A hotshot driver can drive for years without a serious incident of fishtailing, but a perfect storm or a bad road condition can put even the most experienced driver into a serious sway problem. Awareness of what causes trailer sway and how to gain control can make a big difference to improve your safety on the road.

Causes of Trailer Sway

There are several factors that can cause trailer swaying but most commonly, it can be set off by a strong gust of wind brought by side winds or the passing of big rigs. Swaying may also happen when the driver makes sudden changes of direction which typically happens on winding roads. Other causes of swaying include sudden braking, icy roads, wolling off road shoulders and evasive maneuvers. Incorrect air pressure in the tires can make the situation worse. If the driver will not react fast enough to control the swaying, it could lead to road accidents.

Ways to Reduce your Risk of Swaying

  • When loading your trailer, keep heavy items low and near the center of gravity.
  • Be sure that the tires have the correct pressure.
  • Anticipate adverse conditions that may cause swaying and slow down if you see it coming. These conditions include large rigs coming toward you, when approaching open bridges with strong winds, or coming out of a wind shadow of a building.
  • Drive defensively and always be on the lookout for potential road hazards that may cause you to abruptly brake, make a hard turn, or swerve. If your load is top-heavy, there is a tendency that the weight will shift during sudden movements, affecting the stability of the trailer. This may cause fishtailing. To retain control of your trailer, always keep a forward motion and tension of the trailer hitch.
  • Navigate steep hills with a lower gear as this reduces the stress on your towing vehicle’s engine. If you feel that the trailer is pushing you as you descend, gradually apply the trailer’s brakes to slow it down.
  • Invest in a friction-sway control device. There are low-cost special hitches that are mounted between the tow vehicle and trailer frame. These hitches create more resistance, thus reducing the risk of swaying.

Safety Tips When Experiencing Sway

The risk of swaying or losing control depends on the total weight of both the trailer and load in relation to the towing vehicle. A heavy trailer will have a greater impact on the movement of the towing vehicle and vice versa. Also, windy conditions can increase the risk of swaying. Some driving tips can help you deal with fishtailing.

If your trailer starts to sway, do not slam on the vehicle’s brakes, but instead, gradually reduce your speed. Keep in mind that applying your vehicle’s brakes when the trailer is out of control can make the situation worse. Apply the trailer brakes separately and immediately as it will help adjust the trailer back into line. Gently steer against the movement of the trailer.

When you have finally gained control of your trailer, stop and examine the possible issue.  Remember that depending on the cause, combined with unpredictable road conditions, things can easily happen so fast.

Trailer sway is something you don’t want to encounter but must be prepared to deal with and put under control. If you have something to add to our tips above, please feel free to share in the comments.