Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Another towed car detaches from motorhome. Plus, follow-up on braking systems

Dear Dave,
My car broke away from my motorhome in Alaska, and I have an auxiliary brake. The only problem is that the breakaway cable was attached to the receiver, which was no longer connected to the RV. It is a scary deal. —Jeff, 2016 Winnebago Sightseer 33C

Dear Jeff,
Two towed (toad) vehicles hit the road in one week! Yikes!

Reader comments to the rescue

Before I get into things, last week another reader wrote in with a similar situation and we got some great comments that I wanted to share. Here they are:

Bob P.: “The auxiliary braking system would not have worked in this situation as she said the entire receiver broke loose and that would’ve been where the brake safety cable would attach as there wouldn’t be any other frame member to attach it to. As you said, I have only seen one hitch receiver welded to the frame and that was when I bought my first trailer. The dealer welded a bunch of cobbled-up parts under my truck frame to create a receiver. I was glad to get rid of that truck 10 months later as that setup never did work well. Perhaps this person bought their RV at the same dealership I bought mine from. Lol.”

Tim: “When towing, whether it is a trailer or vehicle, the breakaway system should never be connected anywhere on the receiver. The lanyard should be connected to the tow vehicle elsewhere in case the receiver fails, as in this article.”

Armor: “Sounds good, but I have yet to see a tow system where the breakaway cable can be hooked to anything but the receiver.”

Spike: “I attach my breakaway system cable to the frame, not the hitch. One might have to add an extension to the cable or create a way for attachment, but that’s not hard.”

Bull: “Any auxiliary brake system requirements are dictated by laws in the state in which you have your vehicle/RV registered, not the state you are traveling through.

A reply from Sherry, the original poster: “This is how the hitch from the manufacturer was set up. We asked the hitch and welding shop about this and they told us this is the usual way. We take the RV in next Tuesday to have this repair done. We have a $1,000 deductible so this will be our out-of-pocket expenses. We completely trust our hitch shop and my husband is also going to have them rig up cables to the frame.”

Denny: “Did you ever crawl under your rig and inspect the hitch? Or anything else???”

Vince: “I’m seeing some red flags here….

“Supplemental Brake – If the unit bounced off the median and traveled across three lanes of traffic, that demonstrates the supplemental brake is inoperable (if installed). The breakaway cable should NEVER be attached to the same crossbar as the receiver to avoid exactly what happened. The breakaway function will not engage the toad brakes if it’s still attached to the detached hitch. Instead, the breakaway cable should be attached directly to the frame rail. An eyebolt through a frame hole and aircraft cable that you can pick up at Ace Hardware is all it takes.

“Safety Chains/Cables – Same thing. They should be attached directly to the frame of BOTH vehicles for the exact same reason. If they’re attached to the bumper or receiver crossbar, they’re useless. Safety chains and cables are required specifically to reduce the consequences arising from hitch failure. If you’re attaching chains to what the tow bar attaches, not good.”

Braking systems: Supplemental brakes, safety chains, and breakaway devices

I did ask Sherry for photos but have not received anything back from her yet. However, the comments brought up some good talking points about supplemental brakes, safety chains, and breakaway devices.

First, I asked the RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF) Executive Director about Road Use Laws as they pertain to auxiliary braking systems and reciprocating laws between states. He stated that most road use laws are not reciprocal, just license and registration. However, what I have found is that most of the time it is up to the interpretation or discretion of the officer.

Next, I contacted Winnebago Industries and although they do bolt the receiver hitch onto their units, it is bolted to a metal extension welded to the chassis.

The Class A chassis comes with frame rails, and most are extended with steel outriggers welded to the sides and perimeter. There is no chassis structure in the back to weld or bolt the receiver hitch to. Further research shows that several companies weld the receiver hitch, rather than have it bolted on. The certified welders I talked with stated that if the weld is performed properly, it would be as strong or stronger than the bolted procedure.

This brings up a good point made by Denny, who suggested you crawl underneath and inspect. Normally, when I ask a question like this in my seminar, I do get that one guy who ALWAYS checks the fluid level in his batteries and the tire pressure before every trip. But how many of us thought about checking the hitch or any other welded parts or bolted ones? I would bet many of our readers might start doing that now. This is a classic example of a failure that happens where we can’t pinpoint exactly what or when the failure started. Even if you did visually inspect the receiver hitch, would you have found a bad weld? Maybe.

Braking systems: Auxiliary brakes and breakaway switches

I talked with the three major suppliers of auxiliary braking systems and found Roadmaster and RVI breakaway systems are an option and not standard on their auxiliary brakes. RVI has an installation video, and it shows the installer connecting the cable to the receiver hitch.

However, Roadmaster does have the following instructions in their installation manual.

When using the breakaway system, always make certain that the following conditions are met: Connect the breakaway cable by clipping the included steel cable to the breakaway pin on the breakaway switch. Clip the other end of the cable to the rear of the motorhome, close to the center. Connecting the cable toward either side of the motorhome may cause the breakaway pin to be pulled when the motorhome turns, activating the breakaway system.

