If you are planning to hire a towable trailer or caravan this summer for the first time, it might not be immediately apparent how to hook up the brake system to your own vehicle. Indeed, even if you have performed the job before, it’s worth refreshing the memory as while the principles are the same, the steps might vary depending on the model. This is essential safety and should be approached with care and diligence.
While for small utility trailers an independent brake system is not necessary, for any larger load brakes are essential. That’s because when travelling at higher speeds and it becomes necessary to stop sharply, or while trying to control the speed of the tow vehicle on a steep downward gradient, the trailer can charge into the back of the vehicle, causing it to lose control, or the trailer itself can be put under undue strain, causing it to sway and pitch from side to side. It’s an accident waiting to happen, so ensure that when towing a trailer you have hooked up the brakes and they are functioning flawlessly.
Things to remember
1. As a general rule, the weight of the fully laden trailer should not be greater than 85 percent of the vehicle being used to tow it, so ensure you check that the vehicle you are driving is heavy enough to handle the trailer.
2. Look for the electrical system of the towing vehicle at bumper level and plug in the wiring harness of the trailer brakes. In addition to serving the magnetic brake system, this is also essential for running the brake lights and indicator signal lights lights. Trailer brakes do not use hydraulic fluid. Instead, magnets engage the brake drums when fired by an electric charge.
3. For added safety, most brake systems on larger trailers come with a control panel which the driver can activate by hand within easy reach of their driving position. This is a back up system and if you begin to experience sway on the trailer, or sense it is losing control, activate the brake system using the control panel to instantly bring the trailer under control.
4. Most importantly, never exceed 60mph when towing a trailer. Speed kills, and this is even more true when you are towing a heavy trailer. Keep your road speed to a safe level, adjust your braking distance to the car in front to account for the extra weight – about 5 seconds is a safe distance – and be aware at all times of developments ahead so you can brake in plenty of time.
Michael D. Hall is a consultant at erento, the world’s largest online rental marketplace. erento lists over 1 million rental items in 2,200 categories such as Trailer hire, Caravan hire and many others.