Tip # 21, by Popular Demand: Some Towing Tips for “Newbies” and reminders.......

Submitted: Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 05:41
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Many have requested this one. This does not come from Bushtracker as they are not Licensed to give Driver Education. This one comes from me, Steven Gibbs personally. It is by no means all, but here are some basic safety tips towing. I have a Medium Rigid truck License, and many of the tips are the same for towing a Bushtracker as running a bigger rig. These tips are almost all for the highway, which is the dangerous way.. I start off with the simple and obvious, but then get on to the more subtle and experienced... Bear with me, I am writing to help all...

I have towed with a number of vehicles, in Australia it has been Toyotas, 61 Series, 80 Series, Troopcarriers, and 100 Series, Ford F-350, Mitsubishi truck, and Mack 4x4. Here are some basic ideas to take on board, if you do not understand any, ask and I will elaborate.. OK?

These are not meant to be a safety course, I accept no liability for your use, abuse, or misconceptions regarding these tips.. And you will have to put up with my sense of humour as it is late and I am tired.. Make sure you understand these Tips fully before implementing them, they are just here as safety tips to help you along.. And best wishes.

If you have bought a Bushtracker from us, you have already gotten your recommendations on upgrading the suspension on your tow vehicle to do the job you are asking of it… So I will skip that bit…

1) Double check your rig, hook up, safety chains, plug, and brake away switch.

2) Before you go, check your lights, and do a walk around the rig… Have a look, tyres and all… Never know that guy might have only unbolted half the wheel trying to steel it before you came out of the pub in Woop Woop..

3) Cross over your safety chains underneath, the idea is that it is supposed to catch the hitch should something fail…

4) Check your brake controller as you pull out, slide over the slide bar and feel it… Make sure your van parking brake is off, you would not believe how many ruin and burn up the brakes by driving off with it on until they are smoked… I will not admit to having done that more than twice… Ha!

5) Adjust your brakes response on the Brake Controller to suit road conditions. In traffic, snow, mud, gravel curves, rain, ice… You may want to turn up the gain a bit so the caravan brakes come on first… Then back it off again for normal straight driving in the dry, so that you feel them but the tyres do not lock up with normal braking. You want to feel them come on as you apply the vehicle brakes but not severely… and not locking up and smoking the tyres. Play with the Brake Controller until you know it by feel…

6) If possible have the Brake Controller mounted so you can reach the slide bar in a panic. No, down under the dash on the other side is not where I would have it.. Ha! If you are going around a curve, gravel, ice, rain, sway, something happens that causes the van to feel out of control, putting the caravan brakes on first with the slide bar will snap the van back to a steady track behind you… If the van was starting to jack-knife or sway out of control in the mud or ice on a curve, normal braking of the vehicle might not be enough and might bring you to grief. Where if you use the slide bar to snap the van back into its track behind you first, and then apply the brakes, it has been my experience that this gives you better towing control… Examples: For instance in a domed road in the wet black soil country in the mud, at a certain speed the van can start to sway a bit sliding side to side in the mud… You can turn up your Brake Controller in those conditions so that the van brakes come on first as you just tap the brake pedal in your tow vehicle… Good idea… Also, if you were going around a curve and it felt like the van was sliding off the road, the slide bar will put on the van brakes instead of the tow vehicle brakes, and pull the van back in directly behind you… Now mind you, these conditions are extreme, you are not likely to encounter them if you are not looking for trouble and taking it easy… But if you do encounter them, having played with the slide bar a bit, being familiar with it, having it in an easy location, making it your panic button can make the difference…

7) Next item, watch your mirrors…. Look in your mirrors more often than when in your car… I mean make it a habit…. If you are backing up a lot of traffic do the right thing and pull over in a convenient spot to let the traffic go by… Not doing that common courtesy is why “caravan people” are disliked by many, especially Truckers… Don’t get silly and pull over all the time, there are usually passing lanes coming up, but think of it and do it when convenient and safe if you are running a bit slow. Now besides courtesy, this is a major cause of accidents, as someone is bleep right off by being stuck behind you for so long and they try to pass you when it is not really safe to do so… Guess what happens if they don’t make it… You are likely to be involved as well… So this tip is watch your mirrors and be a courteous driver… Also, you might want to pull over in some places like the NT when trucks are coming up fast behind you, for when you are just poking along..

8) Next, and no I don’t mean you the experienced, so stop calling me stupit, I am not Sshhttoopitt ! I know you know, but some of the Newbies might not: Watch the passing distance…. You need many times the distance to get by a slower caravan or truck… Be very careful, because it is a lot longer than you think…! (Now that’s a change for some of you Blokes)… Ha! (Ladies, forgive my rough humour)… Give it plenty of room… It is a lot longer than you think.

9) Towing vans should have the same driving time limitations and regulations as Truck Drivers…. Never mind, but keep in mind you could weigh 6 tonnes or more all up.. Stop for coffee or a stretch every couple of hours… Stop for a full half hour every four hours minimum or an hour stop at five hours… No more than ten hours before a minimum eight hour rest stop… Don’t push yourself, if you are tired, pull over, it is not worth it. You get a Bushtracker to have a rest and have some fun, now start to unwind yourself before you take off on the trip… Don’t take off high strung and in a hurry, expecting that the trip is going to slow you down… OK?

10) React slowly if you run off the edge of the shoulder, don’t over-react, come back off the shoulder gently and slowly… And don’t panic if you get a blow-out flat tyre, just cruise along nice and steady and pull over in control and in a safe spot.. Better to ruin a wheel than cause an accident by pulling over in a dangerous spot… Running on a wheel is no big deal, find a safe place to pull over in control and where there is room for a tyre change.

11) Head to head on the one lane bitumen road with the dirt road on both sides, don’t fool around with the Road Train people, slow down a bit and get off early, those Blokes are earning a living and in a hurry, give them the road courtesy…

12) Put lots of lights on your tow vehicle… You will get more respect from the cars and utes on the back tracks at night.. They will think you are a Road Train and pull over themselves. Then smile and wave as you go by when they are shaking a fist.. Just kidding.. But I always put extra lights on my tow vehicles…

13) Watch your corners when in town, particularly if you have a long draw bar, as you will cut the corners a bit… I flattened a mushroom room light at a BP about ten years ago… They thought it was funny and were all laughing so hard they almost fell over, as they did not like the mushroom light either.. But anyway, you have to swing wide about a foot or two on your turns.. Have a play with this and see how far it cuts the corner on right and left turns so you will know.. In most instances it just means swinging out the outside edge of your lane as you approach the turn at an intersection, but practice first… This will vary with vehicle and length of a-frame, so practice in an industrial area for a while..

14) Find a closed Woolies or Coles, and park all over the parking lot looking crazy… It will save you a lot of embarrassment later.

15) The same goes for backing up, don’t wait till you need to do it in a mess. It will always happen in the dark, when you are tired, the Missus is cranky, and it’s raining… Practice in the industrial area until you can do a comfortable three point turn into a tight driveway and parallel park your long rig, not when your friends are watching and laughing while you struggle..… Also, when ever possible, like even when the Missus is cranky, it is dark, and raining, have someone (Her) get out and watch on your blind side when backing up… The rule is: Stay where you can see my face in the mirror. If you can’t see my face, I can’t see you!…#$%&@ !! OK?

16) I don’t like the high speed coastal highways… That is where it is always a worry… When ever possible, I take the next highway over, little smaller, a lot slower, and I can pull off in the trees for a break… That is what a Bushtracker is all about… And the Truckies get a bit wild on the main highways at night… They are making time, making money, and trying to get home. No disrespect intended, I have been there, but give me a quiet country route every time…

17) Carry a shovel when off road, that way you won’t need it. Don’t carry one and see what happens….

