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 trailer connection could one day cause a horrible accident.
This 'secret' about towing a camper 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 personal story backing it...
The Photo That Spoke A Thousand Words
It all started while I was scrolling through Instagram.
I came upon a friend's photo (below) that gave me serious pause and made me look twice. Something was way 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'.
I know this full-timer, 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 can also prevent this 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 in 2013.
That day, Kerri was cruising slowly through a campground (Thank goodness! She could have just as easily been at a fast speed.)
She was going pretty slow when she heard a loud noise. 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.)
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!
What happened? Her Chevy receiver failed. Wait, 'failed' is too tame. It broke apart.
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)
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 know 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.
If your trailer comes detached from your tow vehicle, the breakaway yanks the pin out of the little brake box, engaging the trailer brakes.
This stops 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.
This is exactly what Kerri had done. (And Marshall and I did this, too. Not anymore.)
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.
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.
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 on 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, your trailer is 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 100% avoidable, once you know about it. And, now you know!
Other Important Towing Information
There are some other very serious things to know and to consider when towing. Also, there are others you should check often.
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.
Watch your trailer tongue weight.
It should not exceed what your hitch can manage. A good tongue weight is between 10 and 15% of the trailer weight. (How to measure tongue weight.)
Also, check your receiver for max tongue weight in the event it is an aftermarket receiver.
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.
(Also, my receiver was not installed properly. 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.
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.
How do you know if it's aftermarket? 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:
- If the sticker on the receiver is rated for LESS than the vehicle is rated for, then it's aftermarket.
- If the receiver has a sticker with the tow rating numbers on it, it is likely an aftermarket receiver. (Camp Addict co-founder Marshall had a Ram 2500 truck with a sticker on the factory-installed receiver, but it only says what class the receiver is.)
- 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)
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
YES, it's true. You are supposed to cross your travel trailer safety chains.
In the event your trailer detaches, in theory, they will keep the tongue of your trailer from digging into the pavement.
The crossed chains will catch the tongue and keep it off the ground (well, unless your 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.
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 WDH with them. Read yours to make sure it doesn't say not to.)
PLEASE check your tire pressure at LEAST once a month. It should also be checked before each trip.
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 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.
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!
Author: Kelly Beasley
As a seasoned and passionate RVing expert, I have dedicated myself to living the full-time RV life for over 5.5 years, immersing myself in the unique quirks and joys of the boondocking lifestyle and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. In December 2020, my business partner and I made the transition to part-time RVing, but in January 2023, we hit the road once again, this time in our trusty vans. My mission is to help others embrace the RVing lifestyle with confidence and excitement, armed with the knowledge and resources needed to make the most of their adventures. I believe that the more you know, the more you can truly appreciate and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the open road. Join me on this journey and let's make some unforgettable memories.
Pertaining to the manual test for the trailer brakes by pulling out the pin on the switch. How do you properly re-set the switch?
Great question! The answer is almost too simple. All you need to do is manually put the pin fully back in and the brakes shut off. That’s it!
Remember, it takes a very good amount of force to remove the pin. It’s also not the easiest to replace.
Just make sure you put it in the same way it came out in the event yours needs to be ‘turned’ in a particular way, to be sure you don’t force it in and break it.
I, just yesterday, changed a receiver for a friend who noticed rust spots on his General Motors reliever. When I removed the the bolts from the outer brackets the receiver was so rusted that I pulled the two side arms off by hand! The two center bolts attached to the bumper plate were all that was holding the receiver on. Immediately I realized the design deficiency. The GM receiver tube is hollow AND open on both ends with the center lower than the ends. It my friends case he launched a boat in salt water and the receiver tube would fill with the water then hold some amount indefinitely. The aftermarket replacement (Curt in this case) was much better built and the support tube is seal welded so it can’t get water in. Moral of the story is, check your receiver annually at least. I small hammer pecked along the receiver cal tell you allot. If good it will ring a little or sound super solid. If it thuds dig deeper or just replace. I have pics of the old receiver if anyone wants to look.
That sounds like a horrible design, and you explained it perfectly. Another reminder for folks to check on their receiver as often as possible!
The factory receiver on my 2003 Chevy Suburban broke completely off the vehicle. When I reported it to the Dept. of Transportation, they had me send the broken receiver to them for analysis as it has caused deaths.
Never heard from them (typical).
