Seeking towing advice

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Strata
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Seeking towing advice

Postby Strata » Thu Aug 04, 2016 7:13 pm

I'm towing a small 4x8 foot open trailer this year for the first time, and I'm a little nervous about it. My truck is a Ford Ranger pickup with the smaller four cylinder engine. It's rated to tow 1300 pounds and I don't think the fully loaded trailer is going to be over 700 pounds. Maybe not even 500 pounds. Did I mention I'm nervous?

I know the basics of Towing: don't go faster than 55 miles per hour, downshift and let your engine help brake in the mountains, no sharp turns or quick lane changes. The trailer is just a small utility trailer without assisted braking. So I know to be careful about slowing down using the brakes and downshifting etc.

The last time I did any Towing was back in 2003 when we had a 30-foot RV towing a subcompact car behind it. The RV had insanely great brakes as it was built on a school bus chassis. I don't even think it noticed the car behind it. This will be a different story. I'm planning on taking the truck and trailer out to an empty parking lot to practice turns and backing up. My co-pilot in the RV and I used hand-held radios 4 tight turns and backing up. He was pretty experienced with Towing! My current Copilot has a lot less experience, and while we'll have radios I'm still nervous.

Tips and advice appreciated!!
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Jackass » Thu Aug 04, 2016 7:37 pm

It should be pretty straight forward and easy. The hardest part is going to be keeping track of it while backing up, since it'll be low and turn quickly. If it has the flip up ramp tailgate on the trailer then you can just watch that when backing.
Sooner or later, it will get real strange...

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Just_Joe » Thu Aug 04, 2016 7:45 pm

Strata wrote:I'm towing a small 4x8 foot open trailer

Harbor Freight? My wife pulled one last year with her Subaru Forester.
Loaded with our ABC blocks, total weight was ~800 lbs. She couldn't tell it was there.
Ours has 12" wheels. I think some of the older ones have 8". I'd be nervous about one of those.
Is it new(ish)? You might want to have the wheel bearings checked/greased or repacked.
Check all the lights with a helper.
Like Jackass said, backing up can be tricky. Practice, or don't get in a situation where you need to do it.
See ya there!!

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby GreyCoyote » Thu Aug 04, 2016 7:51 pm

Likely redundant, but make sure you have some weight in the bed of the truck when towing, and learn how to load the trailer with about 10% more weight in the front than in back. You dont need a lot either place, but you do want to make sure the trailer isnt driving that rear end around under cornering or braking.

In some ways, the smaller trailers are harder to deal with (ie, backing up), but when just pullijg them along they do really well.

Best advice? Here ya go:

Do everything smoothly and early.
As much as possible, make only one chassis input at a time: brake, or steer, or accellerate or corner. (Pretend you are driving on ice)
Listen with your butt. Seriously. Learn to feel what the rig is doing. (Your butt is your 3rd eye and ear!)
Drive ahead. Far ahead. Your head needs to be outside of the cockpit, your decision points several hundred yards down the road.
THINK. Question everything, plan ahead, and dont get lulled into mental complancy.
Slow down. I see some guys yanking a trailer along at 80 mph. Madness! Respect the physics.

Your trailer is small and light, so consider this good training for later. (Next year you will have MORE stuff. Lol)
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby burner von braun » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:34 pm

In addition to the current great advice you're receiving, here is a thread from the past, to add to the mix. When taking on an important topic like this one, I think the more info you can read through, the better. Good luck Strata and safe travels.

viewtopic.php?f=286&t=19853&hilit=towing

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Captain Goddammit » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:44 pm

GreyCoyote wrote:Your butt is your 3rd eye
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby gaminwench » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:59 pm

I've pulled trailers several times over the years, and I've found that a 'no backing' policy works best for me.

