A Weak Link

February 11, 2012 10:42 AM
A Weak Link

One out of five truck trailers is not properly hitched

Accidents involving detached trailers happen every day across the country. Many end tragically. One accident that Fred Whitford saw the results of online prompted him to begin evaluating the frequency of such occurrences. He quickly realized that the problem is widespread on and off farms.

"Twenty percent of the people in any room I’ve ever talked in, both farmers and non-farmers, routinely raise their hands and tell me they’ve had a trailer come off their truck," says Whitford, program coordinator for Purdue University Extension.

Whitford and his colleagues researched the problem and placed their recommendations in a new
Extension publication called Keep the Trailer Connected to the Truck: Understanding the "Hitch" System. Whitford shared information from the publication with farmers at the 2011 Corn College in Heyworth, Ill.  Here are the highlights compiled from the publication and Whitford’s presentation.

Hitch component ratings matter. Whitford says the weight of a trailer and its load should never exceed the rating of any hitch assembly component. If it does, that trailer cannot safely be used with that truck.

"I’ve found it’s not uncommon for a truck to be able to tow 12,000 lb. while the built-in receiver is only rated to tow 5,000 lb. or a 3,500-lb. ball," he explains. "The good news is it only takes five minutes to figure out if that’s your problem, and you can fix it with a new insert."

Understand your truck’s limits. Every truck has a specific tow rating. Trucks with larger tow ratings usually have high-performance features such as heavy-duty engines, springs, transmissions, frames, U-joints, rear axles and brakes. These features have to do with whether the truck is a three-quarter-ton or half-ton vehicle. "Look in the owner’s manual to see how much your truck can tow," Whitford says.

When a truck tows more weight than it is designed to pull, the driver can lose control of the truck and trailer. For example, if a car suddenly stops in front of a truck pulling too much weight, the truck driver might slam on his brakes, but the trailer’s momentum can push the truck forward and into the stopped car because the loaded trailer exceeds the truck’s brake ratings.

Select the right hitch mount. Keep in mind that a bumper-mounted hitch will always tow significantly less weight than a properly designed frame-mounted hitch. Farmers and commercial industry operators should not use bumper hitches to tow equipment unless their trucks have customized, reinforced bumpers.

Choose the proper frame-mounted hitch. Generally, this type of hitch fits into one of three categories: weight-carrying hitches, gooseneck hitches or weight-distributing hitches.

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Don’t improvise safety equipment. This coupler is secured with a bent metal flag, which can be very dangerous.

Know the hitch assembly’s components. Each component of a hitch assembly is individually rated for the maximum load it can tow.  Whitford says this is an important safeguard that can reduce the risk of trailers detaching on the road.

Pay attention to trailer ratings. The metal or plastic plates on the front of trailer tongues indicate the gross vehicle weight rating of the trailer. "This is the total weight that the trailer can carry, including the load and trailer weight," Whitford notes.
Safety chains are an important backup. These chains provide secondary protection. Trailer safety chains of a suitable size and grade can keep a trailer and towing truck attached long enough for the driver to pull over and fix any problems.
Emergency trailer brakes are the last backup system. Most states require trailers of certain gross weights to have both trailer brakes and a breakaway switch mounted on the tongue of the trailer. A breakaway emergency brake helps a trailer stop itself if it gets separated from a towing truck. A short cable goes from the trailer to the truck. Working with safety chains, the emergency brake helps slow the detached trailer.
Use reflective tape. Place reflective tape on the sides and rear of your trailer to mark the width and rear of the trailer.
Drive safely. Trailers simply follow the vehicle. Improper tire pressure, poor alignment or bad suspension will affect the drivability of the truck and trailer combination. The driver is responsible for making sure the unit is properly working. Read and follow the ratings of the truck, hitch and trailer to prevent accidents.


Corn College 3Head back to the classroom and out to the field with Farm Journal agronomists and other experts at these 2012 summer training events. Find a Corn College event near you.



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Spell Check

3/6/2012 01:50 PM

  Let's start your comments by explaning to listeners you're not talking about TRUCKS, you're talking about pickups. Farmers know the difference between a pickup and a truck, so explane your designation at the start of your talk.


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