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Front Page » July 15, 2004 » Local News » Trailer time means safety time for everyone who tows
Published 3,660 days ago

Trailer time means safety time for everyone who tows


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate publisher


When this Idaho bound "pup trailer" rolled over on the road to Dugout Mine last Friday it spilled it's load of coal onto the side of the road, but it didn't come loose and go out of control due to its proper safety chain set up shown by the inset photo. Safety chains are an important part of every trailer whether it's in heavy industry or home use.

An accident on Nine Mile Canyon Road on the way down from Dugout Mine last Friday brings to mind the fact that safety chains on trailers do work, no matter the size of the rig.

A driver from Idaho was coming down the road toward Highway 6 when another vehicle coming up the road crossed the line and crowded him on a corner. He maintained control of the tractor and the front trailer, but the pup trailer went off onto the very narrow and steep shoulder causing it to flip over on it's side and come loose of it's hitch.

Despite a 200 foot dragging the trailer did not come loose and it was actually only slightly damaged. Coal was everywhere, but the trailer when things came to a stop was still there, attached to the rest of the rig.

At one time or another almost everyone pulls a trailer. Safety chains are only a part of the rigging and equipment needed when a trailer of any size is towed. More important than any of that however, is the care that a driver takes before a trailer is even pulled out of the driveway. Here are some tips on being ready to tow any kind of trailer.

•Perform a safety inspection before each trip. Make sure that the pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact, the hitch coupler is secured, and spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches). Also be sure safety chains are properly attached and the electrical plug is properly installed and that the lights are working properly.

People who tow trailers share the same safety concerns as recreational vehicle owners. However, a tow vehicle and a trailer form an articulated (hinged) vehicle which presents an additional set of concerns. The weight considerations are very important to safe towing. The tow vehicle must be a proper match for the trailer. If the trailer is properly equipped, it can perform safely under a variety of driving conditions.

The tow vehicle should also have enough performance to climb mountain grades without excessive loss of speed.

In common use there are four types of trailers.

•Conventional travel trailers which include folding camping trailers.

•Fifth-wheel trailers which connect onto a hitch in the middle of a pickup bed or onto a specially designed tow vehicle.

•Utility trailers, often built out of old pickup truck beds, or manufactured to haul such items as snowmobiles, motorcycles or ATVs.

The major difference between the three types of trailers is the way they are hitched.

The ball and coupler hitch is used on a wide variety of tow vehicle and trailer combinations. This hitch consists simply of a ball attached to the rear of the tow vehicle and a coupler (socket) at the tip of a tongue or A�frame attached to the front of the trailer. This hitch is commonly used on recreational trailers.

A load distributing hitch is used for heavier models such as utility trailers, boat trailers, and travel trailers. These load distributing hitches use special equipment to distribute the tongue load to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer to help stabilize the tow vehicle.

In discussing terms about towing drivers should understand certain kinds of setups when discussing hitch adjustment and in evaluating hitch performance:

•Receivers. The hitch platform fitted to the tow vehicle.

•Ball mount. A removable steel component that fits into the receiver. The hitch ball and spring bars (only on load distributing hitches) are attached to it.

•Sway control. A device designed to lessen the pivoting motion between tow vehicle and trailer when a ball�type hitch is used.

•Coupler. The ball socket at the front of the trailer A-frame that receives the hitch ball.

•Spring Bars. Load-leveling bars used to distribute hitch weight among all axles of tow vehicle and trailer in a load distributing ball-type hitch.

Fifth-wheel trailers almost fall into a category of their own. Not as much attention is given to balance, hitching procedures and weight restrictions for fifth-wheel trailers because they are basically very stable. A disadvantage that the fifth-wheel have over conventional trailers is that much of the truck bed space is not available. The fifth-wheel hitch occupies the center of the truck bed and the hitch pin is in front of the center line of the tow vehicle's rear axle. Hitch weight of fifth-wheel trailers is usually around 20 percent of the trailer weight. Hitches are rated for up to 15,000 pounds of gross trailer weight.

Fifth wheel trailers also have their own nomenclature.

•Fifth-wheel plate. A unit that contains hitch plate, plate jaws, and handle (mounted in the truck bed).

•Handle. A device used to release or lock the plate jaws.

•Hitch plate: A "Wheel" that allows the trailer to rotate.

•Pin. The connecting device attached to a fifth-wheel trailer (designed to fit into the plate jaws mounted in the truck bed).

•Pin box. A structure attached to the bottom front section of the trailer frame.

•Plate jaws. Holds the pin.

Side rails. Support rails, bolted to the tow truck bed.

Utility trailers and cargo trailers are usually attached to the towing vehicle with a ball hitch. Depending on the size of the hitch they commonly use 17/8 inch or 2 inch balls.

All utility trailers require lights and at least one safety chain, although two are better.

The proper use of two chains is to cross the chains under the coupling of the trailer to catch the tongue if it drops, comes loose and falls down. Trailers whose hitches comes loose often flip over and cause havoc with tow vehicles when it digs into the pavement.

The hookup of the chains should only have enough slack for tight turns.


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