Need to store your trailer in a smaller space? Consider adding a trailer tongue hinge like these. It’s helpful, for sure, but has some definite things to consider.
I was introduced to this product several years ago by one of our trailer plans customers. Then, I was recently re-introduced, and thought you might want to see it as well. For those who need it, this is an easy way to reduce tongue length. It’s a trick for storage that allows the tongue to fold back out of the way.
The images on this page show examples of both a bolt-on version and a weld-on version.
If you’ve a mechanical mind, the beauty of this thing stands out right away. The photos on these pages explain it all, pretty much without words. The trailer tongue hinges shown here are a Fulton product you can get (or order) through any trailer parts place, or online. See the Fulton Hinges here, or search on “fold-away coupler” or “trailer tongue hinge” to find them.
Trailer Tongue Hinge Specifications
The loading specs on these are pretty impressive, as well as the number of different sizes they carry. Thank You.
Here are a couple images from the “Heavy Duty Fold-Away™ Coupler/Bracket Kit” Installation PDF — which actually has a bunch of good information about the products.
Their graphic with acceptable and unacceptable loading is great. See the table data in the next image below.
The “Maximum Pivot Length” is the distance from the pivot to the center of the hitch ball. ( Or measure to the end of the ball hitch for a little safety factor. )
This graphic shows only Gross Vehicle Trailer Weight, but the other really important piece is the length of the tongue extending beyond the hinge. It’s that load at a distance, the lever in creates, which adds local stress. Max pivot length is in the table graphic below.
A key point to note is this information (at maximum) is based on a 10% tongue weight — which is on the low side. Read the post on Axle Position for a better understanding about tongue weight proportions.
If you prefer a more stable trailer, bring the tongue weight up to 15%. Check both the Gross Trailer Weight and the Max Tongue Weight to be sure you buy the right coupler. Buy something a little over-kill for safety’s sake if it will fit your application.
For some of our Utility Trailer Plans, you can easily change the main tongue tube to a size that will fit one of these trailer tongue hinges. If you follow the guidelines of these hinges and have at least as big (bigger is OK) tongue tube as we recommend in the plans, one of these hinges can make a nice way to customize the plans.
If you’re using bolts to fasten it, read this Bolting 101 post first.
Considerations Using A Trailer Tongue Hinge
Look at the photos below showing the installed, functioning device. Again, these are from the Fulton website. Note the location and routing of the trailer safety chains.
See the little guide for the chains just under the hitch? That’s a really critical part of safety when using one of these hinges. Their instructions even state: “Route safety chains through guide on bottom of swing tongue. Check that safety chains are long enough to reach a tow vehicle and will not bind or drag during normal towing conditions.”
Also, note the attachment of the safety chains to the main part of the tongue. That location takes the trailer tongue hinge out of the picture in a drastic emergency.
Some of the chain management is really good, but the big loop under the tongue (first place to contact if the tongue falls) can pretty quickly create it’s own problems. I’d prefer to see the forward chain guides better supported or protected. Also, chains are really long. Shorten the chains to meet the needs of your tow vehicle. Perhaps the best ways is to make the end anchors adjustable using something like these adjustable anchors.
The tongue is often a place to hang trailer accessories for access and function. The tongue jack, for instance. For applications using a trailer tongue hinge, those accessories must attach behind (on the trailer side) of the hinge. That may limit the amount of tongue to hinge, or it might mean you need to get creative with spare tire mounting, tongue jack placement, etc..
One of the fundamentals of joints like these is they move in ways other than intended. These are stable and strong, but they also have a touch of play present. That means after you connect it to the hitch on the car, the joint will have some “play” or “rattle” (for lack of a better term). That does not usually matter, but if you’re sensitive, you’ll feel it in the car (especially when going over uneven or bumpy roads).
I believe the manufacturer has a good handle on strength, so I don’t think the play will cause problems, but it’s worth noting.
Speaking of strength, it’s good to remember when you cut a structural member — whether to weld or attach something (like a trailer tongue hinge), it is weaker after. That means you should over design that area so the joint is not a problem weak point. For instance, if your design calls for a 2×3 tongue tube, perhaps change it to a 3×3 before adding the hinge. (That may not be practical for existing trailers, but you might add some beef around an existing tongue tube.
Wire and Brake Line Routing
Since the wires and brake lines (if there) come from the tow vehicle, they must pass by (or through) the trailer tongue. The fold-away coupler makes that a little more tricky. The parts are hollow, so you can route things right down the tube, but be careful they don’t pinch or pull when opening or closing the hinge.
Wires route through the trailer tongue hinge as in the image. If it were me, I’d sheath those wires in a flexible plastic tube to avoid pinching and chaffing. Just a thought.
Re-Orienting The Hinge?
As an Engineer (and The Mechanic), the first thing I wanted to do is have the tongue fold vertical instead of horizontal. Looking at the device design, it looks to be much stronger in a vertical orientation, with more even loading. Having a tongue that fold up instead of to the side would be super convenient for some applications. So, I contacted Fulton technical support and asked.
I have to say, their response time was super impressive, but unfortunately, they say:
Our unit is not tested for vertical mounting.
Oh well, but it was worth asking. And, for what it’s worth, I hope they do the vertical testing. A lifting tongue would make a very cool addition on some trailers. And, if it works, they get a whole new product without making something new.
The “Absolutely Not” answer stimulated action here at Mechanical Elements. They say NO, and I say OK, I’ll do it myself — Better. That’s the DIY way around here. So, we did.
It’s done, and it works really well. You can read all about it in this Folding Trailer Tongue article. For what it’s worth, you can also read our review of the “Super Hinge” project approximately 2 years after starting the design. We experimented, now we’re also sharing what we learn.
And, another related article, “What is the Right Tongue Length“, is also a good read.
Keep Improving. Build On !