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  • Writer's pictureRick Treviz

Common mistakes that cause Jackknifing

Tips on how to prevent accidents.


Suv with camper jackknifing and crashing into whte car.
Suv Jacknifing with camper

The first step in preventing a jackknife situation on the highway is to check your mirrors for trailer swing, frequently. You should also do this every time you have to brake hard, especially if towing an empty or light trailer. In many traffic reports of jackknifing, the trailers are empty.

Proper braking is essential. Instead of braking during turns, decelerate slowly on the long stretch before the bend or curve. Avoid slamming on the brakes, which could cause them to lock and will often result in a jackknife situation.

Improperly balanced trailer with a rear-heavy load tends to sway and can cause the trailer to swing out into a jackknife. To avoid this, make sure to pack your trailer with weight spread out and on the bottom, giving it a low center of gravity. If you detect sway in your trailer, stop to check if the load has shifted. Overloading your tow vehicle, trailer, or both can cause a whole host of problems like failing brakes, broken suspensions, overheated transmissions, or blown-out tires.

Novice trailer-tower is even more likely to get stuck in a jackknife position when backing up. This kind of jackknifing has less to do with traction and more to do with knowing how to handle a trailer in reverse. Engineers have attacked the jackknifing problem from a few different angles. Some technologies involve adjusting the design of brakes, while others involve devices that physically prevent the trailer from veering too far. The most important thing to remember is that the trailer will go in the opposite direction of the tow vehicle. It is helpful to have another person help you back the trailer.

Check for suspension problems and make sure the tires and wheels are secure and inflated properly. A small reduction in tire air pressure or a slight increase in the tongue weight may help. Be sure the trailer hitch is secure. A sway control device should be included when the hitch is installed. This device helps give the tow vehicle and trailer a "one-vehicle" feel.

Allow plenty of stopping distance with the vehicles in front. You need to increase your following distance when towing a trailer. It takes longer to stop your towing rig than your tow vehicle alone. Also, you should avoid sudden acceleration, braking and maneuvering. Anticipate problems since it takes longer to accelerate, stop, change lanes and turn with a trailer, look ahead farther than you normally would. You can see many problems developing a long way off. Observe traffic flow and be ready to react.

During this time of the year and throughout the summer, is when Tech Auto Body receives various tow vehicles that have been damaged due to jackknifing accidents. Please follow your manual instructions for each vehicle you are towing. We suggest novice drivers towing their campers and boats to get some instruction and training before hitting the road. Reduce your speed. Excessive speeding is a major cause of jackknifing. Slow down and follow the speed limits. Speeding reduces your reaction time causing in many cases unnecessary maneuvering. These knee-jerk reactions are a major cause of jackknifing and accidents.

Have a great camping season and drive safely.

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