Wednesday, March 27, 2013

4 Smart Tips for Towing Your Trailer

Whether you're new to towing a trailer or not, everyone can use a quick refresher on towing tips now that spring's arrived with a new camping season. It's easy to get so excited about getting out there that we sometimes forget to plan for our safety.

Here are 4 smart tips for you. By no means a comprehensive list, but enough to stick in your memory and maybe save you from a costly and-or dangerous mistake.

1. Read/re-read the Towing chapter in the owner's manual for your tow vehicle. The better you know your vehicle's equipment and capabilities, the better off you'll be; know how to operate all the functions that enable or assist towing and follow any advice particular to your vehicle.

2. Don't tow in 'overdrive' with an automatic. Depending on the vehicle, the manual will tell you either to turn 'overdrive' OFF or to turn 'tow' ON.  The names are different but the function is the same: It prevents your automatic from shifting into its highest gear.  There's usually a button for it at the end of your gear shift lever. (See #1, above!) You may assume that 'overdrive' gives you extra power for towing, particularly when going uphill, but the opposite is true. 'Overdrive,' a higher gear than 'drive,' is for maximum efficiency--think of a bicycle geared to 'spin.' Your vehicle can't tow weight well nor get the load uphill if it's geared that high.

3. Use a lower gear, not your tow-rig brakes, to slow your rig when going down long hills. Unless you have a separate brake control for the axle(s) of your trailer, you should avoid braking as much as possible when towing down a long hill, grade, or pass. Instead of riding the brakes, downshift from 'drive' to the next-lower gear. This will cause your car or truck to slow considerably and help the whole rig handle better. Practice shifting on the fly, when you're not towing, the better to get the feel for it.

4. Drive attentively, with minimal distractions. When towing, you need more time for starting, turning, passing, and stopping than you do when driving 'empty.' But others on the road may not realize this, so you must do the defensive driving for all of you. Turn off the tunes, gag the gabby girlfriend, pen the pup, or whatever else you have to do to keep your mind on the road and your rig. Check your mirrors often so you know what's behind and alongside you as well as up in front--this is the only way to give yourself the added reaction/maneuvering time you might need.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Much Trailer Can You Tow?

'How much trailer can I tow?' This question, plus variations on it, is one of the most common ones asked by people seeking to buy their first trailer--vintage or otherwise.

It's so common, in fact, that if you Google 'how much trailer can I tow?', you'll find that this question has been asked and answered, in depth, in many places. (And it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to read what is available.)

Enough factors go into this that there isn't a simple, easy answer. But if there were, it would be one you aren't going to like hearing: Less than you probably think. And definitely less than the tow-rating number in your vehicle's owner manual.

Here's why.

* If you're like the majority of American motorists, you chose your current vehicle for reasons other than towing--fuel economy, for instance, or lots of extra room for kids, cargo, and pets. It probably has a four- or six-cylinder engine, modest horsepower, and was designed with lightweight parts and an abbreviated wheelbase. In other words: It was designed for purposes other than towing of a recreational vehicle. Therefore, to employ it for towing is a compromise, at best.

* The tow rating in your manual is only part of the picture, and a deceptive one at that. Tow ratings are derived in 'curb conditions,' meaning that they don't take weather, elevation, bow winds (from passing vehicles), and other effects into consideration. Rule of thumb for this is to reduce the stated tow rating by at least 20 percent; so if your manual says your car or SUV is rated to tow 3,000 lbs., you need to knock that down to 2,400 pounds just for starters.

* You must consider more than just the weight of the trailer. You also must factor in weight of everything you put into the trailer and into the tow vehicle, including food, camping supplies, passengers, even the fuel in your tank. This will add another 500 pounds or more (easily!) by the time you're done loading everything and are ready to leave your driveway. Now your hypothetical tow rating is down to 1,900 pounds or less. (Imagine where you'd be if your manual's tow rating were at 2,000 pounds.)

In a perfect world, we all would get to find our dream trailer first, and then go out and find a tow vehicle that could tow and handle it safely. In the real world, it usually doesn't work this way: We have a driving vehicle to start with, then find a trailer we like and hope we can somehow cobble the two together.

Before you try this, continue to educate yourself. And as you do, beware of the worst thing you can do for your safety's sake, which is to fall into 'yeah, but' mode.

This is when someone with more experience tries to tell you that your tow vehicle is inadequate for the trailer you want, and you reply with some reason (usually financial) to ignore the advice and do what you intend to do--which is to hook too much trailer up to your daily driver and venture out on the road.

That is a good way to ruin your transmission at best, and become the cause of a fatal wreck at worst.

