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When Towing Goes Wrong


Photos by Tom Suddard and David S. Wallens

We’ve all seen them: giant, lumbering behemoths. They groan and struggle and sway, desperately clinging to what little stability they have.

No, we’re not talking about overweight dogs or someone’s pet hippo. We’re talking about dangerous truck-and-trailer combinations, and anybody who’s walked the paddock at an amateur race track knows what we’re talking about: things like a minivan hooked up to an enclosed trailer, or someone towing their Miata with a compact sedan.

Even normal tow vehicle-and-trailer combinations can have glaring issues. Picture flat tires, improper loading, and a lack of decent tie-downs.

When we first sat down to write a story about towing safety, we pictured handy tips, a happy-go-lucky attitude, and lots of photos of people towing properly. But then our inner pyro got ahold of us, and we started having this weird desire to sit back and watch the world burn. The story title changed to “When Towing Goes Wrong,” and it was all downhill from there.

Explorer or Exploder?

There’s only one way to truly convey what can happen when towing goes wrong: Tow improperly, then provide gratuitous pictures and video of the aftermath.

With this mission in mind, we needed a tow vehicle, a trailer and a car to tow. This meant deciding what sort of towing setup we would use. Most of us don’t use an 18-wheeler to get our car to the track, but many gearheads do have rigs that are a little more heavy-duty than the aforementioned sedan.

We decided that a midsize SUV and an open trailer would be representative of the average enthusiast’s tow rig.

We fired off an email to a manufacturer of premium European driving machines.

Their SUV would be a perfect choice, we reasoned, and its excellent rollover rating assured us that our test driver would live to tow another day. They’d be idiots to not let us borrow (and possibly destroy) one of their modern SUVs, so we were confident they’d say yes.

And, surprisingly, the company replied the very next day. Their answer? “While we’d welcome exposure in your publications for the unheralded towing capabilities of the [SUV], this does not feel like the right fit, so we’re going to pass on this one.”

Darn, and we were sure that would work. On to Plan B: Roam Craigslist with a wad of cash and a blatant disregard for good sense. We embarked on a marathon Craigslist search, looking at three SUVs in a single night. By 11 p.m., we’d purchased our test mule, a 1997 Ford Explorer.

It had bald tires, a cockroach infestation, and a smattering of bent sheet metal and broken interior parts. A new European SUV it wasn’t, but it was mechanically sound. Plus, it came with the stigma of being a Ford Explorer–perfect for a test involving evasive driving maneuvers and lots of weight on the rear tires.

We stripped the interior and installed a roll cage, race seat, trailer hitch and electronic brake controller. Things were about to get interesting.

Trailer Time

Next, we needed a trailer. Fortunately, Best Price Trailers is located across the street from the GRM offices. Robin Hanger found the perfect one for us: an 18-footlong, dual-axle, all-steel model. Weighing in at 2100 pounds, it was perfect, if not a little overkill, for the average club racer. We promised to bring back whatever remained of the trailer after our test.

The Finishing Touch

With a truck and trailer procured, it was time for the final piece of our 12-wheeled puzzle: a trailer weight.

Our Explorer was rated to tow 6200 pounds, and naturally we wanted to load it to its limit. So, we needed a roughly 4000-pound object to strap down on the trailer. Bonus points if it was vaguely carshaped– after all, few people tow cubes of lead to the track every weekend. After rummaging around in our backyards, we found the answer: a 1985 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL that was originally purchased as a parts car.

It was, in one word, perfect. Four wheels? Check. Car-shaped? Check. Weighs nearly 4000 pounds? Check. After a few hours of coaxing with two trucks and a winch, we managed to get the Mercedes strapped onto the trailer.

Test Track

Every day, people have dangerous crashes while towing trailers on public roads. Though it would have been cheap and easy, we decided that the highway probably wasn’t the best place to push our rig to its limits. Instead, we conned the beautiful Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park in Starke, Florida, into letting us crash on their property.

They were even kind enough to let us borrow their chief instructor, Bryn Walters, who bravely volunteered to play the role of test driver. Finally, we were ready to see what happens when towing goes wrong.

TEST 1: BASELINE

A drive through our test course without a trailer.

When the morning of the test came around, we strapped Bryn into the Explorer’s Ultra Shield seat and sent him out for test number one: a baseline run without anything hooked to the truck.

To measure the rig’s performance, we put together a test track that mimicked the worst stretch we’d encountered while towing a trailer on public roads: two hairpin turns with a straight and a section of esses between them. Finally, there was a panic stop from 50 mph.

After laying down a few laps to get comfortable, Bryn reached a verdict: “Well, it’s a truck. Nothing real exciting here.”

TEST 2: LOADED TRAILER

Towing a properly loaded trailer.

