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Old 02-26-2008, 09:23 PM   #1
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Saftey Chains and break away switch setup (with pics)

Fellow Campers

I know most of us may not have really thought a lot about this as the dealer set up your rig and they may or may not have put the time into this to “optimize” it. I hope a TT separation never ever happens to anyone, but if it does some of this may help make part of a bad situation at least semi predictable. I did write Sunline on this before they went out of bussiness trying to sort this out and below is some of the findings.

This post might be a little long.... but I will try to do in pics; so you can see what I am referring to. Ideally each of us should check our rigs to make sure your setup is pre-thought on what will happened if the TT separates and adjust accordingly.

Now on with the show….

It is listed in many state towing laws and most printed material about hitching up that the safety chains should be crossed. One of the reasons given is to try and “catch” the tongue in the event of TV/TT separation to not hit the ground. However all the places I have seen this listed it never declared if it is a WD or non WD hitch setup.

I do subscribe to and agree with the chain crossing method, it gives a centralized drag point and if the setup can be made to catch the tongue, it will from a cradle. However “catching the tongue” is a question on WD hitches if it is obtainable in “most” cases.

On non WD hitches the draw bar is short and close the TV. The trailer tongue is generally longer and the chains are close to the ball coupler making it possible to “catch” the tongue in many setups. However I have not found where on commercially available WD hitches that the “catch” feature is easily accomplished direct from the hitch manufacture.

In fact I have not found one yet in the stock configuration and was hoping someone may have been able to do this and can show us how to accomplish it. Again without custom modifying standard purchased hitch components and be able make full turns and not have the TV hit the side of the TT. The combinations of;

* High rise or long drop shanks
* Low slung axle TT’s
* High and low TV receivers

Make the safety chain combinations many all by themselves.

I recently installed a new TV receiver and a new TT hitch and this setup question again rose to the top of the can you actually “catch” the tongue? After adjusting and checking a mocked up decoupling, what I have at the end of this post is what I feel is the most optimal in safety chain and breakaway switch setup for my TV/TT/hitch combination. This new camper has chains. My T2499 had coiled cables. I was able to make the same relationship on both.

How do you set up your rig and can you catch the TT tongue using WD? Please share if you can and how you did this.

To show this the easiest I will do most of this with pics.

See the first pic. Notice 2 excess links hanging from the tow hooks. This was the 1st setup on the new hitch when a fellow forum camper I know saw this and pointed out I might be able to take up a link on the chains.


So I checked and sure enough I could shorten the chain 1 link. I had to install larger hooks to allow the safety clasps to close so I was into the chain adjust process anyway. This Towbeast receiver has a very large chain plate openings and most safety clasp hooks do not fit if they are under 3/8” hooks. Now look at the setup with 3 excess links hanging.



Then I tried to ring out the entire setup. Could I do a full turn, could it catch the tongue if it decoupled? First here is the setup with dimensions so you can see this is complex to start with. The math says it will not work, and I proved by testing it will not work. The horizontal straight distance is greater then the vertical, ground to chain loop on the receiver. And this is with no chain slack.



Here is the chain attachment point on the TT. This is now common and several brands I have seen verses the older way of attaching inside the frame. The newer Sunlines are like this. I do not know about the older ones.


And here you can see the chains are actually crossed.


Here is a full turn. This is not as far as I can turn, but I do not want to push it much more then this with the WD bars on. The WD bars can come off the DC and the trunnion lug will bind on the ball shank nut. Plus you can break a piece out of the hitch head at the trunnion lugs if you keep going far enough.



And here is the full 180 turn I have to do in my yard after each camping trip. TV to TT clearance with steering wheel at full crank.


So seeing I could turn and maybe take 1 more link out, I tried it. However now I can just barely get the chain hook on as I run out of slack. I have to rotate the hook to the side to get it on and the clasp to work. But still I continued on the experiment with 4 links excess.


Here you can see a side shot of 4 links


Now I mocked up the ball decoupling, still on 4 excess links. If this ever does happen, good question as to where do the WD bars fly off too…. Hope I never have to learn where.


And now the next stage. The tongue hits the ground. This 1 pic shows where the TT could hit the TV if the TT speed overcomes the TV. The jack and the propane tanks can hit the hitch head or TV bumper if the tongue went under the truck. Something you want to avoid as much as possible. Sunline told me this is the main point they do not want to happen, that is the TT to hit the TV.


