Are trailers are hard to drive? I thought so, because when I was 16 years old I drove our 17' boat to the lake.
It was swaying all over. I struggled to stay in the lane at freeway speeds. I just figured that was the way trailers were supposed to be. I didn't know that an even more traumatic experience was in my future.
Years latter, I was towing a 2 place ATV trailer down a city street when it started swinging out of control. It threw the car back and forth across 4 lanes of traffic. No matter what I did I could not regain control of the vehicle. Using the brakes only seemed to make it worse. All I could do was take my foot off the gas and brake and steer for all I was worth.
Finally the speed started to drop and the swinging subsided. At about 10 mph I was able to use the brakes and come to a stop. Cars had pulled over and stopped all around to give me room. Luckily I didn't hit anyone.
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
WAS THE TOW VEHICLE INADEQUATE?
WAS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE TRAILER?
It was a trailer that I had used dozens of times before, towed with the same car, and had loaded it with much heavier loads.
SO THEN, WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
It is a very important concept called "tongue weight". Tongue weight is the downward force that the trailer coupler applies to the hitch ball.
HERE'S THE SECRET!
If there is not enough tongue weight, or even negative tongue weight (where the coupler actually pulls up on the hitch ball), the trailer will be unstable at medium or high speeds.
HOW DO YOU AVOID THIS PROBLEM?
For ATV Trailers the recommended tongue weight is 10% to 15% of the total weight of the trailer and load.
For example: a 2 place ATV trailer with 2 large ATV's loaded on it should weigh approximately 2200 pounds. So the minimum tongue weight would be 220 pounds. An even better ratio would be 15% or 330 pounds.
Most trailer hitches and couplers are rated for at least 500 pounds of tongue weight. So anything over 330 pounds and less than 500 pounds is in the correct range.
Remember: Too much tongue weight is far better that too little.
HOW DOES ONE KNOW HOW MUCH TONGUE WEIGHT IS ON THE ATV TRAILER?
You can buy a small scale specifically designed for trailers. The cost is about 125.00 or for about 10.00 you can take it to a truck scale.
Don't put the wheels of the trailer on the scale, unhitch the trailer and pull the tow vehicle off of the scale. This way the weight of the tongue is the only thing that gets measured.
I would not suggest using your bathroom scale. When I tried that, it just folded in half.
To achieve proper tongue weight, load the heaviest ATV in the front of the trailer and pull it as far forward as possible. Then load the lighter ATV in the back. If the trailer is designed for ATV's this should yield a tongue weight in the proper range.
Don't assume that you have correct tongue weight, check it. If you have no way of checking it take it to a trailer shop or hitch shop and have them check it for you.
Hint: Whenever you are towing a loaded trailer for the first time, accelerate slowly.
Accelerate up to 30 MPH and see if the trailer feels stable. If it does then accelerate to 40 mph, check again. You shouldn't feel any swaying or oscillation from the trailer at all. If 40 mph feels good and solid then try 50, then 60, then 70, and 75.
The trailer should feel rock solid behind the tow vehicle at any speed. If it doesn't, slow down immediately and get some professional help to correct the problem.
Because losing control of your truck and trailer will ruin your whole day.