Have you ever checked if your breakaway cable is too long?
Lord have mercy… and people sometimes comment “oh, there’s no way a factory receiver will fail”. Well, think again people!! It happened to Kerri, and look- it’s happened to Gary!
It CAN HAPPEN. This is why the placement of your attachment for your breakaway cable is so serious.
And yes, a breakaway cable can be too long. This is another thing people should check. It can be too short as well. If too short for where you attach it, it will prematurely pull your break pin, which you DON’T want.
I don’t believe we cover how to do this on this page, but a quick Google search will hopefully give you a few correct pages explaining how to do it.
Great article and very helpful. I always wondered why we hook them to our chains. Seemed a little silly to me.
Yes, the chains or receiver itself will do NO good if the receiver itself comes off, which I have heard of more than three stories now (and it’s not like I’ve heard every single one that has happened, of course).
Great to hear we have another convert from this article!
This article may have saved a catastrophe! We are preparing to go south in our motorhome pulling a trailer and Polaris and just got the MH serviced, new Michelin tires and the trailer wheels checked and packed. My husband took the MH to a heavy duty alignment shop and I asked if they would also inspect the hitch. When we went to pick it up the mechanic said when he looked at the hitch, he saw a bolt that had dropped down. He fixed it but thought it was odd that I almost predicted a problem. I’ve come to realize that often information that comes to you is a message that you must pay attention to. Thank you for the timely info!
Wowza!!!!!!!! Well, we are SO happy to hear that you avoided a catastrophe, no matter how you avoided it! Yikes. It’s so scary what can go wrong. Keep your eyes on it. Never know.
Glad you’re safe!
I have a truck camper and tow a Jeep. I had a similar incident IN REVERSE. My tow bar connects onto the Jeep using a mount plate bolted to the bottom of the Jeep bumper. The mount plate contains the broadly mounted connection points for the Y shaped tow bar, next to them is the two loops for the safety chains/cables and in the center is the power connector and breakaway box. Normally I can’t see the Jeep behind the camper and use a rearview camera to monitor the hitch. In September, 2019, while coming down off the Cajon pass into the LA basin, I was creeping along in bumper to bumper freeway traffic when I looked out my side mirror and COULD SEE HALF MY JEEP creeping into the lane next to me. One of the two 1/2″ bolts connecting the mount plate had become loose and fell out, allowing the adapter plate to become crooked and the Jeep to move sideways. I applied the brakes and began a slow move to the shoulder. The Jeep came back behind the camper but the stress broke the remaining 1/2″ bolt. The only other thing connecting the Jeep to the camper was the electrical cable, which parted and nothing connected the two. Thankfully, I was going down hill and the Jeep, resting bumper to bumper, followed me over to the shoulder. We were coming home from 3 months and 6k miles of travel but this happened 30 miles from home. We stowed the towbar and drove separately the rest of the way home. I now have separate safety chain mounts on my recovery hooks separate from the adapter plate. OBTW, We actually shared a Boondocker site in ID with you on the same trip!
Oh, MAN, what a scary event!!! You could have had some serious damage to the Jeep and possibly to others’ property. Wowza! LUCKY!
I suppose the Jeep never got far away enough to activate the breakaway cable. Jeez, towing really has the potential to become so dangerous. When I bought my Ford Raptor, I failed to look at the hitch. Figured it was stock. NOPE. It barely was strong enough to support the weight of my trailer. Also, it needed to be welded better than it was, to the truck. Lord.
Glad you didn’t have an accident! Thank you for sharing your story here.
We appreciate it!
And funny about Idaho!!! That’s the only place in Idaho we stayed that year, aside from an overnight at a Cabela’s.
The breakaway box is ALSO attached to the adapter plate. It could not/would not have functioned. When the plate came off and tore the light cables, it also tore off the cable to the breakaway switch box. The entire tow mechanism was still attached to the truck. The switch box is also now moved and not attached to the adapter plate. This was miraculous and extremely lucky. I need to be going slow AND downhill AND be aware for this to have a positive outcome. There was almost no damage to either the Jeep or camper.