Now that we knew what a stock Explorer could do, it was time to hook up the trailer. We wanted to see how much the driving dynamics changed just by adding a correctly configured towing load.

So, we hooked up the loaded trailer and sent Bryn out for another round of tests. The Explorerand- trailer combination was slower to react and took longer to stop, but it generally drove like you’d expect a small truck towing a big car to drive. Bryn again reported no surprises.

TEST 3: NO TRAILER BRAKES

Towing without trailer brakes.

It was time to start turning up the knobs, so we started with the most common towing sin we’ve seen in the paddock: broken or missing trailer brake systems.

Once a loaded trailer reaches a certain weight (3000 pounds in most states), it’s legally required to have trailer brakes. The most common form of trailer brakes are electromagnetic drums that are actuated by a trailer brake controller in the tow vehicle. These simple devices use an accelerometer to gradually apply the trailer brakes when the tow vehicle slows.

With all this in mind, we unplugged the trailer brakes and wished Bryn good luck. Then we found a sturdy Jersey barrier to stand behind.

Bryn handled the Explorer well, though it was clear that trailer brakes do make a difference. His stopping distance was far longer–186 feet versus the 174- foot baseline. Additionally, he said the trailer acted like a pendulum under heavy braking, trying to push through the stopping truck.

While slowing the truck-and-trailer combination looked like an exercise in puckering, Bryn controlled it like a champ. He also praised the Explorer’s ABS, saying it was a big help in preventing the trailer from pushing the truck around too much. Sadly, he hadn’t yet wrecked.

TEST 4: HIGH TONGUE WEIGHT

Towing with the car too far forward.

Bryn, the Explorer and the trailer had shown that they could handle a little adversity, so we hooked up the brakes again and tried something a little more extreme. We pushed the Mercedes all the way to the front of the trailer, bottoming out the Explorer’s suspension and making the hitch groan and bend.

This particular setup may have been a little excessive, but having too much weight on the tongue of a trailer is an exceedingly common mistake. It can overload the rear of a vehicle, causing unpredictable handling and lessening the effect of any steering inputs. We’re pretty sure we saw the front wheels of our Explorer leave the ground at one point, and Bryn described this combination as “wobbly, like a dog wagging its tail.”

Unfortunately, professional rally instructors are pretty good drivers, so this test didn’t produce very spectacular consequences. Bryn’s lap times and stopping distances didn’t change much–remember, he’s a trained professional–but he says that the pucker factor had gone up tremendously. Unless you enjoy seeing air under your front tires, we suggest limiting your trailer’s tongue weight. Aim for 10 to 15 percent of the total trailer weight.

TEST 5: HIGH TAIL WEIGHT

Towing with the car too far rearward.

At this point, the Explorer’s hitch seemed sufficiently exasperated from being dragged along the ground, so we backed up the Mercedes–a lot–until it was nearly falling off the rear of the trailer. Now, instead of having more than a thousand pounds of tongue weight, we had none at all. In fact, the trailer was actually lifting the back of the truck.

Anyone who’s ever towed a rear-engined car that’s pointing forward knows this sensation. We also have to admit that towing a Porsche 911 with a minivan nearly cost us our lives many years ago.

Fortunately, we weren’t in the driver’s seat this time–Bryn was. We sent him out on track and returned to our favorite Jersey barrier.

And wow, were we ever glad there was concrete between us and our creation. Bryn didn’t mince words after those runs: “There’s only one word for that: evil!” Even from outside the rig, we could see he wasn’t having any fun. The Explorer tried to spin with every turn, and Bryn was essentially drifting through the curvy part of the course.

Once he finally got to the straight, he floored it– only to spin the tires at the SUV’s barely weighted rear. At full speed–in this case about 45 mph–the whole truck-and-trailer combination slithered like a snake, sliding rhythmically across the pavement. Unfortunately for Bryn, the truck’s rhythm was always out of sync with the esses, meaning he had to slow significantly and basically idle through them.

TEST 6: FLAT TIRES

Towing with poorly inflated tires.

We were starting to realize that you can get away with almost any towing sin if you’re a pro rally driver, so we called in Bryn, moved the Mercedes to its proper position on the trailer, and flattened all the tires. Seriously? Yes, seriously.

We wanted carnage, and properly inflated tires were standing in our way. Every tire–on both the Explorer and the trailer–was lowered to 15 psi. We figured that was the lowest pressure the average human would see and still think, “Eh, that tire’s not flat. It’ll be fine.”

While we were letting out the air, we realized that a few of the Explorer’s tires had big bulges in the sidewalls. These are usually indicative of imminent failure, so we smiled, wished Bryn well, and sent him out for another round of tests.

Driving, never mind towing, with soft tires is a recipe for disaster: Besides the reduction in control and poor handling, low tires tend to overheat on the highway, and lots of heat is a common cause of blowouts.

