Trailer Safety

The following is a Trailer Safety Checklist published in 2002 by the National Boy Scouts of America Risk Management

Trailer Safety Checklist

If you lead a Scout Troop or a Venturing Crew, chances are you will need to use a trailer of some type as part of a trip this year. Most of us have “lost” – or heard of others who have “lost” – a trailer. A trailer flying off the roadway and landing harmlessly in a field may make for a humorous story, but there are too many trailer stories with fatal or catastrophic endings. Whether the equipment is owned or borrowed, safety is the operator’s responsibility. The beginning of summer is a good time to review proper techniques for preparing, hooking up, and towing your unit’s trailer.  It wouldn’t  hurt a bit to use the checklist below every trip.

Check the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your tow vehicle, the gross tow weight (GTW) of the trailer, and the tongue weight (TW) of the trailer. You can find these in your vehicle and trailer owner’s manuals. If you don’t have an owner’s manual for the trailer, check the GTW listed on the trailer identification plate or contact the dealer or manufacturer. Tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the ball by the trailer coupler.  Never overload any part of your towing system.

Check the hitch on your vehicle. It should be  firmly attached to the vehicle frame (preferably), or it may be mounted directly to the utility bumper.  Check for any stress cracks or failures and tighten any loose bolts and nuts. Many local vehicle and trailer dealers can help evaluate hitch class with the type of trailer and vehicle to be used. Be sure they are compatible.

Check the trailer ball; it must be the proper size for the trailer receiver. A hitch receiver may temporarily “lock” onto an undersized ball, but it could pop off on the first large bump. Universal” balls with a small diameter threaded stem and a bushing to fill in the hitch hole are convenient but are more likely to fail under a heavy load and aren’t recommended.
Use two safety chains securely attached to each side of the tongue. Crossing the chains and attaching to the tow vehicle allows the chain to “cradle” the tongue if the trailer breaks loose, preventing it from nose diving into the road and possibly flipping over. Leave only enough slack to permit full turning.

Look under the trailer. (Most trailer users fail to do this.)  All bracing, struts, etc., should be solidly in place and in good condition. The axle springs should be solidly attached to any anchor points and pivot points. Have an expert periodically check the anchor points, bushings, and wheel bearings.

Check your tow vehicle tires and trailer tires to be sure they are in good condition and properly inflated. Improper tire inflation can cause the trailer to sway. Always replace trailer tires with the manufacturer’s designated size and type.

Check the trailer lights. If the lights on the trailer dim significantly when turn signals or four-way flashers are on, there may be a poor ground connection. Check to be sure the left- and right-turn signals operate correctly and are equally bright. Most trailers that are not equipped with brakes have a four-way plug (commonly call a “flat four). Other trailers will have a seven-way plug, which accommodates electric brakes, and a separate line for inside lights.

The most important things to do are inspect your trailer frequently, at least before each towing trip, and preferably at each fuel and rest stop, and provide maintenance for your trailer when necessary.  These tips are very general in nature; because each trailer is different, your owner’s manual and qualified trailer mechanic should be your primary source of information. You don’t want the next “lost” trailer story to be about the one under your responsibility.