Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trailer Driving 101 - Part 1 Driving Forward

This is my 40 foot trailer with the little piggies I haul on Thursdays.  I haul about 500-650 pigs each week in this trailer at one time.  They weigh about 10 - 15 pounds each.  Its a pretty light load, but a long load for my pickup.  My entire rig only weighs about 27,000 pounds when I'm loaded.

 I have a few friends who have livestock, but don't regularly drive the truck & trailer.  One friend asked me for a tutorial or lesson on driving with the trailer.  Even if you don't drive trucks or trailers, please scan the post & read the tailgaters section (thank you for your consideration).

So, here goes.  My dad was a great driving instructor when I was learning how to drive!  He has the MOST patience of ANYONE that I know.  He is also inventive & would spend hours letting me learn how to drive.

I did start driving a truck & trailer as soon as I had my permit (14).  Mostly, at that time I only drove in the tight spots at horse shows & backed the trailer into the place we wanted to be parked at the show (had to have a good view of the arena, with all of our friends around us).  This was because Mom has no depth perception & would always run into things, or get stuck with our 2 wheel drive truck.  But, she didn't enjoy letting me drive on the highway.

First, you need to know about how long the trailer you are pulling is.  Is it a 40 foot gooseneck (like I haul on Thursdays) or a 12 foot bumper hitch?   Most typical livestock trailers are about 24 - 28 feet.  It is also good to know how wide your trailer is.  Typical widths are 6 to 8 feet wide.  Good indicators are wether the wheel wells are inside or outside of the trailer.  Most wheels are about 6' 5" apart.

Gooseneck versus Bumper Hitch - Basics

Goosenecks will follow in your truck tracks.  You can turn MUCH tighter with a gooseneck.  Just watch your cab especially if you have a short-box truck & turn too tight.  If you are loaded, you need to watch your trailer tires when you make more than a 90degree turn.  You will be sliding the tires in the back & front axles & could potentially pop one off of the bead if you are toooo loaded & turn tightly.

Bumper Hitch trailers are great for going forward, but a little different to back.  A bumper hitch will turn tighter behind you & will have much different tracks than your truck tires. (*I will add more here later, because I haven't pulled a bumper hitch in about a month)

I would recommend getting to know how your trailer drives without a load and in wide open spaces.  Its NOT always possible, so just try to keep these few things in mind.

1 - Always turn at least 1 second later than you usually would, per 10 feet of trailer.   Meaning that if you have just a 12 foot trailer; just count "one Missippi and" between the time you would normally turn a corner and the time you NEED to with a trailer.  This will give you the extra travel room to prevent your trailer tires to jump the curb or hit an obstacle.

      For instance, with my 40 foot trailer, when I want to turn left, I drive 4  (& a half, cause I like extra room) seconds farther forward BEFORE I turn SHARPLY to the left.  If you are driving a Gooseneck, you can turn sharper than with a bumper hitch.

2 - If you are going to turn right, you need to first hug the left side of your lane before you turn the corner to the right.

     If it is an especially tight right hand turn, (and you have a long trailer) you might need some of the next lane to the left of you.  Plan AHEAD and share respectfully. 

3 - If you have mirrors that adjust OUT and away from the truck, pull them out as far as they will go & then adjust BOTH of your mirrors so that you can see your trailer tires and the area next to your trailer.

4 - You now weigh a LOT more than you did before you hooked up your trailer.  So you will need to plan farther ahead to stop your rig.  If you are heavily loaded, you will need even farther ahead to stop.  This also needs to be considered when you choose your speed.  SLOWER is better.  But, you do need to consider the flow of traffic & people passing you, might disturb your load (animals).

5 - TAILGATERS!!!  (THESE PEOPLE DRIVE ME NUTZ!!!) If you can not see BOTH mirrors of the rig in front of you, they have NO CLUE you are back there!!  It is rude to drive so close that you can't see their mirrors!  And it is DANGEROUS!  Please consider this the next time you are following a semi-truck.  Think about how far back you need to stay.  If you do decide to drive closer, you are taking your own life in your hands.  I usually hope a cow pees on the people following me!!  I have seen it happen, & I thought it was a great lesson to the angry man in the little blue car!  I only wished he was driving a convertible!

