When you’re driving down the highway, how do you know if that trailer ahead of you is safely secured to its tow vehicle? The answer is you don’t, until you see it come loose on the freeway.
Runaway trailer wrecks are common and often deadly. Here’s one incident filmed by a lucky driver who lived to tell about it:
Each year hundreds of drivers are injured or killed by runaway trailer wrecks. From flatbed trailers that come loose to unsafe RV toads, many drivers neglect to take safety precautions to avoid horrible fatal towing accidents. The good news is you can prevent a runaway trailer wreck with three cheap and fast trailer towing tips.
Don’t skip safety chains
Trailer towing laws vary across the U.S. For example, not all states require the use of safety chains on trailers. Among those that do, drivers can use any chains they want because there’s no national standard on the rating of safety chains. This cheap safety implement is the only backup system that prevents a runaway trailer.
For ultimate insurance when towing a trailer, secure it with towing safety chains manufactured by towing specialists. A trailer towing shop can help you find the right trailer safety chain setup to stay safe on the road. You’ll also want to follow these towing tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
When connected, safety chains should have some slack to permit sharp turns but should not drag on the road. In addition, they should cross under the trailer tongue to help prevent the tongue from dropping to the road in the event the trailer separates from the tow vehicle.
Always connect with the right ball hitch
Trailer hitch balls are the critical connection between a trailer and tow vehicle. With a proper hitch ball size, the trailer can safely pivot without incident. If the hitch ball size isn’t compatible with the trailer in tow, any bump or pothole can jostle the connection loose. The result is often a devastating accident.
To avoid a runaway trailer wreck, confirm your hitch ball size. First examine your trailer’s tongue, coupler or frame. Look for a stamped plate that indicates: a) maximum weight capacity and b) a number between 1-7/8″, 2″, and 2-5/16″ stamped onto it (the required ball hitch diameter). Confirm that your trailer hitch ball matches the diameter and meets or exceeds the stated gross trailer weight capacity.
Distribute your cargo evenly
Is your cargo spaced evenly around the trailer? If not your trailer will carry an uneven load and the shifting weight will make it susceptible to a trailer sway wreck. Always keep approximately 60 percent of your cargo directly in front of the axle. Evenly space your cargo around the trailer and keep a low center of gravity to maintain stability.
Whether you have a simple flatbed trailer or a 30′ bumper pull RV home on wheels the principles are the same. Safety comes first when hitching up or your next trip could be your last.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Lee Ensminger says
What was that dolly wheel device in the photo illustrating proper hitch ball size? Thanks!
It’s sort of a “helper” wheel, not used in a safe towing configuration. I have no idea why the author would choose a photo with this device when any other photo of any trailer hitch would work, and not cause confusion.
Steve Fennell says
You are correct any image would have worked. Just to clarify, the image in question is pertaining to the ball hitch only. It was used to illustrate that portion of the story (as indicated by the arrow graphic). But thanks for your input and for pointing this out.
By using that the helper wheel picture, you’re implying that it is safe to use. Those things just give a false sense of security and let people think overloading the truck is safe. You really need to find another picture or just go without.
Keeping cargo load low is good, but evenly spacing it around the trailer, from end to end, is bad. If mass is concentrated near the centre of the trailer, stability is better.
You want the trailer tongue weight to be 10% to 15% of the toral trailer weight. So, spreading it out evenly is not always right especially with an RV since there are designated storage areas and not everything weighs the same. It’s best to get a loaded RV weighed including tongue weight if you are inexperienced with towing to verify everything is correct.
Marty G says
That dolly is used when the tow vehicle can’t sustain the tongue weight. They are designed for the highway. Go way back to Lucy and Dezi’s movie, Long, Long Trailer. They used one!
About the movie:
First, that was a movie, not an illustration of safe towing practices in the real world. Second, even the movie was released in 1953. Finally, the point of the movie was that everything went wrong… like other Lucy shows.
If the tow vehicle is inadequate, adding this piece of junk is not the solution.
“That dolly is used …” No. That “dolly” is on the bottom of the tongue jack used when the trailer is unhitched and parked. The jack is folded back when the trailer is hitched and ready for towing. It has nothing to do with helping in an overloaded condition.
The movie you refer to was a comedy. It illustrated the stupidity of the characters, not the right way to haul a trailer.
No, the device in question was not a tongue jack wheel. The photo showing this piece of junk was replaced some time in the couple of years after my earlier comment, so it is no longer visible in the article. Yes, the old movie was a comedy, but it showed the use of a device which really was used, and a variation of it has been available even recently.
Thomas Seim says
The importance of properly sized and secured safety chains cannot be overstated. You will only appreciate this after you witness what happens if a trailer comes loose, as I have. At the time, I didn’t know to cross the chains and the tongue dropped to the roadway. The impact caused the tongue to violently rebound until the chains came tight, at which point the tongue dropped back down and the cycle repeated. Ultimately, this bucking action broke both chains and the trailer was totally free. The airflow around the motorhome caused the trailer to pull out into the on-coming lane (I was on a two-lane road with on-coming traffic). I cannot express the sinking feeling you have when you are being passed by your OWN TRAILER! Somehow the traffic managed to pull over to the side of the road, but their car got sideswiped by the trailer. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Thanks for sharing your scary story. I never really realized why you crossed the chains. Now I realize why it is imperative to do it, so as not to let the tongue hit the roadway. Thank goodness no one was hurt.