Annoyingly, Bryn seemed to have that loss of control under, well, control. He did start clicking off laps that were slower than usual, though–by about 2 seconds per lap–and he was working much harder than before. “Mushy and uncertain” is how he described this session.

The rig was working more, too. Each time it went through the esses, the trailer tires deflected from one extreme to the other–figure more than 4 inches total.

No blowout, though, as the tires stayed mounted on the rims. Don’t forget, our rig and trailer only had to handle a few laps at a time, not hours on the interstate. We were going to have to try something more drastic in order to get our money’s worth from that roll cage.

TEST 7: NO SHOCKS, CAR ON BACKWARD

Towing without rear dampers and with the car facing backward on the trailer.

Okay, time to recreate some horrors–all in the name of science, right? We disconnected the rear dampers and put the car on the trailer backward. Don’t worry if you’ve done this before. We’re not here to pass judgment.

Bryn’s next few laps confirmed our suspicions. He returned sporting a full mane of white hair and babbled something about seeing scary things.

Bryn, a professional, was able to keep the rig on the course–just barely–but he led the dance for a limited number of laps. Could he have survived 7 hours on the interstate? Not likely.

TEST 8: NO TIE-DOWNS

Towing without the car strapped down.

At this point, it was getting late and we were getting tired of Bryn’s competence, so we threw him a curveball. Cheap tie-downs, the kind most people tow with, break all the time. To simulate this scenario, we simply removed all the straps holding the Mercedes to the trailer. Oh, and instead of driving our normal test loop, we told Bryn to use the bumpy gravel that lined the outside of the track.

One of us might have yelled, “Thrash it like a rented Hyundai!” Hey, it was the heat of the moment–cut us some slack.

We were expecting greatness from this test, and we weren’t disappointed. The Mercedes galloped into the air like a mighty thoroughbred, then came crashing down on the trailer’s left fender like a sumo wrestler. This pushed the fender into the trailer’s tires, and plumes of white smoke quickly enveloped the Benz.

Bryn kept driving, the truck and trailer now fishtailing in the gravel. The Explorer seemed constantly on the verge of doing a barrel roll, and the run only ended when Bryn eventually lost control and the rig jackknifed.

Jackknifing a trailer carrying an unsecured car isn’t exactly a gentle experience. The Mercedes kept moving long after the truck had stopped, finally coming to rest in the Explorer’s left-rear quarter panel.

Finally, we’d seen the disastrous consequences of improper towing. We extricated Bryn from the creaking, smoking pile of machinery, thanked him for a job well done, and started the cleanup process.

Sometimes Towing Goes Wrong

So what did we learn? Like most things involving a car, towing one safely comes down to being a skilled, alert driver.

Bryn was able to get away with murder on the equipment side of things because of his driving skill. However, most of us are not professional driving instructors, and none of us tow our cars to the track on, well, a track. We tow on public roads full of lousy drivers.

As these tests showed, a subpar trailer puts much more strain on the driver. Add in one unexpected issue, and that marginal rig could quickly end up in a ditch–or worse.

Towing Takeaways

Tongue weight should be 10 to 15 percent of your total trailer weight–no more or less. If 10 percent of the trailer’s weight exceeds the tongue weight rating for your tow vehicle, don’t tow with that vehicle.

Trailers are fairly simple machines, so there’s no excuse for not maintaining them.

Don’t have time to maintain your trailer? Just pay somebody–trailer repairs are priced far below Ferrari repairs. What’s worse, a $100 trailer repair bill or causing a “CHiPs” accident?

If something does go wrong, be gentle and gradual with your driving inputs. Often the best solution is to come to a gradual stop.

When in doubt, add redundancy. This goes for wheels, straps, safety devices and so on. Always use at least two tie-downs on each end of the towed car. We favor Mac’s.

If you can’t figure something out, call a professional like Best Price Trailers. Dealers are usually happy to help, even if you didn’t buy a trailer from them.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth MegaDork
12/1/17 11:23 a.m.

So what you're telling me, what you're saying, is that a good driver can overcome terrible equipment, setup, and decisions? Because I'm a GREAT driver. laugh

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/1/17 11:43 a.m.
mazdeuce - Seth said:

So what you're telling me, what you're saying, is that a good driver can overcome terrible equipment, setup, and decisions? Because I'm a GREAT driver. laugh

That's a great takeaway. You have learned exactly what they hoped you would learn! Well done! laugh

rslifkin
rslifkin SuperDork
12/1/17 12:16 p.m.

An interesting thing on the car loaded backwards bit: depending on the length of the trailer vs the car and the trailer's axle placement, loading backwards is actually better in some cases.  Just move the car further forward on the trailer when you do it.  If stuff is positioned well, you end up with similar tongue weight but with less weight behind the trailer axles (ideally the heavy axle of the car should be pretty much right over the trailer axles or at least not behind the rear trailer axle).  

