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Old 08-24-2016, 06:19 AM   #1
Rich and Kat
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The Anatomy of a Towing Accident -- What is?

Hello all. To set this discussion up, allow this intro. I had a contractor table saw for years -- used a table saw for odds and ends for 20 years as a weekend warrior, fixing (and breaking) things around the house. When I decided I was going to buy a new table saw, I began my shopping and was inundated with this new technology to prevent an accident. I didn't think I needed it (Sawstop) but after all of my research, in understanding the anatomy of a table saw accident, I opted to spend the money on the technology to help mitigate the risks. But I have also developed a thorough understanding of the conditions which increase risk of an accident resulting in an injury.

As it pertains to my new Airstream, which is still in the oven, I understand that I need enough tow vehicle, weight distribution for a level ride, sway reduction/elimination, of course lights, brakes, etc., and I understand some factors which contribute to accidents, such as speed, panic-braking, weather/road conditions, but I have no idea how this all comes together. I've read about "down-hill" situations, squirrelly handling, porpoising, etc. but I would like to ask for folks to share their knowledge about some of these situations, experiences. My ask is that we create a body of knowledge for newbies like myself, but possibly even help those weekend warriors (like myself with a table saw) that might learn something useful along the way. Any firsthand hair raising experiences you're willing to share? What were the contributing factors? Mitigating factors (in terms of driving?) Can we start with down-hill? After all, the safety of our family members and other travelers is paramount. So, please share... Thanks so much... Rich

2017 Classic 30', ProPride 3P Hitch, 2016 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 SRW w/ 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel and Retrax Pro MX Tonneau Cover
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Old 08-24-2016, 06:35 AM   #2
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Old 08-24-2016, 11:50 AM   #3
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Rich - I have no carpentry skills but I've seen the technology you're talking about on a This Old House show. Very impressive. The inventor demonstrated with his finger! Gotta have faith to do that.

There isn't an equivalent that I'm aware of in the towing industry. There are a few things I've personally purchased to help reduce risk myself and I'll share those in order of importance to me.

First. My wife and I took a weekend RV Safe Driver course the first weekend we bought the trailer. The most important defense is the driver's awareness, knowledge and skills. While some things are out of your control (like a distracted driver texting on his phone and getting ready to run you off the road), there is much more in your control (like being aware of that distracted driver and how to safely avoid or react to that situation calmly).

Second - I do believe tow vehicle manufacturers are developing and introducing anti-sway electronics to sense problems and individually brake certain wheels to correct - and like anti-lock breaks, they'll make thousands of calculations per second that humans can't replicate. I think it will be a while. The next best thing (in my opinion, and mileage here absolutely varies) is a "pivot point projection" hitch. There are 2 brands that I'm aware of - Hensley and ProPride. I use the latter and know several who use one or the other. These hitches function differently than others by virtually projecting the pivot point away from the ball on the a-frame to at or near the rear axle of the tow vehicle. Kind of like an upside down 5th wheel. If PullRite were still making their TT hitch (which really is an upside down 5th wheel for all intents and purposes) I'd have definitely gone in that direction.

Third: As for downhills, personally, this is one reason why I went with a diesel tow vehicle - for the exhaust brake - though if a gasser had that option, that would be worth checking out. Some say it's overkill for a 6000# trailer. Could be. Personally, I enjoy having enough torque to do whatever I need to do, all the heavy duty "shtuff" to know I'm not overloading anything, and the braking capacity (including exhaust brake) to stop as safely as possible.

I think I've been pretty clear throughout this is one guy's opinion - everyone's mileage varies - I don't hold a grudge if you do/don't like my recommendations or if you do exactly the opposite on every turn. Just know WHY you want what you want, get it, do it, and enjoy the hell out of camping 😀
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Old 08-24-2016, 11:53 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by avionstream View Post
You've got my attention?
Sorry, only the first paragraph of your post came through at first.
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Old 08-24-2016, 12:39 PM   #5
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I'm all ears. We're about to go and move our Airstream from Louisiana to Utah and will have to just 'jump in with both feet.' We'll have to do everything right the first time out. I'd be happy if my mistakes are relatively minor ones.

