Johannesburg – Anybody who’s ever tried to reverse a trailer knows that towing is not as simple as it looks.
Yet if you have a Class B driving licence you can legally tow anything up to 750kg without any relevant training or qualifications.
Nevertheless, towing even a little ‘Ventertjie’ will affect the acceleration, braking and maneuverability of your car, and will magnify the effect of any mistakes you do make.
So we asked Masterdrive boss Eugene Herbert – who at one time held the world land speed record for towing a caravan, so he should know what he’s talking about – for his advice, and here are his tips for towing:
BEFORE YOU GO:
If you’ve never towed before, get some training; at the very least take the trailer down to an empty car park and get a feel for how your car accelerates, brakes and steers with it attached.
Check that the trailer is roadworthy; if it’s been standing long enough for the tyres to get really flat, their sidewalls may have cracked, and just pumping them up will just make them more dangerous.
Check that the bearings are well greased, especially on boat trailers or if you live near the sea. Then get one of the kids to stand behind the trailer while you check the tail-lights and indicators.
Weight – and weight distribution – are most important, especially the gross and tow bar weights. Incorrect weighting can cause sway, so distribute it evenly, with heavier items in front of the axle.
On a caravan, empty the water tanks before you leave and refill them when you get there – which will also ensure that the water is fresh!
Secure the hitch with a pin or lock and cross the safety chains under the tow-hitch in an X shape. That way, if the trailer or caravan comes off the hitch while towing, it should drop onto the chains, giving you a chance to stop the bus before it goes its own way.
ON THE ROAD:
Bear in mind that everything takes longer when you’re towing: accelerating, slowing down and overtaking, so give yourself more room and be aware of faster vehicles.
Take corners later and sharper to avoid clipping the curb with the inside wheel of the trailer.
Higher speeds increase wind resistance, stressing the car and and the trailer – and burning extra fuel. Moderate speeds give better control and reduce sway, so allow for extra time on the road and take it easy.
If the trailer does start to sway, don’t try to steer out of it; gradually slow down until everything is back in line. Sudden turns can cause more sway, and slamming on the brakes can cause the trailer to jackknife.If it happens again, stop and check the cause; you may have to repack the caravan or trailer to redistribute the weight.
Every time you stop for a break, walk around the trailer or caravan for problems. And every time you stop for fuel, check the tyre pressures; they will be higher than when you left because the tyres get hot while running, but they should be the same on each side. If not, you may have a slow leak, which will require careful monitoring.