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December 12, 2011

By: Tim Sheets

Is Your Trailer on Tight?


During show season, many alpaca owners will be loading our alpacas into trailers and hauling them off to win all those blue ribbons! Since we invest a lot of time and care and money into our alpacas, it makes sense to make sure our trailer is in good working order and is attached to the truck correctly.

Paying attention to the following tips will assure that those valuable passengers will arrive safely and help get your show season off to a great start.

  1. CHECK the hitch mechanism. Is the ball tight? Is it the right size ball for the hitch? The cap and jaws of the hitch should be in good shape—and rust-free.
  2. USE safety chains. Crisscross them so that if the hitch fails the chains catch the tongue before it impales itself into the ground. Attach the chains to the vehicle frame; don't wrap them around the ball. Measure tire pressure before and after loading.
  3. TEST the trailer lights, especially brake lights and turn signals.
  4. LOAD the trailer correctly. Check the owner's manuals of both the tow vehicle and trailer for maximum towing and weight capacities. Balance the load from side to side, and distribute weight evenly from front to back. Too much weight up front puts stress on the hitch. Too much weight in the back lifts up on the hitch and influences ride. Make sure you tie everything down securely.
  5. TEST brakes (if your trailer has them) on a patch of sand or gravel; see if they leave a skid mark when applied. If they are emergency "breakaway" brakes (designed to stop the trailer if it becomes disconnected from the tow vehicle), test them by pulling the ripcord and performing the same trial. Make sure trailer and tow vehicle are parallel to the ground when loaded—no dips in the middle where they join.
  6. HAVE AND USE wheel chocks and jack stands.
  7. UNDERSTAND that your tow vehicle will react differently with weight behind it. Braking will be slower. Acceleration will be a chore. On downgrades, you may need to shift to a lower gear.
  8. BACKING a trailer is easy...if you are born with the gift or if you practice a lot. If, like me, you were not born under the right star and only use a trailer occasionally, experts say to put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. To turn left, move your hand left. To turn right, move your hand right. Use small motions, as the distance from steering wheel to trailer wheels exaggerates actions. Go slowly. Hope for the best.