I'd really appreciate this kind of discussion.
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Old 08-24-2016, 12:39 PM   #6
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This is the reason I went with the F250 was because of the built in tow package. I have a gasser model. It auto brakes going down hill, and can better manage (handle) some of the issues with towing. I under stand the new F150 and F250 will have an auto backing function for backing your trailer into a spot. Not certain I'm ready to relinquish the duty of backing into the hands of automation, but ... it has my attention.

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Old 08-24-2016, 12:53 PM   #7
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Sawstop works to stop you from cutting fingers and other body parts off. It will not stop you from a kickback, loose or dull blade, or jaming a 1/4" steel plate into it.

What I'm saying is get the basics right, learn the theories, and practice.

Much like a tablesaw, you get better with practice.

My best advice - slow down. This will almost always make you safer.
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Old 08-24-2016, 02:34 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by DanB View Post
My best advice - slow down. This will almost always make you safer.
Looking for safety margin, there it is and it doesn't cost a nickel.
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Old 08-24-2016, 04:35 PM   #9
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I agree with the speed comments. Also, it is very important to have a good hitch and trailer brakes that are properly adjusted. I saw an older Airstream in the median after it had rolled coming down a hill. We were right there and although we did not see the accident we got there soon enough to see some of the dust still in the air.

It was a gently curving downhill and I imagine that when the driver was picking up speed he hit the brakes and the trailer didn't slow at the same rate as the TV. Of course it could have been other issues but this is the main cause of downhill towing accidents especially when you are going too fast on a curve.

It is good to be aware of these issues but don't analyze this thing to death. I tow with "just" a half ton, have good tires on the trailer and TV and the brakes are adjusted properly. I enjoy driving. Don't let your concern turn into paranoia. Isn't the point of getting an Airstream is to enjoy all those trips you have been dreaming of? Have fun. They are great trailers to tow.
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Old 08-24-2016, 05:30 PM   #10
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Descending, slowing, braking...all at once...IS A PROBLEM in some cases.
BE AWARE...and you'll be ahead of the game. Visualizing situations before you come to them will avoid the "surprise" factor and may be the best clue.

When turning, the trailer wants to continue in a straight-line until the TowVehicle overcomes that tendency by pulling the tongue in the direction of the TV. In an ascending/climb that's no problem at all because the TV is PULLing the trailer.

But in the descending-turn, if slowing, the trailer is tending to PUSH straight ahead and may push the tail of the TV into a skid....and if the brakes of the trailer are not equal to the task...the TV may not be capable of slowing AND pulling the trailer tongue in the direction of TV-travel. This results in a jack-knife and/or roll-over.

Applying trailer brakes manually with the brake controller prior to applying TV brakes ... or anytime a sway or skid begins.... will slow the trailer to keep it behind the TV.

I realize many of us know this already, ...but visualizing it...BEFORE the event, will go a long way to precaution and avoidance of the problem.

Again, you can go downhill too slow thousands of times.... but you'll go too fast only once. SLOW down. Just hoping to help.
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Old 08-24-2016, 06:35 PM   #11
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Everything said so far is good. Conventional "bumper hitch" trailer towing is dicer than the fifth wheel. I believe we who tow heavy trailers need to be aware of the significant change in vehicle dynamics while towing. Acceleration, turning, and braking all require more distance and more time. Don't think for a moment you can take a freeway exit ramp at the same speed you do in your car. Maybe you think those orange "recommended speed" signs on curves are most conservative. Never exceed that recommendation while towing a heavy trailer.

Another important safety factor is a good "checklist" that you systematically go down before pulling away. Lights, brakes, tire pressures, hitch connections, awnings secure and so forth help keep us safe. Pilots are taught to do this before every flight. I remember a rental yard hitching up a rental trailer with a 2 3/16 diameter coupler on a 2" ball on a family member's truck. He learned what those safety changes are all about. He should have checked it himself.

And like pilots, you must avoid "get there-itis". Gee, I gotta drive in this strong crosswind to make the Airstream rally tomorrow. Always a bad idea. Towing in high cross winds is dangerous. Towing on ice is stupid dangerous. Towing in low visibility conditions is, you guessed it, stupid dangerous too.

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Old 08-24-2016, 06:47 PM   #12
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I thought I'dbe losing out on engine braking by not getting a diesel. Pleasantly surprised that the F150 ecoboost in tow mode automatically downshifts and uses the turbos to effectively engine break. With the extra cooling that came with the tow package I haven't had any temp problems. Downhills have been pretty comfortable. Start slow at the top. Eyes looking well ahead. Act early and plan well ahead of where you are. If you find yourself acting for where you are you are behind the power curve. Don't be afraid to pull over if there is room and you think you need to.
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Old 08-24-2016, 07:23 PM   #13
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Thanks to everyone's participation so far. Sorry about the fractional paragraph, avionstream - I was typing on my iPad and accidentally hit send three lines into the post...

