Getting hitched? Avoid common trailer mistakes

By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net

One of the worst feelings can accompany looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing that the trailer, that seemed successfully secured, off and running on its own path. It is an all too common occurrence on the farm and that is why Purdue’s Coordinator of Pesticide Programs, Fred Whitford, talks about the dos and don’ts of trailer hauling to producers around the Midwest. In fact, in most audiences he is in front of, 20% to 50% of people admit their trailer has come off the ball at one point or another.

The reason for these mishaps comes down to a series of ratings that very few producers know about, although it should be one of the major factors when buying a new truck for the farm.

“What we are trying to get farmers to do is to actually look in their glove box to see what that particular truck can actually pull,” Whitford said. “This is extremely important when buying a new truck. Don’t use the magic numbers on the side of the truck. Dig out the owner’s manual to see exactly what that truck can do.”

Backing the truck up, dropping the trailer and driving away comes as second nature to many in agriculture, but Whitford wants producers to be sure that they do it right every time. Mistakes can be easily made between the hitch, the insert and the ball.

“There are lots of inserts and balls that are stamped or rated at 3500, which is how much that piece of metal can hold,” Whitford said. “Many people haul trailers at 7,000 to 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of trailer and weight. That discrepancy between what is pulled and what the equipment is rated for is why things break.”

Whitford said that those in the market for a new truck need to be aware that the hitch that comes standard with the truck may only be able to handle less than one third to a half what the truck can actually pull. When buying a truck based on its towing capacity, be sure that the rest of the gear is up to the same challenge.

If Whitford’s precautions aren’t taken, the outcome could be dire as some 450 people die and 23,000 people are injured every year from trailer accidents. Staying updated on particular specifications only takes five minutes. Trailer users need to also remember the importance of the safety chains or the emergency brakes.

“Trailers have a box with a cable that runs directly to the truck,” Whitford said. “In the event that the trailer comes off, you can pull the cable and set the brake on the trailer. That is the last chance that you have to slow that trailer down before it runs across the interstate or into somebody house.”

Testing the emergency brake is as easy as pulling the pin out, getting back in the truck and driving off while pulling the cable. If the brakes are working, the wheels won’t turn and you will drag the trailer. If it runs like it normally runs, you have a problem that needs immediate attention.

One more important aspect of trailer ownership is the insurance policy. Normally, if the trailer and the truck are in the accident, the insurance company will take care of it. In many policies, however, if the trailer comes loose and goes off on its own, it is not covered. A call to an insurance agent will provide the answer that is needed for this issue.

For more helpful advice to keep the trailer in the rear-view mirror, read Whitmore’s entire study at

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