6 -  Know your hitch, & double check everything for saftey!!! Hitch your truck & trailer, then check it again!  Always check your entire rig each and EVERY time you get out of your rig.  Make it a practice to walk around starting at the front and check the following things.  (Put your light & flashers on & it will make it easier)
Front bumper (going towards passenger side)
Anything hanging under the front?
Truck Lights good?
Front Drive Tires good?  Inflated, tread good?
Passenger side - Anything hanging?
Trailer Marker lights good on front of trailer?
Back Drive Tires - Both inflated good?  (kick inside dual too!)  Anything hanging?
Hitch - All saftey chains hooked?  Hitched properly?
Trailer Marker lights on Side of trailer good?
Underside of trailer (LOOK, REALLY look!)  Floor looking good from underside?  Anything hanging, boards sagging?
Trailer tires - Good tread, Good inflation?  Anything hanging underneat axle?
Trailer gates - Latched properly?  Saftey Latch too?
Blinkers all flashing??  Bright enough & CLEAN enough to be seen??
Marker Lights all good??
    Follow same checks for driver's side as you come up to the front.  CHECKING IT ALL AGAIN!!! You can see different things from each side!

There's the basics for now.  I think that I have covered everything.  A little knowledge up front & a quick run around the rig always saves some time in the long run!!  Beter to notice a sagging floor board now, before an animal falls through!  That quick run around the truck will also let you make a list of things (like marker lights) that you need to fix after you haul this load.

Just slow down a little, plan ahead for turns and stops.  And you should be good to go!

By the way, I still count in my head the extra seconds when I'm hauling the big trailer.  But, I also make really wide turns when the trailer isn't hooked up (drives my husband nutz!)

Happy hauling!!


  1. I never have problems going forward. It's backing the stock trailer that causes me problems. Of course it doesn't help when hubby is standing there watching with that look on his face. What I really need to work on is staying focused on the job at hand.

  2. LOL! I'm the same way Susan - I can drive and back like the dickens - as long as no one is watching me!

    Good tip on counting - I've always just watched my trailer in the mirrors to know when I can turn.

  3. That's a very good explanation of your techniques! I'd never even thought of counting seconds in a turn - I always just swing wider with a longer wheelbased trailer. Of course, I'm driving a semi - but the principles are the same.

    One thing I've found that works halfway well on tight right turns is when approaching the corner while in the right lane - signal left, then drift over and take at least half that lane, staying in the left half of the right lane. I throw on the four ways and slow way down - also slowing down the traffic behind me. Then turn on your right turn signal and take whatever room you need and your time. I've found that this method reduces the idiots who try to pass on the right while you are turning. If you have 'em blocked off and slowed down, they don't have the momentum necessary to try to slip by on the right. They'll still try, but they'll have to shut it down or get squeezed into the curb. Getting their attention with the four ways and slowing down early are the keys.

  4. Jeffro - I was nervous writing this, because I thought you a, "real truck-driver" might turn your nose at my simple words. I use the counting, because I switch trailer lengths ALOT. From our little 18 foot stock trailer to my 40 footer. Then it gets really funny when I try to back our little 6 foot bumper hitch "water-buffalo" that we haul liquid nitrogen in.

    Girls - I REALLY agree with the men gawking. When I started hauling hogs, I would show up at least 15 min early, so that the guys wouldn't be waiting for me and "help" me back up. & I tell my honey to go work on something else, or get in. lol!

  5. Glad to know there's another GIRL truckdriver!! I've been driving for about eleven years, and never have I hauled pigs. Too darn cute!! ;=)

  6. Geez, I hope I'm not that intimidating! Simple words are best - less confusion for sure!

    And, oh my, can those shorter wheelbase trailers "get away" from ya in a hurry! Mistakes are amplified! I learned how to back those with farm implements - think very wide but with a short wheelbase. Plus on a swinging hitch. On the other hand, tractors can "turn under" and "catch" those pesky irritants.

  7. I LOVE this post!! It brought back fond memories of my Livestock Judging days when we would look at class after class of Hogs ;)