This Towing Mistake Can Kill People And Destroy Your Trailer

PublishedApril 14, 2019

Do you tow a travel trailer?

The towing hitching up tip we are about to share with you can LITERALLY save lives. Not to mention your travel trailer.

MOST people don't know that this commonly misplaced travel trailer connection could one day cause a horrible accident.

e2 trunnion bar weight distribution hitch installed

Two things are wrong here- the  hitch pin is missing and the breakaway cable is in the wrong place. 

This 'secret' about towing a trailer safely definitely came as a surprise to me (Camp Addict Kelly). Like many others, I'd been doing it wrong for years. What's the tip?

Well, it will be much more effective with a story backing it...

The Photo That Spoke A Thousand Words

It all started while I was just casually scrolling through Instagram.

I came upon a friend's photo (below) that gave me serious pause and made me look twice. Something was seriously off.

"Wait a minute, is that space between her Airstream wheels and the ground?" Turned out, it most definitely was. Which we all know 'ain't right'.

Kerri Airstream hanging over edge

What's wrong with THIS picture? Can you find it? LOL! Yikes, eh? 

I know this person, and she's no newbie and she's very intelligent. But it was HER Airstream that was dangling off of a cliff. Wuuuuuuuuuuuuuut happened??!!!

Completely intrigued, I read her Instagram story. When I finished it, a scary thought dawned on me.

Her Airstream accident could easily happen to SO many other trailer owners out there, myself and Marshall included.

Originally, I was thinking that this couldn't happen to me. But when I found out why the trailer didn't stop after disconnecting, I realized it COULD happen to me.

I did the same thing she did regarding one particular aspect of hitching up. Therefore, I was guilty as well.

Now let's make sure you prevent a runaway trailer from happening to you.

The Disconnected Trailer Horror Story

My friend Kerri (Asolojourner on Instagram) had been full-time RVing in her Airstream for about two years when this happened. (It happened in 2013)

That day, Kerri was cruising slowly through a campground (Thank goodness! She could have just as easily been on an interstate). 

She was going pretty slow when she heard a loud noise. Naturally, she looked in her rearview mirror.

What she saw was so shocking, it must have been hard to even comprehend. The Airstream was rolling backward away from the truck.

It somehow COMPLETELY disconnected. And it wasn't stopping.

It actually rolled right into a camping spot. (Kind of ironic. And a bit funny.

At least it is to us now, after the fact, knowing nothing TOO bad happened.)

Scratches on pavement from Kerri Airstream

You can see the pavement markings where the tongue dragged. 

It was finally and thankfully stopped by a small, VERY appreciated tree that was only about 6 inches in diameter.

It came within feet or even inches of tumbling down a small ledge. It stopped with three wheels dangling precariously off of the ground.

We are showing you this picture again as it's THAT amazing and scary. Only a couple more inches and bye-bye beautiful Airstream!

Kerri Airstream hanging over edge

This is like, a Halloween photo to any RVer. 

What happened? Her Chevy receiver failed. Wait, 'failed' is too tame. It broke apart. Terrifying!

In case you are wondering, yes her trailer was well within the tongue and the gross weight limits.

NOTHING about the hitch failure was Kerri's fault. Yes, her safety chains were connected. However, the chains were attached to the receiver. 

The part of the receiver that holds the chains also broke off of the truck. (See below)

Kerri broken trailer hitch

The chain attachment point broke right off. It went with the Airstream. 

Therefore, the chains went, helplessly, with the trailer and broken-off receiver. Which is terrifying.

But this is why there are safety mechanisms in place. (Your chains and your breakaway switch.)

And yes, she had her breakaway cable connected to the truck. So why didn't the breakaway cable engage the trailer brakes?

We will get to that in a second. First, let's make sure you are familiar with what a breakaway cable does and how it works.

The Breakaway Cable

Every trailer should come equipped with something called a breakaway cord or cable. It is a quick disconnect cord.

One end is connected to a switch on the trailer brakes. The other end gets connected to your tow vehicle.

Trailer breakaway cable

If your trailer comes detached from your tow vehicle, the breakaway pulls a pin out of the trailer, engaging the trailer brakes.

This can stop your runaway trailer from crashing into other vehicles, people, or objects.

In Kerri's incident, she DID HAVE her breakaway switch connected. So why didn't her trailer brakes kick on? Herein lies the potentially deadly mistake.

The Towing Safety Tip You MUST Know

What is the tip that could have saved Kerri's trailer from getting damaged and from possibly being totaled?

Do Not connect your breakaway cable to the receiver!!

Like most people, you probably connect the cable to the hitch receiver where the chains are attached, as seen below.

Kelly tow hitch safety chains hooked up

INCORRECT place to attach the breakaway cable- to the receiver chain holders.

This is exactly what Kerri had done. (And Marshall and I did this before, too. Now we have both changed ours.)

The problem is that what happened to Kerri's receiver rendered the breakaway cable useless. The part of the receiver that she attached her breakaway cable to broke off as well.

Proper Breakaway Cable Attachment When Towing

So, DO NOT connect your cable to the hitch receiver or anything associated with the receiver.

Travel trailer crash

Instead, connect it directly to the truck somewhere. Kerri thoughtfully added an eye bolt screw that holds on her license plate and now connects it there.

I added mine to the same place. It is reinforced with a large-diameter washer behind the bumper.

Trailer breakaway cable hookup eyelet

You can do that or add your own place to connect the breakaway switch. Some people have it wrapped around their bumper.

Others have connected something wide or thick to the end and shut it inside their tailgate.

Be aware that it doesn't take much force to pull the pin out. Still, you may need to reinforce the point of connection if it seems iffy.

Also, you may have to adjust the length of the cable after connecting it to a new point. 

Don't Become A Victim

Yes, what happened to Kerri is very unusual. However, it's not unheard of.

Failure of the steel could happen to any hitch.

Or your bolts connecting the receiver to the tow vehicle could fail or come out.

In fact, we JUST (May of 2019) had another friend have his fifth wheel hitch receiver fail. The metal simply broke apart. Luckily he also was just leaving a campground, so no other vehicles were involved in the failure. We do not know details about his weights and if he was or was not well within his rated limits. 

What this means is that if it happens to you, if you connected your breakaway switch to anything on the receiver, and your chains also go with your trailer, you're up a creek with no paddle.

Breakaway cable placement is of paramount importance in the event of a catastrophic failure.

There are enough things to worry about in life to not include something like this happening to you.

It's TOTALLY avoidable, once you know about it. And, now you know!

Other Important Towing Information

Line of RVs against Mexico border wall

There are some other very serious things to know and to consider when towing. Also, there are others that you should be checking quite often.

Tow Capacity

Your trailer should not exceed the towing capacity of your tow vehicle. You should try not to be close to the limits of the towing capacity.

Trust us, it's way better to have too much power than not enough. It's safer, AND it's much less stressful climbing grades. 

Tongue Weight

Watch your tongue weight.

It should not exceed what your hitch can manage and it should not push you over your tow vehicle's GVWR.

Also, check your receiver for max tongue weight in the event it is an aftermarket receiver.

Camp Addict Kelly

Kelly

Camp Addict Co-Founder

I found out AFTER buying my Raptor that the hitch was aftermarket and only rated to 5,000 lbs. (UGH!)


Like you, I am still learning as I go. I don't know everything about RVing by a LONG shot. 


I'm only as well off as I am with knowledge because of Marshall. He's the secret 'Einstein' behind Camp Addict!


And he's the one that looked at my receiver and saw the weight rating.


Thank goodness I have a very light trailer or I would have had to upgrade my receiver.


(Which was not installed properly, I also discovered. It has been corrected.) More on this below.

Hitch Receiver Maintenance

Periodically check your receiver for tightness where it's bolted to the vehicle's frame. The bolts CAN come loose.

I (Camp Addict Kelly) recently found mine to be loose on one side of the receiver of my new truck.

My aftermarket receiver was not installed properly (shocking) and still moved even with the bolts tightened.

Below, you can see how the receiver and hitch are not level. Yikes! I had it remedied ASAP after noticing this.

Kelly's Hitch

Turns out, I had to have a part of it welded to keep it in place. It was welded on 4/11/19.

KNOW Your Receiver Numbers

You need to make SURE your hitch receiver is rated high enough to pull your trailer.

If it's an aftermarket receiver, like mine, CHECK IT.

Kelly Raptor tow hitch rating sticker location

A label like this could indicate that yours is an aftermarket receiver.

How do you know if it's aftermarket if you are buying a used truck? Well, that's easier said than done.

There's not any reliable visual indicator. We tried to find out how to tell.

We only found three ways to make a guess:

  1. If the sticker on the receiver is rated for LESS than the vehicle is rated for, then it's aftermarket.
  2. If the receiver has a sticker with the tow rating numbers on it, it is likely an aftermarket receiver. (CA Marshall's new Ram 2500 truck has a sticker on the factory-installed receiver, but it only says what class the receiver is.)
  3. You COULD try to see if you can get the original window sticker. This shows what all the vehicle originally came with. Simply Google your VIN.