18) Carry a Col-light…Or some similar 12v drop light to plug in. If you get a flat, the first thing you do after you pull over is put on your hazard lights. But then the next is to plug in the Col-light into your tow vehicle.. It is a big flouro drop light, Col, or something like it, essential safety and light.. When travelling at night.. Lays on the ground illuminating the tow vehicle and is better than someone standing out behind you with a torch, especially on the road side… And remember to run on a wheel with a flat, to get to a safe spot to stop, don’t worry about ruining the wheel by stopping in a bad spot, get off the road! I don’t want to read about you in the paper like that!!!

19) THIS IS IMPORTANT, UNDERSTAND IT FULLY.. Do not ride your brakes on a hill…. Especially the caravan brakes, but also your tow vehicle brakes… Use the engine decompression and gears and approach a hill at a slow speed… Don’t go over the edge and then slam on the brakes trying to slow down in a panic when you figure out what you are in for.. On all of the steep grades with %decline signs, slow down before you enter them. Let the engine compression brake and slow you, but watch your RPM, don’t let it get too high… You can even drop gears in an automatic on most vehicles, and do the same thing, but watch the engine REVS… Then when you have to, place on the brakes firmly, but only for short durations. Then let up after you have slowed down to below what you think is safe. If it is a long down grade, look for a truck pull out, pull off and use it and let the rig set for ten or fifteen minutes to cool down the brakes as needed… On the hills, SLOW is SAFE… So approach them slow, take it slow, and don’t ride the brakes. Use the combination of engine compression to keep you slow. Whatever you do, do not get going too fast as the recovery is too hard to get under control. Use the slow lane, and slow going is the key to steep descents down a grade. It might say 60, but 25 might be safer if there is a slow lane.. If you see a big rig crawling along slowly down a grade, and you are unsure of the steepness or your brakes, it would not hurt to get in behind him on your first big hill doooowwwnnnn! If all else fails, understand what the truck emergency ramps are for if your brakes fail you, doubtful to ever need it, but understand what they are for, don’t ever think you can run it out down the grade if brakes fail. Slow running down is to give you some emergency options, like hand brakes and engine compression to get you off in an emergency.. Take it slow, until you know your limitations…

20) Look ahead, I mean way ahead. Watch the oncoming traffic and leave plenty of space in front of you. You can’t stop on a dime. Sure there will always be an Idiot pull into the space you are leaving, and let him… Relax, slow down again, stop cursing at him, pull your head back in the window and roll it up. Get used to is, ‘cause it is going to happen again and his stereo is probably so loud he can’t hear all the things you are screaming at him anyway. Ha! Allow plenty of room, and let them be Jerks. Odds are you will see them in a ditch someday anyway. Leave plenty of space, so when they get out of control with their dirtbag bald tyres, and swerve and cause a wreck, you have time and rooooom, to avoid it. Give yourself that safety space… And it is bigger than you think… (How is that for a change, Boys?)

21) Watch your weight. No, not you girls.. With the rig! They do spot checks with portable scales… If you need to upgrade suspension or hitch or Compliancing, do so… Overweight is not OK...

22) Learn to roughly service and inspect your tow vehicle and caravan. Go under and have look for loose bolts and bits.. Learn to routinely check things out on the tow vehicle, like belts, fluids, and brake adjustment… Like belts, you do not wait until they break! Learn to recognize the worn look, as it can drive your water pump or power steering. Remember, if something is going to go wrong, it is always on a steep grade, at night, on a narrow road, and in the rain…. Keep up too the maintenance. And flares and triangles are not so silly to have on board just like the trucks..

