A timely warning — trailer hitch breaks apart

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?

1Larry Lang 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. It became a trip he’d never forget – and the memories had nothing to do with the Redwood forests.

2Westbound 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. Still, having safety chains in place did prevent the trailer from getting loose and possibly clobbering some other rig, but it did create major control issues. Larry’s “combination” (if you can still call it that) started into severe sway that eventually lead to a complete loss of control.

3If 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 after crossing over a lane of oncoming traffic. It would seem miraculous that no one was hurt in this mess.

4Results? 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 tells us he contacted Camco Manufacturing. The company offered him $1,700 as “compensation,” with the proviso that Larry would sign off on a release that would release the company from any further claims. Concerned his insurance company would be the loser on a deal like this one, and in light of the fact it wouldn’t even cover the insurance deductibles on his two rigs, he turned the “offer” down.

5Aside from thinking his future RVing days would probably be done with a Class C motorhome – and who could blame him after an experience like this – Larry 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.”

6Whether 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.

Photos courtesy Larry Lang


6 Thoughts to “A timely warning — trailer hitch breaks apart”

  1. Ron Hough

    Two months ago a small piece of my Roadmaster Falcon 5250 tow bar broke on a weld where it connected to my CR-V “toad”. Fortunately, it didn’t come completely apart but rattled around loosely until I discovered the problem when unhooking. I check the tow bar and hitch every time but there were no cracks or other warning signs. Can’t be too careful.

  2. Richard Baxter

    When Larry sensed a control problem, did he stomp on the gas (like we have trained ourselves to do for a flat tire) to maintain control, or did he stomp on the brakes.

  3. JBMichiganEngr

    The emergency trailer brakes probably did not activate because they stayed together and the brake tether was long enough to not activate. Should we all recalculate the length of this tether for these situations?

    1. Richard Baxter

      The fear is that if the tether does not have enough play it will pull out when turning, then what.

  4. Tommy Molnar

    Stories like this are heart breaking. It’s my worst fear. We usually give the entire hitch group at least a “once over”, but after reading THIS story I think I’ll head out back RIGHT NOW and give our hitch a close ‘scrutinization’.

  5. S. Adams

    So glad they are all ok after this awful accident! We also tow a TT and have a question regarding the towing set-up: were the emergency trailer brakes triggered/activated and did they work?

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