My receiver came with my Ford Raptor when I bought it used. I mistakenly assumed it was factory installed.

Instead, it's an aftermarket hitch.

Turns out, after looking at my actual receiver, the sticker says it's only rated for 5,000 pounds.

The Raptor itself is rated for 8,000 pounds. (Oops. Dead giveaway of an aftermarket hitch)

Kelly Raptor tow hitch rating sticker

My receiver sticker. A slap in the face. Only rated for 5,000 Lbs!? Lots of times, it really pays to be light!

I had assumed that EVERYTHING about my truck was rated for 8,000 pounds. Not so.

Good thing my trailer is only about 4,400 pounds. Yikes, and Grrrr.

Cross Your Chains

Trailer tow safety chains crossed

YES, it's true. You are supposed to cross your travel trailer safety chains.

Why?

In the event your trailer detaches, they should keep the tongue of your trailer from digging into the pavement.

The theory is that the chains will catch the tongue and keep it off the ground (Unless your freaking receiver breaks in half!).

CHECK Your Breakaway Switch On Occasion (The more often the better)

Recently (9/2020) Marshall decided to manually check each of our breakaway cables to make sure they still had power after solar installs. Turned out NEITHER of them worked! Not because of lack of power, but due to failure of the switch itself. 

Check by manually pulling the pin out and either listen for the brakes to be engaging, or try to pull forward when connected to your tow vehicle. You should not be able to if the brakes are fully engaged. 

Weight Distribution Hitch

If your trailer weighs more than half of what your tow vehicle weighs, you need to have a weight distribution hitch.

Oftentimes, it's the law.

Towing without weight distribution hitch

Without Weight Distribution Hitch

Towing with weight distribution hitch

With Weight Distribution Hitch

A weight distribution hitch can also raise your towing capacity a bit.

(Warning: Some truck hitches say RIGHT ON THEM that you are not to use a weight distribution hitch with them. Read yours to make sure it doesn't say not to.)

Tire Pressure

PLEASE check your tire pressure at LEAST once a month. It really should be checked before each trip.

Kelly tire pressure monitoring system display

If you have a good tire pressure monitoring system, this can be helpful, but it's still a good idea to manually check.

(Many tow vehicles come with a TPMS, but many won't even tell you the actual pressures. It will only alert if there's low pressure on ANY tire.

In this case, we suggest getting an aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system.)

For an even more in-depth article (with great photos) about do's and do not's of towing, click HERE.

Conclusion

Towing a trailer is a serious deal. Doing EVERYTHING you can to empower yourself with knowledge about towing will only keep you safer.

We think it's best not to connect your breakaway cable ANYWHERE on your receiver. It will become useless if your receiver somehow fails and comes off or apart.

Change up your connection point. Find a place that's part of the TRUCK to connect your breakaway.

This will at least, in the event of a disconnect, cause your trailer to stop like it's supposed to.

We want you all to be safe out there on the road. We need as few accidents as possible. After all, we could be right in front of you! (Aren't we so selfish?)

Be safe, and Camp On!

Other Articles You Should Read

  • Thanks for the wonderful article. I’m 81 and have been rv’ng for 30 years. Never to late to learn the correct and safe way to hook up to my trailer. Thanks again.

    • Hi Kirk,

      No, you do not need to remove a weight distribution hitch before backing. The only exception is if you have an add-on anti-sway device on the hitch. In this case, sometimes it is required to remove this device to backup (and one of the reasons we don’t recommend using such a device).

      You can read more about the add-on anti-sway device on our weight distribution hitch page

  • Glad I found this site. Bought a used car trailer to tow a car behind our new/used RV. The trailers gross weight is 7000lbs so I made sure to get a 7500lb hitch and ball even though the trailer and car will be total around 4600lbs. After reading this I just checked the RV receiver and find it’s only rated for 5000lbs. Good to know that I’m OK, but I’m not that far from it’s limit/weakest link. There I was thinking I’m going overkill, not so.

    • Hey Ken,

      Great catch! And yes, looks like the weight of the trailer and car will be close to the max of 5k towing capacity for your RV.

      It’s very common to have a 5k limit on RVs, unless it’s a larger diesel Class A motorhome, in which case the hitch limits can (and usually are) higher.

  • Good tips thanks. I twist my chains until they are at the right length and not dragging the pavement. Then cross them. Does anyone think the twisting weakens the chains? MY trailer chains are good but sometimes when I rent or borrow trailers the chains are too long.

    • Hey Ron,

      I’m no structural engineer, but I don’t think twisting a chain made of links will weaken it.

      Glad to hear your trailer is setup correctly, but I hear you on rented/borrowed trailers. The kind you don’t have control over.

  • Please don’t forget that the Break Away has to Activate after the Trailer Connection has ripped it self out of its plug and do not test you Break Away Switch with Trailer Connection Connected it may Destroy you E-Brake Controller. That Two Battery Problem.

    • Hi Bennie,

      Can you explain a bit more by what you mean when you say “that two battery problem”?

      The breakaway system for most travel trailers relies on the trailer’s house batteries providing the power to activate the trailer brakes in an emergency situation.

      That is different from say a utility trailer that doesn’t have house batteries. In this case the breakaway system will have its own independent battery that has the single purpose of being used to power the trailer brakes in an emergency situation.

      I’m a bit unclear as to how testing the breakaway switch with the 7-pin connector attached to the tow vehicle can potentially destroy the trailer brake controller inside the tow vehicle. Can you please expand upon that as well?

  • That picture of the receiver hitch does not look anything like a valid class 3 weight carrying (5000 # gross) or weight distribution (6000 #) rated trailer hitch. These hitches are meant to be bolted (sometimes welded) to the frame of the tow vehicle. A piece of flat steel welded like that can’t possibly be correct for your towing situation. Properly designed/built hitches are quite beefy, just look at etrailer.com for examples.
    The possibility of this hitch failing is extremely remote in my opinion.
    That’s why I use my receiver to attach the safety brake cable.
    Attaching that safety cable to some other attachment point leaves it wide open for interpretation and possibly a safety issue.

    • Hey Joe,

      Which picture are you referring to? There are several pictures of hitches in this post.

      Agreed that the possibility of a hitch failure is remote, yet here is an example of a hitch that failed. So while remote, hitch failures can, and do, happen. After all, this is the point of having a breakaway cable/brake actuating switch – for hitch failures.

      Not sure how we left attaching the breakaway cable to some other attachment point wide open to interpretation. We gave examples and stated that the attachment point may need to be reinforced.

      • Hey Marshall, its the photo with the caption ” Don’t
        connect…receiver.” That doesn’t look at all like any class 3 or 4 receiver I’m familiar with. My class 4 hitch receiver is completely to steel tubing and brackets , bolted with 16 bolts to the truck frame. I agree that welds can fail but any manufactuer would have tested their design.
        Again, IMHO, my contention is that the safety break cable can be hooked to the hitch (with the chains). Telling someone to hook that somewhere else using “suitable hardware” is not prudent. Regards.

        • Hey Joe,

          Thanks for the clarification on the hitch! That’s a picture of the hitch on Kelly’s Ford Raptor. It wasn’t installed at the factory, but is a Ford aftermarket hitch. That might explain why it looks different than what you are used to. Her hitch is bolted onto the frame, and it has also been welded in a few spots.

          Thanks for your thoughts on where to hook the breakaway cable. I agree that it is highly unlikely that a properly installed hitch from the factory would fail. I’m not so sure I have the same confidence in a lot of the aftermarket hitches, based on who does the installing. In theory, if they are installed properly, there shouldn’t be an issue.

          • Hi Edward,

            Welding definitely can create the potential for metal fatigue. However (as I’m sure you know), it is used in many, many places in the manufacturing of an automobile, including tow hitches.

            For example, my Toyota Sequoia’s OEM hitch (9,100 pound towing capacity) is only welded to the frame. There are no bolts used to attach it.

            The welds I referred to with the Raptor’s hitch are only tack welds to serve a very specific purpose. They are not intended to support the full weight of the towed load – this is what the attachment bolts are for.

            Thanks for the comment and you definitely bring up a great point.

  • I absolutely must add my opinion that a weight distribution hitch WILL NOT increase the weight your vehicle can tow. It WILL however, make that vehicle tow more safely. Towing capacities are determined by brakes, suspension, tires, engine, transmission, rear end ratio, tow vehicle weight, etc. The purpose of the weight distribution hitch is to return the weight to the front wheels that is lost due to the leverage of the tongue weight on the hitch. The person setting up the hitch must use the trailer that will be towed to adjust hitch head angle and tension bars to match trailer to tow vehicle. This involves measuring the truck at the front wheelwell without the trailer and then matching that measurement with trailer hitched and bars in place. Now the tow vehicle acts and drives as if the weight were directly on top of the rear axle.

  • I happen to look how my safety chains are fastened to the trailer, there is a 1/8 inch steel plate welded on the frame right behind the trailer jack, each chain is bolted to that plate, I think the plate would rip off if the trailer came off my truck. 24 foot Travel trailer About 5000 lbs

    • Hi Steve,

      Is this how it came from the factory? If so, I’d think the frame manufacturer would have done stress testing on this to ensure the welds won’t fail if the breakaway chains are ever called into service.

