How can one stop trailer sway?

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Answered by: Dennis, An Expert in the Tips for Traveling Category
Sleeping in the passenger seat of our Ford Explorer while heading Eastbound on the Ohio Turnpike, I was violently awakened as I was repeatedly thrown first left, then right. My wife was steering back and forth across the three lanes of traffic at 70 miles an hour nearly touching the Jersey barrier to her left, then back across all three lanes to the road’s edge on the right.

“We are going to roll, we are going to roll!” her voice clearly rang in my ears

Towing an RV camper, of 24 feet in our case, opens the door to an RV’ers worst nightmare, the dreaded sway and often a panicked question to yourself "How do I stop trailer sway?". A condition where the trailer pushes the driver's vehicle to the left or the right, and the driver corrects by steering in the opposite direction, which only feeds the next swing of the oscillating “swaying” trailer, each sway becoming more severe and closer to a rollover. Note the point here is to stop the sway after it has started as opposed to preventing trailer sway in the first place.

It does not take much time searching the web to learn the myriad causes of sway, only a few of which are poor weight distribution in the trailer, no sway control equipment on the hitch or poor choice of a tow vehicle (incidentally, all three were contributing factors in our case). Hey we were just starting and had a lot to learn. The trailer was loaded rear-heavy making it light on the hitch. There was no sway control arm installed and a short wheelbase vehicle with a soft suspension is not a good tow vehicle for a 6000-lb. trailer.

Regardless, as the primary driver, having experienced the start of sway many times I soon learned the proper response to stop trailer sway, in the event you also have done everything wrong as I did. Interestingly enough it happens to be do nothing, which is far easier said than done. Years of instinct tell us to turn the wheel perhaps ever so little to keep the car centered in your lane. However that minor adjustment is all that is needed to set the pendulum swaying in motion.

Keeping the steering wheel absolutely straight, going so far as to dig my left elbow into the drivers door arm rest and locking my left hand on the steering wheel, became my remedy for trailer sway every time. Obviously I can not promise this works for all other configurations of tow vehicles and trailers, but it worked for me every time.

As for the Ohio Turnpike incident, upon gaining my senses, watching my life pass before me in an instant, and considering whether to buckle my seat belt fearing my wife would be insulted; I reached over with my left hand and held the steering wheel straight resisting her urge to turn it, and within seconds the sway was gone. We promptly pulled over and changed drivers.

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