George Reynolds says
I think you missed the most important one: always tow with more towing capacity than what you are pulling. My TV has more than twice the the towing capacity of the GVWR of my trailer. Never had a hint of a problem. Also use a weight distribution, anti-sway hitch…
While the tow vehicle’s towing capacity must obviously be at least the weight of the trailer, a higher towing capacity does not necessarily mean a safer configuration. Between two otherwise identical tow vehicles, an engine change will often greatly change the towing capacity; however, the bigger engine will make no difference to stability.
William Morgan says
I own a 2013 statecraft travel trailer and the safety chains are attached to the tounge with a 1/2 inch loop of steel rod. Two chains no way to cross them
Howard King says
Had my TT disconnect completely from my truck at 58 MPH on a bridge. As luck would have it, no damage to my truck and the trailer had only minor damage. The problem was I did not lower the coupler all the way down before I locked it and I never checked it. Complete lack of safety checks on my part. Good idea is to run your jack down after you lock it to see if it picks up the truck.
Jim Milazzo says
In reference to your statement on safety chains it is not the only way to prevent runaway trailers accidents.Safe-Tow.Inc has better proven technology to keep a trailer from separating from it’s towing vehicle. Jim Milazzo developed a Patented safety device that replaces the age old chain system. This new innovative technology is backed up by testing in an independent laboratory,engineering studies to prove it is better than the chain system being used today. Also won The Innovator of The Year Safety Award in Louisiana stating this technology could revolutionize trailer towing safety. The state police in Louisiana permitted my safety product and also wrote a Declaration of Emergency on my technology stating and I quote due to the public safety hazard posed by the inadequacy of chains to maintain control of a trailer when it separates from its towing vehicle we need to get other safety devices to the public in a timely manner,which could in turn save lives.You need to let the public know there’s another safety system proven to prevent runaway trailers. Please help me save lives by these tragic accidents.At 74 years old,not about money but about saving lives with my technology.Thamks
Jim, a reasonable description of the product, rather than sales bull, would be more appropriate. I suggesting taking an hour or so to set up a (free) website to share information, instead of trying to use social media to push your gadget.
Jim Milazzo says
Brian,I don’t know who you are,but this is no gadget, if you would take the time to investigate this technology you will find it to have engineering studies and much more data to support its claims. You should know that gadgets don’t have engineering studies and testing done on them. My intention was to inform not to market my comment! If you would be willing to research this further you can contact me at2259782991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks also if you would not mind send me the contact information you mentioned.
Jim, the wording of your post was pure marketing, complete with listing of awards and endorsements and without useful information. Since you referred to yourself in the third person, I assume that you copied this text from your stock promotional material.
“Contact information”? Jim, if you are referring to setting up a free website, you might want to try https://www.wix.com/
I don’t know who this so called expert is but at 1:09 of the video it is clear she is putting a “safety pin” in a hitch that not properly coupled. The “latch” that does under the ball is actually resting on top of the ball. That is evident by the rusty shaft that is so visible. If you’re going to do a video on safety, know what you’re talking about and know what you’re doing. This is an accident just waiting to happen.
Abby Normal says
It’s amazing, they are running a story basically scolding people for not knowing what they are doing , while not bothering to inform themselves first.
Every trailer in Europe has brakes and a safety cable to engage the brakes should the trailer come free of the towing vehicle. Is this not the case in the U.S.A.??
Lee Ensminger says
Yes, Scott, trailers with electric brakes have “breakaway” switches where a pin is pulled out by a cable if the trailer gets away from the tow vehicle. When the pin is pulled, the electric brakes apply, using the battery on the trailer.
Yes, electric brakes normally have this type of breakaway provision, and hydraulic surge brake have a cable which pulls the brakes on in a breakaway (although not as effectively as the European system). On the other hand, breakaway systems are not required in all jurisdictions.
Although all Euro overrun braking systems have this breakaway feature, and essentially all trailers in Europe over a threshold mass have overrun braking systems, trailers which are light enough do not require brakes. So, not all Euro trailers have a breakaway braking system.
I pride myself on checking and double checking my trailer hookups. In spite of this, we narrowly missed a major catastrophe pulling a car back from from Florida to upstate NY using a tow dolly. The nut holding the ball on the drawbar worked loose and the ball came off. This occurred in heavy traffic on I-81 at 60 MPH. This is something I never thought to check. Fortunately the chains did their job and my wife, who was in the driver’s seat at the time knew not to panic brake and gradually got the truck and trailer the to the side of the road without mishap. You just can’t be too careful when towing, and now checking that the ball is still tightly secured is part of my mental check list.
Fran Mazzara says
You left out a major cause, happens regularly on I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge…heading downhill through a turn too fast! Whatever is being towed, car, boat, trailer…wants to go straight as the towing vehicle makes the turn. The weight of the 2 battle, fishtail, and the guy in the back wins, taking the towing vehicle with it.
If you are towing…always, always, always slow down on downhills and even slower on the turns or the front end turns and the back wants to continue straight ahead.