  • one thing i found on mine was if the battery was shutoff while travelling the breakaway would not activate the breaks….battery should be on

    • Great point, Neil!

      I just checked the wiring diagram of my Lance travel trailer and see that indeed if the battery disconnect switch is ‘off’ then the breakaway switch will not be receiving power.

      This is something I’ve never thought about. Thank you for bringing that up!

      • That to me sounds like a bad design. The breakaway switch is a safety device. As such, the ability to turn it off, whether knowing or not, can give you a false sense of security. IMHO, it should be “hard wired” to the trailer battery. Then it will always be there to protect whether you isolate battery power from trailer for any reason.

        • I agree, Joe.

          I’m guessing it’s OK with the RVIA (the ‘governing’ body of RV manufacturers) since it appears to be a very common ‘feature’.

          I was a bit taken aback when I saw that you could turn off the breakaway switch by turning off the battery. But I shouldn’t be all that surprised RVs are designed this way.

  • I’ve looked at the brake cables on my trailers a number of times and for some reason wasn’t comfortable with them now I know why!!

    I will be modifying the hookup location to take that into consideration.

    THANK YOU

  • When hookup the safety chains latch them with open facing out. Air bags can help with weight distribution, as well as handling. Keeping the ball clean and a little grease makes for a smooth operation. Try and buy WD hitch that allows you to back up, nothing more frustrating than having to disconnect the WD just to back up. You may not always have a pull through site. I have had every type of RV made, three were travel trailers and one Fiver. Been RV’ing since 1974.

    • Hi Albert,

      Thanks for the comment!

      What do you mean by ‘open facing out’?

      Air bags don’t actually help with weight distribution, only rear end sag. You will end up with the exact same weight on the rear axle if you only use air bags, but you will correct for the ‘squat’.

      For weight distribution, you need a weight distribution hitch.

      Agreed on the advice of buying a weight distribution hitch that allows you to backup without disconnecting the anti-sway device. We discuss this in the Sway Control section of our weight distribution hitch.

      You’ve been RVing almost as long as I’ve been alive. I bet you’ve seen a lot in that time!

  • Hi all it amazes me how the safety chains are almost always conected to the underside of the drawbar.
    If you get disconnect the chains are at risk of being destroyed by road surface.The attachments should be higher.

    • Hey Ray,

      When you say connected at the underside of the spring bars, do you mean on the trailer side or on the tow vehicle side?

      The chains will definitely get a good work out if one is unlucky enough to have the trailer disconnect from the tow vehicle. And yes, they most likely will suffer some damage from the road surface, but most likely will survive long enough for the tow vehicle and trailer to come to a stop.

  • 15 years crossing my chains and never had wear showing , now a days you can bungee one up a little if you’re worried of this NOT me!

  • After loosing a trailer I hooked up forgot pin I check it every time twice now! I pull the trailer 10 feet get out and look to see everything is in place. YES I do cross my chains and hook the breakaway cable to the receiver. I will look else were after reading your story. A equalizer hitch set up is a must ; wind ( cross ) learn me this. I was pushed into on coming lane first time a gust hit my trailer side , was lucky no one there.

    • Hey Tony,

      Not a bad idea to double-check that a trailer is connected properly!

      Completely agree that a proper weight distribution hitch is necessary for most trailers. And having sway control is an important part of this.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • In PA you are NOT supposed to cross your safety chains , because the chains will rub on each other and over time weaken them.

    • Hi Duane,

      That’s interesting because it would take a really long time for chains to weaken due to rubbing.

      I looked up the law in Pennsylvania and found that per Title 75, § 4905. Safety requirements for towed vehicles you are indeed supposed to cross chains:

      “(d) Safety chains.–Whenever two vehicles are connected by a ball-and-socket type hitch, or pintle hook without a locking device, they shall also be connected by two safety chains of equal length, each safety chain having an ultimate strength at least equal to the gross weight of the towed vehicles. The safety chains shall be crossed and connected to the towed and towing vehicle and to the tow bar so as to prevent the tow bar from dropping to the ground in the event the tow bar fails or becomes disconnected. The safety chains shall have no more slack than is necessary to permit proper turning.”

    • Thanks for the heads up – I always drive through PA with chains crossed. Not sure I’ll change it but nobody to blame but myself it asked about it. I’ve crossed chains on trailers for years and never noticed any wear. Dragging them down a highway is another story. I’d prefer the receiver getting cradled rather than augered however if something terrible were to happen…. I did relocate by breakaway cable after reading this and told others to consider doing the same.

      • Hey AN,

        You are right to cross your chains in Pennsylvania (or any other state, for that matter). As I mentioned, that’s the law in PA – cross the chains.

        Thanks for spreading the word about this article! Kelly and I appreciate it!

  • Note – In my previous comment I mentioned Air Springs – air springs DO NOT DISTRIBUTE WEIGHT TO FRONT AXLE – they only lift things up. As stated, this was a ride height adjustment technique. Surprisingly it improved gas mileage a touch. I suspect that “corrected” geometry in the driveline removed friction and wasted torque, but I never took the time to sort it all out. The surprise was in how small a change in the angles of driveline were actually made (I ran a test tow with and without the springs aired up just to be sure I wasn’t imagining things – the corrected geometry really did help all aspects of the tow)

    Again. Just lifting the truck bed up in the air with respect to the rear axle does NOT DISTRIBUTE weight to the front axle.

    Also again, just because the air springs have a load rating…DO NOT take this to mean you can add payload. You still have the same truck, brakes, suspension, tires, engine, steering gear, chassis strength, etc etc etc.
    You wouldn’t drop 5000 lbs into the back of a 1/2 ton pickup with stock suspension etc…so don’t think you can do it because you added “5000 lb air springs” to your truck….you will just crush the truck or break an axle, or, worse – you will hurt/kill yourself or someone else.

    Be careful.

    Stay within the limits of your equipment….manufacturers spend a lot of time and money figuring out what those limits are….give them the benefit of the doubt.

    • Hey Greg,

      Yeah, exactly, helper air springs do nothing for weight distribution. They only help with a droopy butt. For the tow vehicle, that is.

      Great information, thanks!

  • A note on tongue weight – for Weight Distributing (WD) hitches, this number includes EVERYTHING behind the rear axle of tow vehicle so… the weight of your trailer tongue, the hitch, the payload in your bed/trunk/cargo area … and even the vehicle itself. So, my potential 1300# tongue weight of trailer needs to have added the 100# of hitch (tang, ball+ball carrier, spring bars, sway control) and all the stuff that ends up at the back of the bed. That last minute giant cooler full of ice and such that “just has to go too (and go full)” …. thus all means that you probably want stronger spring bars than you think for proper ride height and comfort. Remember, the WD hitch is trying to take load off rear axle suspension and transfer it to front axle suspension to correct ride height AND restore steering authority
    – ever hit a bridge expansion joint that is also a bump and feel like you were suddenly along for ride??? This is where you fix it.
    On my last truck, I ended up adding air springs in the back – as load levelers ONLY – to restore bed height and correct geometry AFTER the WD springs were snapped up etc. (NEVER, AND ESPECIALLY IN TOWING CALCULATIONS, USE AIR SPRINGS TO INCREASE PAYLOAD ABOVE GVWR OR GAWR (GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING) you’re asking for trouble, and possibly voiding insurance coverage after you get yourself into trouble…also probably absolving vehicle manufacturers from any potential liability for any sort of faulty design – (you modified it, you own it)
    Tow conservatively, tow safely.

    (I opted for a bigger truck, but still need bigger spring bars, new hitch next – yes, everything was “within the numbers” on the first truck regardless. Just not my preferred comfort level)

    Crossing the chains has value. However, not all trailer manufacturers give you the option. My chains are attached to the nose of the A-frame and being a single point mounting, it’s not possible…another item on my TO Fix list once I figure out a solid anchor point.
    I don’t know if this was done by LCI who make the chassis, or Dutchman (aka Keystone) who made the box but I should have decided it was a deal breaker…among other things in hindsight…

    Also, both chains and breakaway cable are annoyingly short…

    Owner beware for sure.
    Great post.

    • Hi Greg,

      Thanks for the great comment!

      Tongue weight is certainly a misunderstood aspect of towing, as is the need for the proper hitch, etc.

      On our weight distribution hitch page we discuss why you need a weight distribution hitch, how they work, and most importantly, how to properly weigh your travel trailer.

      The only way to tell if your weight distribution hitch is setup properly, including if the tongue weight is within limits, is to weigh your setup.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment!

  • SEO is ruining the internet, and this is exhibit A. You could have said all of this in about five sentences, but in order to get enough keywords in the post and have a long enough post length (so that Google thinks it’s “authoritative” and “awesome content”), you intentionally made it 37 pages long — and one sentence at a time, no less. I can’t wait for the algorithms to get better. This was torture to read.

