By Russ and Tiña De Maris
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 other day 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.
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, and 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.