And here you can see the jack foot and the DC are grinding on the pavement. This also shows my breakaway was not set right for this new hitch by shortening up the chains. More on this later.




And here you can see how the chains will drag the TT pending the speed of the TT and TV relative to each other. You can also see that the hooks up from the bottom on the receiver are more natural to work better if your are dragging.


From this setup it was clear having 4 excess links will not stop the tongue from hitting the ground. And I can barely attach the chains hooks. With the TV at an angle to the TT I would not be able to. Going to 5 excess links, I will not be able to attach the chains hooks even when straight.

Seeing this I went back to 3 excess chain links and reset up the same test, but this time I also worked on the breakaway switch mounting. As you can see the same thing occurs, the tongue will still hit. However I can at least get the hooks on the receiver chain loops without fighting them and I have plenty of ground clearance to not have the chains dragging when hitched up. You do not want the chains to drag. They make sparks and worse, weaken the chain over time.


Next was to correct the breakaway switch. After my research on this subject, the breakaway should pull out before you run out of chain or the tongue hits the ground. Again to not have the TT hit the truck. On my setup I can fine tune the pull cable by this snap hook and chain. I can put the snap hook in a different loop. The pull chain is on the bumper, not the receiver. You also want the 7 wire plug to pull out after the breakaway.


Here you can see that the safety breakaway cable is attached to the bumper and no part of the receiver.


With going to 3 excess links, I did not have enough cable clip chain to adjust so I had to drill a new hole and remount the switch. This also gave me room to not crash the switch as easy with the DC folding back. The TT tongue is a good 4” off the ground still. This is just the point of pulling out.




And now it is pulled out. And the tongue still has not hit the ground by about 3”.




Now the tongue fully on the ground. Now I have good clearance on the switch and the DC arms folding backwards.




Here is the completed setup with the breakaway remounted in the normal position. I have since tie wrapped up the loose breakaway switch wires.


And a view looking down the rig from the bottom


I have done this same mock up both of my TT’s. And until you really mock it up, it is hard to tell what happens first. I did not realize the Reese DC could almost break off the safety switch.

Here is also the same mock up on my T2499.



And a close up on the 7 wire and the safety break away switch for which comes out first.


Here is a recap:

*Cross your safety chains or cables. Even if they will not catch the tongue, they held drag more central.

* Hook the grab hooks up from the bottom. In a drag situation they pull better. I learned this after doing the mock up.

*Chain/cables not to touch the ground and be long enough to do full turns and not bind on the hitch.

* Attach the breakaway switch cable to the truck (bumper or frame) independent of the receiver or hitch.

* Keep the breakaway switch cable free from getting tangled up so it can pull easily. Do not weave it in with the safety chain. It can’t pull out then.

* The breakaway switch should activate first before the chains/cables reach the end of travel. This was Sunlines recommendation and other cargo trailers recommendation.

* The 7 wire plug should be longer then the break away cable settings.

Another item that I did, was to change the S hooks on the ends of the cables/chains to forged grab hooks with the safety clasp. I had the S hooks with no safety clasp. I have not found any laws on this, but it is a good idea to do as the hook will then not giggle out of the chain loop on the receiver. When using chains or hooks for towing, use grade 43 or grade 70 and make sure it is marked for those grades. Normal grade 30 found in many hardware of lumber yards are not rated for towing.

Hope this helps someone trying to figure this out and I would be glad to hear how you do yours to see if I can improve on any of this.

Thanks

John
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:48 AM   #2
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John,

Great photo description and explaintion. I have one question: In your 180 turn you were backing to your left, and I don't think you had shortened the break away cable at that point. Then you shortened it, and did your turn again, and it still worked. What will happen with the shortened cable should you need to make a 180 from the right? I'm thinking a sharp/tight right turn with the shortened cable WILL pull it out. Also, I don't have chains, I have those PIA cables

Kitty
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:48 AM   #3
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OOPS
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Old 02-27-2008, 02:44 PM   #4
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Hey John,

Once again, a great post and excellent pictures and descriptions.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to create it and share with us. You’ve brought out a lot of good points and provided me with areas that I need to check on my own setup.

When viewing your pictures I notice that they were taken in January and February of this year, but where’s the snow?