Pull through or parallel parking, period.

ooh, and alliteration, even! :roll:
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Strata » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:43 pm

@Jackass, @gaminwench: I hope to always pull through, and avoid backing up as much as possible. But I am bringing a pair of handheld radios to use for backing up situations. Much better than trying to see someone's hand signals in the rear view mirror.

@Just_Joe: U-Haul, not Harbor Freight; I'm wondering how I can politely ask to see their maintenance record on when the bearings were last greased. :) I plan to bring a pressure gauge and gauge the tires, get the fill adjusted there.

I just looked up the stats on the trailer, it has an unloaded weight of 680 pounds. I'm bringing mostly bulky but not that heavy stuff on the trailer-- bikes, a massage table, lawn chairs, etc. I was going to front-load 3 or 4 of my 5 gallon water jugs in Reno. Now I'm wondering if I should actually load water in Sunnyvale to stabilize the trailer, and take the mileage hit in the name of safety. I'm seeing here and other places mention of putting 60% of the load in the front of the trailer. The trailer will have a center line marking in it to guide me.

@GreyCoyote: slow and steady wins the race for sure. I'm going to be the tortoise, not the hare on this run. And the truck will be loaded with stuff too, so no worries on that score.

@burner van braun: thanks, great thread, read the first half up and then it started being about building your own trailers, but I'll go back and read the second half later too

Do folks think the U-Haul generic safety chains are crappy? If so, I can plan to get a set of better chains or towing straps before I pick up the trailer. I guess in a spare tire/flat situation, I'd end up calling their road service (eep) since they probably don't stock spare tires you can rent too.

Thanks SO much for all the good advice. I'm one of those folks who tries to research the heck out of stuff before doing it, and this is helping me be less worried. I am wondering now though if I ought to try to rent the trailer for an extra day to just mess with it. I was planning on picking it up Thurs afternoon Aug 25 and leaving Friday morning Aug 26. Now I wonder if I need more time.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Token » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:51 pm

You will do just fine.

The Grey 'Yote is wise. I'll add a bit to his list.

Remember to take turns at intersections a bit wider. The trailer will track well since it is small but keep one eye on the rear view mirror to avoid the trailer wheel riding up on a curb.

If driving from Bay Area, I80 has some good steep grades. Use the shifter, downshift, go slow, use engine RPM. It sounds scary but is the right thing to do. Especially going downhill.

If you have an automatic with a tow-haul button, use it whenever there is a grade. It will disable overdrive and move the shift points to reduce transmission overheating.

And most important of all, ignore the suicide bunnies. Do not try to avoid them. Rabbits will suicide when you reach 447 and have caused many accidents over the decades. Extra dangerous when trailering.

DO brake hard for deer and cows, not for bunnies.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby asr9754 » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:59 pm

Uhaul has a bad record for having bulbs and signals that don't work. And they will rape you on the installation of the electronic 'pigtail' for your truck so do that on your own prior if you can. Check all the lights and signals twice.

Driving with a trailer is more nerve wracking. You have mild anxiety the whole time so plan to take more frequent breaks and pay attention to your mind and body.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby A-RockLeFrench » Thu Aug 04, 2016 11:35 pm

You have towing mirrors? Get some, being able see the trailer in your mirrors will help, a lot. If you can, tilt the lowest or smallest mirror so when you look at it you see where the trailer wheels meet the pavement. Give them a quick glance when turning, changing lanes etc.

Don't forget that you are pulling a trailer, check your mirrors often.

