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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.

We were just south of Louisville on Interstate 65, which is a well-maintained road. However, Interstate 65 in Indiana was atrocious with huge potholes, missing pavement and stop-and-go traffic. The traffic started to flow again just past Louisville, and we were travelling in the middle lane at 70 mph, surrounded by semi-trucks. After we lost the towed we had to drive the motorhome up to the next exit then back about 12 miles.

When we got to the site, our Fiat, which is well under the recommended weight for our RV, was hanging out in traffic by about a foot. Kentucky State Police were at our car, and a tow truck driver pulled up shortly after. The officer did not issue an accident report as this was considered a “loss of load.”

Very fortunate no one was hurt

We realize we were super fortunate nobody was hurt and we will never know which truck drivers called in the mishap and were quick to avoid the car. Thank you.

The insurance company messed around for four weeks, first declaring the car fixable then totaled it. This entire incident has been very costly for us as well as aggravating trying to get a fair shake from insurance.

The receiver was welded on to the Fleetwood when we purchased it. My question to you is: “What could we have done to prevent this if it was preventable?” The establishment welding on a new receiver for us said they have seen this before, but rarely. The officer had never seen it before. I can send pictures.

Should these welds be inspected every so often? My husband, who does know a thing or two about welding, believes the initial installation was not done properly. However, he could not see the weld as it was under the receiver.  What type of safety measures do RV manufacturers take to insure the welds are done right? Please publish this as a warning to others. Thank you. —Sherry, Class C Fleetwood Jamboree GT

Dear Sherry,
First, let me say that thankfully nobody was hurt in what could have been a major disaster!

“Toad” within safe towing capacity

From what I can tell on the website, your Fiat has been available since 2012 and hasn’t changed much, with a base weight of 2500 lbs. and a GVWR of 3500 lbs. Your Class C Jamboree looks to be built on a Ford E450 cutaway chassis that has a 5000 lb. towing capacity. So, yes, I do believe it was within the “safe” towing capacity, which is 10% less than maximum, so that would be at 4500 lbs. Since it broke away and traveled across the median and back, I assume you were flat towing with a tow bar rather than using a dolly. The reason I bring this up is because flat towing adds very little weight to the hitch, so that would not be a factor.

One piece of information you did not provide is whether you had an auxiliary braking system in the Fiat. According to information provided by Brake Buddy here, Kentucky law does not specifically require brakes on any passenger car trailers, regardless of weight. However, vehicles singular or in combination must be able to stop within the distance specified by statute.

Auxiliary braking systems required in some states

Some states require auxiliary braking systems on anything being towed over a certain weight, with some being as low as 1000 lbs. Ford recommends an auxiliary braking system on anything being towed more than 1500 lbs. However, most of us are guilty of thinking there is a “safety factor” when it comes to towing and weights. However, you can never pinpoint what actually caused a failure several thousands of miles or years down the road. Without an auxiliary braking system in the towed vehicle every time you stop the vehicle, excessive pressure is applied to the hitch ball and ultimately the receiver. Every time you start back up, that same pressure is applied. However, that is something that nothing can prevent.

A product I came across several years ago might help this issue. It’s called Quiet Hitch from Roadmaster and it eliminates the free play you get between the receiver and the tow bar tube. This would reduce the banging stress at starts and stops. You can find it on Amazon here.

Welded or bolted

Every hitch I have seen on a motorized RV has been bolted to the frame rail or extension and you would be able to check the torque periodically with that method. I’ve learned never to say always when it comes to RV manufacturers, so I can’t verify what Fleetwood did back in 2004-2005, and it could have been done by the dealer? Inspecting the welds on your hitch would not be something that the average RVer would have on their predeparture checklist. Typically, I would say you might not even be able to detect a hairline crack. Therefore, I doubt there was much you could have done to prevent this other than possibly the auxiliary braking system mentioned previously.

What type of safety measures do RV manufacturers take to ensure the welds are done right? I can’t speak for all RV manufacturers. However, I do know that Winnebago has an internal training program for all welders, who have to be certified before working in the Weld Shop. I have produced factory tour videos and training programs for several manufacturers and have noticed they have someone that is in charge of determining the skill level of employees, but nothing as a formal inspection or testing program. So it’s at the discretion of the employer mostly. However, I have not heard of this happening before. One thing I would add is I would never tow a vehicle, no matter how light, over 65 mph and typically run 63.


 You might also enjoy this from Dave 

Can weight distribution hitch bars get weak?

Dear Dave,
Do the bars on an equalizer hitch lose their carrying capacity over time? My old hitch had 1000# bars and the rig would porpoise a lot going over seams and humps in the road. I switched to newer 1200# bars and the ride is much better. —Larry, 2006 Vortex 224 FB TT

Read Dave’s answer.


