Drivesmart column: The trailer tug test not adequate

I often think that drivers use this method to make sure their trailers are roadworthy.

By Tim Schewe

Chances are good that your trailer has been slumbering, forgotten, in the backyard over the winter. Spring is here so we’ll just hook it up and go. A quick check in the rearview mirror, yes, it’s following us. The tug test has been passed, we’re good to continue.

I say this tongue in cheek, but I often think that drivers use this method to make sure their trailers are roadworthy. It takes much more than this to be sure.

All trailers need lights and reflectors that are both installed properly and working correctly. At minimum, there must be a yellow side marker lamp and reflector at both sides of the front, a red side marker lamp and reflector on both sides at the rear, brake and tail lamps on both sides at the rear, and a licence plate lamp.

Brake and loading requirements depend on the total weight of the trailer. The only sure way to know is to go to the scale and weigh in. Once you know the empty weight of your trailer you have the necessary starting point for deciding how much you can put in it.

There are three different scenarios for brake requirements:

• If the trailer and load weigh more than 1,400 kg brakes must be installed and operational.

• If the trailer is properly licenced, any trailer and load weighing more than 2,800 kg must have brakes that can be applied by the driver from the cab separately from the brakes of the tow vehicle.

• If the weight of the trailer and load is at or under 1,400 kg but more than half of the net weight of the vehicle towing it, brakes are required in this case as well.

A surge brake does not meet the needs of any trailer that weighs more than 2,800 kg.

Don’t attach your breakaway brake lanyard to the hitch or safety chain, attach it somewhere else on the vehicle. If the hitch fails entirely, there will be no force to apply the brakes unless you do this.

Putting more weight in the trailer than it is designed to carry may cause structural failure that can have serious consequences. Never exceed the carrying capacity of the trailer or its tires. Trailer weight capacities are shown on the capacity plate and tire capacities are shown on the sidewall.

If you have a U-bilt trailer, the total maximum licensed weight is often 700 kg. Check your registration documents if you are not sure.

Before we leave the subject of weight, remember that your trailer must weigh less than 900 kg if you are using a bumper hitch. It does not matter if the markings on your bumper specify a higher weight, the limit set by law in B.C. is 900 kg.

Safety chains, tire condition and inflation, load security and correct hitch ball size are among the other considerations that insure safe trailering.

If you have questions, please contact Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE), the nearest weigh scale or your local police.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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