Make sure your shit is strapped down and check your straps whenever you stop.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Captain Goddammit » Fri Aug 05, 2016 5:34 am

It's a small-engine Ranger. It doesn't have "tow/haul" mode.
I don't think towing mirrors are needed on a U-Haul 4x8, that trailer is already narrower than the truck is.
I've owned and worked with trucks and trailers all my life. I was even a tow truck driver in the '80s.
If I were going to pull that trailer with a Ranger here's what I'd do: load your heaviest stuff (perhaps the water) in the front of the truck bed, not the trailer. Keep the truck heavier than the trailer as much as possible.
If you have an automatic transmission, go easy on it. Don't floor it up the long hills shift down and try to ease it up.
To practice backing up, find an empty lot, put your hands on the steering wheel at 10 & 2 o'clock positions (or 3 & 9) and don't let go, keep them there. You'll only be able to turn the wheel about a half turn either way because your arms will cross up. (And that's the point).
Now try to back up in a straight line. The biggest trick to trailer backing is staying on top of it. Make small corrections not large ones.
You can even do a few curves backing up the same way, small steering movement, go slow and stay on top of it.
Where people go wrong is letting it jacknife too much.

That U-Haul will have what are called surge brakes, if it has brakes. The way they work is with a brake actuator built into the trailer tongue. The trailer pushes against the back of the truck when you hit your brakes, that pressure activates the trailer brakes. It works pretty well, the only issues are that the trailer brakes will work against you if you try to go backwards uphill, and they can get hot and overheat coming down a long hill. You can downshift and conserve your truck's brakes but you can't stop the trailer from "riding it's brakes" all the way down.
So just be aware of those things.

You might need to put a heavy duty turn signal flasher in your truck. It'll be on the fuse panel, they don't cost much, and they just pull out and plug in. If your turn signals don't flash properly with the trailer plugged in, you'll need it.

Run your tires at their maximum recommended pressure.

The safety chains are kind of weak on almost all trailers and I always replace mine with real chain, but I don't think I'd bother on a U-Haul. The correct way to hook up safety chains is to cross them left to right so they form an "X". The reason for that is if the hitch came undone, the chains will catch the trailer tongue and hold it up rather than letting it fall to the ground between them.

That's probably too long and boring a post already, I'll step aside.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby FIGJAM » Fri Aug 05, 2016 6:54 am

My dad invented that surge brake for uhaul.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Just_Joe » Fri Aug 05, 2016 7:25 am

FIGJAM wrote:My dad invented that surge brake for uhaul.

Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby maladroit » Fri Aug 05, 2016 10:38 am

I have a 4x8 trailer and I was nervous the first few times dragging it. Now I don't even know it's there. I don't back up if at all possible. A 4x8 trailer + SUV or pickup is short enough to pull all the way through a pair of typical parking spaces, so you can take it most places with no issues.

I have had two major problems.

One: I towed it a few hundred miles not knowing one of the leaf springs was broken. Eventually, the leaf spring dropped down. On the cheap 4x8 trailers, the leaf spring is what holds the axle to the trailer. So the whole axle rotated right, skewing the path of the trailer, and slicing the tire all the way around on the fender. I did have a spare wheel (mandatory!) but the axle was still flopping around loose on one side of the trailer. What I ended up doing was taking two ratchet straps around the axle, one to the front and one to the rear of the trailer. I "reinforced" the ratchet straps with duct tape to keep them from sliding. And then I drove 50 miles very slowly.

Two: After the above mishap, I replaced both leaf springs. While installing them, I somehow managed to pinch a taillight wire under a bolt head. This caused all of my taillights on the trailer and the car to fail somewhere above Alturas. I found out when an Alturas cop pulled me over around 11pm. He was awesome and let me drive up to a gravel area and drag out some tools to locate and fix the problem.

So, check your springs, bearings, and lights not just at the start of your trip, but every time you stop. Put your hand on the bearing cap and the tire to see if they're getting hot. Waggle the trailer and the cargo straps to see if anything flops around.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby dustyfux » Fri Aug 05, 2016 2:33 pm

For what it is, UHaul trailers aren't bad. They will get you from A to B and back without any problems. Yes, you hear horror stories but that's going to happen when you have a million rentals a year. The nature of this beast is that if everything performs flawless, you're not going to write a glowing review - its expected. But a flat or busted taillight and look out below - the complainers gonna complain.

