Tuesday, October 3, 2023


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


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


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Tim L
8 months ago

On an aside note to hitches, has anyone watched the GMC pickup commercial touting hands free driving? There is a scene where the GMC is towing a Airstream and while there is no close up of the driver being hands free while towing. one can only assume the driver is driving hands free as that is the entire focus of the commercial. At first, I thought how irresponsible of GMC to even suggest driving hands free is acceptable towing a trailer. Then I thought, maybe the computer is smarter than some people who tow RV’s and similar. Just saying.

8 months ago

If his break-a-way cable had been 2 inches shorter then extended lenght of his safety chains the trailer brakes would have been applied keeping the trailer straight behind the truck and help to stop both vehicles.

Thomas D
8 months ago
Reply to  John

Assuming the old style drum brakes are even working and all greased up by over greasing the bearings. Drum brakes are old school and should not be on anything that moves. Even old hot rod cars now sport disc brakes.

8 months ago

I was in Alaska and stopped to help a couple in a motorhome that had their Jeep part ways from it. The towbar was really old and it had a nut inside, out of sight, that had worked it’s way off. The Jeep went into the ditch on their side of the road. It wouldn’t have been so bad had they crossed the chains under the towbar. Failing to do that allowed the towbar to drop onto the pavement and dig in. This put too much stress on the safety chains and they broke so that the Jeep was totally free from the motorhome. ALWAYS cross the safety chains/cables under your towbar.

8 months ago

From what I can make out, and the picture is bad . The shank broke at L, my last 2 hitches shank L were solid( one piece ). Yes I can very well see at this extreme high stress point that if there’s a weld there instead of it being one piece.
You will have that

8 months ago

A weld is better than a cold bent steel.

8 months ago

It’s not just the welds that break! I have a friend that tows his 2004 TJ Jeep behind his “C” M/H. On his way to a camping trip, they had stopped to get gas just before heading to their camp spot. He was done fueling & as any trucker would do he made a complete trip around the vehicles. To his surprise he noticed that one of the “U” shaped brackets on his tow bar had broken & was useless. He took it off & got it fixed. He told me about his experience & told him what I had done with that exact same hitch. The “U” shaped portion were bent & had cracks in them from the factory. I replaced all the hardware with solid machined material on both ends as I have a machine shop in my garage to do that. Since then I have made those some parts for 4 other members of our club who use the same set up but from different companies. Those hitches were supposed to be made in the USA, but I doubt if they were, most likely made in China & assembled in USA.

8 months ago

Well, I can say in all the years we towed a travel trailer, we used a very sturdy and capable Equalizer hitch.
Now we have a 5th wheel and use a GenY gooseneck with a puck system.
The type and brand does matter. Stay safe out there.

1 year ago

one person has asked how do you inspect the welds and cited X-rays. X-ray examination is probably the best but may be expensive and hard to find someone to do it. The most common inspection is using a fluorescent dye sprayed around the weld, wiping it away from the surface and using an ultraviolet light to detect it in cracks. The other method is magnetic particle testing and uses a magnetic dust, applying a magnetic field to the area and examining for the accumulation of the dust around the crack area. I will bet if you Google your area and do some calling around you will probably find someone that will do the testing. Maybe start with your schools vo-tech welding instructor for leads or maybe they do testing as part of the program.

Bob M
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe

The easiest way for a person to check their weld for cracks is the dye penetrate method. You have to buy aerosol cans of cleaner, dye and developer. Read the instructions. Clean the weld and hitch with the cleaner throughly. Do not use a wire brush or sandpaper. When clean, spray the dye on the weld or complete hitch. Give it a few minutes to penetrate any cracks that may possibly be there. Clean the dye off with a rag throughly. After all visible dye is removed. Spray the developer on the welds & hitch which would be white. If the weld has any cracks the dye will bleed out of the crack. If it does than have a expert check. The welds on my WD hitch are beautiful and look like they were welded by a robot. There could even be a crack in the hitch itself.

Gary C Stone
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year 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 1 year ago by Edward Wullschleger
1 year 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

1 year 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.

1 year ago

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

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