Anyone who has gone near a camping area recently knows that recreational trailers are among the fastest-selling automobile "accessories" on the market. Come nightfall, virtually any campground is festooned with an amazing assortment of trailers—folding out, popping up and generally displaying a prodigality of mechanical contrivances. These little collapsible houses on wheels and their even more numerous playmates, the boat trailers, are just the first wave of an impending flood. Manufacturers are straining, not unwillingly, to keep up with the demand. There will be 325,000 camping trailers on the highways this summer, 3,200,000 boat trailers. By as early as 1965, the expanding trailer industry expects 4 million Americans will be hauling one sort of trailer or another behind their cars. So important have trailers become, in fact, that the big Detroit automobile producers have produced numerous brochures and tables dealing solely with adapting autos to the increased demands of hauling the rigs. Soon they may even find it profitable to set up divisions to manufacture already adapted cars.
There is good reason for all this activity. Camping has become a new way of life for millions of Americans who want to travel but who would prefer to be close to nature and far away from the expensive motels strung along noisy highways with their forbidding "No Vacancy" neon signs glaring through the night. Comfortable and convenient, the latest trailers are surprisingly commodious. They will accommodate four to eight sleepers, provide storage space and in many cases come equipped with lighting, refrigerators and stoves.
But with the rise of trailers have come problems. If you buy a trailer, what sort of modifications should you make in your automobile in order to avoid excessive wear? New and often exasperated owners ask: How do you back one of those things into a tight spot? Handled thoughtlessly or at too high speeds, trailers can become lethal weapons. There are problems, too, about the correct hitches to cars and even the kind of trailer to buy. None of these is insoluble, however. Trailering—and the wonderful outdoor adventure it can furnish a family—is fun and quite easy if one knows and follows the rules. Here, in simplified form, is a short course that could make a devotee of you.
When to modify your car
Most automobiles arc designed to carry loads, not pull them, but at no great expense they can (and should) be modified to haul almost any camping trailer. If you are contemplating buying a trailer, check a manufacturer's manual first to make sure the trailer is not too big for your car. A too-heavy trailer with a too-light car could wreck your transmission. While most light compacts are not good haulers, standard low-priced cars are. You need not make all the modifications shown below; tires, brakes, hitches, suspensions and cooling system are the most important. The cost for them should be under $150. The complete adaptation job is likely to run about $300.
Police-type brakes compensate for greater weight and less maneuverability. Where these are not generally available, as in compacts, power brakes can help.
Oversize tires counteract greater wear and risk of blowouts in trailering; 7.50 x 14 six-ply tires are good protection, and heavy vehicles can use up to 9.00 x 14. Rear tire pressures should be 35 pounds or more.
Heavy-duty suspension is important, particularly if the trunk is loaded. Adjustable, load-leveling rear shock absorbers are preferable to heavy springs for light trailers.
High-amperage battery and alternator (which delivers current at idle) compensate for trailer drain.
If you intend to drive in mountain or desert regions, which tax the cooling system, it is best to install a fan of five or more blades and high-pressure radiator cap. Additional helps are an air-conditioning-type radiator, fan shroud and a special water pump. Should overheating occur despite precautions, stop immediately and run your engine at fast idle. Most automobiles nowadays come equipped with automatic transmissions, which are suitable for hauling trailers. If you use a manual transmission, however, get a sturdy one with heavy-duty clutch.
A special differential which transfers power to the non-slipping wheel is valuable for off-pavement driving.
Increased rear axle ratio provides better starting, low-speed torque and downhill braking. For average terrain and automatic drive, a ratio near 3.60 is good. Mountains and manual transmission require up to 3.90. Other modifications necessary are side-view mirror and headlight pattern adjustment. A spotlight for nighttime backing is useful.
These are the 14 most useful additions and modifications recommended for medium-duty hauling. While trailer weight is the chief determining factor in modifying, anticipated road conditions and frequency of towing are important, too. Longer trips on difficult roads require substantial adaptations.
Towing a trailer is easy
...but it has its dangers. Although the modern automobile is engineered to be quite forgiving of mistakes, pulling a trailer removes much of that tolerance. Thus it is always a good rule of thumb to allow a double margin of safety—twice the usual space in order to stop, twice the distance to pass. A bump or a dip in the road, for instance, can cause serious trouble with a trailer, which may suddenly find itself pulling in one direction when the car wants to go in another. Even at medium speeds, a moderate wind can do tricky things with a rig, and crowned roads and sharp curves, which are not always immediately apparent to drivers, can be doubly perilous. Should you ever get into trouble—either with shimmying or swaying or by losing the highway—fight the impulse to react violently. Do not twist the wheel hard, do not brake suddenly. You will only compound your mistake. Try to set a straight course and, if your trailer has separately controlled brakes, apply those first—but gently. It is best to go slow when pulling your first trailer. If you are cautious and know the feel of your rig, you never should outrun your safety.
Stopping a car with an average-size trailer generally requires half again to three quarters the distance it takes to halt an auto. It is always better to play safe and allow for a margin of error.
Passing another vehicle with a trailer can be dangerous. It is also rarely necessary, since trailer speeds should never exceed two-thirds of posted limits. Should you come up behind a haywagon or slow truck, however, you can get around by swinging wide and allowing twice the usual passing distance. Fancier maneuvers are limited by car's slow acceleration, slower stops.
