Friday, October 7, 2022


Ask Dave: What is the proper setup of safety chains when towing?

Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the “RV Handbook” and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.) Today he answers a reader’s question about the property setup of towing safety chains.

Dear Dave,
When I learned to hook up my camper and now my tow car I was always instructed to cross my safety chains. I see many RVers not doing so. When I ask them about it they respond it is unnecessary. What is the proper setup of safety chains when towing? —Michael

Dear Michael,
Every state has its own specific State Equipment and Road Use Laws that pertain to towing and other driving issues. RVIA has posted recent Safety Chain Requirements for RV Trailers and State Equipment and Road Use Law Summaries on its website here.

I have always found it interesting that there isn’t a standardized set of Road Use Laws, as I do not believe it’s harder to tow in Minnesota than it is in Iowa. According to the summary, when towing in Iowa you only need one chain or cable and it must be sufficient to control the towed vehicle if the hitch fails. In Minnesota, you are required to have two chains or cables but not crossed. However, in Nebraska, it is required to prevent the tow bar from dropping if disengaged – which means chains crossed.

Road Use Laws

During the development of the RV Safety & Education Foundation’s (RVSEF) safety program, I spent a great deal of time researching the Road Use Laws and working with companies that engineered the various components used in towing. What I found is that there is a big difference between towing legally and towing safely! An item that is not listed in this summary is the need for an emergency braking system. Some states require supplemental brakes for anything over 1,000 lbs., while others are at 3,000 lbs. or more. Plus, what you will find is the law is most often left to the interpretation of the officer that stops you! Better to be on the safe side.

Here is what we developed for a recommended safe method of connecting safety chains and towing:

1. Make sure your hitch pin is in the down position and the cotter pin opening is facing down to ensure it will not work loose.

2. Use a secure ball.

3. Use two chains secured to the trailer with safety hooks on the ends. Cross the chains to create a cradle in case the tow bar is disengaged.

4. Provide enough slack in the chains so the trailer can turn but not drag on the ground. Twist the chains to shorten if necessary.

5. Connect the hooks from the bottom.

6. Connect the electrical connection leaving enough slack to turn and not drag.

7. Check all lights, turn signals, and other electrical components.

8. Connect the electrical safety brake if applicable. Most trailers have an electric brake that is activated with the tow vehicle braking system through the brake controller. However, some have a breakaway system.

Read more from Dave here

Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.


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1 year ago

Please do not twist tow chains. Instead always cross them. This acts as a cradle in the event of a separation. Chain links on a twisted chain have those stresses of pulling in a non- straight direction. An unneeded strength reduction. If the chains are too long use an approved strength bolt to shorten them or shorten them to the proper length.

11 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Agree. Chains should be crossed once to catch the receiver if it becomes uncoupled. But chains should NOT be twisted to shorten them. Even a slight 29 degree twist will reduce their strength by 5%. If you twist them up tight causing the links to double over, you’ll reduce the strength by up to 70%.

1 year ago

I have been told the safety chains are crossed for only one reason, and that reason is to better control the trailer if the hitch fails. The crossed chains work against each other to keep the trailer behind the tow vehicle with decreased fishtailing. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to personally find out !!!

1 year ago

The real reason for crossing the chains is to prevent one from pulling tight when doing a sharp turn. For the most part, the cradle thing is just nonsense. Try this; place the chain to tongue connection directly under the point where the chains are hooked, and then shorten the chains till the tongue is off the ground. Good luck with that. Just look at the photo above and imagine the ball became disengaged and you try to stop with the trailer tongue coming forward under the bumper. Just another old wives tale that will never die.

Wayne C
1 year ago

I like to use forged shackles to connect safety chains to the tow vehicle. Chain length can be adjusted by selecting more or fewer links with the shackle pin. They are harder to use than hooks, especially unscrewing the pin, but I like their versatility. The shackle pin always tightens and requires tools to unscrew. I don’t know if shackles are “approved” but if they are rated equal or above the chain specification I don’t know why they should be a problem.
Also, I can’t be considered an authority because I have NEVER had a trailer come unhitched or had a hitch failure.

1 year ago

Out of the three RVs we’ve owned, 2 popup trailers and now a small travel trailer, only 1 has had the chains attached so they could be crossed. We finally added a high-quality quick link on the TT, so they at least don’t separate as far.

1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea


Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

“Crossing” the chains on big rig combination sets makes sense. The chain’s attachment points are well apart and could possibly work if somehow the dolly got disconnected. But on RV trailers the chains are either attached at the same point or an inch apart. In my opinion, “crossing” does nothing but make you feel good.

Eric Meslin
1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Thanks. Exactly my experience. Both chains are in the same connection point on the coupling end. I cross them, but there really isn’t any value added through this practice.

1 year ago

What does “Connect the hooks from the bottom” look like? A picture would be helpful.

1 year ago
Reply to  volnavy007

Zoom in and you can see on the truck. I am curious as to why from the bottom and not top?

1 year ago
Reply to  Linda

Steps state “connect hooks from the bottom”, like Linda, why is that and does it really make a difference? I do connect that way, only because it’s easier to disconnect afterwards, at least on my TT.

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago
Reply to  Linda

When I was still trucking I always attached my chain hooks from the top. My feeling was that if the dolly DID separate somehow and yanked the chain, it would force the hook point DOWN, thus making the connection more secure. If the hook was attached from the bottom and a separation occured, it would pull the hook downward and the tooth closer to the attachment point and easier to un-hook. Just my opinion, of course.

Bob p
1 year ago

I have always crossed my chains as suggested, and the safety chains have always been welded to each side of the tongue which will act as a cradle to keep the hitch from hitting the ground. However my “new” trailer a 2020 Mesa Ridge 23RLS has the chains anchored at the center of the A frame directly under the hitch coupler so crossing the chains does nothing to cradle the hitch. Also the attachment point is just a 3/8” wide by .090” steel loop welded to the A frame at the front joint. I’m afraid this is just for looks as I don’t think that small loop will hold up to 5000 lbs of disconnected trailer.

Todd L
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob p

My trailer is the same way. No way to facilitate crossing the chains. In Dave’s example of Nebraska’s requirement, the manufacturer did not build my trailer to be able to comply with their statute.

1 year ago

Chains are not meant to be twisted. This causes stress across the links that leads to premature failure.

Norman Worthington
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron

Absolutely never twist the chain to take up slack! The chain’s strength is compromised that way. If the chain is so long as to possibly drag on the ground…use a bungie cord to hold it up off the ground. Take a single or more wrap around the landing leg and hook it to the chain approximately half way between the trailer and tow vehicle. It will allow the chain ample room to pull while turning and keep your chain from dragging on the pavement and possibly prevent sparks to start one of those fires along the road .

Tim Bear
1 year ago

Bungee cords break. If the chain is so long it drags on the ground, cut one or more links out & reattach the hook(s) with a connecting (aka ‘repair’) link.

Thomas Garrisi
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron

YES! Thank you for mentioning this.

Lil John
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron

What stress? The weight of the chains. Sounds illogical. Been doing it for thirty years.
Hooks from the bottom? Not with my trailers. From the top is more secure and most states require safety latches on the hooks anyway.

robert davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron

Go to uhaul. They twist the chains. And they are the largest trailer rental company.