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How to Safely and Legally Tow a Trailer in Michigan

How to Safely and Legally Tow a Trailer in Michigan

July 23, 2018

Summer in Michigan is the perfect time and place for fun outdoor activities, from kayaking, canoeing and boating, to camping and biking. Most of these activities also require you to travel with some heavy equipment. These guidelines will help you stay safe and within the law when you decide to tow a trailer or any other outdoor equipment in Michigan.

Make Sure You Have Your Michigan License and Registration

No matter what kind of trailer you’re towing, to tow a trailer on the road, it must be registered. Thankfully, the registration process is easy.

If your trailer is small, (under 2,500 pounds when empty) all you need is $75 for the plating fee, a bill of sale, and an official marker of the empty weight of the vehicle. You can find the empty weight of the vehicle on the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin, or, if you bought it used, on the seller’s Michigan registration. If you can’t find it on either of those documents, you can weigh your trailer on a certified scale and use the receipt as a formal document. You can register your trailer at the nearest Secretary of State office.

If your trailer is relatively large, (2,500-9,999 pounds when empty) the plating fee will be a bit more expensive ($200), but otherwise, the procedure is very similar. The main difference is that larger trailers must be titled. If you bought your large trailer used, you can transfer the name on the title at your Secretary of State office.

All trailer coaches (e.g., pop-up camper, travel trailer, fifth wheel camper, etc.) must be both registered and titled regardless of weight. Keep in mind, if your trailer is heavier than 9,999 pounds, it is subjected to different classifications and safety rulings.

Make Sure Your Connections Are Secure

Proper coupling and connection devices are a must when it comes to towing legally and safely in Michigan. Improper coupling and securing could endanger you and those around you. Remember that safety always comes first.

Test your coupling device before going on the road. Ensure that your trailer doesn’t vary from your towing vehicle’s path by more than three inches on either side when driving on a smooth, flat, paved surface. This ensures that your trailer is stable and predictable to those around you.

In addition, the towed vehicle or trailer must be attached to the towing vehicle by at least four safety chains and/or devices: one on either side of the coupling and one on each outer edge. Each of these chains or devices should be able to each support the full weight of the trailer in the event that it is left the last one standing after a long, hazardous drive.

Of course, the loaded weight of the trailer must be within the towing range of the towing vehicle. 

Test Your Lights and Brakes Before You Hit the Road

Visibility and predictability are especially important when driving a trailer on the road.

Small trailers (under 2,500 pounds) must have two rear reflectors, at least one working tail light, and a light that illuminates the license plate. If the trailer obscures the brake lights of the towing vehicle, the trailer must have working brake lights.

Trailers 2,500 pounds and heavier must have turn signals and two red or amber rear brake lights that are visible from at least 100 feet during the day and night. Trailers over 3,000 pounds must have one rear stop light and an amber reflector near the front of each side of the trailer with a red reflector near the back of each side. They also have to have two amber clearance lights on the front of the vehicle and one on each side, each visible from at least 500 feet, a single red clearance light near the rear of each side of the trailer, and two red clearance lights on the back of the trailer. These trailers must also be equipped with brakes. Very large trailers (5,500 pounds and heavier) must have brakes that are strong enough to control, stop, and hold the trailer’s movements.

How To Avoid Accidents When Towing

While drivers of any kind of vehicle should use common sense and follow basic safety guidelines, there are certain towing safety tips that apply uniquely to drivers.

  • Make sure your tow vehicle is a good match for whatever it is you’re towing. You can do so by finding the Gross Trailer Weight of your trailer and the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of your vehicle—this represents the maximum weight your vehicle can carry, including, passengers, cargo, fuel and the vehicle itself.
  • Invest in a weight distribution hitch system to spread the weight of whatever you are towing evenly across all vehicle and trailer axles.
  • In general, never drive when you’re tired, but especially when you’re operating heavy machinery.
  • Don’t speed or accelerate when going downhill—too much speed on a downhill can result in an unstable situation. Additionally, any braking could cause the item you’re towing to put excessive force on your vehicle which can result in fishtailing.
  • If swaying does occur, use the trailer brake controller to slow down rather than your vehicle’s brake—which can actually make the problem worse.
  • Watch weather reports and plan your trip accordingly. Accidents when towing are more likely to occur on windy days when natural forces slam into the side of your vehicle and those around you.

“Even careful drivers can have accidents when towing heavy equipment,” said Mark Bernstein. “If you or a loved one is injured in an accident, contact us as soon as possible. Our experienced auto accident lawyers will evaluate your case and help you get the compensation you and your family deserve.”

Call 1-800-CALL-SAM today for a free consultation.

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