Gas, water, Ice, that's what will tax your Ranger going over 80. This can add hundreds of pounds to your estimates - remember its towing and GVWR. When I leave San Jose, my coolers have been pre-iced and drained. Everything is cold and there's 2 / 3 inches of ice. No water. I'll leave with 3/4 of a tank. My plan is to hit the sierras in the cool of the morning and not during traffic. If everything goes well, I can make it to Boomtown. Add the pounds in Reno, don't tax your vehicle by hauling it over Donner Summit.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Strata » Tue Sep 13, 2016 7:50 pm

Thanks to all the good advice I got here, I had a zero trouble easy towing experience. Still didn't make backing up work for me, but found all pull through spaces on my travels. Hugs and thank you!!
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby bradtem » Wed Sep 14, 2016 10:43 am

A bit late, Strata -- I guess you were not towing the art car -- but there are web pages and videos that guide you on how to back up while towing. One of the systems is to put your hand on the bottom of your steering wheel and then turn in the direction you want the trailer to go. Or something like that. It does take some practice. I suspect soon with the steer by wire cars coming out we'll get one that has computer aided trailer backup assist.

It's actually harder with a car behind an RV because the RV is so long it's so easy to jackknife. I have heard some people don't back up in that situation, they just disconnect the car. (Of course, when camping, people usually want the car while camped so they plan to disconnect it anyway.)
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Captain Goddammit » Wed Sep 14, 2016 11:48 am

You don't back up cars behind RVs because if you're either flat-towing or using a dolly you have two swivel points, the hitch and the car's front wheels or the dolly swivel.
It CAN be done, I can do it, but it's extremely tricky.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby AntiM » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:17 am

Strata wrote:Thanks to all the good advice I got here, I had a zero trouble easy towing experience. Still didn't make backing up work for me, but found all pull through spaces on my travels. Hugs and thank you!!


Even some professional truckers try for all pull through parking. No shame, it is a viable strategy.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby WileE13 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:28 am

When preparing to back up, aim the trailer while pulling forward first. Don't try to over-correct while backing up.

Example of what I'm talking about:

If you need to back the trailer to the right ie the passenger side, then get it cocked that way first before backing up by turning hard right while pulling forward. Otherwise, you have to turn left while backing up to make it go right, then straighten back out to keep it from jack-knifing (which is easier the smaller the trailer is). With some longer trailers, you will never be able to "catch up" and actually push the trailer the direction you want.

Once you've "aimed" the trailer initially, it is just a matter of "chasing" the trailer to keep it going the way you want.

Use the far back corners of the trailer to "aim." Lining the corners of the trailer up with the rear corners of your pickup is how you keep it straight. If you can't see the back corners of the trailer, attach a flag or some marker so you can.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby WileE13 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:34 am

Captain Goddammit wrote:You don't back up cars behind RVs because if you're either flat-towing or using a dolly you have two swivel points, the hitch and the car's front wheels or the dolly swivel.
It CAN be done, I can do it, but it's extremely tricky.


It is basically a 4 wheel trailer at that point and those are near impossible to back up, even for people with a lifetime of towing experience. We have a couple 4 wheeled farm trailers we use for pipe or hay hauling. We never back them up with a truck/tractor. We always unhitch then walk them in manually.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Captain Goddammit » Thu Sep 22, 2016 11:26 am

In the truck and heavy equipment world, it's a normal thing that we do all the time.
For me the the mindset is: forget the truck. Just think about the middle part, backing up the last part. Then just instinctively use the truck to make the middle section do whatever it needs to to to back the last part up wherever you want it..