  • thank you for the tip on not attaching to the receiver!! I’ve often wondered about if the breakaway would actually work. Great advise!!

    • You are most welcome, Patricia!

      That’s our goal- to get more people to connect their breakaway cable properly. We hope you can/will change yours now that you know. Thank you for the kind comment and Camp On!

    • Hi Cathy,

      Neither Kelly nor I have a gooseneck trailer so we are unfamiliar with proper hook-up techniques for this style trailer.

  • I don’t understand why it’s bad that the aftermarket receiver hitch was rated for less than the vehicle’s GVWR as that would ensure you do not overload the hitch or the vehicle based on the trailer weight. Better to have an overrated vehicle pulling a lower weight trailer as long as the hitch is compatible with the trailer and not over weighted. Also, the tiny eye hook bolted thru the bumper seems it could easily tear off the bumper which isn’t designed to hold onto anything near the weight of a trailer. Is it assumed the brake cable will never malfunction and the trailer brakes will activate immediately and even if that’s the case then won’t it cause a severe “jerk” onto the vehicle when the trailer abruptly stops while the vehicle is continuing to move forward? Isn’t that a potential whiplash effect for the vehicle passengers?

    • Hey Denise,

      The problem with an aftermarket hitch being rated for less than what the vehicle can tow is that if you are the second owner of the vehicle (as in Kelly’s case) and don’t know the hitch isn’t rated to what the truck is capable of pulling, you may just assume you can pull up to what the truck is rated for.

      In Kelly’s case, her Raptor is rated to tow up to 8,000 pounds, yet the hitch is only rated for 5,000 pounds. That’s a ton and a half difference. Which is not an insignificant number.

      Kelly assumed she could tow 8,000 pounds until I just happened to discover her hitch is way under rated.

      Yes, it is wise to not tow up to the rated max of the truck as you should always leave some ‘headroom’, but having a hitch that is grossly underrated and not knowing it is also a HUGE safety issue.

      It sounds like some clarification as to how a breakaway cable works is in order. It will not yank off the bumper. It isn’t designed to hold back the weight of the trailer.

      A breakaway cable simple pulls a pin out of the emergency trailer brake mechanism, which in turn engages the trailer brakes fully. The breakaway cable then hangs freely with the pin at the end.

      Also, when setup properly, the trailer brakes will never be engaged when the trailer is in anyway still attached to the tow vehicle.

      First line of defense is the trailer safety chains that are attached to the trailer and the tow hitch. So if the hitch ball were to fail, the safety chains, in theory, would continue to pull the trailer.

      The front of the trailer may be be dragging on the ground, but most importantly the trailer will still be somewhat attached to the tow vehicle and not a missile traveling down the road, out of control.

      While I’ve never experienced a trailer emergency of this sort, I can’t imagine that there is a huge jerk even if the safety chains become engaged, as the trailer already has tremendous forward momentum at this point, so it’s not at a stop. Yes, you will feel it, but not a whiplash effect that you mention.

      Then again, if one wants to totally eliminate the possibility of whiplash, one might not want to travel in a passenger vehicle, right? 😉

      I hope that clarifies things for you. Thanks for the questions, Denise!

  • Wow – so much excellent information! I will definitely be checking my hitch before hooking up a camper or trailer. I have a U-Haul hitch, so I know it is not a factory hitch.
    One question, in the photo showing the hitch and receiver not in line, what is NOT in line? I’m definitely a novice, so I’m not sure what should be in line.
    Thank you so much for this article!

    • Hi Janet,

      Thank you for the kind comment! So, which picture are you referring to? The one of my truck hitch connected to my trailer that says above “Below, you can see how the receiver and hitch are not level. “. Is that the one you are referring to?

    • Thank you, Phil. It’s something we really wanted to educate people about. Especially as this happened to a good, very intelligent and long-time full-time RVer friend of ours.

      We hope many people make this change.

  • I also have to mention the sway bars aren’t parallel to the tongue a frame… their pretty angled looks like a Fastway e2 setup and bars angled like that will fail prematurely and reduce the anti sway feature…bars should rest flat on L brackets I see this way to much and everyone’s I’ve fixed notice an immediate difference.

    • Hey Matt,

      Actually, the spring bars don’t have to be parallel to the frame with the Fastway e2 hitch. The installation manual states the following:

      “For changes during the initial setup we recommend adding or removing spacer washers first to try and keep the spring bars parallel with the trailer frame. This gives you more adjustment options later if needed, and may also reduce some noise.”

      You can adjust the height of the L brackets to adjust the weight distribution amount, which can result in the spring bars being other than parallel to the frame.

      If you arbitrarily make the spring bars parallel to the frame, the actual weight distribution could be off. Sometimes drastically. You’ll want to ensure weight distribution is setup properly when any spring bar adjustments are made.

      You can eliminate spring bars all together, including the need to mess with the L brackets, by using our top recommended weight distribution hitch the Andersen weight distribution hitch.

  • Thank you so much for the education. I pull a box trailer 7 by 14 with a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 2 wheel drive. I’m trying to learn about the different things of Towing. I am so glad you explained to me about the Breakaway cable. I hook mine the wrong way but I will fix that now.

    • Hi Ronald,

      Glad to hear we could help. You are making the roads safer for us all by connecting your breakaway cable in the right place!

  • This all sounds good. But check the breakaway cable by pulling it out as part of your check list. If you pull the cable out and the brake don’t apply then followup on the electric connection. Thanks again great information to pass on.

    • Hey Bill,

      I don’t know if I’d recommend checking that actual function of the breakaway cable each time you set off towing, unless you only tow a couple of times a year. It can be a bit of a PITA to put the pin back in, and if you keep it out too long, your RV house batteries are going to take a serious hit.

      The breakaway system puts the electric brakes full on, and this can create a serious amperage draw on lead acid batteries.

      But it’s not a bad idea to check that the system is indeed working a couple of times a year. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Great information. My husband has been pulling trailers for 20+ years but this is his first travel trailer with a swaybar attached. He started his 12 hour journey and 3.5 hours in shredded a tire. He says the trailer is ‘dog trackin’ while pulling which makes me wonder if either the axle is off or the swaybar is installed incorrectly. He also had his pin inserted incorrectly and it snapped when turning into a parking lot.

    • Hi Pamela,

      Yikes! A shredded tire after 3.5 hours? Yeah, sounds like there is a serious alignment issue with the axle. Might even have a bent axle.

      This past summer Kelly bent one of her axles coming out of a boondocking spot and ended up having two bald tires after not that far of a distance. Fortunately we stopped for the night before either tire blew, but they were well on their way.

      Definitely have the axle(s) checked out if you haven’t already done so.

  • Wow!! Good safety points to bring up. I downloaded Purdue brochure and read through that too. Appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

  • Your article was the best I’ve read. I’m going to have a hitch dealer check mine and tell them about your article. Thanks so much. Jim

    • Hey Jim!

      Thank you for the kudos! We are very pleased that this article has gained momentum and has been shared so many times. I hate it that this happened to our friend, but in the end, it’s helping teach a lot of people about where they really need to put their breakaway cable.

      Safe travels, thank you for your kind words, and we hope you are safer on the road from learning about this.

  • Very lucky are these drivers
    The real issue of all these failures is solely driver related These products are designed to be used in a very specific manner CDL drivers go through training and are tested
    Here, the majority of people purchase the campers, hitches, etc… and are sent on their way…. have a great time Yet you travel mountain roads, tight routes, any time of the day for any duration you choose
    Not putting blame on anyone, but all of these incidents are easily avoidable No one has any business pulling 19,000 lbs !!!
    Legal limits even for a class B driver is 10,000 lbs towing and only for a duration of 11 hours Yet anyone can purchase a travel trailer and be sent on their way with 102″ wide, 30-40′ camper The metal/steel failed because of years of incorrectly using the equipment, not a fluke failure
    Electric brakes, surge brakes, hydrolic etc… are not going to stop a break away They need to be adjusted on every vehicle for percentage of application to keep straight when using otherwise the trailer can push or even pass the towing vehicle in a hard stop or descending a grade avoiding a brake fade or crystallizing of brakes
    The manufacturers should be required to teach, train, etc… before embarking Good luck

    • Hey Paul,

      Totally agree that people should know what they are doing before they drive off towing (or driving) an RV. Yes, they should be trained. Do most people get the training? Nope! Is it pure luck that more accidents don’t happen. Sure.

      But I completely disagree that ‘all these failures are solely driver related’. That is completely false.

      Equipment does fail, even with normal use. No manufacturer builds 100% perfect equipment 100% of the time. Just doesn’t happen. Anytime you have humans involved (which is the case anytime any product is designed and/or built) you will have issues. Period.

      Such as the case in the example of this article with the defective trailer hitch. It was a case of equipment failure due to normal use.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Couldn’t help but to notice that the pin is missing to lock the tongue down on the ball so I guess there are at least three things

    • Hi Shane,

      Yup, the pin is missing and the safety breakaway cable is connected in the wrong place. We appreciate you playing!

      Stay safe out there.