Boxite: excellent, excellent info ... I'm looking for the stuff that "many of us already know" but we newbies don't know ...

I've done a lot to mitigate risk with technology, incidentally learned by reading this forum every night for several months:
- Tow vehicle: Ram 3500 with diesel (for exhaust braking while descending in the mountains, and even to help slow the whole thing on the highway in a panic stop) ... It's excessive, and stiff and beats us up pretty badly, but it will hopefully pull the boat I want too ... Hopefully ...
- Hitch: ProPride 3P w/1400 lbs of weight distribution - the projection hitch will manage, if not completely eliminate the sway
- TPMS: TST 510RV (6 sensors to cover our 4 wheels and the spare, with one extra sensor, just in case)

Precautions to take:
- Manage speed ... Slow it down ... Perhaps under 65 (or follow speed limits)
- Drive defensively
- Stay alert ... Don't drive tired ... Minimize mileage (I remember Protagonist mentioning once before that he follows the JTR) while others follow other similar prescriptive approaches
- Maintain safe distance and time intervals
- Follow road signs and don't exceed posted exit ramp speeds
- Avoid crosswinds, ice, low visibility conditions ... "Get-There-itis" ... Good point because I'm inflicted with this illness
- Avoid downhill turning and braking simultaneously - visualize, anticipate, and reduce speed ahead of time to preclude "the trifecta" resulting in jack-knifing and rolling-over
- Find a "safe driver course" ... that's been on my list since I read it a few weeks ago but haven't begun looking ... I don't think the one the judge made me attend for 8 hours on a Saturday counts (seriously ... Just about 8 years ago ... For riding my bicycle through 5 stop signs without my hands on the handlebars in Old Town Alexandria with no vehicular traffic except for the two overzealous Motorcycle Officers that were part of a task force to stop people from running stop signs). That day in court is worth another whole thread over a couple of beers...
- Ensure trailer brake controller is properly adjusted (question below about "how?")
- Start slow at the top of a descent
- Eyes looking well ahead
- Act early and plan well ahead of where you are

What else? Any more about the physics, ref. "high-level concepts" like Boxite shared?

Any stories or anecdotes about what can go (or went) wrong, and how it goes/went wrong, and what to do about it (or not do)? Hearing about your hair raising experiences would be very helpful. I saw the video also posted ... It was a duelly pulling a trailer that was swaying badly, recorded from the dashcam of the vehicle behind ... That was really good to understand what sway is, and what can happen as a result.

More importantly, how does one properly adjust the trailer's brake controller? I'm planning to use the stock integrated brake controller on my 2016 RAM 3500. Is this okay? How do you set it up so it's set "strong/sensitive enough" but "not too sensitive?"

Thanks for all of your attention on this thread!
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Old 08-24-2016, 08:01 PM   #14
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The Anatomy of a Towing Accident -- What is?

Avoid downtown Phoenix during traffic at any cost. Those folks have no idea how to drive properly in heavy traffic.

Good thing I had the trailer brake gain up high and have a ProPride. Straight line skid stops three times with no issues. Next time I'll go through that town after dark and traffic.

Absolute biggest thing is to NOT get in a hurry for any reason. That's when aluminum gets bent.

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Old 08-24-2016, 08:22 PM   #15
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One other comment about downhills. Some people seems to think that diesel engines do engine braking, but gas engines do not. Gas engines actually DO perform engine braking. But on long, steep hills, you usually wind up have to choose between going too fast and going too slow.

For example, I have a gas engine Yukon and a 25FB. Last time out, I went down the steep side of Rabbit Ears pass. The speed limit is 50. With the tranny in second gear, the speed would creep up to and over 50. That's the "too fast" part. In first gear, the result is the "too slow" part, about 25-30 mph.

I've never driven a modern diesel, but I believe they let you set and hold any speed downhill, which is convenient and removes temptation to try to get away with the "too fast" choice.
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Old 08-24-2016, 08:36 PM   #16
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Hello Rich

I believe you're probably overthinking this given that you have a well matched TV and trailer and a good quality hitch.

