Trailer Tongue Jack Guide: Trailer Jacks Explained
(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)
What's a trailer without a trailer jack?
A worthless trailer!
(Unless it's light enough to lift by hand.)
A trailer tongue jack lifts and lowers the front of your trailer so that you can hitch and unhitch your tow vehicle.
The thing is, some of us are strong and some of us are not so strong or physically capable.
Therefore, manual trailer jacks are not easy to raise and lower for certain people.
Having the best electric trailer jack for your trailer makes hitching up much easier than hitching up with a manual jack.
Electric is easier especially if you have a weight-distribution hitch that requires you to lift the tongue AND the back end of your tow vehicle repeatedly.
Either way, life will be MUCH easier if you have an electric tongue jack instead of a manual tongue jack.
This page will teach you about both types and how to properly use them.
You will also learn how to connect and disconnect your travel trailer as well as safety when doing so.
Looking for a new tongue jack? Click the button below to read our reviews of both electric and manual tongue jacks.
Types Of RV Trailer Jacks
There are two categories of RV trailer jacks. Electric trailer jacks and manual trailer jacks.
Manual trailer jacks usually have a hand crank you use to raise and lower the hitch of your trailer.
Electric trailer jacks usually have a switch that you flip that draws power from your battery to raise and lower your hitch.
The former, obviously, and through personal experience, is much harder to use than the latter.
However, the primary benefit of the manual jack is that it COULD be less prone to breaking since it is a simpler device.
The power trailer jack could fail electrically or mechanically.
The electric trailer jack will also require installation or some know-how as far as wiring goes.
Some trailer jacks come with a 'foot', some do not.
In most cases, you can purchase a foot (see the box at the very bottom of this page).
Why might you want a foot?
So that if you are unhitching on soft ground, the trailer jack's leg will not sink down as easily.
Or you can simply place wood blocks or a solid Lynx Leveler underneath.
(Beware, some wood will split under the pressure of the jack leg.)
What Is A Power Tongue Jack?
A power tongue jack is a jack mounted at the front of a trailer (on the 'tongue') that raises and lowers the front.
It uses 12-volt DC electrical power, usually from the trailer's onboard battery, to electrically extend or retract the trailer leg.
You raise or lower the front of the trailer for a couple of reasons.
To hitch and unhitch the trailer from the vehicle towing it.
And also to level the trailer front to rear.
A power tongue jack requires very little effort to use.
You simply press a button to make the jack raise or lower.
A manual tongue jack requires a person to 'crank' the jack up or down, which can be pretty labor-intensive.
Electric Trailer Jacks
We think that power trailer jacks are the way to go for most people.
The ease of use is just such a stark contrast to using a manual jack.
There are pros and cons to electric trailer jacks.
Electric Trailer Jack Pros:
Electric Trailer Jack Cons:
For those with any type of physical body issues, an electric trailer jack is 100% the way to go.
It's easy to install, easy to use, and it's the easiest method of lifting and lowering your trailer hitch.
Manual Trailer Jacks
Manual jacks obviously take more muscle power than electric jacks do. (Electric jacks take zero muscle power.)
You might consider a manual jack if you have a lightweight boat trailer, or small travel trailer, with very little tongue weight, and don't mind working your arms and back.
Here are some pros and cons of manual trailer jacks:
Manual Trailer Jack Pros:
Manual Trailer Jack Cons:
A manual trailer jack is a simple crank device.
It uses gears to manually raise and lower your hitch.
This type of jack CAN break, however.
Camp Addict Kelly's manual trailer jack was recently on the verge of breaking (as was her back) and so it was replaced with a Husky RV electric jack.
Still, for simplicity's sake, a manual trailer jack is the way to go.
There's nothing much more to break than gears, outside of bending and breaking some part of the device.
What Jack Size Do I Need For My Trailer?
Choosing Trailer Jack Weight Capacity
Both electric and manual trailer tongue jacks come in different weight capacities, so which is right for you?
It depends on how large/heavy of a trailer you have.
But that's not the only weight to take into consideration. Let's explain...
A trailer tongue jack is designed to lift the front of the trailer, so you first need to know how much your tongue weight is.
The most accurate way to determine trailer tongue weight is to, well, weigh your trailer.
Or you can spitball by figuring out what 15% of your trailer's maximum weight is, as tongue weight SHOULD be no more than 15% of the weight of your trailer.
OK, so you have your trailer tongue weight (or a rough idea of what it is).
If you have a weight-distribution hitch that uses spring arms, you will likely need to raise both the front of the trailer and the rear of your tow vehicle.
This in so you can get the spring arms onto their brackets.
So not only is the tongue jack lifting the weight of the front of your trailer, but it is also picking up the rear of your tow vehicle.
How much does the rear of your tow vehicle weigh?
