4WDs are built to tow. The fact that most 4WDs weigh at least a tonne more than your average sedan or station wagon is a genuine benefit – the heavier the tow vehicle is compared to the trailer, the more it’ll control the towing process rather than the other way around. Add in the ability to select 4WD and even low-range when the going gets really tough, and throw a torquey turbo-diesel engine into the mix and you’ve got a towing match made in heaven.
The 4WD Action D-MAXs – both Graham’s grey one he drives across the country on DVDs, and our silver workhorse that we’ve had in the shed for a couple of years now – are deadset towing weapons. What you see on the screen is only half the story – so many times these two tough utes get used behind the scenes, lugging trailers full of tyres to tests like last issue’s 31s v 33s v 35s comparo or a camper trailer to a campsite for a covershoot for our sister publication Camper Trailer Touring. Why? Because they’re powerful, ridiculously economical and half the time you barely know there’s anything strapped behind em.
The amount of times we’ve turned up at a campsite or a lookout with a trailer attached and someone says “How the bloody hell did you tow that thing here?” finally drilled into our heads the idea that we should talk about towing in tough terrains. Here’s eight tips and techniques that are guaranteed to make you tow like a pro!
[dropcap]1[/dropcap]TRAILER TYRE PRESSURES
Trailer tyre pressures are as important to off-road performance as that of the tow vehicle. So what pressures do you run? When you’ve got a free Sunday arvo next, load up your trailer with whatever you’d typically take off-road. Drop one of your 4WD’s tyre pressures to dirt road driving levels ñ on the D-MAX we run 28psi on dirt roads, 20psi on low-range tracks and 16psi on the sand. Then, measure the tyre’s footprint for each of these pressure levels using two sticks as shown. Now, adjust your trailer tyre pressures until the footprint matches each of those measurements, and you’ve now figured out the right pressures to run. Of course, you’ve got to apply a little common sense here. If your tow vehicle tyres are significantly larger than your trailers this may not work. Instead, start with the same pressures as your tow vehicle and apply the 4psi rule to fine to it.
[dropcap]2[/dropcap]TOW VEHICLE TYRE PRESSURES
In tough terrains, our D-MAXs have a massive trick up their sleeve ñ an intelligent five-speed Rev-Tronic automatic transmission with sequential sport mode. We’ll typically select first-gear low and just let the torquey engine do the work, but to keep traction levels high and wheel spin low, we’ve found the trick is to drop another 4psi out of the tow vehicle’s tyres when a trailer is attached. It’s not needed for high-range dirt, but it definitely makes a massive difference on the sand and the low-range tracks. 4psi doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re already at 16psi on the sand, that’s a full 25% more air you’re letting out of the tyres.
[dropcap]3[/dropcap]USE YOUR MIRRORS
After a strong drivetrain, the next best thing your 4WD can have to increase its towing ability is a good set of mirrors. Side mirrors aren’t all created equal, and when you hook up a trailer it’s obvious which ones were designed for shopping centre carparks and which were built to get the job done. We’ve been a bit spoilt here ñ the D-MAXs have excellent side mirrors that give a massive wide-angle view of the trailer and the terrain. If you’re not scanning your mirrors every 10 seconds at the most to ensure your trailer’s where you want it to be, you’re just asking for trouble.
[dropcap]4[/dropcap]UNDERSTANDING PIVOT POINTS
Understanding your trailer’s pivot point is absolutely vital. It’s not rocket science either – it’s the trailer’s axle, or the leading axle relative to whatever direction you’re going, if it has two. Not sure when to spin the wheel to get the trailer to turn the right direction? Line up the pivot point with a tree or a rock at the apex of the turn, and use your steering to guide it around that point. Practice makes perfect here – do it a few times and we guarantee it will become second nature.
[dropcap]5[/dropcap]USE YOUR SPOTTER
Regardless of your experience, reversing is a tricky process. It helps massively if you’ve got excellent rear and side vision like we’ve found with the D-MAXs, but at the end of the day the key to success is to get someone to be a second set of eyes standing outside the vehicle. Always keep them in your sight ñ stop the second you can’t see them ñ and get them to use hand signals to show how much distance there is to that tree, bollard or rock. Yeah a bit more mate! just ain’t accurate enough.
[dropcap]6[/dropcap]SLOWLY DOES IT
It’s natural to want to crawl your 4WD slowly over an obstacle, but it’s also very easy to forget you’ve got the trailer on the back and speed up before you’re completely clear. It sounds basic but the number one thing we see 4WDers doing wrong is taking an obstacle too fast. Keep the speed right down ñ we’ve found the D-MAX is extremely happy to just idle along in first-gear low. If power is needed, that particular gear ratio means the turbo is always spooled up and ready to produce stump-pulling torque at a touch of the throttle. And don’t forget to track-build to keep your trailer out of the deep ruts and holes!
[dropcap]7[/dropcap]HIGH RANGE DIRT TOURING
At touring speeds, keeping your trailer under control is all about correct throttle, brake and steering input. The simplest rule is this ñ no fast movements. Understand that you need to give both your tow vehicle and your trailer time to adjust to any direction or input changes, before you start the next one. This idea is perfectly illustrated in how to correctly take a touring-speed dirt corner. Brake early, and have all of your braking done before the corner. This is where we’ve found the D-MAX’s safety features really shine ñ Electronic Brake-Force Distribution sends braking power to the wheels that need it most, and the ute’s ABS prevents the tyres from locking up even under really heavy brake applications. Before you enter the corner lift off the brakes and let the ute settle, then use the throttle to maintain a constant speed until you’re right out of the corner. Wait until the trailer has completed the turn and settled down before you accelerate away again. It’s a winning formula that’ll keep you pointed in the right direction.
[dropcap]8[/dropcap]MANUAL APPLICATION OF ELECTRIC TRAILER BRAKES
Electric trailer brakes are an absolute cracker when it comes to towing down steep hills. Every now and then, the weight of the trailer can cause it to step out of line, with the worst case scenario being the trailer wants to over-take the tow-vehicle. The solution? Manually ñ and gently ñ apply the trailer brakes to slow the trailer and bring it back in line behind the tow vehicle. The technique works extremely well if you get onto it early ñ but be careful not to lock the trailer tyres up because it will only make the situation worse.
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