23) Watch out for the other guy, assume something stupid is going to happen, it will sooner or later, so pay attention… When did you ever hear “Caravaner goes amok and wrecks into four other cars as he careens down the highway drunk”? Assume it is the other guy, as it usually is.. You are not going to take a chance hurting your Fabulous rig… It is always some junk heap with a dirtbag at the wheel, and often the worse the car the worse the driver… Ever notice? Ha! (Not always). And Lighten Up! I was not talking about your rusty ole Holden…

24) Watch the tyre pressure when you are heavily loaded, particularly on the back tyres of your tow vehicle… When your truck is loaded and the van is hooked up, for highway use you want to be up on the higher end of the tyre pressure range, not at the normal tyre pressure, particularly in the rear of your truck that is carrying the weight. And know the difference between cold tyre pressure and hot… Hot can be as much as 10 psi more…. Real hot weather can mean even higher of a difference. Example, a tyre that is heavily loaded on the rear might have a maximum tyre pressure of 65 psi… Cold you don’t want to go over maybe 50, in hot weather I have seen as much as a 15 psi increase in tyre pressure as it heats up, and too much is just as dangerous as too little. Learn, what your tyres need and can take…

25) Listen to the road tips on UHF channel 40… The Truckies are good about giving warnings down the line… Not a bad idea to have a UHF on board and listen in…

26) Not even a bad idea to have a portable hand held UHF, so the Missus can tell you what She thinks of you while She is standing in the rain and dark while you back up.. Ha! Then you can offer to let Her back up the rig while you stand out in the rain to guide Her…

27) Assume that the guy sitting at the cross section is going to pull out in front of you.. Sooner or later he will.

28) Every vehicle I get, I add on fish eye lenses on the lower corner of the mirrors to see in the blind spot… You are always looking out way behind when you are towing, and it is easy to overlook the little car in the lane just on your shoulder…

Enough for now…
It is getting late, I am tired, and I will sign off… More in the future… With best intentions.

Kind Regards to all from the Lone Ranger at Bushtracker….

"The Last Stand In Open Country"

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Reply By: Bushtracker - Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 21:10

Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 21:10
Tracy, had two more he thought should be here:

1) He wanted me to stress the safe distance necessary when following along... It is a lot longer than you think.... I did address it but here it is as a reinforcement...

2) Now here is a good one, he gets out and feels the hubs on the van after a long run... I do that as well... Do not do it after a lot of braking or a long hill as they get very hot... But after a long run without much on the brakes, once a month or so reach down and feel each hub. They will be very very warm, but should be about even all the way around all 4 bearing hubs...

Here is what you are looking for: If three are very warm but one is hot, you have a problem.. Now it could be just a brake adjustment a bit tight, but it could also be a bearing going... Check it once a month or so, if you are travelling hard, maybe once a week... Pat the bearing hub in the center where the dust cap goes on and have a feel when you first stop after a long run... warm and even...

Cheers, stg
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Follow Up By: Turist - Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 22:46

Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 22:46
One to add to the walk around pre take off check.
The pin in the breakaway brake switch.
Some mugs think it smart to pull the pin in the switch, result is you try to drive away with the van brakes locked.
I had it happen at Port Douglas, bumped into another vanner who had it happen in FW NSW.

"Do It While You Can"
Nobody is getting any younger.

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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 22:59

Tuesday, Feb 01, 2005 at 22:59
Oh, it gets worse than that Bob... Give you an idea of what we go through...
One Bloke screamed for a week that our fridges were no good, drained his batteries, told everyone from the NT to North Qld.. The when we proved that was OK, he told everyone that our chargers were no good. When we proved that OK, then he told everyone that our Panels were no good... When we proved that OK then he told everyone that our batteries were no good. When we proved that OK he told everyone that our Regulator must be defective... When we proved that OK, he got an Auto Electrician to say that he had to pull off all the cladding because there must be a short somewhere... And after blasting us for a week, they discovered he had kicked out the emergency breakaway brake switch, and that was pulling 10 amps 24/7..... I would say Ha! But it was not at all funny...