Seriously, your post raised a few questions wrt if the trailer were to release/decouple and become unhitched from the tow vehicle when traveling at highway speed, including:

1. Is the chain opening of the receiver structurally sound enough to handle the weight and forces generated from a trailer releasing?

2. Could / would a trailer releasing/decoupling at highway speed result in a potential flipping of the tow vehicle.
I’ve known people that adhere to the philosophy that if the trailer releases/decouples to make sure the trailer becomes totally disconnected from the tow vehicle to protect the passengers within the tow vehicle.

I’m not saying I agree with this philosophy, just curious on what your feelings and throughts are wrt this.

Hutch
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Old 02-27-2008, 09:14 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanyonkitty
John,

Great photo description and explaintion. I have one question: In your 180 turn you were backing to your left, and I don't think you had shortened the break away cable at that point. Then you shortened it, and did your turn again, and it still worked. What will happen with the shortened cable should you need to make a 180 from the right? I'm thinking a sharp/tight right turn with the shortened cable WILL pull it out. Also, I don't have chains, I have those PIA cables

Kitty
Kitty

Thanks for the good words.

You have a keen eye and a good question. Great. A few things that are unique to the Reese HP hitch head or most any hitch head with extended ears on them for a friction sway bar mount. The Reese HP head has the option of a single friction sway bar to be added on the right side. Some hitch heads like Drawtite, have 2 ears for 2 friction bars and the problems are twice as bad on them that I am going to show you.

See this pic of that ear I’m talking about. The little ball knob for the friction bar mounts on it.


Well that extra extending ear on the hitch head prevents a turn much greater then 65 degrees on a “right” hand turn. That ear will crash the side of the frame beyond that. You never get to the breakaway cable. When you add the friction bar the ball hits first but when no bar, then the head ear will hit the frame.

But when the hitch is setup correctly I can turn 74 degrees on a “left” turn with the WD bars on as there is no extending ear. Looks like this


Here see a top view on the F350 where you can really see that ear stick out.


And you can see here on the left turns you can turn harder left.


As a side note, if your receiver is rated heavy enough in weight carrying mode, you can turn sharper with the WD bars off when turning left then the 74 degrees. You can get another ~ 5 to 8 more degrees. And by then the fender is almost in the LP tanks. Moving a TT with the WD bars off if the TV and receiver can handle it, is OK for just a move, but not towing down the highway. Then you need the WD bars on.

So, yes I did move the break way switch back about 1”. And it is not a problem on hard “left” turns. On “right” turns the hitch binds up before I reach the point of the safety cable pulling out.

Because of this right turn binding problem I always do left turns if I have to turn that hard. Or if I have go right, I really watch it and go real slow.

Thanks

John
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Old 02-27-2008, 09:46 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PTHutch
Hey John,

Once again, a great post and excellent pictures and descriptions.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to create it and share with us. You’ve brought out a lot of good points and provided me with areas that I need to check on my own setup.

When viewing your pictures I notice that they were taken in January and February of this year, but where’s the snow?

Hutch
Hutch

Thank you too for the kind words.

For tonight I will leave you with the very NY life like pic taken here on Ohio tonight just for you.... This reminds me when I lived in NY. …LOL


And here we where on Feb 2, 2008


We have not been out since. February has had snow issue every weekend since. Camping withdrawl is setting in bad about now. And last night I went out with the tractor to put the plow on praying I did not have use it with all those fresh stones I put down last fall on the drive way…. . So far I lucked out. We only had like 3” last night.

But at least it cooperated enough I have been able to pull the camper over on the concrete and do stuff inside each weekend. Have a water pump upgrade project yet to post. Stay tuned.

Now to your other questions, out of time tonight, but I will be back on Thursday. A very good topic to discuss and hope more will join in. There are sort of 3 camps of thought out there on what to do when the TV separates.

1. Set the breakaway switch to come on “before” the chains reach full length.
2. Have the breakaway switch “only” come on when the chains actually break loose and the trailer is on it’s own.
3. Let the TT go and do not try to keep it attached.

There is no perfect solution when a TT decouples or a hitch part breaks. It’s a bad thing period. Next is to pick which evil above 1, 2 or 3 do you set your rig up for and why?

Best is prevention before you get into this situation. But if you do, then what? Plan 1, 2 or 3?

Be back on Thursday. Any one else please join in on your views. Glad to have them. We are a good group here on Sunline club and can talk openly about passionate views and not flame any one in the process. This topic sometimes become very passionate. It can be worse then gas verses diesel…. .

