Towing any vehicle, whether it’s a refrigerated truck, a snack hut or even just a standard trailer, will dramatically affect the way your van handles. If you are not used to towing any kind of trailer, there are a few safety tips you should bear in mind before setting off.
The first rule is – always read the manual. Even if you are an experienced driver with plenty of practice in towing the manual will give you vital information that will determine how you hitch up the trailer, tyre pressures, the maximum load limit and weight distribution instructions. Refrigerated trailers will also need to be connected up correctly to ensure that all electrical connections are wired up properly and that the unit will not fail in transit.
commercial van insurance can be invalidated if your policy does not cover you for towing, so it is essential that you check before hitching up your trailer that your van insurance allows you to tow a trailer. This is particularly important if you are towing vehicles such as snack huts, as they may require additional cover to deal with the contents of the hut and whether the hut has propane gas cylinders attached. Some cheap van insurance policies may not cover you for towing trailers over a certain weight, so check your policy carefully before venturing out onto the road.
Once you’ve checked that your insurance is in place and you have also had a good look at the manual, the next step is to ensure that your vehicle is suitable for towing the weight of the trailer and that the trailer itself is hitched up correctly. Any trailer that has its own braking system must by law be fitted with a safety chain. This will prevent the trailer from potentially careering into oncoming traffic should the hitch fail by applying the safety brakes. Ensure that if your trailer does has a safety chain fitted that it is attached correctly to the towing vehicle.
One of the most common causes of incidents involving towed vehicles is incorrect weight distribution of the load. By checking with the manual you will be able to determine the correct weight for the axle configuration and how that weight should be distributed for maximum safety.
Connecting a trailer to a vehicle changes almost every aspect of normal roadcraft. The extra weight will mean that you will have to apply more pressure to the accelerator to get the vehicle moving and braking distances are increased, again because of the additional momentum of the trailer. You will need to leave yourself an extended distance between yourself and the vehicle in front when driving to give yourself plenty of time to stop in an emergency. ‘Blind spots’ may be greatly increase, particularly on the nearside of the vehicle, so ensure that your mirrors are adjusted accordingly or use convex mirror additions to minimise areas of restricted visibility. Because you need more time to react when towing a trailer, you will need to look further ahead and be aware of potential hazards much earlier than if you were in a normal vehicle with no trailer attached.
The handling of the vehicle will also be affected when cornering, and depending on the length of your trailer you may need to reposition yourself on the road before making a sharp left or right turn. Trailer wheels track tighter, so your turns have to be wider to compensate. This may put you over the central line, so be aware of oncoming traffic and your road position when turning. Gear selection on steep inclines and declines is also important – a lower gear when going downhill will enable the engine to act as an additional brake rather than risking overheating the brakes by applying them all the way down a hill. If you have tow-mode on your vehicle, engage it when tackling hills.
Towing a trailer need not be a daunting experience, and if you have never towed before find a quiet area to practice before venturing out on the road to get used to the difference in handling and manoeuvrability of your vehicle. Remember to take your time, give yourself plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicle in front and make sure that all your trailer lights are working before you set off. A few simple steps before you hitch up should mean that you will be able to tow any trailer safely.