How to Hook up a Trailer Hitch

Trailer hitch
Hooking up a trailer hitch can mean the difference between life and death on the road. Fotosearch/Getty Images

Hitches are tricky. They're essential components to any RVer traveling the roads. If a hitch comes undone during a drive, the potential for damage and injury increase not just for you but everyone on the road. If you've ever driven an RV and felt the panic that comes when the hitch comes undone, you know how dangerous it can be to get to the side of the road. We'll show you how to hook up a trailer hitch so you can avoid disaster on the road.

Warning: Before you use this guide to hooking up a trailer hitch, keep in mind that these steps will vary hitch to the hitch. Refer to the manufacturer's guidelines that came with your hitch for the safest results.

Hooking up a Trailer Hitch

Back up the towing vehicle so that it's flush with your trailer. Lift the trailer tongue coupler enough that it clears the ball itself. You'll need a trailer jack to do this. Once set, you will need to move your towing vehicle again to center it with the RV itself. You'll know you're in the right place when the coupler centers over the hitch ball.

Turn off your towing vehicle, use the emergency brake and head back to the hitch. Push the coupler socket over the hitch ball until the weight of the RV settles on it. You'll know it when you feel it, everything will settle into place. Now, close the coupler clamp. Depending on the type of coupler, you may use a pin or lock.

Securing a Trailer Hitch

Using safety chains is a fail-safe when towing. It's standard practice for RVers. Safety chains allow you to secure the hitch so that if it comes undone during travel, you can make it to the side of the road without losing your trailer.

A standard chain can be bought at any home improvement store or RV specialty shop. Depending on the type of hitch you have, you'll need anywhere from six feet to 15 feet of chain to secure your hitch.

You want to crisscross the chain over and under your trailer hitch, ensuring the cross occurs at the ball and hitch coupler, securing it in place with locks.

Now, you'll be able to plug in and test all the electrical connections that come with your trailer. You want to ensure the lights and brakes work on the trailer itself if present.

Pro Tip: Some states require your trailer to have working tail lights. Check the regulations in your area and invest in a light kit if necessary to avoid being ticketed.

To ensure your hitch is secure, lower the trailer jack and see if the hitch ball moves. If it does, your hitch is not secure; if it doesn't, your trailer hitch is secure and ready for you to hit the road.

Again, these steps will vary depending on the type of hitch you have, your trailer and other factors. Refer to your manufacturer's guidelines for more information on how to hook up your trailer hitch before taking your trip.

What to Do If a Trailer Hitch Comes Undone

Even if you've followed your manufacturer guidelines and secured your trailer hitch, there's always a chance your hitch could come undone.

If your trailer hitch comes undone, in most cases, you'll know it. You'll feel it. This happens due to road conditions, poorly secured hitches and other factors, such as high winds or being struck by another vehicle. The most important thing to remember if it happens is to try not panicking.

You want to get to the side of the road as quickly and safely as possible. You want to slow down, use your brakes sparingly and pull over. Put your four-ways on.

You never want to make an abrupt stop, slam on your brakes or attempt to continue on to your destination as if nothing is happening.

Once you come to a stop, make sure to turn on your emergency brake. If you used safety chains and your trailer starts to roll, this may give you enough time to secure the trailer back in place using the towing vehicle to weigh it down. From there, you can hook up the hitch once more, check for any issues that caused it and hit the road again.

Hooking up your trailer hitch from the start is the number one way to prevent it coming undone on the road. While it's not foolproof, using safety chains as a fail-safe is essential to keep you, your trailer, and your family safe should the worst happen while RVing.

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