There’s one more thing to think about. (I’m a mechanical engineer). Because I have a truck camper that overhangs the back of the truck, I have a 4ft hitch extension as does anyone who tows with a truck camper. The experience with the adapter plate failure led me to look for other ‘single points of failure’. The tow bar safety chains are attached to the hitch extension. In my case, I added brace chains between the hitch extension and truck, making 3 connection points through the entire system. Extensions as long as mine usually come with these brace chains but shorter ones do not. Without the brace chains, the 5/8 cross pin in the receiver is the ONE AND ONLY thing that connects the tow to the truck. If that pin were to come out or shear, there is nothing else connecting them. Often the breakaway is also attached to the extension where the safety chains connect. I have been preaching to get extended safety chains and breakaway when you have a hitch extension whenever I see someone towing with a truck camper. Most blow me off but a few have seen the light.
Corollary #1: Few people look at and understand the entire load capacity ‘chain’ of their tow setup. The ball, ball adapter, and receiver mount all need to meet or exceed the weight of the tow. Many different capacities are available. All ‘look’ the same. For instance, balls have different-sized bolt studs depending on capacity. A 1″ diameter is common and only good up to 6000lbs. Above 6000lbs, they become 1-1/4″ diameter. Ball adapters are made from varying thicknesses of tubes up to and including being solid steel but the tubes are all 2″ across. Receiver mounts (like you discovered) are different capacities, even within the same receiver class….I recently bought a 7000 lb capacity utility trailer (to tow with my 2018 F150) and had a lot of difficulties getting the right capacity setup. What was common were 5000-6000lb parts. If I had been less persistent, I would have settled for something under capacity and I suspect there are many who ‘call it close enough’ and do….
Corollary #2; I would bet that the majority of tow vehicles are not equipped with the required vehicle brake OR breakaway system. Trailer brakes, being electric, make this simple. When the tow is a vehicle, with hydraulic brakes, it is far more complicated because it is both expensive ($1.5-2k in addition to the $1k tow bar) and a PITA to install and remove each time.
Steve, I’m interested in knowing when we may have been in the same site.
I also had a boat trailer come loose from the tow vehicle because I had not double checked to insure the forks that go under the hitch ball had properly engaged. The safety chains grabbed the trailer and kept it behind our Tahoe, the boat was not on the trailer at the time and the trailer bounced on the ground when it came loose. Due to the safety chains remaining attached the trailer bounced up, hit the rear hatch of the Tahoe and punched a hoe through, $2200 was the cost of a new hatch installation. I now get down on one knee and look to insure the forks are properly under the hitch ball.
I think Steve was addressing us (Kelly and Marshall) about the boondocking site (Boondocker’s Welcome) Idaho.
I JUST, about two weeks ago, witnessed this. A person with a cargo trailer was pulling into my boondocking area when his tongue popped right off the ball and fell to the ground. I was looking right at it when it happened. Safety chains stayed connected.
I suspect what happened to your boat trailer may be what happened to him as well. Luckily he was only going maybe 5 mph. Still. Could have happened sooner on the road going 60!
No fun at all. One cannot be too careful when towing! I’m amazed I’ve never had an incident in my 6.5 years of doing it, most of it full-time. Mostly because I’m a self-proclaimed ‘not very careful person.’
But I’m paranoid about towing. Before every trip, I make myself study the hitch and all that has to go with it before departure. But man… when I noticed my hitch was not LEVEL… that was scary.
The person that welded the hitch onto my Raptor apparently didn’t do it properly. My entire hitch could have come off of the truck, similar to how the hitch broke apart in this story. So, it’s even beneficial, as you know now, to check the actual hitch attachments, baseplates, everything, before every trip AND beneficial to NOT connect the breakaway cable to the hitch.
All man-made parts can fail. Human error. It’s unreal that we don’t see more accidents and disconnects on the road. It really amazes me.
The 7k/dual axle/14ft utility trailer I bought this summer had damage from becoming disconnected WITHOUT SAFETY CHAINS. The (car dealer) guy had just bought it from the auto auction and figured he’d go without safety chains till he got it home (Denver, CO to Rawlins, WY). He had just gotten on the freeway when they crossed the expansion joint on an overpass and the (empty) trailer bounced off the ball, going off the road on BOTH SIDES OF THE INTERSTATE (they were in a cut section) before he got back in front of it and braked it to a stop. HIS EXCUSE was that he had a 2″ ball but it was a 2-5/16″ coupler. The size stamp on the coupler was barely visible but present and he did not realize it. That’s another thing you need to check, especially when towing an unfamiliar trailer. I don’t know specifically but I think, it’s one of those ‘over the 6k hitch capacity’ things. Most equipment for a 2″ ball is not rated to pull in excess of 6k unless the ball is welded to the ball adapter (which is what it seemed when I was shopping for the proper setup for my utility trailer). You know what they say ‘Good judgment comes from experience but experience comes from bad judgment’….Think we all have received a dose….
