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Getting a Grip on Towing
Getting a Grip on Towing
July 19, 2018

As a commercial vehicle upfitter, some of the common questions we field from contractors and fleet managers deal with towing the trailers they need to get from jobsite to jobsite.  It’s no lie that a newer turbo diesel dually can and does tow tens of thousands of pounds, but many of our clients are really looking to haul less with a single rear wheel (SRW) axle in a truck or van.  What’s the best solution?  As with many things, it depends.

Unfortunately, in Canada, towing laws are often confusing.   For example, our Abbotsford location, in British Columbia, deals with towing laws that state brakes are required on any trailer above 3000 pounds gross while Alberta requires it for all trailers over 2000 pounds.

This isn’t too hard – it’s just the empty weight of the trailer plus the load in it.  The challenge arises with one of the other laws on the books in B. C. – if the trailer and load weigh more than 50 percent of the tow vehicle’s gross weight, the trailer must have brakes, too.  Here, the challenge is for our clients – some trucks and vans will “make weight” and others won’t.

At the same time, that trailer – with brakes –  will have to have an electronic breakaway switch.  One- and two-axle trailers will need brakes on all axles, but a three-axle trailer only needs to be on the front two.

Towing from Alberta to British Columbia?  Speed limits change, too.  You can haul the posted speed in Alberta, but trailers are limited to a 80 km/hr. top speed in B.C.

What’s most telling about all this isn’t that each Province and Territory has its own driving and towing laws, it’s that safe and well-meaning drivers, especially commercial or business ones, can easily get into trouble doing what they thought was right.  Triple hookups on fifth wheels are legal here in Alberta, but illegal in B.C., so you’ll have to tow to Manitoba if you’re taking a holiday.

Now, this isn’t meant to scare you, nor is it meant to be an “at-a-glance” towing laws article.  Instead, it’s about information.  You, as an operator, need to know what the laws are in the Provinces you’re doing business in and, more importantly, where you can find weight and towing capacities on your vehicles and trailers.  (the data plate riveted to the frame or door panel, in most cases).

Doing so will allow you to be able to understand how much you can haul – safely, which is the most important part.  In our experience, minor infractions – tow mirrors being too wide, for example, are less likely to be cited if the police or transport officials understand that you know the laws and are making every attempt to follow them.

At the same time, it can’t be stressed enough – if you’re towing “heavy” and are pulled over, no matter what your reasoning and excuses are, you could very well not be allowed to continue to drive.  You guessed it – you’ll have a tow bill from hiring out the job and a citation from the enforcing authority.

Our advice is simple – use enough truck.  It may be hard to stomach the perceived “extra” costs of a dually or a diesel powerplant, but the overall stability and power of the vehicle will make towing easier.  Not often cited, but still critical, too, is the fact that longer wheelbases provide for a smoother ride loaded or unloaded.  After a long day at work, running an empty trailer behind a small truck can bounce you all over the road.

No matter what you tow with or how often you need to tow, it is imperative that you understand the limits of the vehicle and the load.  It’s certainly no big deal to haul a dozen hay bales on a three-axle trailer behind a dually through the plains, but switchbacking up a mountain with a loaded half ton truck and a small single axle can be far harder.  One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Expertec is taking the time to understand how our clients plan to use any vehicle and then to recommend the right solution.