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4 tips for trailering your car like a pro

Own a vintage car long enough, and you will likely want or need to transport it via trailer. Broken parts or long distances that simply don't suit vintage motoring style are the most popular reasons, but any number of things can put you in a situation where trailering your classic ride makes sense.

 

For instance, all of my vintage vehicles could drive down the road right now, but they wouldn't be safe for me or others with whom I would be sharing the pavement. In this particular situation, local requests to keep to ourselves and distanced from those outside our immediate households added further complications: I needed to get my cars and motorcycles out of storage and transport them to my new garage without a pair of helping hands. So I called in a different sort of favor and borrowed a car trailer from a friend so I could do the job alone.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/4-tips-for-trailering-your-car-like-a-pro/

Replies (52)

Replies (52)

I've trailered for 10's of thousands of miles, but let your guard down and oops.  A few years ago at the Chrysler Nats in Carlisle.  I hooked up the trailer in the hotel parking lot after the last day of the show to load up and head for home.  Safety chains on, break away chain on, lights connected - load the truck.  Oops I didn't say "coupler locked".  Tongue popped off when loading and shot right into the back of the tow vehicle.  At least I had an audience in the hotel parking lot.  Double check what you do.

Passenger

Be wary of locking yourself in the car by not being able to open the doors because they are blocked by the trailer's fenders!

Pit Crew

Remember to cross your safety chains from trailer to tow vehicle as well

Passenger

Yes to everything posted here.  Safety should be your #1 concern.  That includes how you secure to the trailer, that your tow vehicle is up to the job (especially with braking - or that you have trailer brakes), that the trailer is balanced with some weight on the tongue (if not you could set up an oscillation that won't have a good outcome).  Don't bank on being lucky.  Think it through first.

New Driver

If towing long distance look for gas stations with plenty of room to maneuver around the pumps. I had a heck of a time at an unfamiliar fuel station. I actually struck a pole with my rented trailer. Fortunately my 67 Galaxie was not hurt. 

Navigator

1.  Using chocks in front and back of all tires is also a good idea.

2.  Weaving your straps back through the buckle is a good safe way to prevent the                 straps  from ever slipping.  This is something my son, who is a trucker, showed me.

3,  When inspecting your trailer and tow vehicle, make absolutely sure your hitch is the          same size  as the tow ball.  Failing to do this could end in a catastrophe you don't            want to even think about.

5.  Make sure your trailer safety straps are correctly attached to your tow vehicle.

You have a lot of really great tips with good  photos.

Passenger

I've pulled my rig a few thousand miles on both open and enclosed trailers.  I had an issue once when I got onto a very curvy road and a stap came loose due to the main hook that came undone from the axle strap.  Now I only use a hook with a sprung clip so that nothing can come detached if things loosen up.  Learning can cause heart burn sometimes.

New Driver

A few posters mentioned the youtube video on crossing the straps.  I've attached the link.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIC7URvAqmM

 

New Driver

Important lesson learned from experience is that you can have too much or too little strap wrapped around the ratchet on the ratchet strap. If you have too much, it can compress and the straps will loosen up. If you have too little, the strap will slip and loosen up. I have never had it happen to anything I have strapped down but I towed for someone who assured me everything was done correctly, but there was too little strap around the ratchet strap. It started to loosen up and the car came loose in the trailer.

New Driver

Had the securing debate with a few people . Grew up in a fleet repair ,heavy towing business and have hauled many things from a HEMMTT to tool boxes .Motor homes , fire trucks and a variety of cars on flatbed trailer and carriers . Until recently most cars and light trucks have pill shaped anchor pints on all 4 corners . One reason for them  is securing during transport . Even military vehicles have done this for years . Within reason pulling down on suspension shouldn't hurt .Imagine a fully loaded truck going down the road . How is it hurting the suspension  ? Seen many auto transporters hauling new vehicles this way .There is also a good video of why not to cross the straps on youtube. If one were to come loose you could loose tension on  everything .  IMO suspension is made to be pulled down on not  sideways .In the end we will use what works best for us .

Passenger

If you leave your trailer for more than a couple minutes, be sure to check the straps on trailer when you return to your car.  I went inside to pay for my gas and in my absence, a 'bad actor' disconnected one end of my tow straps from the trailer and artfully 'hid' his work.  When I returned, I tugged on the straps and found them to be completely slack.  Had I not checked, my race car would have planted itself into my tailgate next stop light.

Passenger

Visit http://www.macscustomtiedowns.com/ or Mac's Tie Downs on YouTube for some of the best tie-down and safety tips.  Their products are the best.