  • I have decades of experience towing multiple types of trailers, another important aspect of the breakaway system is the battery, located on the trailer, this is what gives the electric brakes the power to stop the trailer, these are small batteries that don’t last more than 2 to 3 years and should be checked and replaced if necessary

    • Hi Craig,

      Thanks for the input- yes, it’s true that many non RV trailers do have a special battery for brakes. Those trailers do not have any other power supply. However, traditional RVs all have a ‘house’ battery for powering the 12-volt system.

      With generally ALL RV trailers (there could be VERY few exceptions we aren’t aware of), when connected, the braking power comes from the tow vehicle through the 7-pin connector. If you become disconnected, it’s the RV house battery that gives the brakes their power to engage.

      There is no other small battery that an RV trailer uses separately for the brakes. This only applies to trailers such as boat trailers, cargo trailers, etc.

      I used to think my RV had some spare battery for my brakes as well. It does not. RVs seem simple, but they are actually quite complicated! It’s a vehicle and a house all in one.

      Thanks for the comment so this question may be cleared up for others.

  • Very useful information, thank you for sharing. The only other thing I see wrong with that pic is the hitch angle. The curtis I am using says the hitch rake angle should be level or a few degress back. If the rake is set forward on the WD hitch I could see how going over hills would bind up the hitch ball and bend/break things.

    • Hey JS,

      That image is actually provided by the manufacturer of the hitch in the image, so one would hope it was installed correctly. But I wouldn’t bet my first born on it (not that I have a first born, but you know what I mean). Without reading the install manual again (it’s been a while) I don’t know what this particular manufacturer says on the subject. Good eye!

  • It is also important to know your tow vehicles payload capacity. If you load up your tow vehicle with people and gear you can easily be over the payload capacity while being under the tow rating. It is not just about tow and hitch capacity.

    • Hey Charlee,

      When discussing vehicle weights, you have to keep several things in mind. First is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is the most the vehicle can weight. So how much weight (payload) above empty weight (what it comes out of the factory weighing) the vehicle can carry.

      Then there is the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) which is the combined maximum weight of the vehicle and the trailer it is towing. This is where the tow rating comes from.

      And then sometimes you may have a tow rating that is reduced if the tow vehicle is loaded up (payload) to the max because it is then cutting into the GCWR. This is what you are referring to.

      So, yeah, it can get complicated. On my (very long) to do list is to create a post on the different weight acronyms and how they interact with each other. Some day I’ll get around to that.

      Thanks for pointing this out!

  • I am so glad I discovered your website. We have been towing trailers for a long time and never heard of the hitch breaking like that. How freaking scary. I will be changing my break-away cable tomorrow. Ours is routed through the chains to the chain hook! It would have never crossed my mind how incredibly dangerous this actually is.
    Thank you again for making us aware of this.

    • Hi Scott,

      Great! We are so happy that so many people are seeing this article. It’s simply making the road safer. And we have a ball in the game ’cause we are on it! LOL!

      Yes, it was a very scary story. I can’t believe it happened to them, but it did. And knowing them, I got all the complete and accurate details on the story. Sheesh. What an experience!

      Safe travels on the road!

  • We bought a (NOT CHEAP) set of tire monitors that worked couple of trips. Then one stopped working, we changed the batteries. Then another one stopped working. We changed the batteries. Still didn’t work.
    ???? Are there any RELIABLE tire monitoring systems out there???

    • Hi Florence,

      Sorry to hear about the problems you’ve having with your tire pressure monitoring system. While I have no idea what brand you purchased, yes, there are brands that work for a long time.

      I’ve been using a Truck System Technologies (TST) unit for the entire time I’ve been full-time RVing, so coming up on 6 years. Zero issues with it. I think I changed one battery in one sensor in all that time. Other than that, it’s been hands off for me.

      Kelly has been using EEZTire brand of TPMS for several years now and it too has been chugging right along.

      So, yes, there are reliable systems out there.

  • Also, is there a particular brand of weight distribution hitch that you recommend? It will be going on a GMC Yukon Denali and sometimes pulling a travel trailer with a tongue weight of 780 pounds … would One rated for 1000lb be over kill or would more always be better in this aspect? I saw some for 800 lb but was leaning toward the higher capacity one.

  • Thank you very much For this information! I had really no idea about the breakaway cable and have been making that mistake for years!!! It will be corrected immediately and I will spread the word to family and friends as well!

    • Hey Matthew,

      Yeah, we all have been doing this for years! Glad you found this blog post informational and thanks for spreading the word. Kelly and I greatly appreciate it!

  • The picture at the beginning has three mistakes. The safety chains and breakaway cable are attached in the wrong place and NO lock on the ball lock lever.

    • Hey Neal,

      The breakaway cable is definitely attached in a place that we wouldn’t recommend (and is the main point of this blog post) and there sure isn’t any pin or lock on the ball lock lever thingy (technical term – I’m sure of it!). The lack of pin/lock was first spotted by someone with obviously better eye sight than us and mentioned several times in the comments below.

      Pretty sure the safety chains are attached at the correct place on the truck. Hard to say for sure since the picture doesn’t directly show the attach point, but there really shouldn’t be any other place to attach them than where they are supposed to be attached in the area they are ‘headed’.

      Thanks for comment and safe towing!

    • Great to hear you are going to change it! You’re keeping yourself and others (me) safer on the road by doing so. Thank you for caring enough to change this!

      • Love your site. Have been pulling toads & other toys & trailers behind my motor home for years.. Alot of learning as I go. Have always crossed my safety chains in correct position
        But did not know about the breakaway switch cable… I’m thinking there is not even a spot to hook it up to truck at this time. Thank you, before its taken out for summer travel there will be. Kelly you rock. I learned so much after my hubby died. I just knew I had to if I wanted to be able to get on the road again. The call of the open road is calling.
        We learn new things everyday. Don’t we?
        .

        • Hi Myrna,

          Yes, we do learn every day! If we don’t, we’ve basically quit growing.

          I wish trucks came with a dedicated spot for the breakaway switch to go. But they do not. You could go the route we have with the license plate connection. It’s been working very well. Have fun hitting the road!

          • My 2500 Ram has a nice little hole on the frame to the left of the receiver that I run the breakaway cable to (now after reading this). I’m not sure if that’s it’s intended purpose but it sure works well with a little stiff carabiner snap.

  • Depending on the year most F150 and other half ton trucks only have around a 5,000lbs trailer weight and 500 TW. That is usually the rating with a non distribution hitch. My 2016 F450 is only rated for 8,800lbs non distribution hitch, but with a distribution hitch is rated for over 19,000lbs

    • Hey Quin,

      Yep, exactly! As I mentioned in a comment below, there are definitely different ratings for with and without a weight distribution hitch.

      My 2018 Ram 2500 owner’s manual says it’s recommended to use a weight distribution hitch for trailers weighing above 5,000 pounds and has a max tow rating of 17,280 pounds.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Yeah, I’m not buying that a RAM 1500 can tow anything close to 17280 lbs even with a weight distribution hitch. Those are 1 ton SRW truck numbers, my 350 SRW has a 18000 lbs capacity with or without WDH for bumper pull. I am guessing it’s a typo and you meant 11280 lbs which would also push your payload close to the limit of the truck.

        • Hey Ciprian!

          Oops! Typo indeed! But not on the towing number. But rather the model. It’s a Ram 2500, not 1500.

          Indeed it is rated to tow what I quoted. I only report the facts. And make typos on the model number. 😉

          Great catch! No clue how I let that slip by (since been corrected).

          • Lol, that makes a lot more sense. Great read by the way and I will be taking your advice as we speak and mount the break away cable to the bumper. We are heading out on Monday on a long trip to Montreal and Toronto from south Florida. Even though the receiver of the truck is rated to 21,000 Lbs and the trailer is only 11,000 lbs loaded I won’t take any chances. Thanks for the advice!

  • Thank you Kelly, I will check the things you talked about. I’m going on the road in six weeks . I’m selling everything and see what happens.

    • Hi Thomas,

      You are most welcome! Good luck with your launch and definitely don’t connect your breakaway cable to the hitch.

      Thanks for reading, and Camp On!

  • Wow! Thanks for the safety information, both in this post and on your site! I’m in the process of reading all of your posts because my family is about to buy our first travel trailer. We’ll definitely add a separate place to attach the Break-away cable away from the hitch. Would you share what kind of anti-sway device your friend Kerri was using? Some put higher forces through the welds than others.

    • Hi Rolf,

      Congratulations on your upcoming first travel trailer purchase! We do hope you have read our guide on the best RV Brands. There’s where you should start! But there’s a lot more to know, of course.

      We are not aware of which WDH Kerri was using.

      Glad to hear you are doing a new place for the break-away cable. It could save your trailer one day and/or a life!

      • Kelly, I’ve read that post and I joined the RV Consumer Group. I’m leaning towards a TrailManor, which gets 4 stars from the RV Consumer Group but is not mentioned by your “best RV brands” post.

