Perform a safety inspection before each trip. Make sure that:
- The pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact.
- The hitch coupler is secured.
- Spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches).
- Safety chains are properly attached.
- The electrical plug is properly installed.
People who tow trailers share the same safety concerns as other RV drivers. However, a tow vehicle and a trailer form an articulated (hinged) vehicle which presents an additional set of concerns. The weight considerations described on pages 30 and 31 are very important to safe towing. The tow vehicle must be a proper match for the trailer. If the trailer is properly equipped, it can perform safely under a variety of driving conditions. The tow vehicle should also have enough power to climb mountain grades without excessive loss of speed. There are three basic types of trailers which mostly differ in the way they are hitched:
- Conventional travel trailers, including folding camping trailers.
- Fifth-wheel trailers.
- Motorcycle, tent, and cargo trailers.
The ball and coupler hitch is used on a wide variety of tow vehicle and trailer combinations. This hitch consists simply of a ball attached to the rear of the tow vehicle and a coupler (socket) at the tip of a tongue or A-frame attached to the front of the trailer. This hitch is commonly used on recreational trailers.
A load-distributing hitch is used for heavier models such as utility trailers, boat trailers, and travel trailers. (See the Balance and Hitch Adjustment sections) These load-distributing hitches use special equipment to distribute the tongue load to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer to help stabilize the tow vehicle. Here are some terms you should know when discussing hitch adjustment and in evaluating hitch performance:
- Receiver: Hitch platform fitted to the tow vehicle.
- Ball Mount: A removable steel component that fits into the receiver. The hitch ball and spring bars (only on load- distributing hitches) are attached to it.
- Sway Control: A device designed to lessen the pivoting motion between the tow vehicle and trailer when a ball-type hitch is used.
- Coupler: The ball socket at the front of the trailer A-frame that receives the hitch ball.
- Spring Bars: Load-leveling bars used to distribute hitch weight among all axles of the tow vehicle and the trailer in a load-distributing ball-type hitch.
Not as much attention is given to balance, hitching procedures, and weight restrictions for fifth-wheel trailers because they are basically very stable. A disadvantage that a fifth-wheel has over conventional trailers is that much of the truck bed space is not available. The fifth- wheel hitch occupies the center of the truck bed and the hitch pin is in front of the center line of the tow vehicle's rear axle. The hitch weight of fifth-wheel trailers is usually around 20 percent of the trailer weight. Hitches are rated for up to 15,000 pounds of gross trailer weight. Here are some terms used to describe typical fifth-wheel hitch components:
- Fifth-wheel Plate: Unit that contains the hitch plate, plate jaws, and a handle mounted in the truck bed.
- Handle: Device used to release or lock the plate jaws.
- Hitch Plate: "Wheel" that allows the trailer to rotate.
- Pin: The connecting device attached to a fifth-wheel trailer and designed to fit into the plate jaws mounted in the truck bed.
- Pin Box: Structure attached to the bottom front section of the trailer frame (the pin is attached to the bottom).
- Plate Jaws: Holds the pin.
- Side Rails: Support rails which are bolted to the tow truck bed to support the fifth-wheel hitch.
Motorcycle, Tent, and Cargo Trailers
There are several types of couplings between the towing vehicle and the trailer, which are:
- Ball and socket.
- Ball type with a swivel.
- Universal-joint type with a detachable pin.
- Pin and swivel type.
The coupling you choose should be:
- Non-slip, non-loosening, and non-binding.
- Easy to hook and unhook.
- Free moving.
Motorcycle riders towing a trailer must remember to ride closer to the center of the road. You have the width of your trailer to worry about. Be careful of the "oil strip" in the center of the road at intersections. Also, watch for uneven road surfaces and road edges which can unbalance the trailer.