Be safe. That's the first rule from here!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Simple Ideas for More Storage, Less Clutter

A vintage trailer is like a vintage small house: It forces you to be creative about storage and to maximize space where and how you can.

I found small, coated-wire baskets (Dollar Tree, $1 each) that fit neatly inside the over-sink cupboard of my trailer. Using napkins for padding, I set heavier items, like metal bowls and silverware, inside those containers. This keeps them from rolling around during transit and popping the cupboard doors open.

Then I used a metal shelf-riser (from the kitchen/bath storage section at Ross) to create a second tier of shelf space. It holds lightweight items, such as silk flowers or paper goods--things that won't force the door open if I happen to hit a bump or pothole.

I've found that I get more use and better storage from my small trailer sink if I keep an enamel bowl in the sink. It's easier to pitch a small bowl of wash water than to drain and clean the sink. The bowl keeps necessities handy (glasses, watch, phone) and I still can tuck other items, like towels, around the outside of the bowl.

By adding another shelf-riser over the sink, I gain extra flat surface area--something you never have too much of in a small trailer.

This is another of my favorite ways to get extra surface space--by placing an old metal serving tray over the sink. Also a great way to hide the clutter-bits when someone comes over to visit your trailer!

Here's another way to utilize a shelf-riser and serving tray. And once you have these simple extras in hand, I'm sure you'll find other ways to put them to work in your vintage trailer!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Trailer Safety: Is It Time for New Tires?

Let's face it: Most of us can think of a hundred things we'd rather spend money on than a set of new trailer tires.

But let's face something else while we're at it: Your safety out on the road depends upon those tires. You don't want a flat or God forbid, a blowout. You don't want any kind of tire failure that could set off a potentially deadly sway incident with your trailer. Proper tires and their related rolling gear (wheels, bearings, axle)--all of it well maintained--are your life insurance.

You needn't be a tire expert to know if you need new tires. Follow these three tips:

1. Schedule a general inspection by a tire shop--prior to your first trip of the season, and as soon as you've purchased any pre-owned trailer. Even if your tires are sound, wheel bearings need an annual inspection and possible repacking with lubricant. You can have the tires inspected and possibly replaced at the same time as the general checkup.

2. Replace tires if they are more than 5 years old--regardless of tread wear. Many trailers sit more than they roll down the road; nevertheless, the sidewalls still break down over time and compromise tire integrity. Tires are date-stamped, often on the back side. Ask the tire tech to look.

3. Purchase trailer tires, not tires for passenger cars or trucks. Trailer tires have stiffer sidewalls and different tread than passenger tires, which must be flexible enough to corner rather than stiff enough to bear weight and follow. Trailer tires are stamped 'ST' (again, often on the back side). If your trailer has any other kind of tires, do yourself a huge favor and replace them.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trailer Spruce-Up: Painting Inside Cupboards & Closet

For all the attention paid to our beloved trailers, sometimes the insides of cupboards and closets get overlooked (kind of like the ones at home!) Little wonder, as it's easier to keep the doors closed than to address the less-than-pretty surfaces.

(Note to trailer shoppers: When inspecting a trailer, always open the cupboards and closets, so you can check for evidence of roof leaks that will show up as stains on the ceiling or outermost wall. Note the staining here; the leak's been fixed, but the stain gives away that such a leak once existed.)

Besides the stain, this trailer's cupboards had 5 different types of wood involved in the assemblage. Not exactly pretty!

Here's the same cupboard a day later, after it was primed (with Bullseye 1-2-3), then given two coats of  satin latex in pale green.

I found that a sponge brush and sponge mini-roller worked very well for getting paint into small, tight spaces with many angle changes.

I'll let the new paint have a good long cure time before putting the cupboard and closet contents back in. Gives me a good reason to sort through and edit it all before it goes back in.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying that 'Ahh, fresh-paint' phenomenon. The rest of the interior has a distinctive painted personality, and it feels good to have given it that final finish.

Even if I'm the only one who'll see it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Use Google Alerts for Trailer Shopping

Are you on the hunt for a particular year, brand or make of travel trailer? If so, you know how frustrating it can be to find what you're looking for. 'Hit or miss,' in many cases. SO many classifieds and online listings and craigslist ads to wade through, and how can you possibly know of them all?

Here's where you can put Google Alerts to work for you. These are emails, sent to you by Google, when its World Wide Web search engines find a match to the term or words you've requested.

All you have to do is click on the link provided above; fill in the search words you want (1962 Shasta Compact; vintage Airstream Arizona; 1959 travel trailer for sale--the combo is up to you); add your email address; submit. You can create as many as you want, using a variety of terms to suit your needs.

We're paying for all this technology to serve us--so make it do its job for you!