Given the ability to design my own car hauler, I'd push the axles back further than most and plan to load backwards.  It'll be more stable in the end but without the excessive tongue weight that loading forwards would give with the axles pushed back.  

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
12/1/17 12:19 p.m.

I can tow ANYTHING with my RN Truck.  Anyone who disputes that simply doesn't understand the POWAH of the 22R.

codrus
codrus UltraDork
12/1/17 12:33 p.m.
rslifkin said:

An interesting thing on the car loaded backwards bit: depending on the length of the trailer vs the car and the trailer's axle placement, loading backwards is actually better in some cases.   

 

Like this one? :)

 

 

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
12/1/17 12:35 p.m.

I had the Esprit loaded on backwards for the trip from the PRC to Free America.  Perfect tongue weight that way.  Europas are shorter, so they can go on facing forward.  Plus they weigh half as much as an Esprit.

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) PowerDork
12/1/17 1:06 p.m.

I can attest to the low tongue weight being a white knuckle ride.  I came over Sidling Hill in Maryland in an old 1/2 ton Chevy towing a 23' sailboat and as soon as I passed 55 mph it started walking me across three lanes (no trailer brakes btw).  It took everything I had and possibly divine intervention to keep the whole mess from taking me to the bottom in a ball of carnage.

 

edit:  I later towed the same sailboat with my '97 Explorer and it was FAR better than the old bow tie.

jimbbski
jimbbski Dork
12/1/17 1:13 p.m.

I tow all my cars backward on my open trailer.  This is due to the fact that I cut off a foot off the end of the trailer so that I could fit it into my garage. Later I "beaver Tailed" it so the wheels of any car are forced forward enough that loading backwards is required.

 

I have a story about towing but it was "flat towing" a car with a tow bar attached to the cars bumper mounts. It was an autocross car that I and a few friends ran at local events.  We would swap the tires before and after the event at the event site.  One time the lug nuts on one of the front wheels wasn't tighten enough and the LF wheel parted company while towing at speed on a major Chicago area expressway!  The tire bounced past the tow vehicle (Which I was driving) and ended up on the right shoulder of the oncoming traffic lanes.  We did recover the tire and no harm resulted except to the towed vehicle.  It had to be towed as the lug studs were to damaged to install a spare wheel.

yupididit
yupididit SuperDork
12/1/17 1:26 p.m.

Rasputia would've handled those test like a boss!

wae
wae Dork
12/1/17 2:39 p.m.

In reply to codrus :

We had to turn the 500ci-powered Fiero around backwards on the trailer because the weight from the rear engine was causing massive sway.  I'm guessing that's a pretty good option for most rear-engined cars.

fidelity101
fidelity101 UltraDork
12/1/17 3:10 p.m.

so whats the hives opinion on strapping a car down to a car hauler/trailer?

 

I use straps to the tow points on my car because it was shipped here on a boat there is one on each corner. I am loading the suspension a bit but I see people who just strap down the wheels. Which method is correct?

 

Straps to the frame or hold the wheels to the trailer?

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy Reader
12/1/17 3:31 p.m.

In reply to fidelity101 :

Wheels, control arms, and frame all work.  Depends on the car, trailer tie down points, and straps.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/1/17 3:35 p.m.

I strapped my '66 Cadillac down by the axles once. With the soft suspension and the heavy car (well, 4500 lbs), there was a lot of movement.

I generally strap down by either the control arms or the chassis, but that's just because that's where my hooks are.

rslifkin
rslifkin SuperDork
12/1/17 3:36 p.m.

IMO, unless the car has very stiff suspension, you want to strap the body / frame and load the suspension a bit.  It'll keep the car from bouncing on its suspension while it's being towed, which should make the trailer ride / handle better.  

wae
wae Dork
12/1/17 3:57 p.m.

I've found the overall ride to be smoother with the wheels strapped down and the car's suspension free to work.  I used to always strap down by the body and take all the play out of the suspension, but I started strapping the wheels because I was concerned that if I wound up not unloading the car for a while it might damage the struts to be forced closed like that for months at a time.  I don't know if that's a thing or not, but it does improve the overall ride of the combined vehicle. 

Of course that might all be totally dependent on the suspension on the trailer.  I don't think there was a lot of thought that went in to the leaf springs that I have to deal with.

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
12/1/17 10:50 p.m.

Bravo to GRM for doing this test and writing honestly about the results. 

I want to say i feel nothing but vindication but i feel like that gives the exact opposite feeling to the article's authors as my first sentence did. 

Mixed messages? Life is complicated. But i can say with 100% certainty that i have never run my tow rig into any of you. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
12/2/17 7:07 a.m.
fidelity101 said:

so whats the hives opinion on strapping a car down to a car hauler/trailer?