Talk more on Thursday

John
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Old 02-28-2008, 06:02 AM   #7
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Hi John,

Thanks for the reply. I’m looking forward to more of your opinions.

I sort-of fall some where between 1 and 2.
I want the breakaway switch to come on “before” the chains reach full length, but then if the forces are great enough I want the chains to break loose.
Thoughts / comments?

Hutch
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Old 02-28-2008, 06:44 AM   #8
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This is the first time I have owned a TT that is 27' long and this subject is really making me think about the "what if's". Then last night, I watched "Smash Lab" on Discovery and they were testing ways to slow down a runaway TT. They used rocket motors in different ways. Though I thought the Airstream they used had a neat upgrade with the rockets on the side, I don't think that I would want to be in the TV or next to theTT when the rockets went off. Anyhow, John, thanks for the great info and pictures to help explain.
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Old 02-28-2008, 08:51 AM   #9
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Has "ANYONE" in all their years of driving ever encountered a TV/TT seperation and if so, what can you tell us about it ?

"IF" you didn't actually have it happen to you, but have first hand knowledge from seeing something like this, can you offer any insight/recommendations as to what might be experienced should this seperation ever happen to one of us. I've been towing since 1971 (started with single axle horse trailer, then tri-axle float-on boat trailer, and now 27' Sunline, with many othere sizes/types inbetween) and can't ever recall even seeing a seperation that I know of.

Kitty
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Old 02-28-2008, 09:43 AM   #10
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I've never had it happen to me, or seen one happen for that matter, but I did see an accident that was a result. It was a Sunnybrook TT, about 30', that must have come off the ball and flipped. There were parts scattered all over I-75 and the frame with spare tire (mounted on bumper, with fiberglass cover still on) was all that was left. Very scary. However, the thing I've seen more is coaches catching on fire. I've seen I think two TT's and one FW that caught fire, the FW still attached to the TV. They were all older ones, though, and I don't know what caused them to catch fire.

Jon
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Old 02-28-2008, 11:30 AM   #11
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I think most seperations are probably caused by the failure to properly "pin" the coupler. Last year we had a triple fatal accident (two of which were a father and son who were both volunteer firefighters) on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that was caused by a utility trailer that came uncoupled. In this case there were no chains and the coupler was not pinned. The wild part is no criminal charges because MD evidently doesn't have a law requiring either. My feeling is if you are careful about making sure the pins are properly installed in both the reciever/tow bar and the coupler (I use trailer locks in both), you have almost eliminated the possibility of uncoupling. I've never heard of a seperation due to equipment breaking, although it is a possibilty.

In 33 years as a firefighter, I have seen many fires in RVs and they do not do well. We recently had a fire that started in an RV that was parked next to the house and pretty much lost both before the FD got there.
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Old 02-28-2008, 02:10 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanyonkitty
Has "ANYONE" in all their years of driving ever encountered a TV/TT seperation and if so, what can you tell us about it ?
YES - it's happened to us, well to the DW exactly, with a pop-up, but never the less, very scary . As MACK C-85 mentioned, the cause was failure to properly engage the coupler on the ball .

It's a long story - but a good one for around the fire at the M&G .

It also happened to my father, his toad released from behind his MH. The pin holding the shank into the receiver of the hitch failed. But that's a different situation with the toad being 4 wheel towed and a lot ligher than the MH. Another story for the camp fire

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Old 02-28-2008, 03:45 PM   #13
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I've never had it happen to me, or seen one happen for that matter.
Now that I think about it, we did have a situation, but it was due to my Dad's laziness. Back a long time ago ('91 Explorer and car hauler), we were moving it and he didn't latch the coupler or something and he didn't connect the chains or power cord. This was only coming out of the garage (slightly downhill), so it wasn't too necessary. Anyway, it ended up popping off and went sliding away. I don't think it did any damage, and this wasn't on the road, so it was able to be brought under control. As a result, I always connect the chains and cord when coming out. I also lock the tongue, which I'm very adament about, no matter the trailer. I figure that if it does come off at slow speeds like this for some reason, I can lock the trailer brakes up to prevent it from hitting the TV.

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Old 02-28-2008, 09:26 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanyonkitty
Has "ANYONE" in all their years of driving ever encountered a TV/TT seperation and if so, what can you tell us about it ?

