By Dave Gray #136170
When a conventional trailer becomes unhitched while in tow, news reports will often describe the incident as an accident. However, most of these incidents are a result of human error rather than an unpreventable, mechanical failure and, unfortunately, this type of mishap can cause needless injury or death.
When I recently learned of an incident involving a truck and travel trailer, it struck the core of my heart with sadness and anger.
The morning after Memorial Day 2017, I became aware of a horrific tragedy in Lincoln County, Kentucky. It was caused by a travel trailer that became unhitched from a truck. The trailer then veered into the opposite lane and collided head-on with an SUV. The SUV driver was killed, and a six-month-old child was severely injured. By Thursday morning of that week, I learned that the child had succumbed to his injuries.
RV Hitch-up Videos
Step-by-step instructions for properly hitching a conventional trailer, fifth-wheel trailer and motorhome towbars can be found at:
These informative videos are a benefit of membership and not only demonstrate the process, but also include helpful hitch-aid product demonstrations.
After doing research, I learned that approximately 400 deaths occur annually related to towing a trailer, and that more than 14,000 injuries occur. Statistically, these numbers are small when compared to other accidents. However, I suppose most of these accidents were needless and preventable if extra attention was paid to the hookup procedure.
I discovered a short, to-the-point three-minute video on YouTube.com. The title is Hooking Up A Trailer and can be found at this link: https://youtu.be/GwxVB4xbA5k. Here are the following 10 steps covered in the video, as well as my own additional safety tips below.
Step 1: Test the tow vehicle’s wiring.
Step 2: Verify that the trailer ball and hitch meet the minimum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Also, make sure the ball and hitch sizes match.
Step 3: Back up to the trailer.
Step 4: Lower the tongue jack, secure the tongue latch and insert the safety keeper.
Step 5: Lift the trailer using the tongue jack to make sure there is a secure connection between the trailer and the hitch.
Step 6: Raise and secure the tongue jack for towing.
Step 7: Hook up safety chains, making sure to cross them as you do.
Step 8: Connect the lights. Run the light cord through the safety keeper.
Step 9: Step back and verify that the trailer is level or slightly uphill.
Step 10: Check all the running lights, left and right signals and brake lights.
Additional Safety Tips
Always read the towing sections in the owner’s manuals. Most mishaps can be prevented by reading and applying the instructions and heeding the cautions and warnings.
Anyone who is safety-minded will always properly secure safety chains for any conventional trailer they tow. Using safety chains can save people from serious injury or death. It is important to ensure that safety chains are long enough for the trailer to be able to achieve maximum turning angle, but short enough not to drag on the ground. It should also be short enough to hold the trailer tongue up off the ground in case it becomes disconnected while in tow.
Always crisscross the safety chains one time. For some states, it’s the law. Also, SAE J684 says, “The safety chains shall be crossed under the trailer tongue and connected to the hitch assembly or to other towing vehicle members.” A correctly maintained and matched trailer coupler and hitch ball should never fail.
Never tow without the coupler locking lever being secured with a coupler safety pin. Rather than using a coupler safety pin to secure the coupler locking lever, consider using a padlock to prevent tomfoolery.
Perform routine maintenance checks and services on the hitch assembly and trailer coupler per manufacturer specifications.
Ensure that safety chain weight ratings meet or exceed the trailer’s GVWR.
Each of the two required safety chains should meet or exceed the trailer’s GVWR.
If a single safety chain is used, it should run through the tongue eye and connect to the tow vehicle in the same fashion as the double chains. The single chain should meet or exceed the trailer’s GVWR.
Always replace worn or road-filed safety chains before towing.
For large travel trailers, do not use Quick Links to attach a safety chain to the tow vehicle. The biggest rated Quick Links I found are only 3,500 pounds.
Replace S-hooks with appropriately rated safety latch clevis hooks, certified S-hooks with wire safety latch or snap hooks.
The only thing that should be touching the road are the vehicles’ tires.
If someone stops by to chat with you while hitching a trailer, it will often distract you from the routine hookup and may cause you to skip an important safety step. Stop what you are doing. Either continue after the conversation ends, or kindly ask individual(s) to cease their conversation until the hookup is complete and you have double-checked the connections.
If someone is in the process of hitching a trailer, it is highly important that you restrain yourself from interrupting them.
If you stop for a break or fuel fill-up, double-check the hitch connection. Re-check it before leaving any location.
Ensure the brake and signal wiring is not damaged and that it is still connected and functioning correctly.
Ensure the hitch pin or lock is properly secured, keeping the ball mount from coming free from the receiver.
When equipped, always attach the breakaway cable to the tow vehicle.
Periodic greasing of the hitch ball and coupler will prolong the life of these components.
Hitch Assembly Component Ratings
Ensure that the lowest weight rating within the three components shown at right meets or exceeds the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The lowest weight rating between these components and the tow vehicle’s conventional trailer weight rating (TWR) becomes the maximum allowed TWR.
For example: The lowest rating within the hitch components is the hitch ball rated at 10,000 pounds, and the tow vehicle’s published TWR is 14,000 pounds. The lower rating of the hitch ball becomes the maximum towing capacity or maximum allowed TWR.
However, you’ll find that, after calculating realistic vehicle towing capacity, the maximum towing capacity, due to the weight of the tow vehicle, is only 9,820 pounds. 9,820 pounds is the maximum trailer weight that this vehicle should tow regardless of higher ratings of the hitch assembly or the tow vehicle’s published TWR.
If you hook up your trailer correctly and drive safely, you can travel with the peace of mind knowing you can arrive at your destination without any trailer mishaps along the way. And, when you get there with your RV, be sure to have fun.
Dave Gray quickly learned important lessons after experiencing newbie problems as a full-time RVer. Frustrated at the limited, simplified RV weighing techniques available online, he created a website geared for both the novice and seasoned RVers. Dave’s research and safety training skills developed during years of military and other government services, positioned him to develop user-friendly RV safety products and provide important RV safety information.