New Driver

Another thing to watch for is the brake lines when wrapping the axle.  I've seen a lot of flattened hard brake lines on the front side of the axle, especially from tow truck drivers using hard hooks on the axle.  The other thing to watch for is tire age, especially if you are borrowing the trailer.

New Driver

Very good advice. I have been trailering cars sometimes over 800 miles to a show several states away for over 20 years...I live in the west so the states are big, especially Texas.

 

Inspecting the trailer is very important. Many trailers are not used frequently and might have expired license. The lights, trailer brakes and the tires must be inspected very carefully since those are often a problem. I must add that checking the spare tire for the trailer (you do have one don't you?) is necessary and be certain that you have a jack and tools that fit the trailer which are usually different from the tow vehicle.  Check the tire ratings to be certain that you are not overloading them. Air up all of your tires, trailer, tow vehicle and both spares to the maximum recommended pressure. This will help prevent sway as well as provide the maximum load capacity. 

 

Your tow vehicle needs to be rated for more than the expected weight. Borderline might not be a good idea. I learned this from experience a long time ago when a bridge guard rail was the only thing that prevented disaster as the trailer gently struck the railing after a dangerous sway when I was forced to change lanes due to a cow in the middle of the road. My experience is never use too small of truck. I use a Ram 2500 Cummins with the factory trailer equipment to tow a 28 enclosed trailer.  I also have kept my original medium duty open car hauler...sometime an enclosed trailer is not the best option. You need a good brake controller to operate the trailer brakes. Adjust your mirrors to see the lanes beside your trailer if using an enclosed trailer rather than looking directly behind. Your visibility will likely be reduced by the trailer. 

 

Securing the car is vitally important. I believe this article explains that clearly. I have heard many different options but prefer to secure the car by attaching to a rigid sprung portion of the car. Compressing the suspension will relieve some stress on the straps if you encounter some rough road which will tend to bounce the car and place a great deal of strain on the straps. Since I own my trailers, I have installed rigid front chocks attached to the trailer. This allows me to drive the car onto the trailer until the tires are solidly against the chocks before securing the car. 

 

Now remember to drive with care. Especially if you do not do this often. The stopping distance is greater and the ability to avoid vehicles, animals and pot holes are reduced. Far too many other drivers seem not to realize the reduced maneuverability of the truck and trailer and pull directly in front after passing which is an unsafe distance. Finally, meeting or passing large vehicles might cause your tow rig to sway due to the wind from those vehicles pressing against your trailer and tow vehicle. Often you must steer in one direction as the other vehicle is beside the trailer and then quickly reverse steer as the air pressure passes from the trailer to your tow vehicle. Using a tow vehicle and trailer with excess capacity will greatly reduce the uneasy feeling when meeting an eighteen wheeler on a two lane road.

 

Take care and safe towing.

Pit Crew

Hmmm, no mention of trailer brakes and how to set a trailer brake controller.  You should NEVER tow a car on a trailer without trailer brakes.  

Passenger

Be aware of where you are loading.  Despite having a Class A CDL and years of towing a variety of items, my excitement for a new (1947) tractor got the best of me.  I backed up the driveway, which was on an incline, threw it in park and set the parking brake.  Dropped the ramps and brought the tractor down.  As soon as the rear wheels of the tractor hit the ramps, the weight unloaded the rear end of my truck and off we went.  Luckily (maybe?), the front end of the truck dropped off the side of the driveway and my step-bars landed on the edge, bringing everything to a halt.  I was able to disconnect, drive down the embankment and hook back up.  Only damage was to my steps; drivers side pushed back about six inches.  Could have been much worse. 

New Driver

I learned to tuck the free ends of the straps into the ratchet roll in the last pull. This was after a roll as you described in a location that I couldn’t see with the mirrors bounced off the trailer and was significantly shortened in the few miles it was drug like that. I can’t imagine what would have happened if it fell under a tire at speed.

If the roll is too long to tuck inside, I shorten the strap, the length as delivered is appropriate for a wide variety of uses, and since I don’t have a semi, I don’t need a strap longer than my trailer.

Passenger

Excellent article on trailering.  But don't forget the tow vehicle.  It should have an axle ratio that will keep the engine rpm in an optimum torque range.  Also, avoid short wheelbase pickups and SUVs.  The best tow vehicles are those with a longer wheelbase that provide much better lateral stability.  And personally, I prefer RWD.  All of the above is based on 50+ years of experience towing boats and racing cars with towed weight up to 8-9,000 lbs.    JDavid 

Passenger

My boss who owns a restoration shop purchased a trailer ball with a built in scale which shows the tongue weight. Purchased at SEMA.