        • Hi Rolf,

          TrailManor is definitely a good brand to consider! We don’t mention it in our best RV brands post as we only include hard-sided RVs that don’t require ‘expansion’ like TrailManor does. I’ve included a notice at the top of that post to clarify this.

          The RV Consumer Group is definitely a great resource to have at your disposal. As you mentioned, they like TrailManor so you probably can’t go wrong if you go with that brand.

          • Thanks for telling me (in your post about good RVs) about the RV Consumer Group. I wouldn’t have known about the group otherwise. The $80 I spent there will save me way more than that on selecting the proper brand and negotiating a fair price.

          • You’re very welcome, Rolf. They are an excellent resource for sure. Additionally, there is a Facebook group called “RV Pricing and Values” with 32K members. We don’t have experience with them, but it’s something you may want to take a look at. They do value estimates for RVs.

  • When I purchased my RV ( first time RVer) the “walk-thru” was so fast and it’s impossible to retain all the info in a short period. You Tube helped but your tips were excellent. Many of your “to do” list was never mentioned on my orientation. Thanks for the great info. Happy traveling.

    • Happy that Camp Addict has helped you, Herb!

      I remember my walk thru many years ago. I knew more about the rig than the salesman did. Personally, if I was in the RV selling (or call selling, or boat selling, or, or, or) business, I’d know my product inside and out. But that’s just me. I guess I like to know what I’m talking about before I open my mouth (most of the time!).

      Happy camping to you and we will continue producing the content that you can actually use.

    • Glad to hear you liked the tip, Gary!

      Both Kelly and I sleep better at night now that we have changed where the breakaway cable connects to our trucks. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration…

    • Hi Tina,

      You are most welcome! It was great meeting you as well, there were a lot of great/very nice people there. I love this community! Thank you for the sweet comment!

  • I am so glad that I ran across your article. At the time I was looking up weight distribution hitch services. We are looking like your first example of without. Awful!

    The trailer we bought is a 2 horse slant. It came with a breakaway unit on it. My previous trailer Did not. I thought WOW, this is great! But I didn’t even think about total hitch failure. A travel trailer is one thing but, 2 horses that are not just material objects is quite another. Thank you very very much for bringing this oversight to light.

    • Hi Ganette,

      I totally understand the value of pulling precious cargo such as horses. I used to pull horses when I was in high school. MUCH more at stake! So we are happy that you have all the bases covered now! Stay safe out there!

  • Wow, Kelly. That’s a bit mind-blowing and I will for sure be making some changes to how I hook up from now on. Great idea about the I-bolt. That will be the first change. I’ll be checking my hitch receiver as well. I don’t think it’s aftermarket but will check it anyway. I have an RV website as well and will be sharing or writing an article about this as well. Gotta get the word out.

    We also need to let RV dealers know about this. When we got our travel trailer and did the walk through they actually told us to hook it up that way.

    Another note: It probably wouldn’t hurt to turn those chains a time or two to take up a little of the slack just to give a little more security that you won’t drag the tongue. Does that make sense?

    Thanks again for this info,
    Wayne

    • Hi Wayne-

      Yes, the word needs to be spread as much as possible. (Oh, and don’t hesitate to link to our article or to share it on social! ; ))

      As far as turning the chains, it has been suggested that this can degrade the strength of the chains at the time you need them most. Instead, we use a safety chain hangar. We feature one here: https://campaddict.com/weight-distribution-hitch/#tab-con-9

      Glad you have learned from this post! You never know when you might need your breakaway cable to work for you.

      Camp On, Wayne!

  • Great article, I already crossed my chains, the suggestion of moving the breakaway switch, that will be done before I tow my boat or trailer again, thank you!! I have a 2018 Ram 3500 with a factory class 5 hitch but you never know, there could be a bad weld, after all a machine does the welds I am sure. Really good article!

    • Glad you like the article, Steve!

      I’ve got a 2018 Ram 2500 with the same OEM hitch and I relocated the attach point of my breakaway switch. I am pretty confident that I’ll never have a problem, but you never know…

      Happy towing!

  • Good to know article….we are former tent campers, who just recently upgraded to a pop up back in March; we have not even taken it out right, because I want to be knowledgeable and confident in everything first… I’m glad I found this, I knew the pup had breaks, but wasn’t sure about how the cable should be hooked up yet…now I do ????

    • Hi Julie,

      Heck, we are seasoned RVers, and even we didn’t know about the incorrect breakaway cable attachment. Sounds like you’re ahead of the game. Glad you’re keeping it safe! Have fun with the new pop-up, glad we could be of assistance, and Camp On!

  • I think your Airstream friend’s hitch failure was an overloaded Class III hitch. Unfortunately both Class III and Class IV hitch receivers today are 2” square, so they look the same to the consumer and take the same hitch mounts, whether weight carrying or weight distribution. But Class III is 5000 lb. capacity, while Class IV is 10,000 lbs. There is only one tandem axle Airstream model with a GVWR under 5000 lbs., and it’s very close to 5000 lbs.; all others are over (some several thousand lbs. over) 5000 lbs.

    As many miles as I’ve towed, though, I can always learn. I’ve always fastened the breakaway cable to the receiver, but I’ll not do that any longer. But I also won’t overload my Class III hitches!

    • Hi Cary,

      It’s VERY important that one does not overload their hitch and stays well under the hitch class rating. That’s a surefire equation for a disaster. Additionally, most people never get around to weighing their trailer once it is loaded and ready for a camping trip. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is to do. Do it, people! : )

      Camp on, Cary!

    • Hey Cary,

      I just wanted to jump in here and mention that the hitch was OEM (and therefore rated at the truck’s tow rating). It wasn’t a case of an undersized hitch. It was a case of a weld failure.

      But you definitely bring up a good point! Kelly’s Raptor (as mentioned above in the blog post) is a prime example of this. The hitch that was installed aftermarket (even though it is a Ford hitch) is undersized for the rated towing capacity of the truck. Wouldn’t have known this except we had to crawl under it and tighten up the hitch mounting points. Only at that time did I notice the sticker on the hitch with the rating.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Hi Jon,

      Yes, you should be using some sort of safety pin/lock on the ball latch, however this blog post is about the breakaway cable attach point. The safety pin had nothing to do with the failure that our friend experienced.

      All the details of how to properly hitch up a trailer, including electrical connections, safety chain connections, the trailer itself, and the pin you mention, are outside of the scope of this blog post. (And, depending on what type of hitch you have, the process can vary wildly).

      Thanks for the comment and Camp On!

  • Thank you so much for sharing. I showed this article to my husband. We do cross our safety chains but will definitely be changing where we hook our breakaway cable. We will also be sharing this information with friends.

    • Hi Beth,

      Fantastic, we love to hear that people are learning from this! And sharing with friends- the best thing ever. You could literally save a life. : ) ????????

      Thank you for your comment!

  • Great article and great website which I just not stumbled upon – thanks!

    And I am just totally amazed (and concerned) that this could happen when everything is within safe loading capacity.

    Just curious, is it possible to take a pic of the other side where it actually broke off? Did it break where the pin goes? And if so, could someone may have perhaps had drilled the hole out larger for an oversized receiver pin prior to you purchasing the truck ? Or could the distribution system perhaps could have been too tight (chains) which could have put undue stress on the linkage causing it to fail after time? Were the roads maybe very rough or going over many dips or valleys? Totally speculation and conjecture on my part but would be good to see the other side.

    FYI I am also just a novice myself and learning as I go. Thanks for any response to my questions and glad everything turned out ok.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thank you for the kudos, and we are happy you found us!

      All are legitimate questions. This was not our truck/trailer, but a friend of ours who had been RVing at the time for I believe 4 years. I feel quite confident that she did everything right. She’s a bright gal.

      I can’t answer any of the questions though, as it wasn’t my, or Marshall’s rig.

      The hard fact is that sometimes steel fails. It’s actually not THAT uncommon, which is disconcerting for sure. Yes, she was likely going over rough roads as she is a boondocker.

      However, hitches should be made to endure such things. She had an Airstream, so my guess is that she didn’t fly down dirt/bumpy roads with wild abandon. ????

      Glad you are learning. When I hit the road, I was totally clueless. At least the dealer did hardcore warn me that I needed a weight distribution hitch.

      I pushed back hard, believing that they were just trying to get more money out of me. (Though they sold me one that was rated for a way heavier trailer than mine AND they installed it incorrectly.)

      Anyway, good ideas you have but we don’t have an answer. The big takeaway is where to properly place your breakaway cable in the event that this happens to you.

      Good luck with your ventures!

      • Thanks Kelly for your response. I am sure your friend did everything correct and drove defensively. That is still pretty scary though and I will check for loose bolts underneath my truck and any areas that look fatigued. Your blog also has me rethinking where to connect the safety chains, such as on the actual truck frame and not on the bumper (yet still have full turning motion). Stay safe and thanks again!

  • Thanks for the heads up, we camp and have both a trailer & truck ..never thought to double check the weight & hitch info. ** I will check this out this week 🙂

    • Hey TK,

      Yeah, definitely should check out the tongue weight and hitch specs to make sure things are setup correctly.

