Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Guest Post: Pickup and Trailer Packing for Vehicle Stability

by George Groot
George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

Towing a heavy load is not something that most people do routinely, and it is one of those activities that is perfectly benign... right up until it isn’t.

Pickup trucks range from "very small" to "rather large" with varying bed lengths and capacities. Trailers come with at least one axle and usually a lighting system. Larger trailers may have built-in electric or hydraulic braking systems and even anti-sway features.

Getting a Hitch
For the purposes of this article, I will explain what I did loading up a Ram 2500 pickup (a three-quarter-ton model) and a U-Haul 5x8 trailer. The trailer uses a standard 4 prong trailer connection for lights, is listed with a 500 pound tongue weight, and has a standard 2 inch ball hitch.

My truck is tall enough that, when I purchased it, my wife decided that we would spend the money to get some running boards so that she didn’t have to hop to get in. This meant that I needed to purchase a drop hitch to ensure that the trailer traveled largely level to the road, so I purchased a 5.75 inch drop hitch with a pull weight of 5,000 lbs and 750 lbs tongue weight. I did this even though the final travel angle of the trailer wasn’t perfectly even with the road surface because it gave me 250 lbs of "buffer" in case of bumps on the road. This meant I’d have a little bit of safety on my hitch (which I owned) even if there was none on the tongue (covered by rental insurance).

Loading the Trailer
I parked the trailer, chocked it (placing triangular blocks of wood in front of and behind each wheel to keep the trailer in place), and put a nice thick piece of firewood under the tongue to keep it roughly at hitch height. I then worked to load the heavier items in front of the trailer axle to ensure that when the trailer was completely loaded, there would be downward pressure on the hitch. There was a "no higher than" load line inside the rented trailer, and my final load needed to be horizontally level so that things couldn't fall down during transport. Empty space is not a good thing in a trailer unless you have blocking and bracing material to keep it in place, so I find it's easier just to pack it tight and throw in trash bags filled with pillows, blankets, or rolled-up foam mattresses in the very back to keep things on place.

Once the trailer was loaded, I used a screw jack to raise the tongue back to the exact height needed to drop it down onto the hitch ball, then crossed the safety chains under the tongue to loop through the holes on the side of my hitch and connected those chains back onto themselves (this is so that just in case the ball hitch fails, the tongue will be trapped by the crossed chains and give me enough time to stop the truck).

Loading the bed of the truck was the same process, placing the heaviest objects forward of the rear axle to keep the center of gravity between the front and rear axles for best traction and stability, as the downward pressure of the trailer tongue on the hitch is going to add additional weight behind the axle. See "How to Load a Pickup Truck", below.

The U-Haul trailer has a 55 mph speed limit for a reason. Most people who rent trailers aren’t people who routinely drive with trailers, and since the weight of the vehicle will be significantly more than its unloaded weight, acceleration will be slower, deceleration will take longer, and turning radius will also be wider. All of this adds up to a driving style that must be more careful in general, and specifically more mindful of other vehicles on the road.

If you can immediately unload once you reach your destination, simply leave the trailer attached to the truck. If you have to unhitch an unloaded trailer, use the following procedure:
  1. Chock the wheels
  2. Place blocks (splitting blocks or cinderblocks are ideal) under the rear and the tongue of the trailer
  3. Use a jack to lift the tongue off the hitch 
  4. Lower the tongue onto a jack stand or block. 
  5. The trailer is now stable for unloading. Always be careful when opening the trailer, as things will have shifted during transport.
Unloading the bed of the pickup is simply the reversal of loading it, using the same safety precautions.

Videos and Resources

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.