 

I use straps to the tow points on my car because it was shipped here on a boat there is one on each corner. I am loading the suspension a bit but I see people who just strap down the wheels. Which method is correct?

 

Straps to the frame or hold the wheels to the trailer?

 

My boss's dad used to race Top Alcohol.  In his trailer/mobile machine shop he had hardpoints in the trailer that he would use to bolt the dragster to the trailer, with strategically sized/shaped blocks of wood in between.

 

And that is for a vehicle that doesn't have any suspension at all.

 

If I was planning on trailering a car on a regular basis, meaning I actually owned a trailer, I'd rig something similar to attach the CHASSIS to the trailer.  For two reasons.  One, I have had two instances where the car bounced on its suspension on the trailer and it was scary as all heck.  (Once was a deerstrike that shoved the car back two feet, the other was when towing Quantum #2 through downtown Columbus while following a rallycrosser who was NOT towing a trailer, at a high rate of speed, and I saw the whole car bounce a foot to the side over one yump in a corner)   Since I'm somewhat of a rally/rallycross dork, it would probably involve pin stand mounts in the rockers.

 

And two, if the suspension is free to move, that is putting unnecessary miles on your shocks.  A tech article in an old issue of Circle Track recommended either bolting the chassis to the trailer, or just removing the fancy expensive shocks and installing solid links.  If you tow 500mi, that's 500mi of wear on your dampers that you don't even get to enjoy driving.

iceracer
iceracer UltimaDork
12/2/17 11:10 a.m.

The trailer has springs to absorb some of the bumps.   I never saw my ZX2SR move much when using the factory tie downs. 

HapDL
HapDL New Reader
12/3/17 4:38 p.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

We're all great drivers, in our own minds.  Some actually are, the rest, well, not so much.

Recon1342
Recon1342 Reader
12/4/17 1:23 a.m.

Nicely written. The cardinal sin around here seems to be the overloaded hay-hauler...  

You simply have not lived until you've been behind one that blew a tire and scattered a couple of one-ton bales all over the freeway at 75mph...

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
12/4/17 9:49 a.m.

I always post this video, but whatever. Too much tongue weight is much, much less evil than too little tongue weight. 

https://youtu.be/i2fkOVHAC8Q

edizzle89
edizzle89 Dork
12/4/17 12:10 p.m.
fidelity101 said:

 

Straps to the frame or hold the wheels to the trailer?

I have always been told strap down the wheel/axle/lower control arm to the trailer. The though process being that unless you strap the frame down so tight that the suspension is bottomed out that any suspension travel that is left will let the straps go from slack to tight when the car bounces on the trailer, that basically yanks on the straps over and over again and can cause them to brake.

mogguy
mogguy
12/7/17 8:13 a.m.

Tom and David obviously had to much fun doing the research for this article.

I had hoped that they might come up with some ideas has to how & where to get the trailer weighted when loaded so I'd have more than just a guess about the placement of the load?     A bathroom scale doesn't cut it. 

rslifkin
rslifkin SuperDork
12/7/17 8:24 a.m.

In reply to mogguy :

I usually go for as little weight behind the trailer axles as practical without giving more tongue weight than the tow rig can comfortably handle.  

Blaise
Blaise Reader
12/7/17 8:41 a.m.

It's funny - I seem to see two distinct camps when I see loaded up trucks or tow rigs.

1) Dangerous. Insane tongue weight, no weight distribution or anti-sway system. Bad shocks, bad inflation, etc etc you name it.

2) Overkill. Think 3500 Dually Diesel towing an open trailer or a smaller enclosed one.

Am I the only person towing a normal load (~4500lb) with a normal truck (~6500 rating)?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltraDork
12/7/17 8:42 a.m.

In reply to Blaise :

Nope, that's me too.  1998 Yukon, open trailer.

rslifkin
rslifkin SuperDork
12/7/17 8:46 a.m.

In reply to Blaise :

Nope, I've pulled plenty of reasonable loads with the Jeep (rated for 6500).  It's dragged a friend's small horse trailer around a few times (4500-ish lbs with 1 horse in it, probably 500 or a little more on the tongue).  Pulled great, although a WD system would have been nice.  Compared to the same trailer behind an F-150, however, the Jeep is like pulling it around with a tractor.  It drives well, but the trailer seems significant, rather than seeming like it's just following you around.  

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
12/7/17 9:05 a.m.

That's a good article, but I really take exception to the "forward/ backward" thing.

There is no "forward" or "backward".  It's always about proper weight distribution.

A Fiero usually wants to be loaded "backwards" to put the engine weight forward of the trailer axle.  Same with all rear engined cars.

