A timely warning — trailer hitch breaks apart

12

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Many RVers have a safety checklist they go over when pulling out on the road. For some, it’s a paper checklist, others just keep it all upstairs. Tail lights working? Antenna down? Sewer port cover in place?


But how about that trailer hitch?

1Larry Lang thinks all travel trailer owners ought to add another little item to that safety checklist – and Larry is a man who speaks from experience – scary experience. Larry had hitched up his Forest River travel trailer to his SUV for a trip to the northern California coast. It became a trip he’d never forget – and the memories had nothing to do with the Redwood forests.

2Westbound on Highway 20, just outside Grass Valley, California, Larry’s trailer and SUV tried to part ways – the Camco-made trailer hitch broke on a weld. The only thing holding the two rigs together were the properly rigged safety chains. Still, having safety chains in place did prevent the trailer from getting loose and possibly clobbering some other rig, but it did create major control issues. Larry’s “combination” (if you can still call it that) started into severe sway that eventually lead to a complete loss of control.

3If it weren’t for a J-rail barrier, Larry, his wife, and dog might not be around to recount the tale. The rigs slammed into the guardrail, which prevented them from continuing down a steep slope – this after crossing over a lane of oncoming traffic. It would seem miraculous that no one was hurt in this mess.

4Results? Larry’s insurance company issued him a check for multiple thousands of dollars. Concerned that other hitch owners might have a similar issue lurking, he tells us he contacted Camco Manufacturing. The company offered him $1,700 as “compensation,” with the proviso that Larry would sign off on a release that would release the company from any further claims. Concerned his insurance company would be the loser on a deal like this one, and in light of the fact it wouldn’t even cover the insurance deductibles on his two rigs, he turned the “offer” down.

5Aside from thinking his future RVing days would probably be done with a Class C motorhome – and who could blame him after an experience like this – Larry thought about the rest of us who pull travel trailers. He writes, “I’ve been thinking that if I had closely inspected the hitch during installation I might have seen a potential weakness in the welded joint. The weld failure might have been occurring over a period of time without my knowledge.”

6Whether or not that’s true, in any event, it does give us a reason to take just a couple of moments longer and eyeball our hitches. It could spare us an experience like Larry Lang’s – or one that could even be worse.

Photos courtesy Larry Lang

##RVT921

12
Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
bisonwings

What isn’t clear in this article is what part of the hitch broke. Was it the receiver that’s bolted to the vehicle frame or the coupler that joins the trailer and the tow vehicle together? I have always checked the coupler for cracks since there are so much stress placed on it. Stress at the ball. Stress from the torsion bars. Stress from breaking and twisting.
But if the break was from the frame mounted portion that would more difficult and would involve crawling underneath the tow vehicle, cleaning the welds and checking fasteners for proper torquing.

Karl Erickson

Wish the pictures could have been enlarged. Would like to have had a closer look at the hitch. I’ll be looking closer at my hitch and the trailer tongue!

SPustell

I have never had the Hitch Fail.. but i have had the Weld between the Coupler and the A-Frame break.. Since the safety chains were attached to the Coupler .. then the Trailer was rolling free on I10 in OK. Fortunately the trailer stayed on it’s feet, didn’t hit anything, rolled over a bridge, then off the highway, over an entrance ramp (missing the truck parked there over night) and came to rest against the fence around a farmers field. Things were tossed around inside, but even the eggs in the fridge survived without breakage.
So .. add inspecting the weld at your A-Frame to the pre-trip walk around.. as well as the Hitch itself.

David Ozanne

I had a trailer ball come out and the tow dolly was only held on by the chains. No real damage done except to my nerves.

Ron Hough

Two months ago a small piece of my Roadmaster Falcon 5250 tow bar broke on a weld where it connected to my CR-V “toad”. Fortunately, it didn’t come completely apart but rattled around loosely until I discovered the problem when unhooking. I check the tow bar and hitch every time but there were no cracks or other warning signs. Can’t be too careful.

Richard Baxter

When Larry sensed a control problem, did he stomp on the gas (like we have trained ourselves to do for a flat tire) to maintain control, or did he stomp on the brakes.

JBMichiganEngr

The emergency trailer brakes probably did not activate because they stayed together and the brake tether was long enough to not activate. Should we all recalculate the length of this tether for these situations?

Tommy Molnar

Stories like this are heart breaking. It’s my worst fear. We usually give the entire hitch group at least a “once over”, but after reading THIS story I think I’ll head out back RIGHT NOW and give our hitch a close ‘scrutinization’.

S. Adams

So glad they are all ok after this awful accident! We also tow a TT and have a question regarding the towing set-up: were the emergency trailer brakes triggered/activated and did they work?