New Driver

Two items I want to comment on. In the article and the comments I saw no mention of: 1) if borrowing a trailer make sure your hitch ball is the correct size for the trailer. Learned this one the hard way. Bringing the trailer home we were fortunately ok. However, loading an 850 lb. Harley Electra Glide into the four-place enclosed trailer was enough to lift the trailer off the ball which was too small. Fortunately no damage was done.

2) Always check the battery on the trailer for the emergency trailer breaks. You wouldnt want the trailer to come loose and not have the trailer breaks work. Check the trailer breaks operation by disconnecting the electrical connector from the tow vehicle and also pulling the pin on the trailer's break actuator switch. The trailer breaks should engage. Check this by trying to move the tow vehicle and trailer forward.

Passenger

One inspection item I would add is a quick check of lug nut torque on the trailer wheels.  I'm still missing a nice aluminum wheel and 1 month old tire around the Knoxville area because it sheared the studs off and headed for the woods.  This happened during rush hour traffic and I am so thankful I was in the slow lane, it was the passenger side tire and we were in a clear area.  The only explanation I could come up with is that the lug nuts started to loosen (although none of the others were loose when I checked them) or someone tried to steal one of the wheels the night before in the hotel parking lot (unlikely, right?).  Either way, I now check lug nut torque.

Navigator

Before I load the trailer I like drive a couple of miles and then stop and check the wheels bearing caps or the wheels on the trailer to see if they are getting hot, If they burn you it means you have a bad wheel bearing or a brake hanging up and should get it repaired before you use the trailer. I always check the tires with a piece of pipe like the truckers do also and check to see how hot they are getting. If they are getting too hot it usually means the load is to heavy and you could have a blow out.

Pit Crew

My cousin decided to help me out by trailering a full size 1968 Mercury Colony Park wagon on his newly purchased 4 wheeled car trailer which, I thought he had experience with being a guy who drove trucks with trailers for work and pleasure for many years before. I followed him onto a ramp on a toll road communicating via a CB radio. He got just about up to 55 mph when the trailer started to do the Watusi , at first just a little bit but I could see it was going very quickly totally out of control. Me being a non-trailer but a crazy driver all my life could think of only one thing to do. I keyed the CB radio and said as clearly and loudly as I could "Punch it !" he did just that which stopped the Watusi motion and slowly pulled it over to the side of the road where I concluded that we should move the car more forward on the trailer to put more weight on the tongue of the trailer hitch. That did it, but that was the scariest time I ever experienced in my life while following an old car going to a car show. That Merc. wagon was a one of a kind in near mint condition with 50 K miles on it and only got a creased rocker panel from contacting the trailers fender because it was anchored down correctly but it was a miracle that no one got hurt and the car survived so well in the process. It could have been a lot worse. Yes, it was my cousins first time hauling a car and the many years of hauling my big Mercs. around after that, we never experienced anything like that again. Your article is great and you mention it first off and I just wanted to reinforce this point very clearly with an example. The rest of the article is perfect. Thanks for doing this even if the cars are not going anywhere right now. God Bless You ALL and Keep you Well. Grumpy 

Pit Crew

No mention of tires. Most tires on light trailers are rated at 55 mph max. Few of us probably pull that slow in interstates, but I see some guys hauling at 80+. That's dumb. It has also become quite difficult to find trailer tires made anywhere but you-know-where.

New Driver

Before starting, check not the integrity of the trailer tires AND the correct tire pressure.

And when doing to 20 min in re-check, feel with your hands around wheel bearing area of the trailer for heat. They may look good at the start, but heat is a sure sign that your bearings are old/dry and on their way out. I see many trailers stranded on the side of the road because of tire/bearing problems.

Passenger

You mention that the straps should be attached to unsprung points. If you pay close attention to large auto transport trucks, the vehicles are not anchored to suspension points but to either the frame or dedicated tiedown points in on unibodies. Allowing a trailered car to use its suspension tends to overwork the straps, because they are constantly being stress-cycled. When anchoring a car down, if you tension the straps just enough to pull the car down about an inch or so, the load remains constant and tiedown wear is minimized. The suspension will still be somewhat compliant over the worst pavement, but remember that most cars and trucks can absorb a lot more than you think, unless said vehicles have been lowered to subterranean levels.

Intermediate Driver

Some type of shield at the front of the trailer will likely prevent stone damage to the front of your car:  I learned the hard way. 

Passenger

It's a good plan to set the E-Brake and on a A/T put it in park. On a manual trans, leave it in neutral.

Passenger

If using an enclosed trailer, be sure any sky vents are closed prior to loading. Otherwise your car may be covered with dust when you open your trailer!

Passenger

When your trailer is sitting, make sure you have a coupler lock and receiver lock on to prevent someone hooking it up and taking it.  It happened to me with my car on the trailer.

Passenger