Other than perhaps how you drive, few things are more important to RV safety than a properly connected hitch between your tow vehicle and travel trailer. The lives of you, your passengers and everyone else on the roads are in jeopardy if any part of the connection is not up to snuff — especially when you factor in highway speeds.
The good news is it’s not that difficult to ensure your hitch connection will not only keep you and everyone else safe but your vehicles secure, the ride more comfortable and improved fuel efficiency.
Disclaimer: Always check with a professional to ensure your tow vehicle, trailer and hitch connection components are in proper working order. Now is not the time to wing it; you must be certain you know what you’re doing. Also, for this post we will only be discussing travel trailers and not fifth wheels.
Pulling a trailer, whether it is large or small, requires a regular review of the equipment, including the hitch and signals, as well as some extra safety and clearance precautions to ensure a secure drive. Having the right parts can make all the difference.
The components are located on both the tow vehicle and the trailer. Many of these components are available in different weight ratings. On the tow vehicle, you should have a hitch, trailer wiring plug receptacle and brake controller. On the trailer, you’ll have a coupler located at the end of the tongue, trailer wiring plug, breakaway switch and safety chains.
In addition to the above components, I strongly recommend using a weight-distributing hitch and a sway control device. Some products offer a combination of the two, such as the Equal-i-zer 4-point Sway Control Hitch, which is what I use. Load-distributing hitches use special equipment to distribute the tongue load to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer to help stabilize the tow vehicle. Sway control devices helps minimize the amount of sway, or side-to-side motion, experienced by trailers while in transit. Another important component to have is a good base plate.
Ensure the hitch ball and hitch ball mount are secured into the hitch on the tow vehicle with a hitch pin clip.
Have a second person direct you as you back the tow vehicle into place until the hitch ball is directly below the coupler. The coupler fits over the hitch ball, and is designed to articulate around the ball. Lower the coupler until the hitch ball is secured inside, with the locking mechanism snapped and a lock pin in place. The size of the coupler and ball must match to operate safely. Check the connection by pulling up on the trailer to try to pull it off the hitch, which you shouldn’t be able to do. If you can pull the hitch off, it must be reattached.
Plug the trailer wiring into the tow vehicle receptacle and check the brake lights and turn signals. If no one is available to tell you whether the lights work when you apply the brakes, use the reflection of another vehicle, window, or other reflective surface; or check in the dark. It is very important that the brake lights work on the trailer. Otherwise, motorists are unable to tell when you are slowing (and in the dark, they won’t be able to see you at all).
Connect the safety chains. The purpose of safety chains is to prevent the trailer from separating from the tow vehicle in event of a hitch failure, such as a hitch ball that has loosened. The chains should be crossed in an “X” fashion below the ball mount, with enough slack to allow unrestricted turning, but not enough to allow the coupler to hit the ground.
Connect the breakaway switch to a stationary hitch component on the tow vehicle. If the two vehicles become separated, the cable pulls a pin inside the breakaway switch and applies full power from the trailer battery to the trailer brakes.
Either now or at some other point during this process, you should connect your sway control device. Refer to the operating instructions of your specific device, whether it is a friction bar or a dual cam sway control, to ensure it is installed, connected and working properly.
Perform a safety inspection before each trip. Make sure that:
-The pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact.
-The hitch coupler is secured.
-Spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in.
-Safety chains are properly attached.
-The electrical plug is properly installed.
-Brake lights, turn signal lights and running lights are working.
If the trailer and hitch connection is good, and the trailer signals are working, you’re ready to drive!
See you next week when we talk about How to Pack for an RV Camping Trip.
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