The main purpose of a stabiliser or a trailer control system is to help the driver tow safely. These devices are not meant to be an alternative to good towing practice and careful towing. Stabilisers are helpful when towing heavy loads such as a caravan, boat or horse box as they help prevent snaking (wobbling from side to side) or pitching (wobbling up and down).
However, the best ways to help prevent snaking or unstable towing are:
- Load your caravan properly e.g. heavier items over the axle
- Make sure the caravan is not overloaded, too heavy or light on the nose weight
- Make sure that the car and caravan tyre pressures are correct
- Set up the car and caravan so that they look as level as possible
- Driving within speed limits and sensibly
Caravan snaking is at best pretty unpleasant and at worst the cause of a nasty accident. Snaking is caused when the caravan is out of line from the car. The motion often results in the driver trying to correct the snaking which can make it worse as a momentum builds as the outfit becomes more and more unstable.
The start of snaking can be caused by:
- Poor loading of the caravan
- A light or negative nose weight i.e. too heavy at the back makes for a very unstable caravan
- Side winds either naturally or when a large lorry or coach overtakes and causes the air to push the caravan out of alignment with the car
- Towing vehicle not being heavy enough – always check the towing weight of your car
What do stabilisers do?
Stabilisers increase the friction between the car and caravan making the side to side and up and down movements harder which reduce the risk of snaking and pitching. There are two types of stabiliser that are commonly used by caravanners. The most popular is a hitch stabiliser which clamps on to the tow ball to increase the friction. Many newer caravans have these fitted as standard. The other type is a blade stabiliser which is a sprung metal blade that creates the friction.
Trailer Control Systems
These are electronic devices that use sensors to monitor the side to side movement of the caravan. When the sensors detect the sideways motion has gone into a snaking action they gently apply the caravan brakes until the outfit straightens up.
The Alko ATC (automatic trailer control) system for example is fitted to the caravan when new or by a dealer and is activated when the car electrics are connected to the caravan. There is a light on the A frame that shows it’s working OK. They are expensive, but are effective in reducing the risks.
Prevention is far better than cure, a caravan snaking is a pretty scary experience. If you do find that you are in a ‘snake’ it’s important that its stopped as its likely to keep increasing until you lose control of the car or the caravan goes over. To stop the snaking there are a few tips to follow that should help:
- Keep the car steering in a straight line
- Change down a gear and take your feet off the pedals to slow down gradually
- If the car is still gaining speed e.g. going downhill gently apply the brakes
- Do not accelerate as this could make the outfit even more unstable
- Do not brake hard as it could result in the caravan jack knifing or flipping
- Do not try and steer out the snake, you are more likely to make it worse
In summary, you want to keep going straight and gradually slow down. The snake will gradually reduce and you will be safe again. Pull over at the next services to check the loading and that the towing equipment is still connected. Give yourself a few minutes to calm down and then resume your journey.