You could weigh it, or you could look up the weight of your vehicle online and figure that about half of that rests on the rear axles.
You aren't going to be lifting the entire weight of the rear of your vehicle, but this gives you a rough idea.
Now you've got some idea of what weight you will be asking your trailer tongue jack to lift.
So, yeah, you might want to have a heavier duty trailer tongue jack just in case.
Better to have a jack designed to lift more so that it doesn't run the risk of breaking because you were lifting too much weight.
How to Hitch And Unhitch A Trailer
How does one go about hitching up and unhitching a travel trailer?
It may seem daunting at first, but it's pretty simple.
There are things to know to do it correctly and to NOT have an embarrassing situation.
Or even a situation that hurts someone.
Even seasoned pros have screwed up the process and have had hairy moments.
Let's look at the general 'how-to' of hitching and unhitching a trailer.
How To Connect Your Trailer To Your Tow Vehicle
Before you hook up:
- First thing's first- you have to make sure your ball is the right size for your trailer's coupler. The coupler of your trailer will tell you what size ball you need.
- It's very handy to have a backup camera OR another (capable) person to help you back up and line up your hitch ball with your trailer's coupler. Line up your ball right under the coupler and park.
It's a good rule of thumb to not interrupt someone who is hitching up or unhitching.
Often people have a routine that they follow to hitch/unhitch.
Disturbing them during this time can cause them to forget a step. Good neighbor etiquette is to leave them alone until they are finished.
Hooking Up Your Vehicle To Your Trailer:
- Disconnect all utilities such as power cords, generators, and water supplies from your RV. Raise your stabilizers if you have them down.
- Chock your rig if it's not already chocked
- Back up your vehicle to the coupler of your hitch. Center the ball under the coupler. Lower your jack down so that the coupler connects with the ball.
- Close the locking lever so it's locked down around the ball, secure it with a pin, a lock, or some other device that cannot come undone.
- Fully retract the jack. (Don't raise jack up yet if you have a weight-distribution hitch that requires you to lift the hitch as well as the back of the tow vehicle.)
- Connect your lights, chains, and breakaway cable. If you have a weight-distribution hitch (WDH), follow your manufacturer's instructions for WDH installation. You may have to raise your hitch back up after you are coupled to get your WDH bars installed.
- Check your trailer's lights for working brakes and turn signals.
- Remove your chocks.
- Make sure you have not left anything 'out' such as your TV antenna, steps, or something inside your trailer that can break while moving.
- If you don't want to travel with your propane on, turn off your refrigerator if it runs on propane and close your propane tanks. (You can do this at any point along the way, but best to put it off till right before you take off so warming is minimized.)
- If you have a brake controller, pull forward under 5miles an hour and test the brake controller brakes manually to confirm that they are working. Also, adjust the brake controller if necessary. Check out your owner's manual for instructions on how to do this step.
- Adjust your mirrors if necessary. (Also, of course, put them ON before now if you have aftermarket removable tow mirrors.)
- You are ready to roll!
Don't Kill Your Battery!
Beware! If you have a 7-pin connector (pictured on the right) that connects your tow vehicle to your trailer, it may continue to pull power from your vehicle to charge your trailer batteries as long as it is connected.
This means that if you keep your 7-pin electrical connector (or 7-way plug) connected to your vehicle while the vehicle is not running, for a long period of time such as overnight, you may end up with a dead tow vehicle.
It's a good practice to detach the trailer's wiring harness from your tow vehicle.
If you have a battery monitor you can check if there is a draw or not to be SURE there is no draw.
If you are not completely sure, detach your 7-way plug.
How To Disconnect Your Trailer From Your Tow Vehicle
- Park your trailer.
- Engage your tow vehicle's parking brake.
- If you need to be level, level your trailer side to side using your Andersen Levelers or another system BEFORE you detach.
- Next, chock your trailer so that it won't roll.
- Disconnect your chains, emergency brake release cable, and your electrical connector. (OR, for extra safety leave chains connected until the ball has cleared the coupler.)
- If you have a weight distribution system, follow your manufacturer's instructions to remove it.
- Once your weight distribution hitch is removed (if you use one), jack up your trailer up enough to clear the ball of the hitch. Do this slowly and carefully in the event that your chocks fail and the trailer does start to roll. Trust us, this CAN happen. Check out this scary story by Camp Addict Marshall. It's why you may leave chains connected until disconnect is complete.
- Once cleared, drive out from under the coupler.
So you are now armed with knowing these things:
- what jack to get if you need one
- and/or how to use your current jack.
They are pretty simple things, but an electric one makes your life so much easier.
Read on if you are in the market for a new jack.
We will show you what we found to be the best jacks available out there and why they are the best.
The rest is up to you!
Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing since April 2014, Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle.