Unhitched: America’s Hidden Danger with Trailer Towing
POSTED BY Jan Dils . October 3, 2016
Every year our firm participates in several parades in our local community. Recently, while taking part in the Parkersburg Homecoming Parade, we needed someone to tow the parade float. I was gung ho and immediately volunteered to do it. For some reason, I am well versed in vehicle towing capacities. I can recite from memory the towing capacity of most vehicles. Did you know that the Volvo S80 can tow 3300 pounds? I didn’t have to Google that, and yet I’m still single. Kidding aside, I felt as if my knowledge would help me in this endeavor. I knew that the truck I was using would be capable of towing 7,500 pounds, and the trailer weighed around 2,000 pounds. The truck was also equipped with a “towing mode,” so I knew I would not have any issues. But then some person, who will probably be considered a hero in the near future, asked a very important question; “Have you ever towed a trailer before?” The answer to this question was no. With the exception of a few instances with my lawn mower that ended poorly and a few rampages on Grand Theft Auto 5, I’ve never actually towed a trailer. The hero suggested I let someone else handle the towing for this event. He also suggested that I perhaps get some training experience under my belt before I tow a trailer in which precious lives would be at stake. The day of the parade another person showed up to tow the trailer. He was younger than me, better looking, and had a much bigger truck. I secretly resent that man now, but that is not what this blog is about.
While I did pout around for a few days because I couldn’t tow the trailer, I admit that having someone who knew what they were doing was smart. I chose to listen to reason and not do something that could possibly harm people. Others aren’t so careful, though. Accidents as a result of a trailer are very serious. The NHTSA reports that there are over 50,000 accidents every year related to towing. That is much worse than I thought. Like so many other accidents, these are easy to prevent.
We’ll get into more reasons why later, but one of the biggest issues has to do with towing with a vehicle that is either not recommended for towing, or towing a heavier load than your vehicle is equipped to handle. Earlier I mentioned that I know the towing capacity for most vehicles by heart. While it was comedic in my delivery, it’s actually true. That knowledge is what led to me to me yelling at a Prius owner on the highway who was towing a trailer with a riding lawn mower inside. The Toyota Prius he was driving was not recommended for towing and it lacked the mechanical ability to tow. Yet, here he was driving at highway speeds with a very unsafe trailer.
Some might try to argue that he was fine to do it because he was able to buy a trailer hitch for his vehicle. However, you can technically buy a trailer hitch for any vehicle. It’s also easy to find someone to install it even though your vehicle shouldn’t be used for towing. You may also try to argue that his car had enough power to tow the trailer and the load, so I shouldn’t worry about it. First of all, no, he did not really have enough power to tow the load, and besides, that is not all that matters in towing. Horsepower, torque, brakes, chassis, tires, wheels, and suspension all play a big part in a car’s tow rating. The 90 horsepower gasoline engine on a Toyota Prius is mated to an electric motor for optimal fuel mileage, not towing. The brakes on a Prius are made to regenerate power to the electric motor, not for stopping several thousand additional pounds. The tires on the Prius are designed for fuel mileage as well. No one will argue that the Prius isn’t efficient, but it’s not made for towing. That is why Toyota doesn’t recommend towing for the Prius.
A few notes before we move on. The Prius I witnessed towing a heavy trailer was the second generation Prius, not the current model. There is some debate online about the towing capacity of the current model, which is the fourth generation. Toyota makes it very difficult to find their towing capacities online. However, according to several Prius owners found on an online forum, the owner’s manual for the second generation Prius does not recommend towing.
You might think, and I am sure my mother would agree, that I may have been too excited about this man improperly towing with his Prius. Perhaps I shouldn’t get so worked up. Besides, what is the worst that could happen? Isn’t he just going to tear up his Prius? Well yes, he will likely tear up his car and do damage to his engine. However, it’s much more serious than that. When individuals tow dangerously, they put other people’s lives in danger.
A trailer that is separated from its tow vehicle becomes and unguided missile, regardless of where you are traveling. If you’re traveling on the interstate at 70 MPH and are hit by a loose trailer traveling near the same speed, the results will likely be deadly. If you are on a city street or even a country road, you also run the likelihood of harming pedestrians too. I am not just talking about small utility trailers either. Recreational Vehicles are growing by leaps and bounds too. Some weigh more than 18,000 pounds. It scares me to even imagine colliding with something like that on the highway.