But it also has to do with the trailer length, axle location, and what else is loaded in the trailer.  If there is a heavy toolbox in front of the car, it changes things.  If there is a spare engine behind the car, it changes things. 

gearheadmb
gearheadmb Dork
12/7/17 9:22 a.m.

When I worked for a shop that had a towing service I was taught that you always try to strap the car down by something unsprung, i.e. axle housing, control arms, etc. The reason being that if you strap it by the body when you hit a bump and the suspension compresses the straps are loose and give them the opportunity to come unhooked. If you can remove the suspension movement as stated above by putting blocks under the frame or whatever then it should be fine, but when it comes to towing a car I definitely go by the "better safe than sorry" mantra. Having a car fall off a trailer while going down the interstate is definitely a nightmare scenario. So I strap unsprung, and usually add a chain from the body to the front of the trailer in case it does find a way to become unstrapped it can't freely roll off the back of the trailer.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/7/17 10:06 a.m.
Blaise said:

It's funny - I seem to see two distinct camps when I see loaded up trucks or tow rigs.

1) Dangerous. Insane tongue weight, no weight distribution or anti-sway system. Bad shocks, bad inflation, etc etc you name it.

2) Overkill. Think 3500 Dually Diesel towing an open trailer or a smaller enclosed one.

Am I the only person towing a normal load (~4500lb) with a normal truck (~6500 rating)?

Of course not. You just don't notice everything, you only notice the ones that grab your attention. If you saw my rig on the road, you wouldn't think twice about it. Of course, I'm pulling a bigger than "normal" load (11,500 lbs) with a bigger than "normal" truck (13,350 lbs), but those are your definitions of normal, not mine.

Curtis
Curtis PowerDork
12/7/17 11:23 a.m.
fidelity101 said:

so whats the hives opinion on strapping a car down to a car hauler/trailer?

 

I use straps to the tow points on my car because it was shipped here on a boat there is one on each corner. I am loading the suspension a bit but I see people who just strap down the wheels. Which method is correct?

 

Straps to the frame or hold the wheels to the trailer?

Truth is, I just tie it down however is easiest, but I much prefer strapping the tires.

Factory tie downs are almost a necessity for initial auto transport on a truck.  They compress the suspension so you can fit more cars on the top level of a car carrier under the max height allowed without an oversize load permit.  They work because of the keyhole design and because they pull the car down to almost the bumpstops so motion is limited.  When you have a lower-level car that is 4 inches from the car above it, you need to lock it down and prevent bouncing.

On a flat trailer, this is impractical and unnecessary.   There is no need to place additional load on the suspension and tires if you don't have to.  I have also encountered issues when attaching to the frame of the car.  There is a possibility that when the car bounces, a hook can come unhooked.  Even if it doesn't come unhooked, it puts high shock loads on the tie downs.

Strapping down the tires/wheels IMO is the best option.  This allows the vehicle to naturally move on its own which does two things: reduces squishy stress on the car's suspension bits, and also reduces stress on the trailer suspension.  If the entire weight of the car is held firmly to the deck, all of the motion must come from the trailer suspension and tires.  Letting the car "float" on its suspension means that the trailer can transmit some of that shock load to the vehicle's suspension.  This can have huge benefits in trailer tire life.

I only tie down a frame if I have to.  If you tie down the frame, try to go as horizontal as possible so any up/down motion of the car doesn't translate directly to a tensile shock to the tie downs.

Curtis
Curtis PowerDork
12/7/17 11:38 a.m.

I think the level of overkill also has to do with distance you're towing.

I towed 10k with a 66 Bonneville across town and it was neat.  I towed 10k with an F250 cross-country and it was taxing.  As the miles of your trip go up, the chances of a crosswind, panic stop, or emergency maneuver do as well.  The F250 was more than enough as far as engine, transmission, and braking, but (because it was a travel trailer) it was a non-stop correction for every crosswind or passing truck.  After 3000 miles and 4 days, that gets old fast.

The tow rating on a vehicle is a carefully-calculated, engineered number that uses a few million data points that include frame torsional strength, brake heat loads, engine heat capacities, transmission torque ratings, factory tire choices, suspension rates and bushing materials, axle load ratings, and so much more.  What it means is you come up with a number that is almost completely pointless given the millions of real-world variables.  For instance, I would tow 10k on a flatbed with a newer F150.  Its rated for it, its up to the task, and it does pretty well.  But if that were a travel trailer (read: big billboard/sail) I wouldn't even get close to the rated weight before its length and physical size limited where I was comfortable.

My friends had a Range Rover rated to tow something like 6500 lbs.  So they went and bought a travel trailer with a GVW of 6500.  It was an ultralight 28' trailer.  What a nightmare.  Anything over 45 mph was darn near death.  Sure, that Rover can tow 6500 lbs of equipment through the mud without overheating, but how it translates to real-world variables makes the number completely useless.

Blaise
Blaise Reader
12/7/17 11:41 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:

True. Lots easier to notice overkill or danger.

PT_SHO
PT_SHO New Reader
12/7/17 1:53 p.m.

In reply to accordionfolder :

That link is awwwwwesome. yes Though it looks like a video of a video done with a phone.  It should be mandatory for everyone pulling a trailer, like watching Red Asphalt was for us kids when we took basic Driver's Ed.

codrus
codrus UltraDork
12/7/17 3:00 p.m.
Curtis said:

Factory tie downs are almost a necessity for initial auto transport on a truck.  They compress the suspension so you can fit more cars on the top level of a car carrier under the max height allowed without an oversize load permit.  They work because of the keyhole design and because they pull the car down to almost the bumpstops so motion is limited.  When you have a lower-level car that is 4 inches from the car above it, you need to lock it down and prevent bouncing.

 

Many (all?) cars are in "transport mode" when being shipped from the manufacturer, with spacers stuck between the springs.

 

Tom_Spangler
Tom_Spangler UberDork
12/7/17 3:23 p.m.
Curtis said:

My friends had a Range Rover rated to tow something like 6500 lbs.  So they went and bought a travel trailer with a GVW of 6500.  It was an ultralight 28' trailer.  What a nightmare.  Anything over 45 mph was darn near death.  Sure, that Rover can tow 6500 lbs of equipment through the mud without overheating, but how it translates to real-world variables makes the number completely useless.

Not to go all "internet towing expert" on you (or your friends), but one thing that people tend to forget with factory tow ratings is that you need to subtract the weight of the passengers and gear in the tow vehicle from it.  So, if there's 1000 lbs of people and stuff in that Range Rover, you shouldn't try to tow more than 5500 lbs with it.  Gross Combined Weight is really the more important number than tow rating, but tow ratings are easier to market and explain to people.  

But you're absolutely right about all the variables.  Last summer I towed our 30' travel trailer from Michigan to Nevada and back over the course of a little less than two weeks with our Expedition.  It's the long-wheelbase model with the factory tow package, built-in brake controller, tow/haul mode with engine braking, active stability control, load leveling suspension, and all that jazz.  Honestly, it did great, other than a copious appetite for fuel.  We have a good load-leveling hitch (Equalizer) that was set up correctly by our dealer, and we really didn't have any problems.  That's not to say that I didn't have to be extra careful at times in the Rockies or when crossing Nebraska with high crosswinds, but I never felt unsafe at all.  For what it's worth, the trailer is 6000 lbs empty, probably had 1000 lbs of stuff in it.  The Expedition had 4 adult-sized humans and two medium sized dogs.  It's GCWR is a tick over 15k lbs.  I'm sure we were under the limit, but I bet we weren't too far off.

rslifkin
rslifkin SuperDork
12/7/17 4:50 p.m.

In reply to Tom_Spangler :

You don't always need to subtract.  It depends on the tow rig and what you've got in it (and where it's positioned in the rig).  In some cases, you can have 3 people in the rig and still pull at the max trailer weight without exceeding any limits. 

You'll generally be limited by one of 5 things:

  • Max tow rating
  • Max tongue weight rating
  • Rear axle weight rating
  • Gross combined weight rating
  • Gross vehicle weight rating (rarely limiting)

Using my Jeep as an example, it's got a GVWR of 5500, rear axle GAWR of 3500, GCWR of 11k, tow rating of 6500, tongue weight limit of 750.  With me in the driver's seat and a full tank of gas, it's about 4500 lbs with around 2000 - 2100 lbs of that on the rear axle.  So I can pull the rated 6500 lb trailer at the max 750 lb tongue weight limit and just be right up against the GCWR and under the other limits.  Adding more weight to the Jeep would have to lighten the trailer to stay under the GCWR. 

With a pickup, towing a gooseneck will often leave you limited by rear axle GAWR unless the truck is a dually.  With an F-250 or bigger, any bumper pull trailer will likely hit the trailer weight limit before you hit GCWR or any of the truck limits and leave room for a decent bit of weight in the truck left over. 

Streetwiseguy
Streetwiseguy UltimaDork
12/7/17 5:36 p.m.
Curtis said:
fidelity101 said:

so whats the hives opinion on strapping a car down to a car hauler/trailer?

 

I use straps to the tow points on my car because it was shipped here on a boat there is one on each corner. I am loading the suspension a bit but I see people who just strap down the wheels. Which method is correct?

 

Straps to the frame or hold the wheels to the trailer?

Truth is, I just tie it down however is easiest, but I much prefer strapping the tires.

Factory tie downs are almost a necessity for initial auto transport on a truck.  They compress the suspension so you can fit more cars on the top level of a car carrier under the max height allowed without an oversize load permit.  They work because of the keyhole design and because they pull the car down to almost the bumpstops so motion is limited.  When you have a lower-level car that is 4 inches from the car above it, you need to lock it down and prevent bouncing.

