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Recreation Advocate

The OutdoorWire family websites feature news and information affecting outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands. 
6 minutes reading time (1218 words)

How to Hitch Your Trailer

When you’re getting ready to tow your trailer, whether it’s to haul a load across your property or across town, there are many steps you need to take to ensure a safe trip. One of the most important steps is knowing how to properly hitch your trailer to your tow vehicle.

The hitch is the mechanism that includes the ball support platform, ball, and other components that extend and attach to your tow vehicle, including bumpers that are intended to serve as hitches. It’s extremely important that you match your hitch and trailer. Both your hitch and tow vehicle should be rated for the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your trailer. Using a hitch with a load rating less than that of the trailer, as well as using a tow vehicle with a towing capacity less than the load rating of the trailer, can result in loss of control, an accident, and potentially lead to serious injury or death. You should also be sure the hitch size matches the coupler size and that all hitch components are tight before coupling the trailer to the tow vehicle.

Before you hitch your trailer to your tow vehicle, you need to become familiar with your trailer’s coupler. A hitch ball coupler will connect to a ball located on or underneath the rear bumper of your tow vehicle. A ring and pintle coupler works by connecting the ring on the trailer to the pintle either on or under the tow vehicle’s rear bumper. Some of the steps for coupling each type of trailer are different, so it’s worth reviewing the steps for hitch ball and ring and pintle couplers so you know the steps for your trailer.

Before you get started, inspect your hitch before coupling. Any worn, corroded, or cracked components should be replaced before coupling your trailer to your tow vehicle. Then, use the procedure for your trailer’s coupler.

Hitch Ball Couplers

Before coupling the trailer to the tow vehicle:

  1. Wipe the hitch ball clean and inspect it carefully for flat spots, cracks or pits.
  2. Rock the ball to make sure it is tight to the hitch. Make sure the hitch ball nut is solid against the lock washer and hitch frame.
  3. Wipe the inside and outside of the coupler clean and inspect it for cracks or deformities. Be sure to feel the inside for worn spots and pits.
  4. Check to ensure the coupler is tight to the tongue of the trailer. All coupler fasteners must be visible against the trailer frame.

To prepare the coupler and hitch:

  1. Lubricate the hitch ball and inside of the coupler with a thin layer of automotive bearing grease.
  2. Remove the safety latch pin and open the coupler locking mechanism. The coupler should be able to fully drop onto the hitch ball in the open position.

To couple the trailer to the vehicle:

  1. Make sure your tow vehicle is in line with your trailer and slowly begin to back up so the hitch ball is near or aligned with the coupler. It may be helpful to have someone assist you so that you are certain everything lines up.
  2. Lower your trailer’s tongue until the coupler fully engages with the hitch ball. If the coupler and hitch ball don’t line up, adjust your tow vehicle’s position.
  3. Close the latch and engage the coupler locking mechanism. When engaged, this will securely hold the coupler to the hitch ball.
  4. Insert the safety lock pin through the hole in the locking mechanism.
  5. Be sure the coupler is all the way on the hitch ball and the locking mechanism is engaged. A properly engaged locking mechanism will allow the coupler to raise the rear of the tow vehicle. Use a trailer jack to test whether you can raise the rear of the tow vehicle 1-inch after the coupler is locked to the hitch.
  6. Lower the trailer so the entire tongue weight is held by the hitch and continue retracting the jack to its fully retracted position. Fully retract the jack drop leg if equipped.

pintle ringRing and Pintle Couplers

Before coupling the trailer to the tow vehicle:

  1. Be sure that your tow vehicle, hitch, and pintle have a rated towing capacity equal to or greater than the trailer’s GVWR.
  2. Make sure the size and rating of the pintle match the size and rating of the ring. Both will be marked with their size and rating.
  3. Wipe the pintle clean and inspect it for flat spots, cracks, or pits.
  4. Rock the pintle to make sure it’s tight to the hitch. Look to make sure the pintle fasteners are solid against the hitch frame.
  5. Wipe inside and outside of the ring to clean it and inspect for cracks, deformities. Feel the inside of the ring for worn spots or pits.
  6. Make sure the ring is tight to the tongue of the trailer and that all fasteners are visibly solid against the trailer frame.
  7. Raise the bottom surface of the ring to be above the top of the pintle.

To prepare the ring and pintle:

  1. Lubricate the inside of the pintle with a thin layer of automotive bearing grease.
  2. Remove the safety latch pin and open the pintle locking mechanism. The ring should be able to drop fully onto the pintle.

To couple the trailer to the vehicle:

  1. Make sure your tow vehicle is in line with your trailer and slowly begin to back up so the pintle is aligned under the ring.
  2. Lower the trailer tongue until the ring fully engages the pintle. Adjust your vehicle’s position if the ring isn’t in line with the pintle.
  3. Close the pintle and engage it with the locking mechanism. When engaged, it should securely hold the ring to the pintle.
  4. Insert the safety lock pin through the hole in the locking mechanism.
  5. Be sure the ring is all the way in on the pintle and the locking mechanism is engaged. A properly engaged locking mechanism will allow the pintle to raise the rear of the tow vehicle, which can be tested using a trailer jack. The rear of the tow vehicle should be able to be raised 1-inch after the pintle is closed and locked.
  6. Lower the trailer so the entire tongue weight is held by the hitch and continue retracting the jack to its fully retracted position. Fully retract the jack drop leg if equipped.

Once you’ve successfully coupled or hitched your trailer to you tow vehicle, follow the steps in your owner’s manual to properly connect the safety chains, electrical cables for your trailer’s lights, and breakaway brakes. Be sure the coupler is securely locked to the hitch before you begin hauling your trailer. Carefully hitching your trailer to your tow vehicle will help to ensure a safe tow every time. Always consult your owner’s manual or your local dealer if you have questions specific to your trailer.

Editor's Note:  I recently witnessed a trailer mishap that could have been avoided.  This article is from Carry-On Trailer and their commitment to safety.  Safety is a partnership between the product and the user.  Carry-On Trailer's value to the safety of customers and their trailers over everything else.  But for this to be standard, they are committed to helping you, their customer, know how to be safe as well.

Safer trailers through user education.

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