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By Howard Elmer

The boat’s put away for the winter, but that only means that it’s time to hit the trails. And if you snowmobile, that means you have to trailer those sleds at some point. Often, this seemingly simple chore gets the least amount of prep time assigned to it, yet it’s the most common reason weekend trips are ruined. So, be prepared, do the work and have a safe and happy winter season.

Towing has certain associated chores, the common ones being maintenance and trailer preparation. These chores only become headaches if they are overlooked or left for the last minute. Adopt this mind-set: before you hit the road for a trip of one kilometre or a thousand, set aside a block of time, well before departure day, to do your trailer and vehicle tune-up. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t leave on a trip with your sled unprepared – so why miss the trailer that’s carrying it?

Pre-trip trailer checklist:

  • hook up the tow vehicle and trailer
  • check light bulbs and wiring
  • spray all electrical connections with a silicon spray
  • check and grease wheel hubs, tighten and lubricate lug nuts
  • check tires for proper inflation and wear, particularly look for sidewall damage and cracks
  • check hitch assembly, lock, chains, pins and frame bolts and welds
  • repeat same for the tow vehicle hitch and electrical connections
  • check for vehicle and trailer registrations, valid license plates and insurance documents

All this preparation has only one purpose: your safety and that of those you share the road with. Being safe is mostly common sense, but there is also that pesky problem called the law. If you don’t know the law trouble, will surely follow, so to get the straight goods contact your local ministry of transport, they’ll be happy to tell you. Don’t trust what your buddy says he thinks the law is, or the police – they enforce laws, not make them. Ask for the rules in writing and learn them. Be particularly aware that laws governing trailers vary from province to province – if you’re traveling any distance, contact the transportation department in whatever jurisdiction you plan to end up in.

Next, find out what your trailer weighs loaded. Without this information, the trailering rules are useless to you. A couple of bucks at any truck scale will give you that answer. Then, if you don’t already have one, get the right hitch. Bumper hitches are mostly for weights under 2,000 lb (about 909 kg), so a better idea is to have a factory or aftermarket frame hitch installed that meets your needs. Hitches are sold in classes: Class I – up to 2,000 lb.; Class II – up to 3,500 lb. (1,591 kg); Class III – up to 5,000 lb. (2,723 kg); Class IV – up to 10,000 lb (4,545 kg). These installations will include the appropriate wiring for lights and brakes.

Now, the trailer is prepped and loaded but the weather is turning bad. Let me stress what you should know already but are tempted to ignore – winter travel plans must be flexible. Depending on weather be prepared to leave early or arrive later, or cancel altogether. Adhering to a schedule without consideration to road conditions is dangerous. Always work to minimize risk by traveling during daylight when possible, as it’s safer and if you become stranded you’re more likely to get prompt assistance. Plan the best route to avoid hills, winding roads, high congestion areas and poor or unserviced byways. Now it’s just down to the driving.

Winter trailering requires the same driving skills as at other times of year, with one exception. The weight and stress of braking has to be dealt with differently than when the road gripping surface is optimum. If you remember only one rule this winter let it be to increase the space you need to stop safely.

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