Eliminating hitch clunk


By Dave Helgeson

Clunk! If you pull a travel trailer you are likely to hear this sound being emitted from your hitch after a few years of use. The culprit? Wear in and around the hitch pin, receiver and hitch shank. The resulting “slop” allows the hitch shank to shift back and forth in the receiver when you stop and start. When you stop, the trailer shifts forward against the hitch pin, and when you start moving again the weight shifts back.

I have experienced this problem on my last two tow vehicles. Both vehicles were still under warranty when the problem surfaced. On my previous vehicle, the dealer’s fix was to weld a heavy washer of the correct diameter to each side of the receiver tube and install a longer hitch pin to compensate for the now-wider receiver. This fix lasted long enough for the balance of the warranty period to expire. Obviously, a permanent fix would require eliminating any front-to-rear motion between the receiver and hitch shank.

Since the weight of the trailer being pulled should be carried by the hitch pin, my thought was to make certain the hitch shank is always being forced against the pin. This would require something to push against the 2-inch by 2-inch square butt end of the hitch shank. It would have to be strong enough* to resist the hitch shank wanting to move forward when stopping, and be adjustable, allowing for continued wear and regular removal.

My solution was to fabricate a plate with a 1/2-inch bolt threaded through it. The plate is then welded to the non-receiving end of the receiver tube. Once the hitch shank is inserted and pinned in the receiver, it is just a matter of tightening the 1/2-inch bolt to remove any play.

An added bonus: The pressure exerted by the bolt makes it impossible to remove the hitch pin, keeping would-be hitch criminals or pranksters at bay.

Design considerations:

• You can use a tap to thread the plate or weld a 1/2-inch nut to the plate as I did. Note: If you weld the nut of the plate, install it on the inside of the receiver. This way the weight of the trailer is pushing the nut into the plate, requiring only tack welds to keep the nut from spinning, not carrying the force of the trailer.

• You can use a wrench to tighten the bolt or weld a “T” handle onto it so it can be tightened by hand. In my case, I used a length of rebar that I can slip my snap-up bracket pipe over to really snug it up.

• For heavier trailers, consider using a piece of angle steel or adding a spine to the plate to give it some depth and keep it from distorting.

* Theoretically, the tow vehicle should always be “pulling” the trailer, even when braking, as the trailer brakes should activate harder than the tow vehicle. The trailer “tugging” against the tow vehicle assures a safe stop and decreases the chance of jackknifing; therefore, the plate and bolt do not need to resist the total weight of the trailer.

Final note: While in no way does this enhancement violate the integrity of the hitch, be sure to check with your manufacturer to be certain this does not void your warranty on the vehicle or receiver. Also, never weld on the torsion tube portion of the receiver.

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