You’ve got a million things on your mind. The weather is about to turn ugly. You want to hurry up and get to the jobsite and finish your work so you can go home and watch the game on TV. While you know safety is important, it’s not on the top of your mind right now. But, it should be. Safety should always be a priority - for you and your customers.
When accidents or problems occur, they usually are the result of someone being in a hurry, says John DeGeorge, national sales manager for Eager Beaver Trailers. Typically, he says no one intends to ignore safety and get reckless with a trailer.
"Drivers are professionals - they understand that if they make a mistake, not only could they get hurt, but they could hurt somebody else," DeGeorge says. "All it takes is a piece of equipment to come off and go through someone’s window ... and the car goes off the road."
If you ignore safety, Gary Knudsen, sales representative for Towmaster Trailers Inc., says, "You might think you’re getting by, but there’s always a consequence."
Keeping safety in mind, you and your customers can avoid mistakes. One way to do this is by going through a mental checklist or even checking off a list on paper. There are many precautions that need to be taken.
Watch your weight
Safety begins before the equipment is on the trailer. First and foremost is knowing how much weight a trailer can really tow.
"Most people overload their trailers and I don’t think they realize it," Knudsen says. "They buy or rent a trailer that fits the weight of the equipment that needs to be towed, but they forget about the weight added by various attachments or tools."
In addition to the load weight, you also have to factor in the trailer’s weight. If a trailer weighs 10,000 pounds and the gross vehicle weight rating (found on the hitch) is 40,000 pounds, that means you can put 30,000 pounds of payload on the trailer, DeGeorge explains.
Knudsen advises everyone to avoid towing the maximum weight. Instead, he suggests habitually using a trailer to about 80 percent of its capacity. As a result, he says the trailer (and especially tires) will last longer. Anytime something isn’t used 100 percent, it’s going to last longer and have better results, he says. Overall, vehicle control also will be better, he adds.
Knowing the rated towing capacity of the trailer is not enough. You also need to know the rated towing capacity of the vehicle that will be towing the trailer, Knudsen says. Make sure the vehicle can actually tow the trailer and the load by checking the owner’s manual or contacting the vehicle manufacturer or dealer, he says.
Hitch capacity, which is not always as high as the towing capacity, also is important. Here again, the owner’s manual or dealer should have the answer.
Finally, know the rated capacity of the securing devices (D-rings, chains, chain binders). All chains and binders should have ratings on them and binder chains should be Grade 70 or higher, DeGeorge says.
After you have established the weight ratings are suitable, and you’re getting ready to load the trailer, make sure the trailer is on level ground rather than on a hill or at an incline.
There are various consequences to not being on level ground. One, Knudsen points out, is that if a trailer is not level, the load on the trailer might slide sideways.
Also, make sure the ground is firm, that the wheels don’t get stuck in mud or snow.
If you’re using an electric brake trailer, remember it has no parking brakes. The wheels need to be locked, or chocked. Put chocks, or blocks, in front of and behind trailer tires to keep the trailer from moving.
Another common mistake is not tying down loads properly, Knudsen says. Throwing a chain or two across the front and back isn’t good enough. Each corner requires a separate chain and binder or strap, Knudsen says.
Four-point security requires four chains, four binders, says DeGeorge, noting Eager Beaver Trailers, along with John Deere and Crosby, updated their video for new trailer owners this summer to include the new federal guideline.