Towing a Trailer
This covers what you need to know to tow a trailer behind a car, van or small truck in Ontario. This includes licence and registration requirements, trailer size and characteristics, as well as safety tips to follow when towing a trailer.
Before you attempt to tow a trailer, consider the size, power and condition of your vehicle. Make sure it is capable of towing both the trailer and the load you intend to carry, and that your trailer and hitch meet all the requirements described in this chapter.
Towing a trailer brings unique challenges to drivers. Almost half of the reported collisions while towing a recreational vehicle are single-vehicle collisions. Another 20 per cent involve rear-end collisions. In collisions where the driver was determined to be at fault, about 30 per cent of the drivers had “lost control” of their vehicle.
You must have a valid driver's licence (Class G1, G2 or G) or higher class of licence to tow a trailer with a gross vehicle weight of up to 4,600 kilograms. If your trailer and load exceeds the size and weight specified in the Highway Traffic Act, you may need a higher class of licence or an oversize vehicle permit to tow it. Oversize permits are available at some ServiceOntario centres.
It is against the law to tow more than one trailer behind non-commercial vehicles.
A trailer is considered a separate vehicle. Before you can tow one on any public road, you must register it and pay a one-time registration fee at a ServiceOntario centre. When you register your trailer you will receive a licence plate and vehicle permit. Attach the licence plate to the back of your trailer where it is clearly visible. Always carry your permit, or a copy of it, to show to a police officer when asked.
Your trailer must be in safe operating condition. If it is not, a police officer may remove your trailer from the road until it is made safe to operate.
If your trailer has a gross trailer weight, vehicle and load of 1,360 kilograms or more, it must have brakes strong enough to stop and hold the trailer.
Your trailer must have:
If your trailer is wider than 2.05 metres, it must also have:
Your trailer must have mud guards, fenders and flaps or be designed in such a way that it does not spray or splash traffic travelling behind you.
If the load in your trailer blocks your vision to the rear, you must have additional mirrors that provide a clear view of the road to the rear. Load your trailer carefully so that nothing comes loose or falls off while you are moving.
Your trailer must have two separate ways of attaching to your vehicle so that if one fails or comes loose, the trailer will stay attached.
If safety chains are used, they must be crossed under the tongue to prevent the tongue from dropping to the road if the primary hitch accidentally disconnects. The chain hooks must have latches or devices that will not accidentally become detached.
You may not carry any person in any trailer, including a house or boat trailer, when it is being towed.
Use a good-quality trailer hitch. The class of trailer hitch you use depends upon the gross weight of your trailer - the gross weight being the total weight of the trailer and its load. Make sure you use the right trailer hitch for the weight of your trailer. It should be securely attached to your vehicle following the manufacturer's recommendations.
The hitch-ball should be installed so that when the trailer is attached and tightened, it is level with no tilting. If the hitch pulls down the rear of your vehicle, you may need to use a load-equalizing trailer hitch. You may also be able to shift some of the load in the trailer to the rear to reduce the load on the rear of your vehicle.
In addition to a ball and hitch, be sure to use safety chains or cables strong enough to hold the trailer and load, in case the ball and hitch accidentally come apart.
When loading your trailer, strap everything down inside, as well as outside. It is an offence to have a load that may become dislodged or fall off. Do not overload your trailer. Too much weight in the trailer can put a strain on your vehicle and damage your tires, wheel bearings and axle. When carrying a boat on a trailer, do not carry cargo in the boat unless your trailer is designed and equipped for the extra weight.
The distribution of the weight in your trailer is also very important. Generally, more of the trailer load should be in front of the trailer axle than behind it for proper hitch weight. About five to 10 per cent of the trailer's total weight should be supported on the hitch, within the weight limit marked on the hitch. Poor load balance can cause your trailer to sway or fishtail. The ball and hitch may also become separated, especially if there is too much weight in the rear of the trailer.
Heavy and improperly placed loads can pull down the rear of your vehicle, lifting the front end and affecting your steering, especially in wet and slippery conditions. It may also affect the aim of your headlights so that your low beams blind approaching drivers. The alignment of your mirrors may also be affected.
Before each trip, check the trailer hitch, wheels, tires, lights, load distribution and load security to make sure they are safe. Check your tire pressure with the trailer loaded while the tires are still cold. When you start to drive, accelerate carefully. Drive slowly and carefully.
Stay close to the middle of your lane when taking a curve. When making a right turn, check traffic. Look in your right mirror. Signal and slow down. If the turn is sharp, move ahead until your vehicle's front wheels are well ahead of the curb before turning to the right.
When making a left turn, check traffic. Signal. Proceed slowly. When you make your turn, swing wide by driving well into the intersection before turning.
A sudden stop can cause your trailer to jackknife or slide sideways or the load to shift. To avoid sudden stops, increase the following distance between you and the vehicle ahead. Keep out of the fast lanes and maintain a speed that will allow you to slow down and stop smoothly in any situation.
You cannot accelerate as quickly when you are towing a trailer. You also need more space because the length of your vehicle is much longer with a trailer attached. Before you pass, make sure you have enough time and room to complete the pass. Once you have passed, allow more room before you move back to your lane. Do not cut back into the lane too soon. This can cause your trailer to sway and make it difficult to control.
If you are holding up a line of traffic, signal, pull over and let the other vehicles pass. Fast-moving trucks and buses create a strong air disturbance behind them. If a large bus or truck passes you, the wall of wind behind it may whip your trailer to the side, pushing it out of control. When you experience this, do not brake. Carefully steer your vehicle and trailer back into position. A slight increase in speed may help.
Back up very slowly and have someone outside the vehicle direct you. Use a series of small turns to steer. It is a good idea to practise this skill off the road in an empty parking lot until you are comfortable with your ability.
To back up to the right, steer to the left. The front end of the trailer will go left, but the rear end will go right. To back up to the left, steer to the right. The front end of the trailer will go right, but the rear end will go left.
If your vehicle breaks down, you should get help from a tow truck designed to tow vehicles. If you must use another vehicle to tow, use warning signals or emergency flashers and make sure you attach the vehicles securely. Someone must sit in the disabled vehicle and use the brakes to keep the tow cable tight. If the engine cannot run, don't tow vehicles that have power braking and steering. Without the engine, braking and steering is difficult and towing may lead to a collision.
Trying to start a disabled vehicle by towing is dangerous and could damage both vehicles.
By the end of this section you should know: