Prepare your vehicle for hauling

Few people in the landscape-maintenance business have not had at least one mishap while hauling equipment or materials to a work site. Often, these are minor incidents that you can chalk up to a learning experience or even laugh about. Unfortunately, some accidents turn tragic, and the difference between a harmless gaffe and a disaster is often nothing more than plain luck.

You can prevent most hauling mishaps with simple precautions and a "walk-around" before you hit the road. Following a fixed inspection routine quickly becomes habit and is your best (and cheapest) insurance against accidents that can cost you dearly.

The frequency with which you inspect various systems depends on the situation. Certainly, any time you hook up a trailer you should check the various components that you have just connected-electrical system, hitch, safety chains, etc. If you leave the trailer hooked to the towing vehicle from day to day, you can reduce the frequency of inspection of certain systems-lights, for example-to a weekly routine. However, the hitch and safety chains are so vital that you should inspect them every time you take to the road.

Trailer towing Trailers are vital equipment for most grounds-care professionals. They also are one of the most significant sources of potential accidents. Several areas require your attention. Each day you should check:

* Lights. Checking lights is no more complicated than one person operating the light controls while another visually checks for operation (see photo, above). Check both brake lights and turn signals on both the trailer and the towing vehicle.

* Electrical plug. Even if lights are working, be sure the plug is securely inserted into the receptacle so that it does not fall out during transport. Also glance at the tie straps securing the electrical wires to be sure they are in good shape.

* Trailer brakes. Apply the trailer brakes from the control unit in the towing vehicle and pull the vehicle forward. At least one wheel on each side of the trailer should lock up and skid as you pull forward. This test is easiest to perform on a dirt or gravel surface.

Don't forget to test emergency or "break-away" trailer brakes (if present) by pulling the ripcord and repeating the test you perform for regular trailer brakes.

* Hitch. Most trailers are towed with a ball hitch. Ensure that the receiver on the trailer tongue is completely seated and securely tightened over the ball. Do this with your hands-you cannot always tell just by looking whether the hitch has been tightened. Further, be sure the ball hitch itself is securely fastened to the frame or towing apparatus. Often, ball hitches are secured with a large nut, which could work loose.

Check that the ball and receiver are the same size. This may sound silly, but in operations that frequently swap trucks and trailers, mismatches could easily occur. It's not necessarily obvious when a 2-inch receiver has been fit over a 1 7/8-inch ball.

Other hitch types are available, of course, and in every case it is vital to ensure the trailer is properly hitched and that the hitch is properly secured to the towing vehicle. For example, make sure all safety keys, pins or locks are in place and secure (see photo, top right).

* Safety chains. Securely attach the safety chains to the towing apparatus or some portion of the towing vehicle's frame that can support the weight of the trailer. Do not attach the chains to a light-duty bumper or wrap them around the hitch.

Ensure that the safety chains are crossed beneath the trailer tongue (see photo, top right). This will allow the chains to "cradle" the tongue should the hitch fail (see photo, bottom right).

"S" hooks dragging on the road, leaving a trail of sparks, are a common sight. If you use S hooks, be sure they are securely fastened so that they won't easily come loose (see middle photo, below). Do not simply wrap the chains, thinking they won't come loose-they will. An alternative to fasteners are snap hooks or chain-repair links that positively close. These ensures that safety chains will stay put.

* Tires. Check the inflation of each tire on the trailer. It's easy to overlook a flat or low tire, especially when the trailer has dual tires on each side. Also check for cracks in the rubber, and be sure to inspect the tires of the towing vehicle as well.

* Ramps, drop gates and stands. If you forget to raise the loading ramps or gate, you won't get far before discovering this fact. However, on some trailers, it's possible that a gate or ramp could drop during transport unless properly secured, so be sure to double-check this (see top left photo, page 24). The same goes for the trailer-tongue stand.

Equipment and cargo Whether you're carrying equipment or materials, you must ensure that your cargo is secure during transport.

