the vehicle controls.
Check all light covers on the trailer to ensure they are not damaged, obscured or discoloured. If necessary, remove the covers and clean them inside and out. While there, remove any globes, clean all the connections and check all connections are secure when you replace the globes.
Check for any moisture damage or corrosion to the wiring, as well as loose wires that could potentially be damaged.
Ensure the wiring pin on the car is in good condition, securely fitted and not corroded or damaged. Using a contact cleaner spray can help keep the connections electrically conductive.
The trailer tow hitch needs to be solid and secure to handle the towing stresses, as well as securing the trailer to the vehicle. Ensure that all coupling devices and connectors are fully operational and secure. Look for any components that are cracked, corroded, excessively worn, leaking, deformed or damaged in a way likely to cause failure.
Check that the breakaway system is solid and secure and that all other components are tight and secure.
Secure the Trailer Load
Once the trailer is loaded up, it’s vital to ensure the load is properly secured and that it doesn’t go beyond the trailer’s load rating capacity. Ensure the load is properly tied down and secured, all doors and ramps are secured, and that the appropriate tie-downs, straps or chains are used.
For camper trailers and caravans, check that all doors, panels and other moveable objects are secured to prevent anything from moving about inside. Remember that the police can fine you for towing unsecured loads.
Once your trailer is loaded up, you should also check visibility from the car. Make note of where your blindspots are since they will be in different places and probably larger than just driving the car on its own.
Registration and Insurance
Finally, remember that trailers must be registered and insured. Check the registration is current. Ensure the number plate matches the registration and that the plate is clean, visible and appropriately placed. The plate should be clearly visible from a distance of 20m and mounted no more than 130cm from the ground.
Once you’ve carried out these safety checks you should be ready to hit the road with safety and confidence.