Last comment on welding to your Raptor frame. It has usually been a bad idea to weld on vehicle frames but in the last 10 years, vehicles (Ford F150’s specifically) it is more true. Manufacturers have begun using more ‘advanced steel’ which has higher tensile strength but is also reliant on being heat-treated before being roll-formed into the box shape. Perimeter welding something thick like a receiver mount, to the thinner frame ends up producing stress concentrations that tear the thin material. A proper weld should be gap welded (a 1″ weld every 2″ for example) on the perimeter and also plug welded (think welding around the inside of a good sized hole) so as to spread the transferred load to a broader surface. Bolts really are better but they need to fit the hole well.
Wow, that must have been a ‘fun’ trip for that dealer!
Yeah, I agree that one should be careful when welding on vehicle frames. The welds that were done on Kelly’s Raptor (which she no long has – that thing was too much of a beast for her, it had some hips!) was simply to keep the hitch from sagging down when loaded. The actual attachments were done with bolts.
No clue why it was designed in such a way that the hitch could sag and we couldn’t see where it was missing any attachment bolts. It was a Ford aftermarket part, so one would think they would know what they were doing, but for some reason this particular hitch had a sagging issue.
Thanks again for all your comments!
On the newer trucks, Ford especially, you can not drill holes or weld on the frame. It is discussed in the owner’s manual where warranty on the frame is void if you drill or weld on the frame. We ran into this when installing a fifth wheel assembly. There is a clamping assembly that is available for installing a fifth wheel assembly. Also, while on the topic of hitches, some regions declare a welded on hitch illegal. This could pose a real problem if an accident has occurred and the inspecting official finds the trailer hitch welded to the frame.
Ken, It was Kelly and Marshall. We saw the two trailers and ‘Camp Adict’ logo…
FYI: Since you mentioned monitoring tire pressure you readers might like to know that the Max PSI on the sidewall is the max pressure that tire is designed to hold. The correct pressure when in service depends on the weight placed on each tire and may be a lot less. Every tire manufacturer publishes a table that shows the correct tire pressure for the weight on the tire. Our 24 foot TT with Goodyear Endurance tires has a max tire psi of 65 lbs. on the sidewall. However the max weight our TT is designed for is 5400 lbs and according to Goodyear the correct tire pressure is 30 psi in each of the four tires. At 30 psi the entire width of the tread is on the pavement, at a higher psi only a portion of the tread would be on the pavement. For best handling and tire wear you want the entire tread width on the pavement.
You are exactly correct about this! The same is true when you are dealing with light truck tires (essentially any tire that isn’t rated “P” or passenger use, so an “LT” or light truck tire is a prime example) – you inflate to the load.
I swear we had something about this on our air compressor page, but I can’t find it. The example (if memory serves me correctly) was with the Goodyear Endurance trailer tires (that’s what both Kelly and I run on our 24 foot trailers).
Anyhow, I don’t know why I can’t find it, but maybe I’m misremembering. Which is something that’s entirely possible.
When we redo/expand the tires/air compressor sections I’ll definitely speak to this point.
Thanks for the most excellent comment!
Thanks for the LT tire reply. So many tire shops just want to sell tires and not “educate” the buyer. My local shop, Discount Tire, did not know such a table existed and insisted that the TT tires should be at 65 psi until I showed them the table on the Goodyear website.
Do you realize how few people know and understand such a thing exists or is needed (tire inflation table)? I recently had to walk away from a discussion with my older brother, a retired auto repair shop owner, who wouldn’t even listen to an explanation and refused to believe that anything like that was available or needed. Keep spreading the word!
Steve, thanks for the reply. This is the result of tire dealers not being “educated” about the tires they sell and consequently not telling buyers about tire psi. Hopefully, as I reply to posts on different websites more people will get the word and start inflating their tires to the correct psi. FYI: here is the link to the Goodyear table so you can help others: goodyearrvtires.com/pdfs/rv_inflation.pdf
Not only load inflation tables but many RV’sers think they ONLY need to buy tires that fit their wheels and are a ‘Load Range E’. They have no understanding that Load Range is a matter of how strong the sidewall is (specifying at what pressure it carries its maximum load). The Load Index is the thing they should actually be all over. Tire dealers DO NOT explain and I think in part, it’s because they don’t want to expend the effort (IF they even know).