1. Equipment. When you transport mowers, tractors or other equipment on a flatbed, you must be absolutely sure they are secure.

* Secure equipment. Park all equipment in gear, with the parking brake engaged. Lower the hydraulic implements-buckets, tow-behind or three-point implements, etc. Tighten and secure binders so they will not come loose (see middle photo, below left). (Be sure you know the appropriate points on equipment at which to attach binder chains or straps-they can bend or damage parts not made to handle the stress.) Finally, block the equipment's wheels.

* Distribute weight properly. Many people forget to properly balance weight on the trailer. The load should be slightly heavier to the front of the axles. This prevents the tongue from pulling upward on the hitch. In addition, trailers with a heavy back end tend to "wag" during transport, which can be quite dangerous.

Trailers with sides typically are used to carry medium to small equipment. Though these set-ups pose little risk of a machine actually rolling off the trailer, equipment still needs to be secure for transport. Often, for example, operators use small strap binders running from a mower to a side rail of the trailer. This is an effective and economical solution. It is still a good idea to use wheel blocks (see bottom photo, below left) even if you use tie-downs because straps can break.

Handheld equipment is stowed in a variety of ways, often in racks (see photo, top right). In whatever manner you stow yours, make sure it is secure and not able to fall on other equipment or roll around loosely.

2. Supplies. * Lumber and pipes. Overhead racks are an efficient way of transporting long material such as lumber and pipe, but be sure you remember to tie the material to the rack firmly so that it does not slide forward or back during stops and starts.

* Hazardous material and fuel. You must secure all containers of pesticide and fertilizer during transport. Undiluted pesticides must be kept in their original, labeled containers. It is best to keep such materials out of direct sun and, if at all possible, in a locked compartment (after all, you would be liable if, for example, a child got into the pesticide while you were busy working at an account). For safety reasons, never use a passenger compartment to lock up pesticides. Also, keep pesticide packaging dry.

Fuel, like pesticides, needs to be secured during transport.

* Loose materials. Legal requirements for hauling loose materials on the road vary. However, even if not required by law, it is always a good idea to cover with a tarp any material that could blow or fall off a truck or trailer-mulch, sand, rocks, soil, etc. You are liable for any damage the material causes to other vehicles on the road.

* Spray tanks. Applicators often tank-mix pesticides at their mixing site and then travel from account to account. During transport, ensure that all valves are closed and that spray-gun triggers are shut to prevent liquid from dribbling out while you're driving. Make sure the tank hatch is closed securely so that the spray mix cannot "slosh" out during transport.

Easy-to-forget considerations An additional step not directly related to safety should be included in your daily walk-around-checking the engine oil of the towing vehicle.

Also, don't forget to fuel all the equipment before leaving. You wouldn't want to drive to a remote work site and find you didn't fill your tractor's fuel tank.

Finally, remember that you must use red caution flags whenever you haul an oversized load. This includes wide loads as well as those that extend beyond the front or back of the vehicle (as irrigation pipe often does).

You may think that all this sounds like a lot of trouble to go through every day. However, once you get in the habit of checking, it'll take you far less time to do a walk-around than it took you to read this article. The potential accidents (and tickets) you prevent will make it time well spent.

Trailer 1. Hitch 2. Safety chains 3. Lights 4. Electrical plug 5. Brakes 6. Break-away brakes 7. Tires 8. Weight distribution 9. Gates, ramps, stands

Equipment 1. Secured with binders 2. Transmission in gear 3. Parking break engaged 4. Wheels blocked 5. Implements lowered 6. Handheld equipment secured 7. Sprayer secured to prevent leaks

Supplies 1. Pesticides and fertilizers secured 2. Fuel secured 3. Loose materials tarped 4. Pipes and lumber tied firmly to rack

Vehicles 1. Check oil 2. Top off fuel tanks 3. Use caution flags for oversize loads

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