Last week I was traveling home from South Carolina. At one point on my voyage home, I noticed something I’ve never seen traveling on the interstate before. I saw a very old pickup truck towing a trailer with a boat on it, and then he was towing a second trailer with a Jetski. Everything on this rust bucket convoy looked to be older than me, and in at least as bad of shape. I did not feel safe traveling near that vehicle, so I pressed the accelerator on my borrowed Nissan Altima and moved away as quickly as possible. It turns out that it’s not illegal to tow multiple trailers in South Carolina. While this motorist wasn’t technically doing anything illegal, I did not feel safe.
I discussed my trip to South Carolina because this is one of the few states in which accidents involving trailers is easily available. From January to August 2013, there were 59 accidents in South Carolina involving trailers that were being towed improperly. That’s a lot for a small state. Looking at the bigger picture, the country as a whole provides much more alarming numbers. According to the NHTSA, between 1975 and 2013, 17,000 people have been killed in accidents involving a vehicle towing a trailer.
So, these numbers are nowhere near as concerning as drunk driving, or distracted driving, but these accidents and deaths can also be easily prevented. I will discuss a lot of reasons why these accidents happen later, but I want to elaborate on something that a lot of people miss during these discussions. It’s 2016, and while cars like the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion are still the king of US sales, Crossovers and SUVs are becoming more popular. However, SUVs and Crossovers from 10 years ago are much different than they are today. They are less powerful, have smaller engines, and almost all of these vehicles have car frames compared to truck frames like in years past. What this means is Towing capacity is shrinking across the board. Here is an example. The 2006 Ford Explorer with the VA option could tow up to 7300 pounds. The 2016 Explorer, which is technically a larger vehicle can only tow 5000 pounds, and the current Ford equivalent to that 2006 Explorer, the 2016 Ford Edge, can only tow 3500 pounds. Current crossovers and SUV’s are better vehicles. They are more fuel efficient, they are more comfortable and they are safer. However, these vehicles aren’t as capable when it comes to towing. Further, recreational activities like boating, camping, and ATV use is on the rise, and these events often require a trailer to haul your equipment. So, we have more people towing, less capable vehicles, and owners who aren’t as informed. This can lead to accidents.
There are other factors that go into towing accidents. For one, most states don’t require trailers to be inspected. I live in West Virginia, and I have to get my car inspected every year. If I were to buy a trailer, I’d never have to get it inspected. I’m no spring chicken and I am not old enough to recall watching and understanding the hit show Night Court, but in my lifetime, motorists were allowed to use homemade trailers on the road. Most states don’t allow this to occur now, but it is seriously concerning that you could do that within the past three decades. Further, you can buy a utility trailer from a lot of different places. One such place is a home improvement warehouse. Businesses like these don’t really care if you have a vehicle capable of towing the trailer; they really just want to make a sale. Further, their employees aren’t really trained for this type of transaction. I say this as someone who worked for one of these stores in my past. If someone wanted one of these trailers, all I had to do was find the UPC in my code book, scan it, and they were on their merry way.
Another simple, yet often overlooked towing aid involves safety chains. Every trailer should come two safety chains, and they are intended to be crossed when they are attached to your vehicle. The act of crossing the chains helps ensure an extra bit of safety should the tongue of the trailer separate from the hitch of the tow vehicle. The chains will cradle the tongue of the trailer until you are able to stop. If you look at trailers parked in a parking lot or even some on the road, you will see a lot of trailers without safety chains. The owners simply don’t care.
Though summer is winding down, and a lot of people are putting their boats and campers away for winter, towing safety is still an important issue. If you’re going to tow, make sure you know your vehicle’s tow rating. Traditionally your owner’s manual is the best place to look. However, a majority of manufacturers also publish these rating online. It’s also important to know that your tow rating isn’t the only factor that determines how much you should tow. If you have multiple passengers or a lot of cargo in your vehicle, you need to adjust for that. Most tow ratings are set for a vehicle with only one passenger and no cargo. This video will explain it in better detail.
If you’ve been involved in an accident with a tow trailer, call us for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be called at a later time, fill out this form, and a specialist will call you at a more convenient time.