The Little Things Make All The Difference
The trailer hitch and surrounding hardware are Oh so important — safety is priority. Here are examples illustrating one success and one horrific failure.
I bumped into this very sad article the other day and it gives me cause to ponder. The article titled “Unhitched trailer kills one in crash on 580 at Mt. Rose Hwy” appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal April 6, 2017. Sadly, it tells of a trailer that came unhitched from the tow vehicle while traveling down the highway. Details for what exactly happened are not clear, but the photo shows some shocking wreckage.
For the people in the white car, that trailer hitch (or should I say the lack of connection at the trailer hitch), made all the difference.
Of course there is nothing saying what actually happened, but in cases of the trailer coming loose (at least the ones I’m familiar with) it is usually safe to say that something about the hitch was not fastened correctly. That brings up two very important points we’ll elaborate on later. It’s not fair to surmise any more than that.
Trailer Hitch Success
Reading the above article got me thinking about an incident that occurred many years ago in the Big Thompson Canyon between Loveland Colorado and Estes Park. Originally, a friend sent me the photo, and I didn’t know where it came from. I posted it on the Synthx.com website with a trailers article, then one day a paramedic who was at the accident contacted me about it. Truly, this was an amazing experience. The life of the driver literally saved by the success of that trailer hitch. Yes, that’s one very luck driver!
This story is in stark contrast to the one above.
Getting It Right
As previously mentioned, we can only surmise at reasons for the success and failures noted above. Both are very scary situations — one created by an unhitching, and one saved by the connection at the trailer hitch. How can you be sure of yours?
If you pull a trailer, here are some really important considerations to use. (Or, something similar to accomplish the same task.)
First Tip: Use the Safety Chains – Always.
There was a time that I was pretty against the concept of “safety chains“. Seemed like such a silly duplication. What I’ve come to realize, however, is the safety chains are not there to compensate in case the hitch fails, they are there to compensate in case I fail. Yes, that’s right. If I fail to tighten the hitch properly, or fail to get the ball seated correctly, or fail to connect or tighten something else, then the chains are there to compensate for my screw-up.
Oh, and get them setup right so they do their job if they are ever needed.
Second Tip: Use The Right Equipment.
Trailer hitch designs will hold more and carry more than stated. That’s not an excuse to put on more than suggested, but a reminder that the equipment is not likely to fail. Use equipment properly made for your situation, and (for all of us DIY’ers, make the trailer using equipment built for the need.) Then, keep it all in good, functioning condition.
Third Tip: Check Your Equipment.
Vibration is the enemy in almost every engineering circumstance. Compensating for it is a constant battle, so you have to stay on top of things like bolts coming loose, welds breaking, rust and other such things. It’s important enough that some states have annual inspections. I hate having the government tell me what to do, but I have to admit, there are some folks that really need big brother to step in. Check everything — Wheels, Tires, Axles, Springs, Brakes, Trailer Hitch, Ball, Receiver, Electrical, etc..
I can’t tell you all the times I’ve seen rattle-traps bumbling down the highway looking for a victim or a place to create a disaster. Don’t be “that guy”. Keep your equipment in good running shape, or please, stay off the road.
Fourth Tip: Find A Trick That Works – Double Check Everything.
I am my own worst enemy in trailer towing. Almost always, when I am hitching up the trailer, there are also a ton of other things on my mind — like getting everything else ready to go. It’s so easy to think “I’ll do that in a second”. But, when things are happening, the thought soon escapes. With safety in mind, I now connect the safety chains when I connect the trailer hitch — every time. If I do something silly like pull out before the lights are in, at least the trailer is with me somehow.
Some while ago, I was driving down the road with a trailer I had just hitched and there were a couple bangs that didn’t sound quite right. I pulled over to check the hitch and found I had tightened it over the ball instead of under it. The little catch came off and went up inside so the trailer was not actually “hitched” to the ball. In my case, nothing happened, and safety chains were both attached anyway. Yet, to me, that kind of situation is SUPER scary. I don’t ever want a tragedy like the one above.
A friend of mine always puts his car keys on the front of his trailer. He can’t drive off then, till he goes back to get them. While he’s getting the car keys, he does a full double-check of everything on the trailer hitch. That’s his reminder to give a second look.
Our sympathy goes to those touched directly by this horrible, and probably senseless accident. What an awful thing to happen! Hopefully the words and ideas above will cause all of us to stop and think, just a fraction longer when we take on the responsibility of towing on the highway. Perhaps, it will help avoid another tragedy. Maybe, like the second story, it will save your life!