How to Use a Trailer on Your Car

Car with trailer.

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Not everyone has a truck, yet things need to go from point A to point B. You do the math. There’s no shame in trailering. But if you’ve never towed behind your car before, you’re forgiven for having no idea where to begin.

The process isn’t that difficult. You still want to invest in a truck if you plan on hauling lumber, but for small jobs, you can follow this guide to set up a light trailer for use with your car. Or if you have the appropriate vehicle, learn how to tow a larger trailer.

Check Your Manual and Get a Hitch

While most cars have a means of attaching a hitch, you should always check your owner’s manual to see if there’s anything that indicates you’re not safe towing with the vehicle. Find out where you can attach a hitch and then get the required hardware. You may need to visit a garage or dealership to have the hardware installed. With the gear in place, make sure what you plan to tow doesn’t exceed your car’s tow limits and then prepare to hitch up.

Hitching Up

Most trailers attach to your car in three places. There’s the tow hitch, onto which the trailer tongue lowers, the chain which you connect beneath the hitch, and the “pigtail” or electrical connector that allows the trailer’s brakes and brake lights to work. Make sure all of these items are connected before you set off. On larger trailers, there will be an adjustable jack integrated into the trailer that will help you lower the trailer onto the hitch evenly.

Once your trailer is mounted, test all of the subsystems to ensure safety on the road. Have a friend stand behind the trailer and confirm that your brake lights come on when you hit the brakes. Make sure the trailer stops as well. You don’t want to learn that the brakes work poorly when already heading down a steep hill.

Driving Your Trailer

Towing is a little different from normal driving. Your car is suddenly burdened with the additional weight moving around behind it, making it sway or feel different from what you’re used to. Keep the car’s new extended length in mind, meaning you won’t accelerate or decelerate nearly as quickly. When in reverse, turn the wheel the opposite of the way you want the trailer to go. Don’t allow the trailer hitch to bend, or jackknife, which can damage your car and the trailer.

Take extra care in traffic, and when towing particularly large loads use an appropriate vehicle like a powerful pickup truck with a brake controller. If you’re not confident driving the trailer at first, make some laps around the neighborhood or off-road to get familiar.

Driving a trailer is a great skill to have. Who knows, maybe you can help your friends out when they move! Just when you thought you’d dodged that bullet by getting a car and not a truck.

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