Tow Like A Pro
WRITTEN BY: BRENDAN SEYMOUR
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 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. Why? Because they're powerful, ridiculously economical and half the time you barely know there's anything strapped behind 'em. I've lost count of the number 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?”
Here are seven tips and techniques that are guaranteed to help you tow in tough terrain like a pro!
1. 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—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 trailer's this may not work. Instead, start with the same pressures as your tow vehicle and apply the 4psi rule to fine-tune it.
2. TOW VEHICLE TYRE PRESSURES
In tough terrain, our D-MAXs have a massive trick up their sleeve— an intelligent fivespeed Rev-Tronic automatic transmission with sequential sport mode. We'll typically select firstgear low and just let the torquey engine do the work, but to keep traction levels high and wheel spin low, we found the trick is to drop 4psi out of the tow vehicle's tyres when a trailer is attached. It's not needed for high-range dirt, but makes a massive difference on sand and low-range tracks.
3. 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—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.
4. 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.
5. 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—stop the second you can't see them—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.
6. SLOWLY DOES IT
It's natural to want to crawl your 4WD slowlyover an obstacle, but it's easy to forget you've got the trailer on the back and speed up before you're completely clear. The number-one thing we see 4WDers doing wrong is taking an obstacle too fast. Keep the speed right down—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 stumppulling torque at a touch of the throttle. And don't forget to track-build to keep your trailer out of deep ruts!
7. HIGH-RANGE DIRT TOURING
At touring speeds, trailer control is all about correct throttle, brake and steering input. The simplest rule is: no fast movements. You need to give both your vehicle and trailer time to adjust to input changes, before you start the next one. For a touring-speed dirt corner, brake early, and have all of your braking done before the corner. The D-MAX's safety features shine here—Electronic Brake-Force Distribution sends braking power to the wheels that need it, and ABS stops the tyres from locking up even under heavy braking. 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 through. Wait for the trailer to complete the turn and settle down before you accelerate away.