Across the country, people use trailers to haul cargo. Trailers are great for moving large items that can’t be fit into passenger cars or light trucks, extending capacity and offering greater flexibility. Whether it is a motorcycle you’re transporting or recreational gear, household items, or commercial merchandise, a trailer is the ideal solution for hauling cargo, according to All County Insurance, a highly-rated California auto Insurance agency.
Using a trailer safely is key to successful transportation. In this guide, we’ll discuss tips to avoid trailer sway and to get your cargo safely to its destination.
What is Trailer Sway?
When a trailer encounters high winds or an improperly-balanced or shifting cargo load, the phenomenon of “trailer sway” can occur. This is when the trailer begins to move from side to side. At best, trailer sway can present a road hazard to the driver and other motorists on the road. At its worst, violent trailer sway can result in the complete loss of control of the towing vehicle, causing a serious crash.
Tips to Avoid Trailer Sway
There are many steps motorists can take to avoid trailer sway and to correct the situation if it should occur. Here are top tips to help keep you and your cargo safe:
Focus on tongue weight: a properly-loaded and balanced trailer places about 10-20% of the total weight on the tongue of the trailer, or the part that attaches to the towing vehicle at the hitch. If tongue weight isn’t correct, this can lead to serious trailer sway. A great way to ensure a proper tongue weight is to use a commercial vehicle scale, often found at truck stops. For example, if your trailer’s gross weight is 3000 pounds, you should aim for a tongue weight of 300-600 pounds at the trailer’s hitch. You may need to shift cargo around in the trailer to achieve the ideal tongue weight.
Cargo balance: typically, heavier items should be placed toward the front of the trailer – as close to the tongue/hitch as possible. It is also a good idea to distribute cargo evenly along the centerline of the trailer for stability when traveling. To keep cargo from shifting and creating an unbalanced load (which can lead to trailer sway), use adequate tiedowns to secure items in the trailer.
Sway control devices: these devices help to reduce the effects of high winds, sharp turns, or unbalanced cargo loads. They work by applying frictional force between the trailer and the towing vehicle. Sway control devices may need adjustment to work for a specific cargo load; simply adjust the device’s handle a quarter turn at a time until stability is achieved. For heavier trailers – those exceeding 5000 pounds of gross weight, a sway control device should be attached on each side of the trailer’s tongue/hitch.
Safe Trailer Towing Tips:
In general, it is best to avoid trailering during windy conditions if possible. If you can’t, or experience the beginnings of a trailer sway situation, here are some handy tips to keep you and your cargo safe:
- If trailer sway starts, reduce the speed of the towing vehicle gradually. Hitting the brakes hard can result in the loss of control.
- Avoid sharp turns or excessive steering movements. Steady, even pressure on the steering wheel will help to stabilize the trailer.
- Increasing speed can cause trailer sway to become severe; instead, gradually lower the speed of the towing vehicle until the sway stops.
- If your trailer is equipped with its own braking system, use those brakes to correct a sway.
- Finally, if trailer sway continues, it is a great idea to get off the road and evaluate what is causing the trailer to sway. Your cargo may have shifted, or the tongue weight is inadequate to prevent sway. Correcting these situations will allow you to continue on your way safely.