RV Towing and Trailer Safety Basics

RV Towing and Trailer Safety Basics

This article is meant to give you some basic, but important, information about RV towing and travel trailer safety. A good understanding of RV towing and general towing safety along with lots of driving practice will help you operate your RV with greater confidence and enjoyment.

Be safe and enjoy your RV travels.
Perform a safety inspection before each trip. Make sure that:

  • The pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact.
  • The hitch coupler is secured.
  • Spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches).
  • Safety chains are properly attached.
  • The electrical plug is properly installed.

People who tow RV travel trailers share the same safety concerns as Motorhome owners. However, a tow vehicle and a travel trailer form an articulated (hinged) vehicle which presents an additional set of concerns. The tow vehicle must be a proper match for the trailer. If the trailer is properly equipped, it can perform safely under a variety of driving conditions. The tow vehicle should also have enough performance to climb mountain grades without excessive loss of speed. Here are three basic types of trailers:

  1. Conventional travel trailers (includes folding camping trailers).
  2. Fifth-wheel trailers.
  3. Motorcycle, tent, and cargo trailers.

The major difference between the three types of trailers is the way they are hitched.

Conventional Travel Trailers

The ball and coupler hitch is used on a wide variety of tow vehicle and trailer combinations. This hitch consists simply of a ball attached to the rear of the tow vehicle and a coupler (socket) at the tip of a tongue or A-frame attached to the front of the trailer. This hitch is commonly used on recreational trailers.

A load distributing hitch is used for heavier models such as utility trailers, boat trailers, and travel trailers. (See the Balance and Hitch Adjustment.) These load distributing hitches use special equipment to distribute the tongue load to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer to help stabilize the tow vehicle. Here are some terms you should know when discussing hitch adjustment and in evaluating hitch performance:

  • Receiver: Hitch platform fitted to the tow vehicle.
  • Ball Mount: A removable steel component that fits into the receiver. The hitch ball and spring bars (only on load distributing hitches) are attached to it.
  • Sway Control: A device designed to lessen the pivoting motion between tow vehicle and trailer when a ball­type hitch is used.
  • Coupler: The ball socket at the front of the trailer A-frame that receives the hitch ball.
  • Spring Bars: Load-leveling bars used to distribute hitch weight among all axles of tow vehicle and trailer in a load distributing ball-type hitch.

Fifth-wheel Trailers

Not as much attention is given to balance, hitching procedures, and weight restrictions for fifth-wheel trailers because they are basically very stable. A disadvantage that the fifth-wheel has over conventional trailers is that much of the truck bed space is not available. The fifth-wheel hitch occupies the center of the truck bed and the hitch pin is in front of the center line of the tow vehicle’s rear axle. Hitch weight of fifth-wheel trailers is usually around 20 percent of the trailer weight. Hitches are rated for up to 15,000 pounds of gross trailer weight. Here are some terms used to describe typical fifth-wheel hitch components:

  • Fifth-wheel Plate: Unit that contains hitch plate, plate jaws, and handle (mounted in the truck bed).
  • Handle: Device used to release or lock the plate jaws.
  • Hitch Plate: “Wheel” that allows the trailer to rotate.
  • Pin: The connecting device attached to a fifth-wheel trailer (designed to fit into the plate jaws mounted in the truck bed).
  • Pin Box: Structure attached to the bottom front section of the trailer frame (the pin is attached to the bottom).
  • Plate Jaws: Holds the pin.
  • Side Rails: Support rails, bolted to the tow truck bed (supports the fifth-wheel hitch).

Motorcycle, Tent, and Cargo Trailers

There are several types of couplings between the motorcycle and the trailer. There are the:

  • Ball and socket
  • Ball type with a swivel
  • Universal-joint type with a detachable pin
  • Pin and swivel type

The coupling you choose should be:

  • Non-slip, non-loosening, and non-binding
  • Easy to hook and unhook
  • Free moving

Motorcycle riders towing a trailer must remember to ride closer to the center of the road. You have the width of your trailer to worry about. Be careful of the “oil strip” in the center of the road at intersections. Also, watch for uneven road surfaces and road edges which can unbalance the trailer.

Transporting Passengers
Here are the rules for transporting people in RVs or recreation trailers:

  • People are not allowed in a conventional travel trailer while it is being towed.
  • People are allowed to ride fifth-wheel trailer equipped with an unblocked exit door which can always be opened from both the inside and outside and there is a way to communicate with the driver.
  • A pickup camper with people in it must have an unblocked exit door which can always be opened from both the inside and outside and passengers must be able to communicate with the driver.
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