On a flat trailer, this is impractical and unnecessary.   There is no need to place additional load on the suspension and tires if you don't have to.  I have also encountered issues when attaching to the frame of the car.  There is a possibility that when the car bounces, a hook can come unhooked.  Even if it doesn't come unhooked, it puts high shock loads on the tie downs.

Strapping down the tires/wheels IMO is the best option.  This allows the vehicle to naturally move on its own which does two things: reduces squishy stress on the car's suspension bits, and also reduces stress on the trailer suspension.  If the entire weight of the car is held firmly to the deck, all of the motion must come from the trailer suspension and tires.  Letting the car "float" on its suspension means that the trailer can transmit some of that shock load to the vehicle's suspension.  This can have huge benefits in trailer tire life.

I only tie down a frame if I have to.  If you tie down the frame, try to go as horizontal as possible so any up/down motion of the car doesn't translate directly to a tensile shock to the tie downs.

My boss in the 80's buckled the rear quarter panels on his Volvo 244 rally car by tying it down at the rear of the frame rails.

iceracer
iceracer UltimaDork
12/7/17 6:01 p.m.

whether to load frontwards or backwards is easy.    You should know tha app. CG of the car and locate it over the trailer axle or the center of the dual axles.

Don't know the cg of your car.  Rule of thumb,  rwd will have 52% weight on the front wheels,  fwd will have 60% on the front, and rear engine 60% on the REAR wheels.  So a little math and knowing the wheel base will tell you where your car should be on the trailer.   QED.

 

 

djsilver
djsilver Reader
12/7/17 6:02 p.m.

How about a non-car towing story?  My father did construction work and I grew up in a series of mobile homes.  Construction didn't pay as well back then and Dad had several different "trailer-toter" trucks to supplement his income by moving mobile homes.  My favorite was an early 60's IH B-180.  One day I saw him installing new safety chains on the truck (that's how they are on mobile homes).  After installing some massive chains with snatch-hooks on the end, I watched him take a hacksaw and cut halfway through one link on each side.  When I asked why, he said "if a trailer I'm pulling ever comes off the hitch, I don't want it connected to my truck!" 

 

Cotton
Cotton PowerDork
12/7/17 7:13 p.m.
Blaise said:

It's funny - I seem to see two distinct camps when I see loaded up trucks or tow rigs.

1) Dangerous. Insane tongue weight, no weight distribution or anti-sway system. Bad shocks, bad inflation, etc etc you name it.

2) Overkill. Think 3500 Dually Diesel towing an open trailer or a smaller enclosed one.

Am I the only person towing a normal load (~4500lb) with a normal truck (~6500 rating)?

#2 would be me in some cases,  but a lot of guys with these trucks are like me and have all kinds of trailers.  You might see a little 5x8 behind my dually or you might see a 2/3 car gooseneck.

StuntmanMike
StuntmanMike New Reader
12/8/17 8:54 a.m.

Great article and very amusing!

So what about taking a standard SUV and since we always make everything better, engine swap, installing heavy duty springs and shocks, bigger swaybars, upgraded brakes, etc and maxing out the tow capabilities, if not going over just a hair.

Curtis
Curtis PowerDork
12/8/17 10:04 a.m.
Tom_Spangler said:

Not to go all "internet towing expert" on you (or your friends), but one thing that people tend to forget with factory tow ratings is that you need to subtract the weight of the passengers and gear in the tow vehicle from it.  So, if there's 1000 lbs of people and stuff in that Range Rover, you shouldn't try to tow more than 5500 lbs with it.  Gross Combined Weight is really the more important number than tow rating, but tow ratings are easier to market and explain to people.  

You are correct, however this was just me.  They bought the RV a few hundred miles away and since I was their "RV guru" I took their Rover to go pick it up, so it was a completely empty, dry trailer and just me and some beef jerky in the Rover.  (I mean, seriously... what is a road trip without beef jerky?)

I wasn't enough of an RV guru to be able to talk them out of buying a 28' TT for their short wheelbase deathtrap though... despite by best efforts.

I won't toot my own horn, but I grew up living about 1/3 of my life in an RV, and I full-timed in an RV for almost a decade.  I won't say "internet towing expert" but I sure have logged a LOT of miles towing everything from 1000-lb jon boats up to 20,000 lb goosenecks and 5ers

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
12/10/17 3:42 p.m.

I was thinking of this thread after I saw the trailer holding my new 1700lb car jump across a lane and whipsaw the crew cab Tacoma that was towing it.

 

Not overloaded in the least, in other words.  No crosswind, no big bump, not ven any throttle required beyond maintenance throttle on a flat road.

 

 

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