You got me on a roll…..the whole issue of GAWR, GVWR, tire capacity (load index), wheel capacity, spring/shock modifications, airbags, etc. is really an area where anyone carrying a heavy load should be well educated on but I find virtually no one who is. Retailers who sell them as much as people who need them are equally ignorant.
My F350 SRW’s GVWR is 9900 because that is how Ford sells it for utility street use. In actuality, the rear axle is rated 9750lbs (same as a DRW). I have LI 129 tires (4080lbs each), 3700lb capacity wheels, and an extra spring in all my leaf packs (no airbags). My truck grosses at 13.3k with 8700 on the rear axle (if you’re adding, I am only just over my wheel capacity but not my tires)….. Many want to say it is unsafe because I have exceeded the GVWR because they don’t understand that is how it’s set up from the factory, to be a street vehicle, not how it is now as a camper hauler. (I built a DIY camper, on a 3 point mount on an F350). @maximus.4×4.camper
Great camper! And great explanations on all the comments you’ve written.
I know you are retired, but you should come write all these types of articles for Camp Addict. 🙂
I’m only retired to do what I want to do! I work A LOT, on my own stuff…If you want an article, just send me a topic, gist of what you want, word count and a deadline. I’m happy to help…..I regularly participate in expedition portal forums, have written for truck camper and truck camper adventure e-zines AND (very ) recently criticized another amateur journalist, for her poor coverage of a ‘pseudo technical’ article…..stemming from complete unfamiliarity with the topic or even the terms. I did reach out to her (privately) to offer help and she accepted. My biggest gripe has been, I have to spend so much time setting people straight based on misinformation of self-professed experts, whose drivel is treated as gospel just because its in public print….anyway….happy to help. Let me know how I can.
I notice that the aftermarket hitch you “had to have welded” for proper attachment clearly says on it “DO NOT CUT, WELD, OR MODIFY…”.
I believe you probably did a safe thing, but the manufacturer put that on the sticker because heat stresses from welding could actually weaken the metal.
Thanks for the comment and great observation about the label warning. Good eyes!
I know a bit about heat treatments, going back to my days as an aviation mechanic. This warning is a catch-all warning so that if people do really stupid mods to the hitch and cause a failure, they can’t come back on the hitch manufacturer and say ‘but, but, but you didn’t say I could be an idiot!’.
The type of welding that was done on the hitch wouldn’t affect the heat treatment. And if the hitch mounting was designed properly (thank you, Ford), the welding wouldn’t have been necessary.
However, in order to have a safe towing experience (trailer at correct attitude because hitch wasn’t sagging), welding was necessary.
The moral of the story is, use a vehicle that comes with the factory tow package and is set up initially to tow.
Thanks again for the comment and for checking out Camp Addict!
I already have an eye bolt that goes through my license plate bracket with a large washer on back side as you mentioned, I have seen a hitch come loose and only barely hanging on by the two rear bolts so yes it can happen!
Yikes! That’s not a good look on a hitch, that’s for sure. Yeeesh. But yep, people are only human. We make mistakes. Service technicians DEFINITELY make mistakes.
So yep, connecting the breakaway switch anywhere but to the hitch is the best way to avoid a worse disaster when towing in the event of a disconnect.
Glad you’re already there, and thanks for the comment!
Thanks for this article! as a new travel trailer owner this info is MOST helpful:)
Yes, glad you found this as a NEW owner! I didn’t learn about this until I saw my friend’s post on Instagram.
Lesson learned and I have a new place to connect my breakaway cable. Glad we could help and thank you for the kind comment.
Enjoy your new camper!
Very informative article! I just recently ordered a 6000 lb. dry weight trailer. (Truck rated to tow 12k) Class 4 hitch. I of course intend to use a load leveling hitch system and was hoping y’all could tell me if you would recommend the standard style or anti-sway style? The trailer has wide stance axles and is under 30’ tip to tail. Any recommendations would be appreciated. Thanks again for the great article.
Thanks for checking out Camp Addict and for the comment!
We recommend using an anti-sway style weight distribution hitch. In fact, on our weight distribution hitch review page, we only recommend hitches with built-in anti-sway technology.