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

Read more from Dave here

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Dave Solberg
Dave Solberghttp://www.rv-seminars.com/
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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xctraveler
8 days ago

We came close in 2011 with a 2004 Southwind traveling in Alaska. On the way south I noted that the “stinger” on the drop hitch was bent (2″ square solid steel!) We stopped near Calgary and had mobile mechanic check the receiver. 3 of the four welds holding the receiver to the crossbar were cracked through. We were directed to a high quality welding shop which built a new receiver for us which no longer required the use of a drop hitch.

xctraveler
8 days ago
Reply to  xctraveler

The tow’d was a RAV 4 and we had a supplemental braking system installed.

Billinois
11 days ago

We almost had a similar situation with our 2005 Winnebago Aspect 26A class c. We tow a Subaru Impreza, about 3200lbs. We came up out of a huge dip in the road on an interstate in Texas and the hitch bent down from the resulting torque. I never exceed 65mph.
When we got home I took it to a welder and he said the receiver was just bolted to an extension of light gauge sheet steel spot welded to the frame. He boxed the whole thing in, welded the receiver to the frame and said, “don’t be afraid to use it now”. I can’t believe Winnebago actually sold it that way.
If I ever buy another motorhome, the first thing I would do would be to have the receiver reinforced properly.

DENNY JOHNSON
13 days ago

Did you ever crawl under your rig and inspect the hitch? Or anything else???

Vince Sheridan
13 days ago

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 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 at 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.

Roadrunner
15 days ago

I have an RV that has a Receiver, chain rings and all, welded to the square bumper tube. I have put a brake light in it; but the previous owners used it to tow a trailered ATV.

Steve
14 days ago
Reply to  Roadrunner

Welded to the square tube? – as in the sewer hose tube? I would be very afraid of this, if it is the sewer hose tube. Good for bike racks but not very strong. Apologies if I am incorrect regarding the bumper tube

DW/ND
15 days ago

Dave: I think a special report on this incident would be welcomed by everyone who tows anything. Before and after pictures of the receiver and attaching methods would be a worthwhile discussion to have and to review. Braking systems, breakaway cable connect point, welds and bolts – lengthy discussions. Should apply to just about every vehicle made!

bill
15 days ago

I’m surprised your insurance co. didn’t look into why the weld broke .. If there had been an injury or worse they certainly would have.
Your unlucky day was also your lucky day. You broke even!

Sherry
15 days ago
Reply to  bill

We are having a terrible time with progressive which did not even tow the vehicle to the repair shop for 12 days. We have had 5 different adjusters just for the fiat alone. Every one telling something different. We have lazy days as our agent thinking they have experience insuring campers and towed. They have done nothing for us. We purchased the vehicle at Lazy Days. My husband is a retired mechanic and he could see the vehicle was totaled from the get go but progressive said it was repairable. The shop was ordering the parts and the adjuster sending us a check for towing equipment. Two days later,Friday at 4:30, that they called and said it was totaled. They seriously undervalued our car plus took money off the value of our car for damages from the accident. The icing on the cake. They will quit paying for rental car tomorrow the day my husband is having surgery, “as per our policy”.

Irv
15 days ago

The safety chains and breakaway cable should have been attached to the frame. Not the hitch!

Sherry
15 days ago
Reply to  Irv

This is how the the hitch from 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 $1000 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

Bill L.
15 days ago

I would love to have some additional information about this.

1. When you say the hitch was “welded onto the Fleetwood”, what was it welded to? Was this a typical, frame mounted receiver hitch that involves bracing that is bolted to the vehicle frame and the actual receiver tube is welded to that framing or was this simply a hitch tube welded to some part of the rig?

2. Folks are assuming that you had no auxiliary braking system installed in your Fiat. Was there such a system and if so, why did it fail? I could assume that the breakaway connecting point could have been connected to parts of the hitch that broke away from the rig? As has been pointed out, the majority of states require this type of system.

3. You mention that you have apparently had a new hitch “welded” onto your rig since this event occurred? My question would be, is this new “hitch” a complete manufactured receiver frame with bracing that bolts to the frame or again, another hitch tube welded to the back?

Snoopy
15 days ago

Sherry said she could send pictures. It would be very helpful to see what exactly broke. Theres more to this failure that those pictures might reveal!
Snoopy

bull
15 days ago

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.

Last edited 15 days ago by bull
Larry Nelson
15 days ago

In regards to the failed hitch, sound like he is trying to blame someone for the failure. How about his lack of common sense, no breakaway system, excessive speed on poor road conditions, safety cables attached to an other location besides hitch. Luckily no body was injured.

TIM
15 days ago

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 Top
15 days ago
Reply to  TIM

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

Spike
15 days ago
Reply to  TIM

Correct. 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.

Last edited 15 days ago by Spike
bill
15 days ago
Reply to  Spike

I agree!

Bob P
15 days ago

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 good. Perhaps this person bought their RV at the same dealership I bought mine from. Lol

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