"IF" you didn't actually have it happen to you, but have first hand knowledge from seeing something like this, can you offer any insight/recommendations as to what might be experienced should this seperation ever happen to one of us. I've been towing since 1971 (started with single axle horse trailer, then tri-axle float-on boat trailer, and now 27' Sunline, with many othere sizes/types inbetween) and can't ever recall even seeing a seperation that I know of.

Kitty
Kitty

For the number of safely tows miles compared to the towing separation issues, the number of separations is small. This is a fact, but, there is always a but…. it does happen.

To your direct 2 questions, on an actual TT, no I have not had one separate. And I plan on doing my best to never have it happen if I can help it.

But I have had a towing trailer separation. I was a lot younger then but was still cautious as my Uncle Art being an old country Polish farmer taught you the “right” ways of doing things. There where only 2 ways, the wrong way and his way…. This towing may have been different then one thinks, but the point is still there. And thank goodness and the great Lord I had just came off the road when it happened.

I was hauling rocks picked up from our vineyard in a single axle trailer being pulled by our farm tractor. I had just come off the town road and started up the hill to the main barn yard when pow….. the hitch on the trailer broke free and about a 4,000# trailer with stones in it starts rolling down the hill. Oh ….. Some one was looking out for me and the people on the road as well. The tongue hit the ground and after about 30 feet of the trailer rolling back words the tongue snaked around enough to come to a stop. This all occurred doing a whopping 3 to 4 mph. Your post drug up that memory buried some 35 plus years ago now I can still see that trailer rolling back words like it was 5 minutes ago.

I have co worker that I emailed today if he would share with me all of the details of his miss fortune when the Bob Cat he was pulling on his trailer hopped off the ball and stated bashing the back of his F150. I’ll get more on this from the horses mounting and be back.

This fellow camper I know personally. He lives down in VA. Professor95 ( scroll down a few post for a pic) Where his hitch shank snapped in 2. Now in Randy’s case his Fleetwood Regal TT had cracked it’s frame about 6 months before. A new camper I might add, and that frame crack put an extreme jolt and pressure into his hitch. Well it set up a stress crack in the hitch shank that later manifested it self into a complete snap in 2. The fortune part he just pulled out of his driveway on Friday night heading to the CG. It broke 100 feet from the house. He was lucky.

This fellow was caught up in the older version of the Reese all cast hitch heads. They needed shims installed around the shank to make sure the fit up was correct. Not applied correctly, the head can split. Reese no longer makes that head. Mike Lewis cracked hitch head

This camper was caught up in the same hitch head issues Penguin 149 cracked head

This camper I know and have talked with him a number of times trying to help him make sense out of his towing accident. Scooter Accident We never could tell exactly what broke on his hitch setup. He had a lot going on that added up against the situation. When he came out of all this, he wished he had setup his safety chains and breakaway switch differently as it “might” of change the outcome.

As Mack stated and from what I have been able to find, most towing separations come from a hitch failure, a loose tow ball, a ball coupler not pined down or a not adequately fastened 5/8” shank pin.

Some simple checks that eliminate the odds greatly of a problem.

* Always pin your ball coupler latch closed. (nut and bolt, lock, clevis pin)

* Always insure your 5/8” shank pin has a good keeper clip/pin or lock on it. If you use the spring clasp type, if it gets weak, pitch it.

* Always make sure the tow ball is tight against the hitch head. That 450 ft lb torque spec is for real.

* Always check the hitch setup every time you get in the TV. Even at rest stops. A once quick look over can spot something starting to come loose.
Inspect your TV receiver and hitch components often.

Just like TT fires, prevention is the best way to avoid the problem.

PS. I’m not trying to show scary hitch failures, just a friendly heads up to fellow campers to check their setup if they have not. Most TT dealers never point much of this stuff out to the new camper buyer. Mine spent more time on how to use the thermostat for the furnace/AC on the camper then anything to do with the hitch and safety cables.

Tow safe

John
__________________

__________________
Current Sunlines: 2004 T310SR, 2004 T1950, 2004 T2475, 2007 T2499
Prior Sunlines: 2004 T2499 - Fern Blue
2005 Ford F350 Lariat, 6.8L V10 W/ 4.10 rear axle, CC, Short Bed, SRW. Reese HP trunnion bar hitch W/ HP DC

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