Glad you liked this article and thanks again for checking out our site!
Haven’t read all the comments, but my first thought is the stresses of the WDH can be enormous on a receiver and nobody seems to think very much about it. A 5000/500 receiver can easily be subjected to large loads when a WDH is used. Imagine cranking up a hitch to put, say, 300 pounds from the rear axle to the front. 300 pounds on a 120 inch wheelbase vehicle is a torque on the receiver of 3,000 foot-pounds. If the receiver is six inches long, that is a downward force on the front edge of the receiver of 6,000 pounds and a counterbalance upward force on the back edge of 6,000 above and beyond the tongue weight! And a big bounce and dip in the road can double that load!
Look at your receiver structure next time thinking about those loads. Makes sense that some receivers fail.
Thanks for the comment and for visiting Camp Addict!
Yes, there are incredible stresses on a hitch when towing, regardless of if there is a weight distribution hitch used or not. Fortunately, vehicle manufacturers take these stresses into consideration when they design vehicles, as well as when they determine how much tongue weight and towing weights are allowed.
Keep in mind that vehicle manufacturers say that weight distribution hitches are required when towing a load above a certain weight. In other words, they take the stresses that weight distribution hitches impart into consideration.
Whenever I am towing, and going over a bump that causes my tow vehicle and trailer to do the ‘dance’ caused by the bump in the road, I think of the stresses on the hitch and hitch receiver. I’m amazed at the pressures/stresses that the hitches can take. Just one more thing in life that makes me go hmmmm, and wonder how/why things work the way they work.
Thanks again for the comment!
A few thoughts.
Your article shows a broken receiver. Was any analysis done to figure out why it broke? Bad welds? Metal embrittlement? Corrosion? Just plain over stress of an otherwise good hitch?
I’m not aware of tow vehicle manufacturers saying WDH is ever required, but then I haven’t made a study of it. Trailer mfrs. might recommend WDH, but they aren’t generally concerned with TV limitations.
I know that my 5000/500 rated Santa Fe recommends contacting trailer supplier about the need for anti-sway, but is silent about weight distribution. The Santa Fe is rated for this amount only with the factory installed hitch, all others hitches are rated 2000 max.When I contacted etrailer about WDH on the Santa Fe they could not come up with any evidence that Hyundai approves or disapproves of them. They pointed out that third party hitches “seemed to work” with WDH, even though, as stated above, Hyundai says no more than 2000 for third party hitches.
There was a NHTSA study, as I recall, of broken hitches, so not all hitch designs are up to the task.
It seems risky, as some have found, to assume that just because a hitch can take well defined vertical (tongue weight) and longitudinal (towing/braking) loads, that hitch designers take into account the much, much larger torque loads. A vertical load (tongue weight) of 500 pounds is trivial compared to the numbers I showed above, which could easily exceed 10,000 pounds on the box welds with a little more weight transfer and a little bit longer wheelbase.
Our weight distribution hitch page cites a couple of examples of requirements/recommendations for WDH use:
“Your tow vehicle manufacturer may require a weight distribution hitch for certain trailer weights. For example, Toyota Tacomas require one for trailers over 5,000 pounds. Chevrolet Silverado 1500 allows for an increased trailer tongue weight if a weight distribution hitch is used. Check your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s specific requirements.”
My Toyota Sequoia has the same 5,000 pound trailer weight requirement for a WDH. It’s simply a matter of checking the owner’s manual for a particular vehicle. 🙂
Thanks for the great discussion! We always welcome feedback from people who are interested in a topic and have something to add. So thank you for your contribution!
Thanks that is a perfect explanation. Fun read too.
Thank you! We love hearing back from our readers, the good and the bad. Thankfully, we get mostly good, and a just handful of trolls, lol!
Indeed, this is an important post as it can save lives. We are proud of it and are thankful you came across it. Cheers, and many happy (and safe) camping adventures to you in the future!
So if the receiver breaks, chains and all disconnect and so does the power. Therefore regardless of where the breakaway is connected the breaks won’t work, correct?? Perhaps I missed something.
The emergency/breakaway switch on trailer brakes are connected to either the house batteries (in the case of a travel trailer) or a dedicated auxiliary battery (in the case of a utility trailer). In the case of an emergency, the trailer brakes get their power from this source (not the tow vehicle), so they will be ‘on’ even if the trailer completely separates from the tow vehicle.
