Fully loaded cargo trailers can face a number of potential hazards on the open road. Yet loading a trailer does not have to be a nerve-wracking experience. Rather, it provides an opportunity to prevent injury and avoid damage, both to cargo as well as other motorists. The key is to follow established safety procedures.
Weigh the cargo (or calculate the weight) to be placed on the trailer. Be sure the weight does not exceed the capacity of the vehicle towing the trailer, its axles or the trailer coupling (the tongue weight rating). Check the maximum weight capacity rating for the trailer to ensure it can support the cargo. Your cargo capacity is equal to the gross vehicle weight rating its GVWR minus the empty weight of the trailer.
Perform a “walk-around” inspection of the unloaded trailer. Inspect the tires for correct air pressure and tread depth. Check the lighting system for blown bulbs or non-working lights. If appropriate, check the air brake system and air canisters for leaks. Make sure all tie down straps and harnesses are secure and not torn or loose. Verify that the trailer registration is up to date and licensed for road use.
Load the heaviest items on the trailer first, when possible. Keep the center of gravity low in the trailer and centered fore and aft. This keeps the tongue weight of the loaded trailer within acceptable limits for the towing vehicle. Use a forklift when possible, so that dense loads do not need to be repackaged and loaded by hand.
Distribute the weight of the cargo evenly as you load, in the fore-aft dimension as well as the left side-right side dimension. This will reduce the risk of accidentally overloading or under-loading the trailer tongue. For example, too much weight to the back of the loaded trailer will cause a lack of traction of the towing vehicle’s rear wheels. Too much weight toward the front could hinder steering, and possibly cause a loss of control. Have someone assist you with the loading process to double check that the load is evenly distributed.
Place heavier items lower on the trailer and lighter ones higher on the trailer. Loading this way keeps the overall center of gravity of the trailer low. An even left side-right side distribution helps reduce the chance of overturning on sharp curves or during a minor accident.
Secure all cargo with chains or appropriate tie-down straps. Depending on the size of the load, chains or straps should be used inside an enclosed trailer every 10 running feet or less. Secure across as well as along the length of the load, using floor-mounted eye hooks or strap rings. All separate cargo sections need at least two straps or chains to prevent movement along either axis (fore-aft and left-right). A good rule of thumb is to only use straps and chains that have twice the weight rating as the cargo they are securing.
Cover any items that are not enclosed in the trailer with heavy tarps. This reduces damage to cargo by inclement weather. Covering the cargo with heavy tarps also ensures that loose items do not get fall off the trailer at high speeds. All tarps should be secured with multiple redundancy, using heavy-duty bungee cords or high tensile strength nylon straps.
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