The trailer hitch and surrounding hardware are OH so important — with safety as the priority. Here are examples illustrating one success and one horrific failure. While these are scary to consider, we can learn a lot by reflecting on them.
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, the news article 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.
It really makes we wonder, looking at the photo, if a trailer breakaway kit was installed, of if it could have averted the disaster?
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 trailer design article, then one day a paramedic who was at the accident contacted me about it. He saw it online and reached out to tell me the story. 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 other one of unhitching above.
Edit 2021 – Malad Gorge
Another incident of a truck over the edge, this one dangling from a single safety chain. Read the article for a lot more info. While these wrecks are so scary to think about, they serve as stark reminders of the need for both good equipment and full focus in hook-up and in driving.
Getting The Trailer Hitch Right
As previously mentioned, we can only surmise at reasons for the success and failures noted in these stories. They are scary situations — one because of unhitching, one save by the trailer hitch, and one save by a safety chain.
How can you be sure about your hitch and chains?
If you pull a trailer, here are some great ideas to use. (Or, create something similar to do the same task.)
First Tip: Use the Safety Chains – Always.
There was a time when I was against the concept of “safety chains“. Seems like a silly duplication. What I’ve come to realize, however, is the safety chains are not there to compensate in case the trailer hitch fails, they are there to compensate in case I fail. Yes, that’s right. If I fail to tighten the hitch properly, or if I fail to seat the ball, or if I fail to connect or tighten something, then the chains are there to compensate for my screw-up.
And, along those lines, I truly hope other drivers also use their safety chains properly just in case they inadvertently miss something with their trailer hitch. My life, and your life, just might depend on it.
Oh, and it’s not just having chains. Make sure the chains are strong enough, and attached properly, both to the trailer and the tow vehicle. Then, please get them setup right so they will do the job if they are ever needed. Unfortunately, this is not a just silly, or someone being overprotective. People die every year because of mindless little mistakes from perfectly capable, smart and upstanding citizens.
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 parts that are made for your situation, and (for all of us DIY’ers, make the trailer using equipment built to exceed the need.) It’s always a good idea to buy the hitch and chain that are a little stronger. Then, keep it all in good, functioning condition. The right equipment, in good condition is the first step to a safe trip.
Third Tip: Check Your Equipment.
Vibration is an enemy in almost every mechanical 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, Pressure, Axles, Springs, Brakes, Trailer Hitch, Ball, Receiver, Safety Chains, 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 For You.
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 things and found I had tightened it over the ball instead of around it. The little catch went up inside so the trailer was not actually “hitched” to the ball — it was resting on top. 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 to see a tragedy like the one above — and especially never want to cause one!
My trick now is to pull out, then stop on the side of the road to check things. It gives things a chance to settle, and me the chance to focus on the most important safety and travel success details. My family just knows that’s what we do when we leave with the trailer. Hopefully I’m teaching my children to do the same later.
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.
What is your trick?
Let’s Think First
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 in this article will cause all of us to stop and think — just a fraction longer — when we take the responsibility of towing a trailer. Perhaps, it will help avoid another tragedy.
Just maybe, like in the second and third stories, it will save a life! Perhaps yours.