Oh. So if the break power comes directly off my TT battery how does the brake controller “regulate” the power? Thanks for your insight.
The travel trailer battery only comes into play in an emergency situation – when the breakaway switch is engaged. Otherwise, the trailer brakes get the necessary electrical current (to apply the brakes) from the trailer brake controller inside the tow vehicle.
So there are two electrical circuits. The ‘normal’ one that comes from the trailer brake controller and the ‘oh crap’ one that comes from the emergency breakaway switch.
The emergency breakaway switch circuit is a full-on, 100% braking situation. Whereas the circuit from the trailer brake controller is an as-needed brake percentage, rarely 100%, unless the tow vehicle is making a full-on, gotta stop NOW braking situation. Otherwise, the trailer brake controller just sends an appropriate amount of electrical current to the trailer brakes to apply the required amount of braking depending on how hard the tow vehicle itself is braking.
I hope that makes sense and clarifies how the emergency braking circuit works (with the travel trailer batteries).
Always great info from you both ! The minute I see an email from your site I immediately treat my brain to it..Thanks for taking the time and looking out !!
This is awesome- thank you, Bill, for the great feedback! We’ll keep them coming. 😄
That is a great piece of advice. Had my trailer brakes lock on the boat and could not find the pin. It was actually a reset pin on the underside of the locking mechanism. I have always used the hitch for the cable… no more!
Interesting. A trailer emergency brake that doesn’t use the traditional pull-pin? I can only imagine that there are multiple emergency braking systems out there. I just hadn’t thought of it since I was only familiar with the one. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!
I will now install an I bolt on my license plate for my break away cable to attach to. Thanks
Perfect! We are so happy you found this article and can change your setup to be even safer. Thank you for reading, and cheers!
In a couple of the photos there is an additional mistake shown that was not mentioned. When attaching the chains to the receiver the hooks should only be attached facing forward. The reason for this is if the connection fails the chains are pulled tight and can then slack. When the hooks are not facing forward they can disconnect the trailer from the tow vehicle. Sincerely 30 year commercial driver and VP of commercial driver school.
Thanks for the comment!
Great point! But I wonder how much of an issue it is with the hooks that have a spring-loaded safety latch that doesn’t allow the hook to ‘fall off’ when connected? This is the type of hook I have/use and you have to retract the safety latch in order to release the hook.
Thanks again for the comment and for checking out Camp Addict.
I knew about the Braking switch, but always connected it to the receiver which is a no no if the receiver detaches. Good information.
Correct! Glad to hear you will now be just a little safer on the road. Cheers!
Great article but I wonder how long and how much slack you should have on your Emerg braking cable? Any tips?
Glad you liked the article and thank you for checking out Camp Addict!
You will want the breakaway cable to pull out the pin from the emergency brake ‘box’ before the chains become taut. If the chains become tight before the emergency brake is ‘applied’, then you will have a trailer being dragged along behind the tow vehicle via the chains, but no emergency braking action happening.
I hope that helps and makes sense!
Wow that was eye opening! Thanks, I’ve always connected the break away to the receiver too…
Yeah, you and most of the rest of the country! How this isn’t something trucks that come with a hitch come with (an alternate place to connect a breakaway cable) is beyond us!
Glad to hear you’re (and everyone else is) going to be that much safer now that you’ve made the switch.
Great article. I have been towing for 30+ years. Always attached the safety to the receiver. Never again.
Good to hear! Glad there’s going to be one more safer person on the road and thank you for letting us know! (And we appreciate the kudos!!)
It was 100% her fault for not inspecting her truck trailer and hitch. Is she had inspected it would not have happened.
The point of the article is to be sure to properly place your breakaway cable so that in the event of a catastrophic failure such as her experience, the trailer will stop as designed.
We hope every reader is taking note and making said change if they are not already connected properly.
In the first picture of this article, there are actually 3 things not right. For the Equal-i-zer hitch set-up, the hitch head should be angled backward toward the trailer, not angled forward as shown. Proper weight distribution requires tension on the weight transfer bars. That tension is caused by the hitch head tilting toward the trailer when the weight bars are installed.
Great eye to see the angle of the hitch head!
