Nobody starts a vacation intending to become a trailer sway wreck statistic. However, you can prevent this type of accident by following some of these towing tips and proper set up procedures to ensure safe travels while on route to your destination.
What Caused The Travel Trailer Sway Wreck?
As these RVers in the video flipped their rig on the highway, look at the travel trailer carefully. Notice the fish tailing action? After the trailer flips, a casual glance suggests that maybe the tow vehicle was mismatched to the trailer. Improper match of tow vehicle and trailer is a major cause of trailer sway wrecks. There may have been many other factors that led up to this trailer accident, including uneven hitch weight distribution, excessive speed and wind.
RVs are large vehicles. Surprisingly, they usually don’t require any kind of training or special license to operate. As RVers it’s up to us to learn the best ways to avoid trailer sway wrecks and other RV accidents on the highway. These four simple tips will help you be a safer RV owner on the road.
Tow With the Right Vehicle
Whether you’re looking to buy a travel trailer or you already own one, you must know if your tow vehicle and trailer is a good match.
- Locate the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your tow vehicle. This represents the maximum weight your tow vehicle can carry, including passengers, cargo, fuel and the vehicle itself.
- Find the Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) of the trailer you want to buy.
- Compare the two figures. If the GTW exceeds 50 percent of the GVWR, a trailer sway or even a wreck could happen.
Invest in a Weight Distribution Hitch System
If your trailer weighs more than 50-percent of the tow vehicle’s weight, much of the towing burden will be forced onto the tow vehicle’s rear axle instead of front and rear. This also happens if your trailer has too much weight located behind the axles.
Excessive weight on the rear axle will cause your headlights to point up, your rear end to sag and handling problems to occur. Eventually you could end up like the RVer in the trailer sway wreck video pictured above. A good weight distribution hitch system will set you back a couple hundred dollars, but it will spread trailer hitch weight evenly across all vehicle and trailer axles.
Don’t Speed Downhill
Excessive downhill speed causes unstable trailer and tow vehicle combinations. As a tow vehicle speeds up, the heavy trailer tracking behind it will move even faster. Any braking action could cause the trailer to put excessive force on the tow vehicle and promptly start a fishtailing action. Here’s how to avoid it:
- Maintain a safe speed on descents.
- Downshift into lower gears to slow down.
- Use brakes sparingly.
- If sway occurs, manually use the trailer brake controller to slow down. Trying to brake with your tow vehicle usually makes the problem worse.
Watch Weather Reports
Trailer sway is more common on windy days as uneven forces slam into the sides of the RV. Passing vehicles do the same thing and on windy days it makes the problem even worse. Here’s what to do in high winds:
- If the trailer starts feeling unsteady, do not apply the brakes.
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.
- Steer straight until you’re through the wind.
Accidents happen but avoiding trailer sway and an accident is almost entirely up to the person behind the wheel. Preventive actions begin by safely matching up the tow vehicle to the trailer, continue with regular RV maintenance like proper tire inflation and always exercise safe, defensive driving techniques on the open road.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.