Probably the single most common thread in conventionally hitched trailer accidents is insufficient weight distribution. This can be due to: no weight distribution hitch used, bars not installed/ not tightened at all because it was a forgotten step while hitching, or grossly incorrect setup (not tight enough).

I have the propride and if for whatever reason I slack the WD bars but leave the trailer attached, I leave the WD jack handle on the driver's seat of the truck, so I can't miss it, and that's my cue to go back and tighten them. It is sometimes necessary to slack the bars while parking to level the trailer.

Having pulled my 30' classic for some years now I can see the value in installing disk brakes on the trailer axles. I have not done so yet but probably will at some point. For towing in relatively flat country it doesn't matter but on trips out west there have been times when I wish I had them. On a long steep downgrade the stock brakes will fade to nothing by the time you reach the bottom of the hill. I know to expect it and reduce speed accordingly but still.
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Old 08-24-2016, 10:36 PM   #17
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Towing hazard = wind -- Passing trucks can upset the tow when they disrupt the force of wind on the coach. Problem grows with areas that have elevated wind velocity or wind that varies with gusts and changes in direction. Solution - slow down or stop until the wind dies out. Drive actively and be ready for wind forces. Do not over correct. Do not drop a wheel off the pavement in the process of settling the rig. If you do, slow a bit and wait for a smooth spot to regain the pavement. Do not jerk the coach back up. Ease it back carefully.

Towing experience = seat time -- If you are new to towing, start slow and build your experience. Develop a trip route that gets you experience. Avoid areas that represent challenges which you are not ready or skilled to travel safely. Take advantage of a few extra miles to grow your experience. If you lack skill in backing, use pull through sites and practice backing in parking lots that are empty of hazards. When you do need to back, go slow. Move a few feet, stop and check your position, then adjust and move a few more feet until you are where you need to be to park. Watch for roots, holes and bumps that will damage the under belly and dump valves. Watch for overhead trees and posts. Do not ignore picnic tables and utilities. Look before you go. Drive your tow vehicle without the trailer to gain experience with it's systems and controls. Let your co-driver run the buttons, so you can stay with the active driving task.

Good luck with your travels. Keep it safe. Pat
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Old 08-24-2016, 11:28 PM   #18
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The Anatomy of a Towing Accident -- What is?

Be chill.

No matter what equipment you use or do not use to mitigate the hazards of towing, be cool til you learn the limits of your combination, paying attention to what feels good and what does not. Make every action a learning experience.

After a time you will gain confidence..... and this is a danger unto itself. Confidence can get a person in trouble. Be deliberate, respect the limitations of the driver and the vehicle, and do not give in to the false security of confidence.

If you find that your combination has limitations you don't like, mitigate the limitations with premium equipment.

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Old 08-25-2016, 12:49 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Boxite View Post

Applying trailer brakes manually with the brake controller prior to applying TV brakes ... or anytime a sway or skid begins.... will slow the trailer to keep it behind the TV.
The above is probable the best tip anyone can give to someone new to towing.
Always better to apply the brakes to the trailer only and not the tow vehicle if you start to feel the trailer sway.

As another party I know found out just last week using the tow vehicles brakes when the trailer starts to sway is a great way to write off the tow vehicle and the trailer!
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Old 08-25-2016, 01:30 AM   #20
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I know two people who have purchased that saw stop device - my BIL and an old neighbor whom I'm still friends with. Both of them are kind of obsessive, compulsive worriers and neither use their saws very often.
So I will suggest you quit worrying about everything too much. When you are uptight your reaction time slows down and your decision making process is impaired.
I would have you consider the millions of camper, utility and equipment trailers that are towed billions of miles each year. Most of those trailers aren't set up with wd/sway devices or other fancy gew gaws nor are they being towed with gargantuan oversized TVs like so many of these Airstreams are. I'll bet if you could find some actuarial tables on the matter those blithe people don't statistically have a much greater chance of wrecking than people with every concieveable kind of safety device.
So my best advice to you is to relax a little and quit worrying about this stuff so much.
This from a man who has been using table saws, chop saws, nail guns, metal lathes, mills, chain saws, tractors, mowers, pulling trailers and a host of other potentially hazardous things for most of 50 years and in addition to still having all my fingers, toes and an intact spine still gets a peaceful night's sleep every day.

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