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Before you hitch up that new boat or even your snowmobile, be aware that a number of federal and state regulations govern not just the operation of your sport vehicle, but the actual towing of it as well. Towing laws are governed by both federal and state DOTs (Departments of Transportation) and strict guidelines cover everything from the tires on your conventional trailer to the chains, tail lights and length.

For example, many states require that you install special trailer brakes if you are towing a boat of a certain weight. Heard of breakaway brakes? You may be required to equip your trailer with them as a safety measure against trailer and hitch separations. Trailer lights can include a license light, tail lights, brake lights, clearance lights, turn signals and reflectors.

If you are purchasing a new or used trailer for the first time, check out the federal DOT guidelines at the DOT web site and then also check with your state’s DOT. Since you may find hundreds of articles and regulations in your research, you may also want to visit with a licensed trailer manufacturer/distributor about the guidelines for your state and any states that you may be traveling and towing through.

Getting a used a trailer up to the legal standards of the DOT can be expensive, especially if the trailer is not compliant in the first place. By purchasing from a legitimate trailer distributor, you can understand the features of the trailer and purchase a unit that is already federally DOT compliant and perhaps legal for your state as well. This can certainly save you time and money in fixing up an existing trailer and can also ensure that you won’t be subject to fines or tickets for having a training that is not DOT legal.

Do your homework before you buy a trailer and hit the open road. You’ll appreciate being in compliance with the expectations (and laws) of the DOT.