Towing Safety

Towing SafetyArticle By Jim Kaekel, Jr.

As a racing hauler driver or crew member, you're fully aware of the hazards on the roadways just getting to the track. Congested traffic, construction zones, blown tires and distracted drivers are an everyday reality. That's why it's important to select the correct tow vehicle and trailer, and to be sure it's mechanically sound and fitted with the proper towing accessories.

The tow vehicle and trailer should be viewed as a package, designed to work together. If you want a 28' enclosed trailer, be aware that you'll need, at minimum, a heavy duty 3/4 ton, or better yet, a 1-ton truck to pull it. If a lightweight open trailer will suffice, a 1/2 ton pickup may do the job if it's outfitted with heavy duty rear springs, a weight equalizing hitch and sway control.

Regardless of the truck selected, do not exceed the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight). These specifications are set by the manufacturer and include the weights of cargo, passengers and the tongue weight. It's equally important to never exceed the tow vehicle's GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating), which is the combined maximum weight of the tow vehicle, trailer with cargo, and passengers. To determine the maximum GTW (Gross Trailer Weight) rating, subtract the GVW from the GCVW. Both ratings can be found on a tag inside the driver's door.

Trucks pulling a conventional tag trailer should be fitted with a Class III, IV or V frame mount receiver with the specific class dependent upon gross trailer weight. A wide variety of receivers are available from Cequent Performance Products (Reese/Draw-Tite/Hidden Hitch), and many are a direct bolt-on. It's important to know the gross weight and tongue weight of the trailer prior to purchasing a receiver and hitch, according to John Kroll of Cequent Performance Products. Kroll says that "many people simply don't know the tongue or trailer weight of what their towing."

Two types of trailer hitches are compatible with frame mount receivers; weight carrying and weight distributing. Weight carrying hitches employ a simple ball mount, while weight distributing units include a hitch bar, adjustable ball mount, spring bars and snap-up brackets. Although weight distributing units are a bit more costly than a standard ball mount, they greatly reduce tongue weight, distributing it between the tow vehicle and trailer axles, improving handling. Regardless of hitch type, don't overlook the hitch pin and retaining clip, which secure the draw bar. The draw bar is subject to stress and if it shears off, the results can be dramatic. Proper truck-to-trailer wiring is important as well and Cequent's T-One wiring connector, a vehicle-specific connector that plugs directly into the OEM wiring harness, provides connections for brake, turn and running lights.

Relatively inexpensive and easy to install, a sway control unit can be added to weight carrying or weight distributing hitches to improve handling and eliminate trailer sway. Kroll states that a sway control unit is the most common safety item missing from larger towing rigs. Most weight distributing hitches include a provision for a sway control, while a weight carrying hitch may require a special ball mount that includes a sway control tab.

Fifth wheel or gooseneck style trailers require a mount in the truck bed. Typically used with trailers that are longer than 32', fifth wheel or gooseneck hitches eliminate sway, improve handling and lessen turning radius.

Safety chains and a breakaway switch are required by law in most states. The chains should be of sufficient load capacity and crossed underneath the hitch so if the trailer breaks free, the tongue will be caught by the chains and not fall onto the road. The breakaway switch will automatically apply the trailer brakes if the trailer breaks free from the tow vehicle.

An electronic brake controller should be mounted in the tow vehicle within the driver's reach. The controller varies the braking capability of the trailer and can be adjusted so trailer brakes apply aggressively without locking-up. A brake control wiring harness, offered by Cequent, is available for a wide variety of late model vehicles.

Keep in mind that race teams notoriously overload their rigs, not realizing that all of that weight has to be brought to a safe stop, often with only a split second notice.

Example Tow Vehicle: 2001 GMC HD 2500 4 Wheel Drive Extended Cab with a GVW of 9,200 lbs.

GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating): 22,000 lbs.
GTW (Gross Trailer Weight): 12,800 lbs.
(22,000 - 9,200 = 12,800)
Tech Information Courtesy Of Cequent Performance Products

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