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I always tell my customers that towing a trailer is serious business.

When you tow a trailer, you have the responsibility to know what you are doing. Not only can you put your equipment at risk, but you or your family could get hurt, along with innocent drivers on the highway.


1. The coupler

The first thing that one does, is back the tow vehicle to the trailer and lower the coupler down on the ball.

This is fairly straight forward. However, occasionally the coupler will not go all the way down onto the ball. One should be very aware of this possibility.

If this happens unnoticed, the latch could be closed, and the trailer would appear to be properly hooked to the tow vehicle.

The trailer can even be moved in this condition, sometimes even long distances. Then when a large enough bump is encountered, the trailer will bounce off of the ball.

In my 34 years of manufacturing and servicing trailers I have seen this happen many, many times. I have even done it myself twice.

One time I towed a trailer 15 miles mostly on the freeway, When I got to within 4 blocks of my destination I hit set of rail road tracks and the trailer came off the ball.

Luckily I did have the chains crossed underneath the tongue. They kept the tongue from dragging on the ground and prevented damage

2. Crossing Safety chains

The second step in attaching the trailer to a tow vehicle is to attach the safety chains. As I just mentioned there should be 2 chains or cables.

When attaching them to the vehicle they should be crossed under the tongue of the trailer.

Do not use chains or cables that are too long; just long enough to allow for a tight turn, but not so long that the coupler would hit the ground if it comes off of the ball.

One way to adjust the length of the safety chains, if you are not using cables, is to twist the chain. This makes the chain shorter. Stop when the desired length is achieved and then attach the chain to the vehicle.  

The second time that I had a trailer come off of the ball I was towing a 27' long boat trailer that belonged to a friend of mine.
Fortunately it happened when I was going slowly. The safety chains were crossed and caught the tongue, keeping the trailer attached to the vehicle.

When I got stopped, a nice motorist helped me get the trailer back onto the ball and the only damage was some scratched paint. 

3. Wiring

The third step in hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle is the wiring. The importance of having all of your trailer lights working properly is obvious. After connecting the wiring and raising the jack out of the way, check to make sure all of the lights are working properly.

If not; the first thing to do is clean the electrical pins on both the tow vehicle and the trailer connectors. The connecting pins build up an oxidation on them over time and can form a barrier to a good electrical connection.

If that doesn't solve the problem, have someone check both the trailer and the vehicle as soon as possible.

4. Break Away Cable

If your trailer is equipped with brakes there will be an extra cable that needs to be attached to the trailer hitch of the tow vehicle. It should be longer than the safety chains.
This cable is intended to apply the brakes on the trailer if it becomes completely separated from the tow vehicle. Hitching up a trailer is easy, but it is also serious. So be sure it is done correctly every time.

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