They also have a clear warning in the owner’s manual that states: Do not attach the breakaway system to the brackets or tow bar. If the tow bar or bracket fails, the breakaway system will separate with the bar or bracket preventing it from operating properly.

The Blue Ox Patriot does come with a standard breakaway switch PN BRK2505 Patriot Breakaway Switch, and the owner’s manual states the following:

Note: The breakaway switch must be mounted directly on the towed vehicle and not to be installed on the tow bar or bracket. The surface must be strong enough to hold the breakaway switch and allow for the pin to be pulled out cleanly.

This talks about where to mount the switch but does not have a recommendation for mounting the cable to the motorhome.

Have a good braking system so your toad doesn't drive away!

So, the bottom line here is that strange things do happen, and being over-cautious could be a good thing. Inspect your hitch, whether it is bolted or welded, periodically. And it is a good idea to find a way to mount the breakaway switch cable to something other than the receiver hitch. As for the safety chains, some have added mounts to their chassis, other just use the hitch. However, two in a week is cause for discussion!

 You might also enjoy this from Dave 

Warning: Welded hitch broke loose and “toad” took off! Preventable?

Dear Dave,
Recently our receiver completely broke off from our Class C Fleetwood Jamboree GT. Our motorhome is well-maintained and in excellent condition, but it is a 2005 model which we purchased at 2 years old. The RV has just over 100,000 miles. The receiver weld broke, sending our towed Fiat 500 Abarth convertible, the hitch with the safety cables still attached, and the receiver, into the median. It hit a cement wall. We believe the vehicle, still attached to all the towing equipment, then shot back across 3 lanes of traffic.

Continue reading Sherry’s question and Dave’s answer

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

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Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg 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. He has been in the RV Industry since 1983 and conducts over 15 seminars at RV shows throughout the country.


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Wallace Wood
3 months ago

Although the 2 questions are in regards to towing a car the same problems exist with travel trailers.
The brake away system works essentially the same with a brake away cable connected to the towing vehicle as well as what is being towed.
Tow hitches and how they are mounted, bolted or welded, should be inspected every year.
If you see rust in a weld it’s probably no good
If you see rust around bolts, they are loose.
A competent mechanic should be inspecting the hitch the same time they are looking at the rear suspension.
Good luck with the competent part.

Gary W.
3 months ago

Once again, no mention of the NSA ReadyBrute tow bars. Their breakaway cable instructions specifically say do attach it to any part of the towing system including the receiver. Attach it to the tow vehicle frame.

Bill Byerly
3 months ago

Great timing Dave. Hooking my toad up today to my 2019 Sightseer 33c. I will definitely do another thorough inspection of my hitch assembly and find a new location for the breakaway cable away from the hitch, thanks for the reminder.

3 months ago

If you see someone hooking up the toad, back off. A distraction while putting out the lawn chairs is not a big deal but if someone is going thru a routine toad hookup, stay away. It’s a routine that doesn’t include a visit about the weather.

Tom H.
3 months ago

Inspect. Inspect. Inspect. At the end of the day the owner is responsible.

3 months ago
Reply to  Tom H.

You can inspect but you cannot see a poor weld like this. When you bought your motorhome did you remove your bumper, have access to a xray machine to check the weld? Do you do this type of inspection weekly, monthly, yearly? Did you personally know the skill of the welder who worked on your hitch or do you happen to be a certified welder? We cannot be so flippant. Please attach back up cables to the frame of your motor home. Our mistake was following “standard operating procedure” when hooking up our towed and trusting Fleetwood. A proper weld should never fail. This is important for all RVs regardless the year.

Bob P
3 months ago

Your explanation is valid, however I did catch something very important in the comment. If the hitch is welded by a certified welder it should be stronger than what it’s welded too. Certified welders make very good money because of their skill, now how many hitch installation shops are willing to hire certified welders at the pay scale they command? Zero, zilch, nada, if you can strike an arc and keep it going you’re hired. I can do every thing required of a welder but I’m not certified, nothing I’ve ever welded ever broke which I say proudly, my welds are not pretty, but they are solid. My point is there are many people who can weld, but is it a solid weld or just a good looking weld with very little penetration? Knowing the heat setting to get the proper penetration is the key factor in welding, to much heat gives you burned holes, to little heat gives a weak weld, might as well glue it. Personally I trust grade 8 bolts to a cold weld by someone I don’t know their experience.

3 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

This is obviously an easy place for RV manufacturers to cut corners with a cold weld possibly taking years to fail. How is the average consumer to know? What are we going to do now sue Fleetwood? Their corporate history and paper trail is dubious. They no longer really exist. This is why it is important to file a report with the NTSB so more people can become aware of this issue.

3 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

A good weld-on hitch is fine .. A hitch both bolted and welded is great!
A great weld starts with a good mechanical bond.

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