The Tug Test

Trailer TowingChances are good that your trailer has been slumbering, forgotten, in the back yard 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 it's 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 you local police.


Last spring I decided to take my 26' fifth wheel travel trailer into an alignment facility due to the fact that my trailer tires were not wearing evenly. After dropping off the trailer the technician advised me that he would contact me later as to exactly what was needed on my rig as well as a firm cost quote.

About an hour I got a call from the tech asking me to come back to the shop. Once there he proceeded to show me what was needed to correct the alignment problem.

Then he brought me to the front of the trailer and asked me to activate the the break away switch/device. For the life of me I could not pull the break away lanyard and clip out of the switch. I 'normally' pull the break away switch every spring just to verify that the switch still functioned. I am positive that I had done this test earlier in the spring as I was summerizing the trailer. But I did not try the switch just before heading out to take it to the repair shop.

The technician also found that only three out of the four brakes on the trailer were working due to a broken electrical wire near the non functioning brake. The break away switch cost all of $18 and was super simple to replace.

I pride myself in properly maintaining my vehicles and RV's but this was a big wake-up call. I now double check all my braking and towing systems before each trip as well as finding a gravel lot somewhere to test that my brakes all work.

Just because 'it worked last time' doesn't mean that this time it will without checking it. The trailer now tows straight, with new bushings, break away switch, bearings and alignment plus a substantial hole in my wallet.

I have always thought that people pulling any trailer or driving a motor home should have to do the same pre-trip inspection commercial drives do.

I no longer have my 5th. wheel but I aways repacked all wheel bearings at the end of the season and again before starting to use.

One item you forgot in the article is to inspect the tires. Tires do have a life expectancy and should be replaced around 4 - 5 years.

In reply to by James_O

Interesting topic. The last time I looked around, 10 years seemed to be the recommended limit.

Today, I find this quote:

β€œThere’s no data to support that chronological age of the tire in any way affects performance of that tire,” said Glenn Maidment, president of the Tire and Rubber Association in Mississauga, Ont.

The Canada Safety Council suggests 6 years.

Global News reports on how old the tires you are buying might be at the time you buy them.

Transport Canada's publication Riding on Air does not mention an age limit.

The Be Tire Smart blog takes a stab at it but links to a non-existant article on Car & Driver.

I think the smart answer is to ask the maker of the tires that are on your vehicle.

So our site host didn't forget anything, despite your accusation.

One item you forgot in the article is to inspect the tires. Tires do have a life expectancy and should be replaced around 4 - 5 years.

Indeed, all tires have a limited lifespan, irrespective of use. This is indicated these days, on the sidewall code - if a person understands it.

But a far more important safety issue, when it comes to tires, is ensuring that the pressure is sufficient. Particularly with a relatatively heavy load; and this is the same for trailer tires or vehicle tires. Plus which, it drops gradually all the time, so must be the paramount concern for every driver putting his trailer back into action at this time of year.

Next time you go down the highway, and see pieces of tire carcass scattered about, it will probably have come from a heavily loaded rig. This may have occurred from a retreaded tire delaminating, but most often it's as a result of a tire with insufficient pressure (oftentimes, zero pressure in one tire, with dualies) coming apart from high heat resulting in sidewall failure from all the flexing.

So yeah, it's good to repack the wheel bearings. Particularly on a boat trailer, that get frequently immersed. But it's critical to always ensure that pressures are up to the load, with every kind of trailer. 

I have always thought that people pulling any trailer or driving a motor home should have to do the same pre-trip inspection commercial drivers do.

No sir, that's what commercial drivers are supposed to do. But it ain't necessarily the case, by a long shot. So making it mandatory for regular drivers to do a proper inspection is pointless - what agency is supposed to monitor this?

Thankfully, at least here in BC (where License Classification standards were first established around 1973), we now have separate classifications for those who tow heavyweight fifth wheel motor homes. ICBC gets it right, sometimes.