Missing a turn is no problem, providing you have plenty of shoulder room. Rather than backing, which is relatively difficult, try a U turn, remembering you need a wide turning radius.
Handling a trailer always requires a sense of the large. Turning a corner, the trailer cuts closer to the curb than the car. Approach corner at least a few feet out to give yourself room.
Backing up is more difficult
Melancholy fears of backing into a neighbor's petunia patch or being unable to back out of some wilderness campsite can keep motel occupancy up and trailer sales down. Most of this anxiety is unwarranted. After a few simple concepts and techniques are mastered (below and next page), backward maneuvers quickly will become routine. The primary rule is to back slowly, thinking out the consequences of each movement carefully in advance. Do not change speed or direction suddenly. Look directly back toward the trailer through rear window. Because mirrors reverse movements, they quadruple difficulty. Push trailer tongue left to move rear of trailer to right. Above all, do not feel foolish if the first try is a failure. Even professional trailer people find they must correct their position several times when backing into a narrow slot.
To counteract skid (as at left), turn steering wheel in the direction of car's slide. Auto and trailer will straighten out along lines indicated by three arrows, whereas sharp braking and turning against skid will produce jackknifing (above). If skid is caused by excessive speed in turn, alternate light braking with light acceleration until control is established.
When trailer sways, slow down gradually and do not move steering wheel. Similar restraint is indicated if you drift off pavement. Do not jerk car back on—it is the most frequent cause of accidents.
When backing, a trailer will always move in the same direction as the hand guiding it. A hand moved to the right (thin arrow) will direct the trailer right (heavy arrow); left, the opposite.
If you must turn around, back car and trailer in straight line to point of turn, then revolve wheel all the way (in this case to the right), allowing it to return to straight position gradually.
Parking in traffic
Some experienced trailer people hold that a beginner will never learn to back into a parking space. Actually, you can learn the rudiments in one practice session if you understand that a car, in backing a trailer, must first be steered precisely opposite to the way you would steer a car alone. Even the most difficult feat, parallel parking, can be reduced to six easy steps. First, the car and the trailer should be positioned in a straight line, the rear of the trailer even with the rear of the parked car. Backing slowly, rotate driving wheel counterclockwise (top row, middle) all the way. (Arrows show direction of rig, wheels and trailer tongue.) Continuing to back slowly, let wheel turn back clockwise until trailer is halfway into parking space at 45° angle to curb (top row, right). All steps are then repeated exactly, except that wheel is turned first clockwise, then counterclockwise until car and trailer are flush with curb (right). To park at angle (left), simply execute the first three steps, beginning farther out from the curb.
A hitch in time
Few hazards of the road are more dangerous than a trailer that has broken loose from the automobile towing it. Happily, the good hitches and hitching procedures illustrated here are practically accident-proof. Frame hitches, preferable to both bumper hitches and the more esoteric axle hitch, vary according to make and year of car. The best cost less than $20 installed. Most light trailers use couplers similar to the ones below, but heavier trailers need more complicated devices. Horse trailers in particular require a jack-incorporating "surge hitch," which compensates both for added weight and animal movements. Brakes, either hydraulic or electric, are also needed for these larger vehicles. Brake and directional lights are mandatory for any trailer.
Frame hitch, bolted to car's main framework, is harder to install than bumper hitch (below) but is firmer and therefore safer. It is recommended for permanent trailer owners and those going on long trips.
Bumper hitch, supplied by most trailer renters, is connected by clamps to the bumper alone. Under extremely rough conditions hitch has been known to pull off the bumper, but such instances are rare.
To provide directional and brake signal lights for car or trailer, open cable found in car's trunk, run left and right signal wires (arrows) to terminals in switch (bottom). Switch cuts trailer's lights in or out through wires (A). Splice wire (B) is a ground.
Hitching is a simple procedure. After a coupler is placed on hitch ball (above), safety chains at least 42 inches long, with links a minimum of a quarter inch thick, are crossed under trailer tongue—they will support trailer should the coupling work loose—and attached to slots in hitch (under license plate above). Coupler is tightened on the ball with a clamp or a screw-down mechanism.
Camper trailers, which quickly fold out into an expanse of canvas that will shelter from four to eight people, are standardized today. There are many models, some offering only bunks, others with storage drawers and stoves.
Boat trailers must be carefully matched to the craft they will haul. Selection should be based on the length of the boat, protection and support given to hull, and boat weight, including extra gear and supplies it will carry.
Utility trailers, open or closed, come in sizes ranging from 3 by 5 feet to 5 by 12 feet. Usually rented, they provide an economical method of hauling sports equipment, cost depending on trailer's size and length of use.
One-horse and two-horse trailers, open or closed, can be rented. They come in deluxe or strictly utilitarian models, require a strong, modified car and should be fitted with brakes and surge-compensating couplings.
HEADLIGHT PATTERN ADJUSTMENT
HIGH-PRESSURE RADIATOR CAP
FAN WITH MORE BLADES
TWENTY FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS
Trailering frees one to seek out the rare and remote. Next week Robert Cantwell describes some of these lovely and lonely camping sites in the U.S.