Biggest problem with doing it with a car tow dolly is the dolly fenders will whack the towed car if you get too far jackknifed.
Biggest problem with a flat towed vehicle is that it doesn't swivel in two places.
Flat towing sucks in general. There's the backing up thing, plus zero tongue weight so it's easy to get in all kinds of trouble if it's wet out and/or the tow rig isn't a whole lot heavier than what's being towed.
The biggest oh-shit about flat towing is you usually have zero brakes for the towed vehicle. Devices to operate them exist but almost no one has 'em.
Unless it was an absolute emergency I just don't do it.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby GreyCoyote » Sat Sep 24, 2016 5:14 pm

I used to flat-tow a VW Rabbit race car (SCCA GT3, called the damn thing "ThunderBunny") before I grew up and got myself a trailer. Due to the extremely short wheelbase and gumballs it was a bitch to back-up. Damn near impossible. Solution? I took the gumball slicks off the front and replaced them with "temporary spare" tires from the junkyard. Then I could back it up JUST like a trailer... With the front tires screaming and slipping sideways the whole time. :mrgreen: People thought I was nuts, and then everyone in the budget classes started doing it. Lol!
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Token » Sun Sep 25, 2016 10:09 am

It ain't a bad idea for folks without trailering experience to go to the never ending well of wisdom provided by the Church of the Tonka Truck.

Get a decent size toy truck with a trailer, preferably with articulating front wheels, unleash your inner child and get creative on some Berber carpet.

You have no idea how much all that playing when I was 6 years old translated into "instinct" the Cap'n talks about.

Another tool you can use...

Get a small radio controlled car/truck. No trailer needed.

When the car is driving away from you, controls are normal.

When the car is driving towards you, controls are all reversed and exactly the same as when you are backing up a trailer.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby GreyCoyote » Sun Sep 25, 2016 8:48 pm

Token wrote:It ain't a bad idea for folks without trailering experience to go to the never ending well of wisdom provided by the Church of the Tonka Truck.

Get a decent size toy truck with a trailer, preferably with articulating front wheels, unleash your inner child and get creative on some Berber carpet.

You have no idea how much all that playing when I was 6 years old translated into "instinct" the Cap'n talks about.

Another tool you can use...

Get a small radio controlled car/truck. No trailer needed.

When the car is driving away from you, controls are normal.

When the car is driving towards you, controls are all reversed and exactly the same as when you are backing up a trailer.


^^^ This! ^^^
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Captain Goddammit » Sun Sep 25, 2016 10:47 pm

If you wanna learn to back up double jointed trailers, hitch a wagon to your trike and have at it!
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby Doctor VonBacon » Mon Sep 26, 2016 4:15 pm

While we are soliciting towing advice,

I would like to ask my fellow ePlayans their thoughts about using light truck (LT) tires in place of trailer (ST) tires.
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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby SnowBlind » Mon Sep 26, 2016 5:04 pm

My understanding is that truck tires are usually radial tires, because when you are accelerating or braking, the forces acting upon the tire are in the direction of the movement, and radial tires are better at that.

Trailer tires are usually bias tires, which are not as good with forces in the direction of movement, but better with sideways forces. Since the trailer isn't powered, you're more concerned with sideways forces in order to reduce sway.

When I was replacing my trailer tires before the burn I decided to get the correct trailer tires. I don't know how much difference it really makes in real world situations though.

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Re: Seeking towing advice

Postby ygmir » Mon Sep 26, 2016 5:16 pm

SnowBlind wrote:My understanding is that truck tires are usually radial tires, because when you are accelerating or braking, the forces acting upon the tire are in the direction of the movement, and radial tires are better at that.

Trailer tires are usually bias tires, which are not as good with forces in the direction of movement, but better with sideways forces. Since the trailer isn't powered, you're more concerned with sideways forces in order to reduce sway.

When I was replacing my trailer tires before the burn I decided to get the correct trailer tires. I don't know how much difference it really makes in real world situations though.

I've always used my take off truck tires (load range E), on my trailers. I've not had issues related, as far as I can tell, and run some pretty heavy loads.
That said, I agree, the bias ply trailer tires have stiffer sidewalls....though they do make radial trailer tires, so wonder about them?
IIRC, truck tires are cheaper?
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