Towing a trailer, boat or caravan this Easter – here’s what you need to know

As the Easter long weekend approaches, traffic officials across the country will be bracing themselves for increased traffic volumes as holidaymakers head off for the Easter break, which is traditionally a high risk period on all South African roads.

With fatalities at unacceptably high levels motorists are reminded to travel responsibly. And, if you are towing a trailer, a boat or a caravan, towing should be done correctly to avoid damage to your vehicle and accidents on our roads.

Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says the first thing to ensure is that the trailer or caravan has been properly serviced by a competent and accredited repairer. “These have probably been standing idle since last December. During the service the following areas should receive special attention: brakes (if fitted); electrical connections and components such as lights, cables etc; wheel bearings (these need to be greased if the trailer has been standing for a lengthy period); and tyres with emphasis on the tyre age i.e cracks etc.”

He adds that it’s also important to ensure you have the correct licence and what you are towing falls within the legal requirements in terms of weight in relation to your vehicle. “Many motorists don’t realise that their drivers licence determines what vehicle they can drive and what type of trailer they can pull. The AA provides a break-down of license codes and the corresponding trailer weight. It also explains how to calculate the trailer to car weight ratio. It is important that motorists don’t attempt to tow an item that is too heavy for their vehicle,” says Ranft.

The cost of fuel and fuel consumption is also a factor to consider before heading off on holiday with a trailer, boat or caravan in tow. “Towing roughly halves your normal distance per full tank of fuel, so be careful to plan your stops beforehand. It’s also important to budget for the additional fuel you’ll use when towing. You’ll need to double your usual fuel expenditure,” he advises.

Ranft says that speeding is the number one cause of accidents when towing. “Drivers need to be aware that the stopping distance is far longer when towing and drivers should allow for this.” He adds that passing heavy vehicles and vice versa creates a vortex which can affect the towing combination stability. “Ensure that you are not caught unawares. Do not use excessive braking when navigating a steep descent as this may overheat the brakes and lead to premature brake failure. Rather select a lower gear to assist with the braking force and keep to the recommended speed limit.”

Weight is also a key consideration when towing. Towing a trailer can be dangerous with the wrong weight distribution as illustrated in the following youtube clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mW_gzdh6to. If more than 40% of the load is placed behind the axle, the towed vehicle becomes unstable. At least 60% of the weight should be loaded in front of the axle. A tail heavy trailer will create a whiplash effect that will force you off the road and cause an accident.

He also encourages drivers who stop to assist a broken-down vehicle, when it is safe to do so, to ensure they use the correct equipment before attempting to tow the vehicle. “Use only approved towing equipment such as towing bars and ropes. Be aware when using a rope that it will slacken on deceleration. By using the correct rope you avoid the risk of the rope snapping on acceleration. A tow bar should be used if the towed vehicle’s brakes are not working. Drivers should never use a tow ball on the towing vehicle, to tow another stranded vehicle as the tow ball may break, causing parts of it to become potentially fatal flying objects. A tow rope of bar should always be affixed to a safe towing point, ideally attached to the chassis of the towing vehicle. Be aware that the steering on the towed vehicle may be extremely heavy when the engine is not running so too are the brakes without vacuum assistance,” he adds.

“Every Easter weekend we have many fatalities on our roads. Let’s make sure that we tow responsibly and take it easy on our roads in April,” concludes Ranft.