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A bad hitch can leave you in the ditch – or worse

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? We’ve pulled Larry Lang’s story from our archives as a still-timely reminder – a bad hitch can leave you in the ditch.

Add it to your safety checklist

Larry 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 back in 2016. It became a trip he’d never forget – and the memories had nothing to do with the Redwood forests. They all had to do with a bad hitch.

Westbound 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. While those safety chains did prevent the trailer from getting loose and possibly clobbering some other rig, there were major control issues. Larry’s “combination” (if you can still call it that) started into severe sway that eventually led to a complete loss of control.

If 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 was after crossing over a lane of oncoming traffic. It would seem miraculous that no one was hurt in this mess – a mess traced back to a bad hitch.

Hitch company offers “compensation”

Results? 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 contacted Camco Manufacturing. The company offered him $1,700 as “compensation.” A proviso said that Larry would sign off on a release. That release would get the company off the hook from any further claims. Larry was concerned his insurance company would be the loser on a deal like this one. Add to that, the so-called “compensation” wouldn’t even cover the insurance deductibles on his two rigs, and he turned the “offer” down.

Larry got to thinking his future RVing days would probably be done with a Class C motorhome. Who could blame him after an experience like this? Then he 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.”

Whether 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. Yeah, a bad hitch could leave us all in the ditch.

How about you? Have you had a heart-stopping experience on the road? We’d like to share it with others? Just use the form below. 

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Photos courtesy Larry Lang

##RVT1021

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Gary C Stone
15 days ago

It was already asked…what, exactly, do we look for? Of course a cracked weld may be obvious, but is there anything more we can look for or are some things simply not visible?

Bob P
15 days ago

My hitch is not welded. I wouldn’t trust a welded hitch, like the man said he wouldn’t hang his hat on another man’s weld. Only a certified welder should be trusted and they don’t hang out in everyday garages as it takes a lot of time and training to become a certified welder and their rates are high. My welds are not pretty but I’ve never had one break. I’ve used a drop down hitch for 23 years that I welded and it’s still strong.

Edward Wullschleger
16 days ago

So what do you check for? My understanding is that aerospace companies use X-Rays to look for hidden cracks in metal and bad welds. But how would I, or anyone else with a trailer know if the hitch is safe or not?

Last edited 16 days ago by Edward Wullschleger
SDPeg
17 days ago

We had a DrawTite hitch break in half – NOT at a weld spot….no recourse except to pay for the repairs ourselves – luckily we were only doing about 10mph at the time

Brian
17 days ago

An old welder once told me “I’d never hang my hat on another man’s weld”. Too many fly blind and expect other’s to be responsible for their safety, everything should be checked and nothing assumed when it comes to transportation safety.

tom
17 days ago

Check, check, and check again. All manmade things can and will fail.