Travel Trailer Hitch Adjustment & Safety Tips

Travel Trailer Hitch Adjustment & Safety Tips

Before you tow a trailer, evaluate trailer weight distribution. Hitch weights for travel trailers should typically be at least 10 percent of the trailer’s gross weight for acceptable handling. In some cases it can go to 15 percent or higher. Hitch weight for larger trailers is limited by the capacities of tow vehicles and hitches. The strongest load-distributing hitch is rated for a maximum hitch weight of 1200 pounds.

If your hitch weight is less than 10 percent of the gross trailer weight, you may be able to compensate by loading heavy supplies such as tools and canned goods as far forward as possible. If your trailer’s water tank is behind the axle(s), travel with as little water in the tank as possible to reduce weight in the rear. Trailers with water tanks located in front usually handle best when the tanks are full, because the water adds to hitch weight.

Be sure that the spring bars of the load distributing hitch are rated high enough to handle the hitch weight of your trailer, plus a safety margin of at least 10 percent. Check for adequate rear suspension of the tow vehicle. This means that the vehicle sits relatively level prior to hitching the trailer.

Load-distributing hitches are designed to distribute the hitch weight relatively evenly to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. The tow vehicle and trailer should be in a level position (attitude) in order for the hitch to do its job properly. Here is how to check:

  1. With the tow vehicle loaded for a trip, measure the distance between the vehicle and the ground at reference points, which you can establish, in front and rear. Keep the figures handy for later use.
  2. Hitch the trailer and adjust the tension on the spring bars so the tow vehicle remains at roughly the same attitude (i.e., if the rear drops an inch after hitching, the front should also drop an inch).
  3. Inspect the trailer to be sure it is level. If not, hitch ball height should be raised or lowered, as necessary. You may need spring bars rated for more weight if you cannot keep the tow vehicle from sagging in the rear.

Safety chains are required for travel trailers. Safety chains are not required for fifth-wheel trailers. The purpose of safety chains is to prevent the trailer from separating from the tow vehicle in event of hitch failure such as a hitch ball that has loosened. The chains should be crossed in an “X” fashion below the ball mount, with enough slack that they do not restrict turning or allow the coupler to hit the ground.

Breakaway switches are also required for any trailer having a gross weight of 1500 lbs. or more and manufactured after December 31,1955. They are designed to activate trailer brakes if the tow vehicle becomes separated from the trailer. One end of the breakaway switch is attached to an electrical switch on the trailer frame and the other end is looped around a stationary hitch component on the tow vehicle. If the two vehicles become separated, the cable pulls a pin inside the breakaway switch and applies full power from the trailer battery to the trailer brakes.

Even though hitch component failure is rare, the breakaway switch and the safety chains must be in good working order.

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One Response to "Travel Trailer Hitch Adjustment & Safety Tips"

  1. I have a 2007 Chevy Avalanche with a 5.3 and 3.73 rear axle-non limited slip. The truck has 63k on it and I have had the truck for only 3 mo. I had a differential bearing failure the first time I pulled my 27ft 7000lb Jayco travel trailer. I was about a 130 miles into a 150 mile trip running about 65mph when I first noticed the smell. I stopped and let eveything cool down and continued to my desination. As I was exiting the hwy I smelled the burning smell again and as I was turning left at the stop I could hear the rear diff binding and growling. The next morning I took the truck to the Local Dearler and they said the diff had been so hot that the gears were black. They replaced the pinion and carrier bearings and said the pinion and ring gears need replacement but that they require a 500 mile break in before towing a trailer. My questions are 1. what is ‘to hot’ for a differential 2. what can I do to keep my diff cool and what is better for towing synthetic or petrolium based gear oils?

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