Extra cargo requires extra precautions. From trailers to watercrafts to bikes, there’s no lack of stuff to hitch and haul during the warm-weather months.
That extra weight and bulk, however, comes with potential danger. In 2010 alone, nearly 56,000 passenger vehicle crashes involved a trailing unit. While three-fourths of these crashes only caused property damage, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the remaining quarter resulted in injuries and 340 fatalities.
Keep the roads safe when hauling gear to your next great adventure by observing a few pieces of advice:
- Choose wisely. With cheaper models being more likely to contain weak tubing that’s susceptible to breakage and poor locking devices, it’s important to choose quality workmanship over an attractive price. Experts recommend hitches that are easy to install (they shouldn’t require any extra tools for assembly) and have a locking clip. Also, if you’re looking to strap things down, opt for quality tie-down straps with good hooks and ratchets over weaker bungee cords.
- Find your perfect weight. Consult your vehicle’s manual to determine the maximum weight your auto can handle and make a realistic estimate of how much weight you’ll really be hauling. (If you want to be extra certain, consider paying a visit to a public scale.)
- Consider enlisting professional help. Not mechanically inclined? Then ask the store from which you bought the hitch for help—oftentimes, their technicians will offer no-cost installation services.
- No luck there? Then call up a trusted mechanic or an all-purpose handyman.
- Do some quality control. Ensure the hitch is properly attached by trying to pull it apart yourself. Also check to see if the weight is evenly distributed and that the air pressure on all tires is up to par. Finally, if you’re hauling a trailer, make sure its brake lights are in good working condition.
- Drive (extra) safe. First things first: Slow down! Extra weight requires you to drive at nearly half your regular speed and to use extra caution when stopping, changing lanes, turning corners or backing up. You’ll also want to acclimate yourself to accelerating slower, taking wider turns, giving yourself longer brake times and allotting extra space when parking.
- Take a test run. Not used to driving like this? Then consider taking a few practice turns in a vacant parking lot before you hit the road.
For more tips and tricks, check out Towing a Trailer: Being Equipped for Safety from the NHTSA.