Snow and ice present some of the scariest conditions for all drivers, and the danger can be intensified if you’re hauling a trailer behind you. You might be able to hold off driving until the weather passes, but sometimes trips in bad weather are unavoidable. You should be prepared to drive carefully, and with the right equipment, to make sure that you, your vehicle and your trailer make it to point B safe and sound.
Here are some tips for keeping yourself and your trailer safe if you have to haul it in the snow.
1. Keep the trailer as light as possible.
Having a heavy trailer is a double edged sword. On one hand, a heavy trailer will apply more pressure per square inch of rubber on the road, which will help you maintain traction. On the other, a heavy trailer can make you feel like you have control – until you lose all that traction over a patch of black ice, brake hard to slow down, slide all over the road and find that your trailer is trying to pass you on your left-hand side. Not to mention what might happen if there are other vehicles or structures nearby.
2. Make sure your trailer tires are designed to optimize traction.
Many trailers, when delivered from the factory, are equipped with summer or highway tread tires. The reasoning behind this is to give you the quietest and most enjoyable driving conditions possible. Summer tires are designed to minimize noise and maximize longevity, which is a useful feature considering the cost of tire replacement.
However, these benefits hardly balance out the threats presented when it comes to driving on snow or ice. Highway tread tires have very little traction, which will make driving straight and braking effectively a challenge.
Instead, you should have traction tires for both your hauling vehicle and the trailer itself, with at least one-eighth-inch of tread. They should be labeled “Mud and Snow,” “M + S,” or “All-Season,” or have a mountain/snowflake symbol. These tires will give you as much control of your vehicle as you can have over snowy or icy roads. Also, you can read up on tire chain laws and use chains according to your state’s individual policies to maximize traction.
3. Invest in your electric trailer brake.
Most states require an independent braking system for trailers with a gross weight of 3,000 pounds. However, exact trailer brake laws vary by state, so make sure you familiarize yourself with yours before you hit the road.
Even if it wasn’t the law, having a trailer brake system is a really good idea for ensuring that you retain control of your trailer. A trailer brake is a device that supplies power from the towing vehicle’s brakes to the trailer’s electric brakes. You’re looking at about $500-$600 for the parts and labor fees for installation, but when it comes to your safety, it’s definitely worth it.
You can choose between a proportional brake controller or a time delayed brake controller, depending on your preference. Proportional trailer brakes measure how fast the towing vehicle is braking, and they apply a corresponding amount of braking power to the trailer so that it stops equally as fast (or slow). This type of brake controller provides the smoothest and quickest stopping power with the least amount of wear on the brakes.
A time delayed brake, on the other hand, sends a pre-determined amount of power (defined by the user, based on trailer weight) to the trailer brakes. Time delayed controllers are harder on the brakes, but they’re less expensive and easier to install than proportional ones.
4. Drive slowly and carefully, leaving a lot of stopping distance between you and the driver in front of you.
Don’t become overconfident in your driving skills. You may be a great driver with years of experience, but hauling your trailer over one patch of black ice can send even the best driver spinning.
Driving slowly is the key to keeping control over your vehicle and your trailer. Go even slower around curves, ramps, bridges and interchanges, and avoid making abrupt changes, such as quick lane changes and rapid braking or accelerating. You want to make sure that your trailer can easily follow your vehicle, nice and straight.
You should also allow double the amount of distance between you and the driver in front of you. Braking over ice is an easy way to inflict pressure on your tow hitch, get into an accident and cause damage to yourself, your vehicle, your trailer, or others and their property.
5. Know when the conditions just aren’t worth risking the drive in.
Trailers aren’t designed to withstand the stress and twisting that is bound to happen when driving in bad snow or ice conditions, especially if the storm is in progress. Towing a trailer on an ice-covered highway can quickly lead to a loss of control, with the trailer pushing you rather than you pulling it. Even with ideal tires designed for optimal traction, the weight of the trailer can still overcome your vehicle’s traction and take you places you don’t want to go. Permanent structural damage is a very real possibility.
It is undoubtedly less expensive to pull off of the road and get towed out of a ditch than to risk sliding off the road, not to mention the harm you may bring to yourself.