How to Properly Hook Up Your Conventional Trailer

And Understanding Hitch Assembly Towing Capacity

Too often news reports describe some events as “accidents” when a conventional trailer becomes unhitched while in tow. Occasionally, the mishap results in needless serious injury or death. The majority of these incidents are human error and not an unpreventable mechanical failure. This short video describes the routine that everyone towing a conventional trailer needs to perform when hitching every time.

(Note: This safety information does not include a weight distribution system (WDS). To learn about a WDS, click here.)

Additional Safety Tips

conventional hitchingAnyone who is safety minded will always properly secure safety chains for any trailer they tow. Using safety chains can save people from serious injury or death.

It is important to ensure that safety chains are long enough for the trailer to achieve maximum turning angle. However, the chains should be short enough not to drag on the ground and to hold the trailer tongue up off the ground if it becomes disconnected while in tow.

Always crisscross the safety chains one time. For some states, it's the law! Also, SAE J684 states "The safety chains shall be crossed under the trailer tongue and connected to the hitch assembly or to other towing vehicle members."

A properly matched trailer coupler and hitch ball should never fail.

Never tow without the coupler locking lever secured with a coupler safety pin.

Rather than using a coupler safety pin to secure the coupler locking lever, use a padlock to prevent tomfoolery.

Perform routine maintenance checks and services on the hitch assembly and trailer coupler per manufacturer specifications.

Ensure that safety chain weight ratings meet or exceed the trailer's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).

If two separate safety chains are used, the sum of the two chains should meet or exceed the trailer’s GVWR.

If a single safety chain is used, it should run through the tongue eye and connect to the tow vehicle in the same fashion as the double chains. The single chain should meet or exceed the trailer’s GVWR.

Always replace worn or road filed safety chains before towing.

For large travel trailers, do not use Quick Links to attach safety chain to tow vehicle. The largest rated Quick Links is only 3,500 pounds.

quick linkReplace S-Hooks with appropriately rated safety latch clevis hooks or certified S-hook with wire safety latch or snap hooks.

The only thing that should be touching the road is the vehicles' tires.

If someone stops by to chat with you while hitching a trailer, it will often distract you from the routine hookup and may cause you to skip an important safety step. Stop what you are doing. Either continue after the conversation ends or kindly ask individual(s) to cease their conversation until the hookup is complete and you have double checked the connections.

It is just as important that any of you who are not involved in the process of hitching a trailer is never to bother one who is doing so. Please restrain yourself.

Double check the hitch connection and recheck before leaving any location you stopped for a break or fuel fill-up.  

Ensure the brake and signal wiring is not damaged and it is connected and functioning correctly.

Ensure the hitch pin or lock is properly secured keeping the ball mount from coming free from the receiver.

When equipped, always attach the breakaway cable to the tow vehicle.

Periodic greasing of the hitch ball and coupler will prolong the life of these components.

The SAE J684 is the standard for all couplings, hitches, and safety chains used in conjunction with all types of trailers or towed vehicles whose Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) does not exceed 4540 kg (10000lb).

The Hitch Assembly Component Ratings

Ensure that the lowest weight rating within the three components shown below meets or exceed the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The lowest weight rating between these components and the tow vehicle's conventional TWR becomes the maximum allowed TWR.

Example: The lowest rating within the hitch components is the hitch ball rated at 10,000 pounds, and the tow vehicle's published TWR is 14,000 pounds. The lower rating of the hitch ball becomes the maximum towing capacity or maximum allowed TWR.

However, one could learn that after using the RV Tow Check App, the maximum RVTC, due to the weight of the tow vehicle, is only 9,820 pounds. The RVTC of 9,820 pounds is the maximum trailer weight that this vehicle should tow regardless of higher ratings of the hitch assembly or the tow vehicle's published TWR.


Example: 14,000 lbs.

Ball Mount

Example: 12,000 lbs.

Hitch Ball

hitch ball
Example: 10,000 lbs.

Note: The above components may have an additional higher rating when used with a weight distribution system. However, always follow the max towing capacity rating rule between the hitch assembly, TWR and RVTC.

A heartfelt note from the founder.

Colt Tuff ShafferThe morning after Memorial Day 2017, I became aware of a horrific tragedy in Lincoln County, Kentucky. It was caused by a travel trailer that unhitched from a truck. The trailer then moved into the opposite lane and met head-on into an SUV. The SUV driver was killed, and six-month-old Colt Tuff Shaffer was severely injured. By Thursday morning I learned that Colt was not going to make it an later that day Colt succumbed to his injuries.

I cannot ever relate to what the family has endured during this time. However, this tragedy hit me with much sorrow, sadness, and anger. Out of my anger, I created this new page on Wednesday, May 31.

I dedicate this page to Colt’s memory. I ask all who read this page share it with anyone who is learning about towing a conventional trailer or needs a reminder. Education and applying what is learned is the key to preventing injuries and death.

First news report
One killed, three injured after bad crash in Lincoln County

Second news report
Family donating organs of six-month-old: "My baby is going to be a superhero"

You can help
GoFundMe for Colt


TWR = Trailer Weight Rating
RVTC = Realistic Vehicle Towing Capacity (Provided by the RV Tow Check App)
GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Recommended Hitch Safety Product Examples

Always ensure product meet or exceeds the trailer's GVWR.

Recommended Reading and Video Links