With the Equal-i-zer hitch, weight distribution is indeed done via tension on the spring arms. Tension on the spring arms is adjusted one of two ways: Via putting spacer washers (4-8) under the spacer rivet, which adjusts the angle of the hitch ball (head), and by raising or lowering the ‘L’ brackets (what the springs arms rest on at the trailer frame connection).
The spacer washers do indeed impart a rearward tilt to the hitch ball. Add more spacers (maximum of 8) to increase the tension on the spring arms, as adding spacers cause the hitch tall to angle backwards (which, as you mentioned, is the correct direction to increase tension).
It’s hard to tell if the angle of the picture is causing the hitch head angle to look ‘off’. Or if it indeed is installed incorrectly (not sure if it’s actually possible to have the hitch head tilt forward, even if there are no washers installed). I’d hope that it’s the angle of the picture that is making things look funky, considering the image came from the manufacturer and one would hope they installed it correctly!
Thanks for the comment and great eyes!
Thank you, great tip I will correct the attachment right away.
Great info! I’m relocating the breakaway attachment point for my toad. The license plate eye bolt seems a perfect solution.
Thanks Snappy! 😀
Glad to hear you’re making the change. The only big difference (for me) in doing it is that the cable is now higher and I have to be even more careful when stepping over that connection point. Or I’ll trip over it. But I am UBER careful anyway, having smacked the shin on steel before. No bueno!
Thank you so much for all of the information that I have learned from your posts and videos.
I am buying a 7,500 pound GVW travel trailer to tow behind our 11,000 pound rated 2000 Ford Excursion 4×4. I am much more confident that I will do a good and safe job with our RV now.
Glad to hear that you are learning from what you are reading on Camp Addict! We love to hear that!
Sounds like you should have a decent amount of headroom with the Excursion and that trailer. Should be a nice setup!
Thanks again for reading Camp Addict! Hope you have many years of happy camping ahead of you.
Enjoyed the article very much and even though a rather experienced RV’er, learned a few things. Any chance you could change fonts on your blog and go to something darker and heavier. Even after enlarging the print size on my screen, I found the text to be light and hard to read. I plead guilty to all charges of being a geezer, but the text in this response is much easier to read than the body of your article. Would really appreciate an upgrade in darkness and size of font. Thanks
We are glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, even us more experienced RVers are constantly learning things. This way things never get boring, right? 😉
Thanks for pointing out the font situation. I’d been meaning to do something about this for a while, but it never floated to the top of my to-do list. Your comment prompted me to make the change. I updated the font itself as well as making it heavier. I hope that works better for you!
Thanks for checking out Camp Addict! Kelly and I greatly appreciate it!
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.
Sure thing, Edward! We’re happy we could teach an experienced dog a new ‘trick’!
Wow that must have been so scary!
We totally agree! Not what you expect to see out your rear mirror, EVER, when towing!
Should you remove load leveling hitch before you back up?
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.
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.
great tips to apply immediately
Glad you found this post to be useful, Luis!
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.
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.
Twisting chains enough that the links fold over each other can cause reduce the breaking strength of the chain by as much as 70% depending on the degree of twist and chain type.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You should never weld on the frame! The metal becomes brittle and will break!
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.
Really 16 bolts? Never seen that many. Normal is 6 to 8?
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.
All great points! We cover all of this on our weight distribution hitch page, but it’s never a bad idea to cover these important points again.
Thanks for the comment!
Excellent description. I cannot seem to get this across to a lot of campers. Air bags are not for leveling your trailer.
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
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.
Rv manufactures are not known for well engineered trailer frames generally speaking I would look into getting a link lock or chain clevis added but that’s just me. My father had a featherlight with the same design, the trailer came off the ball at less then 40mph on flat ground (2 5/16 coupler on 2in ball) the plate was severely bent and cracked and several of the chain links had split at the welds.
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 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.
Well there you go! LOL! Glad we have another convert.
Stay safe out there. : )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m sorry you feel this way, but thank you for your input.
Zack. Don’t be an asshole.
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!
My trailer is a gooseneck. Please give me tips on proper hook up.
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?
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!
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?
Well written article about an important issue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are very happy you found this post! We hope it helps you stay a little safer on the road. : )
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
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.
Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing this critical information.
Thank you for the positive feedback, Arlene! You are welcome.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Good information. Thank you.
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???
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.
Great questions about hitches! Read our weight distribution hitch page to learn more about them including tongue weight and what ones we recommend.
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!
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.