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Hopefully, you’ve never had the experience of your trailer starting to sway from side to side as you’ve been towing. It can be hazardous at worst and unpleasant at best so here are a few tips on what it is, how to avoid it, and if you do find yourself experiencing trailers sway, what to do about it.

  • Trailer sway is when a trailer starts to swing from side to side as you are towing it.
  • It can be a dangerous and unsettling event.
  • Tips to understand, avoid, and manage trailer sway.

Trailer sway is a relatively common dilemma that is usually caused by unexpected and strong gusts of wind, poor driving conditions, or travelling too fast. However, overloading, improper weight distribution, or even low tyre pressure can all play a part.

In a worst-case scenario, trailer sway can result in the trailer turning on its side and even taking the towing vehicle with it. It happens on vehicles where the hitch is behind the rear axle of the towing vehicle – which is very likely to be your trailer.

So, what causes it and why?

Assuming that you haven’t exceeded the maximum towing weight (in very simple terms the loaded trailer should weigh less than the towing vehicle), if the load is unevenly distributed with insufficient weight over the hitch and an excessive weight in the trailer’s rear it starts to act like a pendulum, swinging back and forth with momentum making things worse. If you know the weight of your load, make sure at least 10 – 12% is placed over the hitch – without overloading over the hitch, of course.

A strong gust of wind (which could be as a result of a large passing vehicle as well as the weather) causing a quick change of direction is usually to blame. Drivers often overcompensate, and then the pendulum effect becomes more extreme the more they try to correct it.

Although some trailers have built in electronic intervention systems that are designed to control braking to contain and correct the sway, and some towing hitches are designed to have more friction to help reduce risk, it’s still important to know what to do without any help.

So, in the event of experiencing trailer sway as you drive, and assuming that there’s nothing in your way, don’t apply the brakes but lift your foot off the accelerator and the swinging should diminish. As you slow down, the trailer will stop swinging to extreme and hopefully that will be enough to get back under control.

If your trailer is lighter than your towing vehicle it will be less susceptible to sway, and if the trailer is heavier than the towing vehicle it will be more susceptible to sway so you should be aware of the distribution.

In summary, make sure that your trailer is loaded safely and proportionally, slow down by removing your foot from the accelerator rather than applying the brakes if you feel the trailer starting to sway, drive slowly, anticipate weather conditions and, make sure that tyres are correctly inflated.

To be on the safe side, it may also be worth having a service and maintenance check so any issues can be safely resolved, and you can tow with confidence.