And after all that blasting he never even apologized! And of course never told everyone he complained to, that it was his silly fault... SO THE LESSON IS, THOSE BRAKES PULL TEN AMPS, MAKE SURE YOU DON'T ACCIDENTLY KICK IT OUT.... ha!

Kind Regards, from he who catches hell, usually without just cause..
stg at Bushtracker...
"The Last Stand In Open Country"

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Reply By: Grumblebum & Dragon - Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 01:24

Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 01:24
Good post.... Appreciated that stuff about using break controllers. They are still a mystery to me. (I am not towing yet!!)

Regards John
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Reply By: Rockgoc - Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 07:00

Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 07:00
Thanks Steve. Great posts and of intense interest even though we have been "doing it" full time for nearly a year now. You can never get too much of this sort of information! All you newbies should be feeling very lucky to have had this stuff to read BEFORE you get your rigs.....we didn't !!!
Best Regards to all at BTi
from Easy (Sam Elliot) and Jan O (SSAA sheila)
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Reply By: Tellem Bugrem - Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 18:13

Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 18:13
G'day Steve,

28 ticks out of 28, + a couple for Tracy !

As a Traffic Engineer and Accident Reconstructionist I have seen many accidents where contributory factors come from drivers NOT doing these things!

There are probably more that I can add and will do so whenever I think of them.

29. When driving in, or parking in the kerb lane, be aware of the cross fall of the road. Your BT is wider and higher than your tow vehicle (unless it's a Mack Truck!), and often there are signposts, trees, poles and traffic signals close to the kerb. The steeper the crossfall, the more chance there is of damaging your awning. - Adjust your left mirror so you can see the awning, and, slow to a crawl.

30. Get to know where your wheels are on the road. All wheels, BT and Tow vehicle. Go to that empty parking area with a bag full of aluminium cans or something. Practice running over them with each wheel of your rig. Try reversing and running over one with the left rear wheel of the BT. (Don't forget to pick them up after). When on the highway and there's not much traffic about run over a reflective pavement marker (RPM) with your front left wheel then glance in the mirror and observe where the BT wheel is in relation to the front wheel.
(this will help when you are in situations such as where you have to pull off a narrow bitumen road for road trains etc...... the wheels of the BT will drop off before those of the tow vehicle, and this could cause momentary sway).

31. Braking with Right wheels on Bitumen and Left wheels on Gravel. Brake SLOWLY. The right side of your rig is going to slow quicker than the left side, resulting in a tendancy to steer you back onto the bitumen.

32. When you are being overtaken by a large truck, particularly the flat-nose truck with an air spoiler over the cab, the truck is pushing a "Bow wave" of wind that is going to affect the stability of your rig. It hits the rear right side of your BT and this tends to push the hitch point towards the truck and your tow vehicle's front end away from the truck. To prepare yourself for this, put pressure on steering to the right (But don't steer to the right....just pressure as if you are going to..). This enables you to make a correction if needed. If you are travelling into a headwind, the bow-wave pressure is going to be stronger so the affect will be more pronounced. Now, as the truck approaches the front of your BT, it is going to do the opposite - pushing the hitch point away from the truck and the front of your tow vehicle towards it. You need to have a little steering pressure to the left to compensate.

The truck, as it pulls up along side your tow vehicle, is going to tend to push your tow vehicle to the left, so you will need to put steering pressure to the right.

Now, behind the bow wave is a vortex, or whirlpool of air which can have the effect of sucking you back towards the truck, so, after the front wheels of the truck have passed the front of your tow vehicle, you should maintain steering pressure to the left.

All sounds a bit complicated but after a bit of practice, you'll find the process works!

This phenomonen was possible a contributory factor in a double fatal accident near Maitland a few months ago. Both husband and wife in tow vehicle killed when the truck pushed the tow vehicle across the median into oncoming traffic. Tow vehicle across bull bar of truck - caravan still attached and hard up against left side of cab.

Hope these help as well.


AnswerID: 565783

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