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RV “chain” as strong as the weakest …

For years we’ve been talking to the bully pulpit to preach the importance of knowing your weight ratings and scrupulously sticking to them. I don’t know how many obviously overloaded rigs we’ve seen in campgrounds and on highways – sometimes broken down as a result of failing to heed such advice.

Every RV has its own maximum loaded gross vehicle weight rating. If you tow, you have a maximum allowed tow weight. Your tires have their own weight ratings. Every axle has a maximum amount of weight it can safely haul. All of them are important, and as the old saying goes, “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Overload the tires, risk a blowout. Overload the axle, risk a break. All this, even if all other parts are perfectly happy.

So it’s with penitent hearts that this article gets penned.

The day before our departure something didn’t look right with our trailer

One day a couple of years ago we were planning on pulling out for the return trek from our northern summer migration. There lay ahead of us about 1,600 miles or so to be covered. Engine checks were made. Eyeballing suspension parts. Tire pressures to be verified. And the day before departure, we were asked to move our trailer so another piece of equipment, parked behind it, could be moved out. We gladly hitched up and pulled ahead a few yards. And when we started to back into our place for one last overnight, somebody shook their head, pointed at the rear of our tow rig and said, “You know, something doesn’t look right there.”

Thinking like a guy, the pilot of our team immediately thought, “Yeah, this guy pulls a fifth wheel. What does he know about a travel trailer lash up?” Oh, fellers, don’t let your pride get in the way of common sense. A closer look revealed, yeah, something definitely wasn’t right there.

Our helpful spotter thought he saw too much wiggle between the truck and trailer, and sure enough, two critical welds in the truck-mounted trailer hitch system had broken. Had we proceeded on our merry way the next day, the best outcome would have been a stranding by the freeway. And the worst outcome: a runaway travel trailer mashing into some innocent family sedan.

Fix the hitch or replace it?

At first it was a, “Shall we hire a welding shop and fix it, or put on a new hitch?” It didn’t take long to decide we’d lay over a couple of extra days for a new hitch. Something the pilot (and chief safety inspector) had NEVER done – examine the hitch rating plate. Yes, pulling a 6,500-pound travel trailer, with nothing less than 600 pounds of weight on the hitch ball, over chuck-holed roads, over hill and dale, on a trailer hitch rated at 5,000 pounds maximum, 500 pounds on the ball, is a definite act of stupid.

After having been told the story, an old truck driver friend of ours offered a gentle, but suitable rebuke. “RVs,” he says, “are just miniaturized commercial vehicles,” with an admonition to know your rig, your ratings, and do frequent inspections.

The old tow vehicle now has a hitch rated at 16,000 pounds. Not that we’ll be planning on towing anything anywhere near that weight. There are other components along the way that would holler “Uncle!'” and give out long before.

##RVDT1892

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Paul
1 month ago

Although this discussion is about trailers, it also applies to tow’d vehicles behind motorhomes. In our previous gasser I needed a drop bar to make the connection level. I did not know that I needed to derate my hitch because of the length of the stinger on the drop bar. Returning from Alaska I noted that the stinger – 2″ solid steel was bent! I determined to replace it on return to home. Next stop I had a tech look at it and discovered that half the welds holding the receiver to the coach were broken. A local welding shop replaced the entire hitch and set it so no drop bar was needed. Now I always examine the hitch when setting up the tow at the beginning of a trip.

Bob M
1 month ago

When I bought my travel trailer, The salesman did ask me about my TV. Back years ago I had. 2008 Toyota Tacoma Double cab with the longer bed. I had it at the Toyota dealer getting some body work. When the dealer had it done and called me to let me know it was done. He said each spring was broke. When I drove it there and took it home it felt ok. That year Toyota used cheap Mexican steel for the springs. Had to pay to repair at a spring shop. A few year’s Toyota had a spring recall.

Drew
1 month ago

It’s not the salesman’s job to know your trailer and equipment.

RallyAce
1 month ago

When we bought our first TT last year, one of the first things the dealer went through was what we were going to tow it with. He inspected the TV and then said we had a 5K limit and started showing us TTs that we could safely tow. Needless to say, he was the only salesperson to show this concern and he did get the sale in the end.

Ray
1 month ago

Thank heavens you listened enough to look. It’s buyer beware out there, construction standards don’t exist, maintenace is putoff until it breaks and weight limits are an afterthought. I think it can be said such drivers are accidents looking for a place to happen.

Dave
1 month ago

Great article Russ and Tina! I weigh RVs for RVSEF and I always look under and around the tow vehicle and trailer when weighing since broken suspension components can cause strange weight results on the scales. A couple months ago I was weighing a couples rig and noticed severe rusting of the hitch on the pickup truck to the point where it was literally coming apart. I mentioned it to them and a month later I recieved a txt message from them thanking me for pointing out the dangerous situation. They had a new hitch installed and were so grateful that it had not caused and accident.

Bob p
1 month ago

You’re lucky that was spotted in time, for the most part I believe sales people are the primary place where overloading begins. I know that it’s YOUR responsibility to check your equipment, but I think sales person has more responsibility to the customer who obviously doesn’t know what they’re buying to educate the customer on the limits of their equipment. It’s been my experience most sales people don’t even read their own brochures before selling their product. Several times I’ve walked out of a dealership because the salesman knew less than I did and not only couldn’t answer my question, but didn’t know where to get the answer. More than once I’ve found someone selling vehicles who was sell shoes 6 weeks ago. If you have a “gift of gab” they think you’re a salesman.

Tom H
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

👍

Jewel
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

I agree! It is so hard to even relate to some RV salespeople when they obviously don’t know how an RV is used, other than how they were shown how to demonstrate the features.

We were getting our hitch setup installed before taking delivery of our new travel trailer years ago and watched as an obviously overloaded truck was leaving with a brand new fifth wheel. The truck’s rear bumper was nearly dragging the ground, it was so overloaded. And to think, he just bought it, so it was not even loaded for a trip,

The guy doing our setup said, “yea you wouldn’t believe how often that happens.” And yet, it keeps happening with no guilt or responsibility put on the salesman or the dealer who let these people drive off in a dangerous setup.

It starts with sales. Maybe there should be a class or at very least, an educational video like we had in driver’s Ed to show all the where, how and why to check that the RV matches the right tow vehicle.

And don’t get me started on all the “it’s those China bombs” excuses. Sometimes, it’s the tire but most of the time, it’s that old chain….don’t blame the chain when you put too much weight on it.

Travel Safely!!

Thomas D
1 month ago
Reply to  Jewel

Half the trouble of fifth wheel trailers is that the truck is to high. It gives an appearance of the trailer being overweight.
I had a 2007 chev and it was perfect, nice in line front to back. In 2011 I got a new truck. I had to raise the hitch because some genius in design thought it would look macho if the truck were higher so they made the bed/ box 3 inches deeper which put the fiver bumper very close to the ground

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