Tech Stuff

Towing the Line

Quite often, vehicles enter your shop which feature a trailer hitch (bumper hitch, frame-mounted hitch receiver). This should alert you to that fact that the customer may, on occasion, be using their vehicle to tow a recreational or commercial trailer.

Granted, many light trucks often feature a hitch receiver as standard equipment and may never be used. Regardless, it’s not a bad idea to discuss this with the customer. You may find that only a light utility, boat or motorcycle trailer is pulled on rare occasions, or you may discover that the customer routinely pulls a heavier open car trailer (transporting a collector car), an enclosed car, horse or commercial trailer. If heavy tongue weights are involved, this can affect front wheel alignment and related premature tire wear.

Discussing towing issues with the customer can lead to increased business for the shop in terms of wheel alignments, shocks, springs, brake system repairs or upgrades, as well as the potential for tire sales. During your talk with the customer, you may find that they experience a “light” steering condition and wandering at highway speed. Excessive trailer tongue weight results in uneven weight distribution between the tow vehicle’s front and rear axles. Reducing front end weight causes the steer axle wheels to disturb toe and camber angles, resulting in less-than-efficient tire contact patch to the road surface and uneven and premature front tire wear.

If the towing trips are rare and involve relatively short distances, this may not be an issue. However, if the towing scenario involves long distances and/or frequent towing (where the vehicle is primarily used for towing), options to increase vehicle stability and tire life might include the addition of weight distribution bars on the trailer A-frame in an effort to maintain proper ride height, increase steering feel and reduce tire wear. If the rig will experience an extended distance trip (let’s say the customer plans to tow cross-country), you might consider adjusting the front wheel alignment to compensate for the added tongue weight. Once the customer has returned from the trip, wheel alignment could then be re-adjusted for non-towing use.

Even with properly operating trailer brakes, the tow vehicle’s brakes experience a more severe workout, especially when braking during a steep downhill situation. Unfortunately, trailer brakes are notorious for glitches. In the event of poor performance of the trailer brakes, or failure of the trailer brakes, the vehicle’s braking system will bear the brunt during slowdowns and stopping.

If the customer notes that he’s had a hard time stopping during trailering, and/or even when driving the vehicle without the trailer attached, the brake system should be inspected for condition, including pad and rotor wear, rotor glazing and cracking, signs of overheating, etc.

If you see a trailer connection on a customer’s vehicle, take a few minutes to discuss this with the customer. If he or she has experienced no problems, fine. But bringing up this topic just might provide the opening for the customer to then relate issues that they’ve had, which can lead to both helping the customer and generating additional service work. ■

To read more of Mike Mavrigian's editorials, click:

Shop Referrals: A Shop's Got to Know its Limitations

Why Your Shop Should Worry About Faulty Airbags

A Turbocharged Pet Peeve

Let's Defend the Fender Cover!

Thank You Means a Lot

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