The story you are about to read on car trailer safety is one that I have wanted to write for a long time. During my on-the-job research years, I'm here to tell you there's nothing quite like a good brush with death to accelerate one's learning curve. There are definitely two schools of thought when it comes to the subject of car trailers. There are the folks who like to live by the "no trailer queens" motto and then there are the guys with drop-dead gorgeous show trucks that wouldn't make it through a show season unscathed if it weren't for a car trailer. Either way, at one time or another every one of us is going to have to load their truck onto the flat deck of a tandem car trailer. This might be because of a mechanical failure or dragging home a new project that doesn't run.
As tech stories go there aren't too many topics that deal with life-and-death situations. Sure, you might kill a brand-new engine if you don't get the oil pump primed properly or smoke a high-dollar alternator because you hooked it up wrong, but at the end of the day you get to go home and watch TV. Get it wrong while hauling your truck on a car trailer and you can end up dead.
I think gory stories are a great mnemonic device to get this across. One year while a bunch of my friends and I were riding our motorcycles to Sturgis, South Dakota, we rolled up on an accident that just happened. The driver that caused the wreck had loaded his trailer improperly and it got away from him. He reached a high enough speed that the trailer started to wag the tow vehicle violently until it swapped ends and came to a crashing backwards halt. The errant driver was left with the back of his skull missing and his brains dripping out; he died in his seat. It was a bad scene.
It's a good practice to inspect the hardware attaching the trailer jack with a jockey whee
It was many years before when I learned that a car trailer with the weight of the load biased too far towards the rear can shake violently. I was a passenger in the cab of a '59 Chevy 3/4-ton Fleetside. My friend Woody, the co-owner of a custom paint and engine building shop we operated in Irwindale, California, had bought a '66 Chrysler four-door hardtop station wagon than didn't run. We grabbed the shop's tandem car trailer we used to haul our '66 Chevelle roundy-rounder to race at Speedway 605 with, and headed out to Simi Valley. The Chrysler wagon was a lot longer than a '66 Chevelle and would only fit on our short trailer backwards. Woody didn't seem too happy about it, but decided we'd give her a go. Leaving the former Chrysler owner's house on the side streets the truck and trailer seemed to track alright. On the freeway about the time Woody hit California's 55-mph towing speed limit the '59 tow-rig broke into a violent tail-shaking that had us darting from lane-to-lane uncontrollably.
Simultaneously, Woody swore out loud and drop-shifted the '59's compound four-speed into Third gear and stuck his foot right through the four-bolt 355's carburetor. Within seconds we were up to 65 mph and the wagging started to subside. With the problem somewhat in hand, Woody's next task was to drop the speed below the magic number of 55 mph. It was a cat-and-mouse game that took several attempts, but eventually the truck and trailer were at calm running down the road at 45 mph. Without experiencing this I would have never guessed accelerating was the right way to get out of a mess like that.
The broken lens is bad enough, but incandescent taillights with tungsten elements exposed
Before we get much further into this story, I'd like to explain that as a child I was dyslexic to the point that I was what they call a "mirror reader," and this condition seemed to be compounded by being ambidextrous as well. Eventually, around the time I entered the Third grade, I outgrew the mirror reading problem and didn't have to hold a schoolbook funny to be able to read it. These days, for the most part, my vision is normal but sometimes I have to really concentrate on what I'm doing.
The reason I'm mentioning my vision handicap is to inform readers that learning how to back up a trailer is something anyone can learn to do if they study the basics and practice. Step one to backing a tandem car trailer up in a straight line is to start with the trailer positioned in a straight line directly behind the tow vehicle. The way to do this is to pull forward and the trailer will automatically fall directly in line behind the tow vehicle. Turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to head works for controlling the trailer's destination. Beyond being able to back a car trailer up, one has to know how to load it, so it will go down the road without swapping ends with the tow vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the front of the tow vehicle isn't sitting higher than the rear and the trailer is sitting flat. A more precise way to do this is to determine tongue weight. In the last 40 years I've had pretty good luck with hauling trucks safely on car trailers, but wouldn't you know it, in the last couple of months while I was putting this story together I had a series of freak accidents. Well, like I've always said, "we make the mistakes so that our readers don't have to," so I have included some photos of what I have learned should and shouldn't be done while setting up a car trailer and towing with it.
The dent in this tailgate (mine) was caused when I had assumed a friend had made sure the
Typically, car trailers have the license plate mounted underneath one of the taillights. A
Notice the front wheel is missing a grease cap from the hub. The bearings should repacked
It's a poor substitute for an electric winch, but a come-along like this will work in a pi
Allowing a tie-down strap to rub against an edge can result in this, a cut strap.
Trailer brakes are a must. The controller starts at 5 and can be adjusted from there.