      I’m constantly seeing travel trailers that definitely don’t have their hitches setup correctly, and I’m guessing that if they do have a weight distribution hitch, it’s probably not set up right.

      Thanks for reading this post and have fun with weighing your rig!

  • It’s amazing how many fine folks buy a travel trailer or a motor home as big as a 18 wheeler and take off on vacation. Possibly courses should be mandatory for 1st timers? Same goes for boats, especially on the Great Lakes & salt water.

    • That is such a terrific idea, I can’t even stand it!! The likeliness of this ever happening is slim to none. But you are so right, a course in towing/weights/balancing would be a FANTASTIC thing to require for newbies.

      We so often see rigs going down the road that are incorrectly balanced. They are dangerous to the user as well as for others on the road. It’s amazing there aren’t more towing accidents.

  • Completely new to this RV world, just purchased our first Travel Trailer so my husband, little one, our dog and I can live life on our terms! This site is so helpful you have no idea! Greatly appreciate all of the info and tips on how to do things the right way.

    • Hi Ashley,

      We love RV newbies!

      I remember that time… so much to learn and so much excitement! (And funny how much I cleaned and detailed my trailer when I got it… not realizing I would be living on dirt roads, LOL! I never wash it now.)

      We are so happy that you are enjoying the site! I’ve said it before and I will say it again- I wish that there had been a Camp Addict when I started!

      Have a ball with your new adventures and thank you for the lovely comment. MUAH!!!!!

        • Hi Ashely,

          Heck yes!!!! I think you meant “kids IN the RV”.

          I would find my kids (I don’t have any though) to be safer playing outside while boondocking than I would allowing them to play outside alone in a neighborhood. I feel the same about mySELF. Safer away from the general population than in it.

          If you are boondocking CLOSE to a city, however, there can be a few “less than desirables” around. The farther out you are, the safer it gets.

          I have never felt threatened in over 3 years of boondocking. Only one drunk idiot we called the cops on. It was in a campground. Dry camping for free. Near a city. No big deal. These things can happen. All turned out fine. He went to jail.

          I hope that I didn’t just overexplain. LOL!

          Kids should love it out there!

  • The only thing i saw is there is no pin, or better yet a lock on the hitch lever as it connects to the ball, i obviously missed one…but one of two is bot too bad, right.

    • Hey Paul!

      You are correct- the pin was missing! We didn’t even initially notice this blunder, oops! We were looking at the more typical issue… they connected the breakaway cable (it looks like) to the receiver.

      If that receiver comes off or fails and that connection point goes with the trailer, the breakaway won’t engage. Bye bye trailer!

      Stay safe out there, and thanks for the comment!

  • One other thing to consider when attaching your breakaway cable is to make sure that you can make a full turn to the left or right without it getting pulled out

  • Thanks for the info about the break away switch. I have added it to my camping list to connect it to the bumper instead of the safety chains which are part of my receiver hitch.

  • Thanks for break away info…and camper place needs to know this. They’re the ones who told me and hooked it to my hitch…yikes

    • Hi Sunny-

      You are welcome! Unfortunately, we aren’t surprised to hear you were misinformed by the camper place. Not at all. This is part of the reason we started this website. To have a place where you can go for the CORRECT information! Thank you for the comment and stay safe out there!

  • I have a van but my daughter has a 31’ trailer. Can you change the privacy settings on this post so it can be shared?

    • Hi Karen,

      We don’t have any share settings on this blog post. If you would like to share this with your daughter, simply copy the URL: https://campaddict.com/deadly-towing-mistake/ and send it to her via email or messenger. Or just tell her to go to our website Campaddict.com and scroll down on the homepage where she can see this post. Thank you for reading and we hope this helps her!

  • Wow Thank you Kelly for this excellently written information. Makes me glad I tow a Lil Loafer with a 3/4 ton Chevy!!! However, I noted your watch-out for checking the connection of the receiver to the truck!! I admit to NEVER having considered that!

    • Hi Kathy!

      Why thank you! Definitely good to have more power than to have not enough power. Blech! Especially when mountain driving. ???? Check, check, check… you can’t really overcheck. I didn’t check enough when I bought my truck. I assumed. I sure won’t next time! Thanks for reading and for the feedback of your comment, Kathy! ????

    • Well, the ‘award’ for ‘best eyes’ goes to TIM JONES!!!! LOL! Great catch, Tim. We weren’t paying attention to that detail when we got the stock photo from Fastway. We will edit it now to say ‘can you see the TWO things wrong here?’. If this was a contest, you won, Tim. ???????? Thanks for the comment!

  • Thank you for this comprehensive,well written article.I will save and reference it when starting out on my travels with my vintage Streamliner. Adele, Australia.

  • Great article. It’s hard to believe that for 15 years we connected our break-away cable to the hitch. I’m so glad nothing serious ever happened! Thank you for the safety education!

    • Hey Jeannie,

      Well, we sure are happy nothing ever happened to you guys as well. BOTH Marshall and I were also connecting ours to the chain connection point on our receivers. Erm, oops! At least now we all know! Hardware store, here we come! Thank you for the comment, and stay safe. We will do the same. ????

  • This is wonderful information. Thank you for sharing. A topic I often hear mentioned is placing equipment and luggage on a roof rack. It is my understanding that this changes the center of gravity of the vehicle and can be very dangerous. Would you speak to that issue and how to safely stow cargo inside as well as outside of your vehicle?

    • Hi Mary Ann,

      I’m going to assume you are referring to cargo in a car or SUV type of vehicle as opposed to an RV.

      Our best advice is to follow what the manufacturer says in the vehicle owners manual. If they ‘allow’ cargo to be carried on the roof, they will specify a maximum weight for this cargo and how they recommend you carry it.

      Also the manual will/should address how to best distribute weight inside the vehicle to that axle weight limits, etc aren’t exceeded. And how to best ensure the cargo is secured.

      Thanks for the comment and Camp On!

  • Another maintenance item that’s overlooked is that the breakaway system relies on the small battery attached to it. If this battery dies, then the system will not operate as it needs to engage electric brakes. I was told to change out the battery every two years and to add checking the charge on the connection checklist.

    • Hi Glenn,

      Actually the breakaway switch is wired into your trailer’s main 12-volt electrical system. You can confirm this by looking at your rig’s wiring schematic.

      There is no separate battery (at least in no travel trailer that I’m familiar with) as it would have to be really good sized to provide the power the electric trailer brakes require. It’s just easier to use the system (the RV’s house batteries) that are already there. Cheaper and lighter this way.

      So if the breakaway pin is pulled, the RV’s house battery supplies power to the trailer brakes (puts them on fully). This causes a major drain on your rig’s batteries, but this is normally the least of your worries if the breakaway switch is called into action.

      I took a peek at my battery monitor the time I forgot to disconnect my breakaway cable as I was disconnecting my hitch and the switch was activated. It was an impressive electrical draw!

      Thanks for the comment and Camp On!

      • On my new 5th that’s correct, but on our 24’ cargo trailer there is a battery. Much more concerned with breakaway pulling the cargo trailer than the 5th wheel. Don’t know about older pull campers…

        • Hey Glenn,

          Oh, a CARGO trailer- well that’s different. Since we are an RVing site, we are speaking in generalities of travel trailers. We weren’t thinking about cargo trailers. Yes, a cargo trailer would be totally different. Neither of us has ever had a cargo trailer. This sounds like something that cargo trailer owners should know about, so thank you for the battery tip for other cargo trailer owners to learn from, and Camp On!

  • Great article except I disagree with weight distribution hitches, they are a bandaid on the problem of too much hitch weight for the vehicle. It causes a lot of stress though the frame (and hitch), increase weight on the front axle and trailer axle possibly overloading each. Proper way is to beef up the rear suspension to carry the weight or get a larger tow vehicle.

    • Hi John,

      Glad you liked this blog post.

      Weight distribution hitches are very legitimate tools to make sure that weight is distributed when towing a trailer. They are a safety device. You can learn more about why weight distribution hitches are important by reading our guide to weight distribution hitches.

      Not only do weight distribution hitches ‘distribute’ the tongue weight of the trailer to both axles of the tow vehicle, the proper hitch also has anti-sway features. Both anti-sway and weight distribution are two things that a ‘beefed up’ rear suspension and/or a larger tow vehicle cannot do on their own.

      A properly setup weight distribution hitch does not increase the weight on the front axle. Rather, it ensures that the front axle weight is the same when towing the trailer as it is when you aren’t towing the trailer. You can confirm this to be true by weighing your trailer with the weight distribution hitch connected and disconnected.

      Making sure that the weight on the front axle isn’t decreased due to the trailer’s tongue weight is of vital importance to tow vehicle steering and braking. Only a weight distribution hitch ensures front axle weight isn’t affected. Air bags and other rear suspension modifications only handle rear end sag, not front axle weight.

      Regarding having a larger tow vehicle so you don’t have to worry about a weight distribution hitch – I have a Ram 2500 with the Cummins diesel engine. This truck is rated to bumper tow (as opposed to a gooseneck or fifth wheel hitch tow) up to 17,280 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 1,800 pounds.

