How to Secure a Trailer Ball Hitch to a Coupler

Expert advice on securing your trailer ball hitch to its coupler

Trailer ball hitch
••• You'll see many SUVs, trucks, and other vehicles equipped with trailer ball hitches. shmily146/Flickr.com

We were all rookie RVers at one time. Whether we learned the ways of towing from a parent or picked it up along the way on our travels even the simplest of tasks had to be learned. One of these early lessons that many people in the world of RVing must learn is how to secure a trailer to a ball hitch.

After reading this article and some practice, you should be a master hitcher. Here is how to secure a trailer coupler to a ball hitch, one of the most common ways to tow.

What is a Trailer Ball Hitch and Coupler?

Let’s talk some terms, so you’re not confused right off the bat. There are two main components you will be working with: The ball hitch and the coupler.

The ball hitch will be attached to the hitch receiver; the hitch receiver is the device that is attached to the tow vehicle.

The coupler is the part that is attached to the trailer itself.

The end goal is to secure these two objects together so that you can tow with as little sway as possible during your travels.

This is the most common type of hitch setup for a towing vehicle and trailer. Most trailers on the road – apart from fifth wheel RVs – will have this basic towing setup.

Guide to Secure a Trailer Ball Hitch to a Coupler

Here's a beginner’s guide to securing a trailer ball hitch to a coupler:

  • Crank your trailer up, so the coupler is higher than the ball hitch on the tow vehicle, just a few inches will do.
  • Have your partner stand by the trailer, looking over the coupler.
  • Back up the tow vehicle towards the trailer, this is when it will help to have a partner. Roll your windows down or use a two-way radio so you and your partner can communicate. It’s also helpful to devise hand signals as well. Pointing left and right, a come here motion to continue and a closed fist to signal stop are standard hand signals.
  • Continue backing the trailer up until the ball hitch is under the coupler. The closer you get, the easier the rest of the process will be. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time, even the most seasoned of RVers screw this part up.
  • Once the hitch is under the coupler stop your vehicle, put it in park and apply the emergency brake, you can leave your vehicle at this point.
  • Crank down to lower the coupler onto the ball hitch, there might be some resistance at first but continuing cranking down until the coupler pops in. If it doesn't drop in you may be too far off, pull up and try again.
  • The coupler and ball hitch should be locked into place. Make 100 percent sure the coupler is not floating on the ball hitch. When you’re certain the two are locked in you can move on.
  • Lock the coupler and ball into place; there is a device known as a coupler clamp that is used to lock this down.
  • Secure the coupler clamp with the hitch pin that came with the hitch.
  • Use safety chains to link the trailer to the tow vehicle; you should cross the chains. You cross the chains to act as a fail-safe to catch the trailer should it somehow become detached.
  • Connect any electrical components if your trailer has them.
  • Crank the trailer jack all the way up and swing it out of the way if applicable, you don’t want this dragging or scraping on the road. Make sure the full weight of the trailer is now on the ball hitch.
  • Using your partner, check to make sure all lights on your trailer are working including turn signals and brakes. 

Keep in mind the above steps may vary depending on your specific type of trailer or camper. Refer to your manufacturer guidelines to ensure you're using the right type of hitch and towing vehicle for your setup.

After hitching up your trailer and towing vehicle, make sure everything looks all right before hopping in the driver’s seat. Take a trip around the block and make sure everything feels normal to you. You’ll know if something is off when towing, typically right away, which allows you to pull over and adjust to ensure a safe towing experience.

Pro Tip: Consider doubling up on safety chains when using this basic type of towing system. While a trailer hitch ball and coupling system are safe, it may not have as much control over trailer sway as you like. Safety chains can add another level of security on the road should your ball and hitch come undone.

Now, you are ready to hit the road. This may seem like a lot to do the first time around but the more you work on it, the easier it gets. Remember, it never hurts to double and triple check to make sure the trailer is secure before your next travel excursion.