For the trailer owners out there, it’s critical that you know how to properly hitch your trailer before you hit the road. This week I will be discussing trailer towing and presenting some tips & tricks that will help you ensure your towed RV is following properly and safely.
Let’s start by discussing the hitch itself. It’s important that the hitch be properly installed by a qualified RV dealership or hitch shop. The installer will ensure the rails and fifth-wheel are properly installed and positioned for correct weight distribution over the truck axles. I don’t recommend that RV owners try to install their own hitches.
Ensure that the towing vehicle has the appropriate weight rating and power for the fifth-wheel trailer. Dealerships are obligated to ensure your towing vehicle is adequately rated, but it is always a good idea to do your homework.
Prior to hitching the trailer to the truck, ensure the hitch is in the unlock position and the trailer is positioned at the proper height to prevent excessive bumping when the truck is backed under the trailer. Make sure the brakes on the trailer are fully engaged to prevent it from rolling back during hookup. The easiest way to do this is to pull the breakaway key or connect the 7-way plug and manually apply the trailer brakes at the brake controller. Once the trailer is connected to the towing vehicle, perform a “tug test” to ensure the hitch is fully and properly locked. This is done by slightly driving forward with the towing vehicle while the trailer brakes are still applied. Make sure the truck does not become decoupled from the fifth-wheel but instead is held back by the trailer brakes. After a successful tug test, you should raise the landing gear. If you pulled the breakaway key for the tug test, be sure to plug it back in.
When de-coupling, lower the landing gear just enough to take the weight off the fifth-wheel hitch, set the trailer brakes, release the hitch lock, and gently and slowly pull the truck forward until it is clear of the trailer.
For standard hitches, be sure the hitch shank is fully inserted and locked into the tow vehicle receiver. Also make sure the hitch ball is set at the correct height for your trailer.
When hitching a travel trailer, it is best to have a spotter assist with lining up the trailer hitch with the tow vehicle hitch ball. Make sure the trailer tongue is raised enough so the hitch just clears the hitch ball. Establish clear hand signals and/or voice commands with the spotter and have them guide the towing vehicle slowly and carefully to position the hitch ball under the trailer hitch. Lower the trailer fully onto the tow vehicle and lock the hitch onto the ball. Raise the trailer tongue again to ensure the hitch is properly locked onto the ball. Fully raise the tongue jack and connect the safety chains.
I also recommend anti-sway bars and equalizer hitches. These devices make trailer towing much safer and easier to handle. If you have such devices, ensure they are properly connected before driving.
Check all lights for proper operation and perform a final inspection of doors, steps, awnings, etc., as well as the interior fixtures, to make sure everything is stowed and locked.
Be sure to have trailer brakes, tire pressures, lug nuts, bearings, and other wheel components checked and serviced annually by a certified RV repair center.
Although many of these tips may seem obvious to some readers, I offer them up as simple reminders. If you have any questions regarding proper hitching practices, contact your local RV dealership.
About the Author:
Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.