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How To Avoid Jackknifing

how to prevent jackknifing

Jackknifing is where the trailer spins out of control behind the towing vehicle and causes the vehicle to skid. The severity of a jackknife can begin very minor and can be stopped fairly easily but it can quickly turn nasty if not corrected. Many people that are new to towing and have just had a trailer hitch fitted to their car will go straight onto the road. However, novice towing drivers are those that are more likely to jackknife when towing large loads.

There are many different safety devices that help prevent jackknifing but your driving style will need to change before you start towing on a regular basis.

Table of Contents

What Causes Trailers To Jackknife?

  • Skidding of the wheels on slippery roads
  • Excess speed
  • Turning too quickly
  • Locking off trailer brakes
  • Poorly distributed cargo weight on the trailer
  • Heavy wings or passing vehicles too quickly

The majority of the causes for a trailer to jackknife are easily avoidable but sadly it is still a common occurrence.

Jackknifing Example

This happened in the UK and the lorry would have been doing 56 MPH, which means the towing vehicle would have been going to fast. Speed is a major factor that causes jackknifing and the caravan was swaying as he passed the lorry. If the towing vehicle used a weight distribution hitch with sway control, things might have been a bit different but this is the cause of excess speed whilst towing.

How To Avoid Jackknifing

In order to avoid jackknifing all together, its vital that you abide basic towing rules. Below are ways to prevent jackknifing of your trailer when on the road:

  1. Distribute weight evenly on the trailer
  2. Brake gradually over large distances
  3. Prevent sudden harsh braking
  4. Avoid braking on large curves
  5. Keep to a max speed of 56 MPH

Simply taking extra care when towing a vehicle and remembering you actually have a trailer is the main aspect. Being too confident and going far to fast is a recipe for disaster and can cause a serious accident.

How To Correct A Minor Jackknife

A minor jackknife can be defined as one that is less than 15 degrees but regardless of the severity of a jackknife, you will want to do everything possible to prevent a nasty accident on the road.

The worst thing you can do is slam on your brakes, even if this is the first thing that comes in your mind during a jackknife. This can worsen the jackknife and cause the trailer to swing further out and potentially hit the car.

The best way to pull out of a jackknife is to let go off the brake and allow the wheels to roll freely. If the jackknife is struggling to correct itself, an increase of speed may straighten things out again. However, if speed is the issue and causing jackknifing, you will want to slowly bring up the gas pedal and not brake at all.

Safety Equipment

As technology has improved over the years, there are many new technologies designed to improve the safety of towing. One such device that has become an essential part of towing a trailer within the US is a brake controller for trailers. It connects to the trailers electric brake system to help aid the braking of both the towing vehicle and trailer.

Extended side towing mirrors are also very useful as you should always be checking your trailer for any signs of sway. A larger view of your trailer is always beneficial. For those that have a 5th wheel hitch, then you can use spring bump stops in order to prevent any movement of the heavy load.


Adding safety devices to your towing setup will always be beneficial but nothing will be more effective than careful and cautious driving. Jackknifing can be a scary situation and can be very dangerous. Knowing what to do in order to correct a minor jackknife and taking steps to avoid them in the first place is very important.

If you are new to towing, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to go for additional towing training as at the end of the day, it will make you more confident and a safer driver, which is always a good thing. Failing that, if you need to tow extra large loads such as a car, leave that to the experts and use a car transportation service. We always recommend that you gradually increase the size of your trailer loads rather than towing huge loads straightaway.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

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