      My Lance 1995 trailer weighs 5,600 pounds with a tongue weight of around 600 pounds. I think we can all agree that the tow vehicle is more than sufficient for the size of the trailer I have. Some may argue it’s even overkill where a 1500 would be fine.

      Yet I still use a weight distribution hitch. Why? For anti-sway (get passed by a semi on the freeway while towing if you want to know what I’m talking about) and to ensure that the front axle doesn’t get unloaded. It’s the smart way to tow.

      Do I think that some people use weight distribution hitches as bandaids so they can ‘get away’ with using too small of a tow vehicle? Absolutely! Just pay attention as you drive around the country and you’ll see plenty of people towing large trailers with small vehicles. Or people that aren’t using a weight distribution hitch and have massive rear end sag on their tow vehicle, unloading the front end.

      This is why we created Camp Addict – to help educate RVers about RVing products so that they not only enjoy the great outdoors, but do it in a safe manner.

      Thank you for your comment and Camp On!

      • Marshal, I must respectfully disagree with a few details of your explanation of weight distribution devices.

        I would contend that you should never use a WDH unless necessary. Something that on one ever talks about is the enormous amount of stress and torque on a tow vehicle; the huge hassle when connecting and disconnecting; the roughly 100 lbs or more of additional weight and the limitations of tow vehicle and trailer articulation.

        The reality is that any vehicle requiring a WDH is really marginally suited to pull that load anyway.

        The sway control, as you mention is important on any tow vehicle pulling a trailer with a low aspect ratio. However a WDH should not be used just for that purpose. A stand alone sway bar is a small fraction of the weight and cost and is very effective.

        It drives me crazy when I see never ending comments and questions that people have regarding tow equipment. Very few people, even RV dealers, mechanics and so called experts truly understand the physics behind weight distribution devices. I see and hear how people are constantly ill advised and misinformed about tow equipment.

        Regards
        Mark J Vera

        • Hi Mark,

          I’m a firm believer in following manufacturers’ recommendations when it comes to safety. Therefore I turn to those that make tow vehicles to see what they recommend.

          They build the vehicles and have to certify that they are safe to tow a certain weight. Who else is better at determining what towing equipment to use than the people that build the vehicles?

          They employ countless structural engineers who know far more than I (and most of those on the Internet) about what stresses a particular vehicle can withstand.

          Furthermore, for the last decade or so, vehicle manufacturers have been using the SAE J2807 document (PDF) (first issued in 2008) titled “Performance Requirements for Determining Tow-Vehicle Gross Combination Weight Rating and Trailer Weight Rating” as their guidelines to determine trailer weight ratings (TWRs). Since this has become the industry standard, trailer tow ratings are now determined on a level playing ground, whereas in the past manufactures tended to use whatever testing methodology that they wanted to, resulting in some inflated trailer tow ratings.

          For the purposes of this discussion, I will use Ram and Ford as examples, as these are the vehicles that Kelly and I use to tow our trailers.

          Per the Ram 2500 manual: “If the gross trailer weight is 5,000 lbs (2,267 kg) or more, it is recommended to use a weight-distributing hitch to ensure stable handling of your vehicle. If you use a standard weight-carrying hitch, you could lose control of your vehicle and cause a collision.”

          The Ram Trailer Towing Chart (PDF) recommends weight distribution hitch with trailers weighing above 5,000 pounds.

          The 2019 Ford Trailer Towing Guide (PDF) has two max trailer capacities for the F-150. When not using a weight distribution hitch (also know as using a weight-carrying hitch), max trailer weight is 5,000 pounds. With the use of a weight distribution hitch, max trailer weight is 13,200 (when properly equipped).

          As you can see, both Ram and Ford recommend and/or require the use of a weight distribution hitch (WDH) for trailers with weights above 5,000 pounds.

          Why the 5,000 pound limit before requiring weight distribution hitch? SAE J2807 has different requirements that must be met above this trailer weight rating and it’s often only possible for manufacturers to meet these requirements by requiring a WDH.

          The SAE J2807 document states that a specific tow-vehicle may have multiple TWRs (tow weight rating) for weight carrying hitch, weight distributing hitch, fifth wheel hitch and/or gooseneck hitch. This is why you will see different tow ratings for a specific vehicle based upon what type of hitch is used.

          The SAE document also addresses the structural aspect of things (to ensure that the vehicle’s structure isn’t adversely affected by trailer weights and trailer hitches). There is a section titled “Tow-vehicle Structural Performance” that “defines tow-vehicle structural performance requirements at maximum TWR” for different TWR limits, including use of a weight distributing hitch.

          Here’s a fun bit of information: Ever wonder why all the manufacturers’ towing videos show off how well they pull max loads up from the Davis Dam (Arizona State Route 68)? It’s because the SAE J2807 document specifically calls out the Davis Dam Grade to be used in the Highway Gradeability Test.

          Some WDH’s do have limitations (as in it’s recommended to disconnect on rough roads) as you mentioned. However, our top rated WDH, the Andersen Hitch, does not. Plus the Andersen is considerably lighter than other styles of weight distribution hitches, and doesn’t have the spring bars to deal with (which can be a real PITA).

          I personally have never run into a situation where my weight distribution hitch (a Hensley) has ever got in my way of getting somewhere. And this is saying something since I exclusively boondock and go into some pretty hairy places.

          You also mentioned using an add-on anti-sway device instead of a WDH to keep sway at bay. Add-on anti-sway devices have their own problems, as we outline here. This includes needing to be disconnected when backing up, and you must disconnect them when road conditions are slick (in other words, when you really need anti-sway).

          Hopefully now you better understand my position on weight distribution hitches,

          Thank you for you comment, and Camp On!

          • Two other locations most of the OEM’s use to do powertrain cooling tests (at max GVWR/GCWR) are Baker Grade (go east on I-15 from Baker, CA) and Townes Pass in Death Valley (state highway 190, start at Stovepipe Wells and go to the peak of Townes Pass)

      • More people need to know this stuff. It is a cantilever, more load on the rear axle, less load on front, can have nothing to do with capacity. And, if you traverse through “bumpy” roadway, less traction in the front (hope it’s not in a downhill negative curve, been there). 10,000 lb trailer, 900 lb hitch weight: Had a Reese with cams system, now have a ProPride, wouldn’t trade either (2018 Ram 2500 diesel, don’t feel the semi’s coming or going)

        • Hey 2RVrs!

          We agree – more people need to understand the purpose of a weight distribution hitch and what needs to be done in order to tow safely. Kelly and I, thru Camp Addict, are trying our best!

          That’s the exact truck I have – a 2018 Ram 2500 Cummins – and it sure is a towing beast! Your trailer is considerably heavier than my current rig but I don’t feel the semi’s either with my Hensley (same style of hitch as the ProPride).

          Thanks for the comment, and Camp On!

    • Very good, Maryann. We know that this sort of stuff (weight numbers, towing limits, etc) is boring and mundane, but it could save your life or others’ lives. It’s super important. But it’s hard to sometimes execute, so we are happy to hear you will be doing your checks and balances! Happy travels when you hit the road. : )

  • OMGosh our received failed 2 weeks ago. And it looks like we had the same kind. it sheared in half at 5 mph in a Petro truck stop.

    • Oh wow, Mrs824!!! That’s so scary! Did you have damage? Was your breakaway cable still attached to the truck in any way?? Wow. We would love a photo of your broken receiver parts to use in this blog post if you wouldn’t mind sharing! (and more of your story, especially if your breakaway cable was rendered ineffective if it was connected to the receiver) You can email it to us at Newsletter@CampAddict.com if you so choose. We will give you photo credit, of course. No worries if not. Thanks in advance!

  • Kelly: we connect out breakaway cable just like this from our Class A DP to our Jeep! I guess the same failure is possible there too

    • Hey Tom, yes, it could! We are all learning something here! Yeesh. How has connecting it to the receiver been a ‘thing’ for so long? Grrrr. Anyway, find somewhere else to connect it ASAP, and thanks for the comment! You’re helping others learn as well. : )

    • Hey! Someone we know! Thank you. It was too important not to share. ???? Next, Marshall’s finger getting stuck in his levelers. (safety blog coming up LOL!)

        • Hey Amber! I’ll tell ya… if ONLY I had stopped and pulled out my phone while I was under his RV looking at the s*** show of his stuck finger under there… and taken a photo of THAT! LOL!!!! I would never have lived it down, and it would have been totally inappropriate of course) but we ALL want that photo now. ????

          His finger is fine, and the one photo that was taken right after was taken from the least severe looking angle possible. (above) So it doesn’t look THAT bad. But it was pretty nasty looking when it finally got released. No broken bones, no bruising even. Just some lingering nerve damage to the skin. He got away very lucky!

    • You are most welcome, Keri! I can’t believe this is something I have been doing for the entire duration of my RVing life… and it could have gone so wrong. Changing it ASAP! Hope it helps!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    >
    Scroll Up
    Send this to a friend