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The horse lover's guide to trouble-free towing

March 9, 2006

by Neil Clarkson

Not many of us can honestly put up our hands and say we religiously carry out every single piece of maintenance required on our vehicles.

Neglecting the oil and filter in your vehicle puts you on the fast track to costly repairs.
Even if you pride yourself in dropping your car into the garage for a service every 10,000km, that's a long time between checking the tyre pressures and coolant levels.

This article provides some maintenance tips for those who tow a horsefloat. It basically highlights some areas you should pay special attention to.

Why, you ask, should I need to pay special attention to anything to do with my vehicle simply because I tow a float?

When you tow anything, you're increasing the stress on a number of components in your vehicle. The transmission and motor face a greater loading, and the tyres and steering face tougher stresses. Greater loadings will nearly always mean extra heat and in many cases extra friction. This can quickly result in excessive wear.

At a basic level, if you can keep the heat within your engine and gearbox within acceptable tolerances, and the essential fluids topped up and in good condition, your vehicle will cope with the demands. If you don't, you'll eventually be finding out what a motor and gearbox overhaul will cost.

Here are 10 things you should pay special attention to if you regularly tow a float.

  1. Check and replace the coolant when your vehicle's servicing schedule recommends

    I think most of us probably let this one slide. The coolant looks OK and the engine still runs at normal operating temperature. What's the problem? The coolant in our vehicles is a mix of water and anti-freeze, which is mainly made up of glycol. Anti-freeze naturally stops the fluid in your cooling system from freezing, but it also helps lubricate the system and contains inhibitors which stop the build-up of scale and other nasties in the system. The last thing you want is your radiator starting to block up, which will reduce the cooling efficiency of the system. It's this simple: When you're towing, your engine will tend to run hotter. You want a cooling system running at peak efficiency, with a good, clean radiator, and a good coolant. Remember, never take your radiator cap off when your engine is hot. The system is pressurized and will blow in your face. If you change the coolant yourself, dispose carefully of the old coolant. Glycol is poisonous and sweet-tasting. Cats love it. It will kill them if they drink it.

  2. Check the rubber hoses around the engine bay

    The biggest killer for the hoses which carry coolant around your engine bay is heat. You should regularly check them. Many an engine has been destroyed through neglect of these hoses. If they look as if they've seen better days, and they're getting pretty soft and squishy, it's a fair chance they're ready to be replaced.

  3. Tyre pressures

    You should run your tyres with more air in them when you're towing. This will reduce tyre wear and improve your petrol economy. Speak to your local tyre merchant or mechanic about what pressures would be suitable for your vehicle/float combination. And don't forget to let out that pressure when you're finished with your towing assignment. For the record, a tyre which spends its life just 6psi (40 kPa) under its recommended pressure will be worn out 10,000km sooner than a correctly inflated tyre. It will also cost you 3 per cent more in fuel!

    It's better to have more air in your tyres than normal when towing.

  4. Transmission fluid

    Nobody wants to fork out big dollars in having their automatic transmission repaired. Automatic gearboxes create friction and heat - more so when under load from towing. Automatic transmission fluid which gets too hot will often go darker and develop a burnt smell. Change it religiously when the service schedule of your vehicle tells you to do so. Become familiar with its smell and appearance and check it regularly. If there are signs of change in it, report to your mechanic immediately. If you do a lot of towing, you might want to consider investing in a oil cooler. These are basically a little radiator that runs off your gearbox and helps keep the transmission fluid cooler. Get a price from your local garage to have one fitted and decide whether it's worth the investment.

  5. These boots are made for protection ...

    There's a fair chance you encounter gravel roads more than most, so a regular check of those rubber boots fitted around your vehicle will be well worthwhile. If these boots fail, it will not be long before dirt, dust, and mud start getting onto components and causing premature wear. You'll find them on your front axles (CVs) and probably around your shock absorbers (inside the suspension springs). It's possible some will be fitted to parts of your steering assembly. If they're ripped or loose, it will be well worthwhile getting them replaced or refastened.

  6. Brake pads

    Harder braking with a load in behind means your brake pads will wear out quicker. You need good brakes, so check there's still plenty of meat on the pads and that there's no indications of brake fluid leaks. It won't take your mechanic long to provide a assessment of your brake pads, provided they're disks. A little longer for drum brakes.

  7. Change that engine oil and filter

    Use the grade of oil recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, at the intervals specified. This is so important these days with the complex engine management systems and fine tolerances built into modern motors. And don't scrimp when it comes to the filter. You get what you pay for. If you want to wear out your engine prematurely, neglecting the oil and filter gets you on the sure path to failure and costly repairs.

  8. What about those grease nipples

    Increasingly, components are "sealed". That is, they have lubricant built into them and should last the life of the motor vehicle. However, if you vehicle has grease nipples (and if you have a four-wheel-drive you're bound to find some), it doesn't take long to pop a few squirts of grease in. Chances are you'll find them around the steering componentry, suspension, axles, and shafts. Your service manual will hopefully give you the location for all of them. If not, check on the Internet and you'll quickly find the information you need.

  9. Don't forget your shockies

    Shock absorbers that perform properly are essential for safe towing. They are essentially dampers that stop your vehicle's springs from continuing to bounce your vehicle up and down, making it seem like it's wallowing when you're driving. You can make a basic assessment by pushing up and down on each corner and releasing. If the shock absorbers work properly, each corner will quickly settle to its normal position. If it bounces, chances are you'll have a worn shock absorber. Worn shocks are an important safety issue. They affect the safe handling of the vehicle and reduce braking performance. With a float on the back, it's a recipe for disaster.

  10. Those lights and indicators

    Hopefully, we all check our lights and indicators when we hook up our float. Why not check them before you unhitch it and park it up? This may alert you to a blown bulb or poor electrical connection, and reduce the chances of a problem next time you hook up. There's nothing worse than facing a light problem when you're ready to head somewhere. Invest a few dollars in some spare bulbs so the problem is easy to sort when it arises. Be gentle with your connectors. The prongs can easily be bent and broken.

Happy motoring!



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