Towing Tutor: B&W Trailer Hitches Offers Towing Basics

Towing is a central aspect of owning a truck for both gas and diesel owners. For many folks, it comes to the forefront whenever camping or moving is brought up – how much can I tow, what kind of trailer do I need, and so on.

But what about the people who are new to towing, or just want some help? B&W Trailer Hitches has come to the rescue with several videos. These videos offer viewers the best practices for all of the aspects of towing, and can help anyone from a novice to an expert.

We’ve selected four of these videos – How To Back A Trailer, Hitching Your Trailer, Using Safety Chains Properly, and 5th Wheel Turning Clearance – to showcase towing tutoring. On hand to round out the advice given in these videos was B&W’s Christina Umbarger.

Hitching Your Trailer

Before you ever get around to talking about payloads and parking with a trailer, you have to know how to get the trailer to meet up correctly with your truck. In this video, the procedure is clearly explained.

First, there’s positioning. The trailer tongue has to clear the trailer ball on the hitch receiver, so cranking the jack will help get the tongue where it needs to be. The truck has to be perfectly aligned with the trailer’s tongue, too, so use whatever means you have to get the two to successfully meet – a backup camera, a spotter, or mental notes to yourself.

Getting the truck and trailer to meet up successfully will require either a spotter, a backup camera, or a really good memory.

Next, the ball and tongue have to match. The chief concern here is safety and making sure that you don’t leave anything unchecked before driving out. Umbarger explained the thought process in more detail.

“A matching coupler and trailer ball will provide the most secure connection and will minimize the chance of uncoupling,” she said. “On the other hand, a mismatched coupler and ball will not fit together correctly.  If you use a mismatched coupler and ball, it is very likely that your trailer will come uncoupled.”

A successful coupling: the right ball matches the right tongue, and the couple latch has closed securely.

Now, it’s time to couple the trailer to the hitch. The jack is lowered onto the ball, and the instructor is able to properly close the tongue latch over the ball, indicating a successful coupling. A pin is used to secure the latch.

Safety chains – which are covered more in the next video – are made into an “X” and hook into the hitch receiver. The trailer brake light electrical connector gets hooked up to the corresponding plug on the truck. The jack is raised, and checking the turn and brake lights is the last step.

Using Safety Chains Properly

On many trailers, safety chains can be found to hook up to the hitch receiver. These chains are basically another layer of peace of mind to the process of towing, but they’re also required by law.

“Safety chains are used as a precaution should your trailer ever come uncoupled from your tow vehicle,” explained Umbarger. “If your trailer were to come uncoupled while towing, the safety chains would keep the trailer connected to your tow vehicle.”

Safety chains were defined in 1990 by the SAE as “an assembly which provides a secondary means of connection between the rear of the towing vehicle and the front of the trailer.” They are now required by law for anyone towing a trailer.

The instructor advises that folks take the time to inspect the chain. Umbarger emphasized this as well. She said, “When examining safety chains, make sure all links are intact and sound. There should be no cracks or gaps on any links.”

The chain is crossed and then brought up to hook into the loops on the vehicle. The instructor points out that the chain should dangle below the coupler, as crossing it above the coupler can lead to binding and possible breakage.

The instructor shows the right way to hook up safety chains. He crosses the chain underneath the coupler (creating a cradle in case the coupler and tongue come undone) and hooks the chain into the vehicle's chain loops.

In the case of the chain being too long, one can twist the chains up slightly to reduce slack. This will make sure the chains don’t get beat up from riding on the road (not to mention, actually do their job if the coupler fails).

How To Back A Trailer

Hand placement on the steering wheel is the first facet of backing up a trailer. By nature, you might want to put your hands at 10 and 2, just like you would when driving normally. However, this can lead to incorrect steering inputs that jackknife a trailer.

When towing, rather than placing your hands at 10 and 2 (left), place your hands at 5 and 6 (right). This will help you make steering inputs that visualize which way the trailer is going.

The solution is to simply place your hands at 5 and 6. That way, turning “right” with your hands means that the trailer will also turn right, and vice versa.

Next, the video covers the actual act of backing a trailer. For their example, the endgame is getting a boat into a waterway. B&W recommends that you line up directly with the ramp, and then start slowly backing up, making small adjustments to steering. Points of reference to watch out for are the fender wells of the truck and trailer, as well as the boat dock; as seen from the side mirrors, they should all be lined up with one another, indicating that you’re going straight.

Backing in from the left or right is a little trickier than rolling straight back. However, it can be perfected with practice.

However, you’ll sometimes have to back the trailer in from either the left or right. To do this, B&W recommends looking over your shoulder at the trailer wheel. Once you’ve got the trailer wheel rolling in the direction it needs to go, you should straighten out the front wheels and go back to using the side mirrors.

5th Wheel Turning Clearance

As the last of our selected videos from B&W, this one is geared toward those who have moved on to fifth-wheel towing. Fifth-wheel towing brings new layers of complexity (and utility) to trucks, and one of them is figuring out turning clearance.

Fifth-wheel towing requires the mounting point to move from the bumper to the bed of the pickup. It puts the trailer close to the back glass, so minding the clearance between the two becomes vital.

The instructor shows us a quick and easy way to measure fifth-wheel trailer clearance. He first measures the distance from the trailer's kingpin to one of the front corners (48.5 inches). Next, he measures that distance from the fifth-wheel mount to the cab, and finds that will hit the truck at around a 45-degree angle.

B&W’s video teaches us a quick and simple way to figure out clearance. Starting with a trailer, the instructor tapes a long string to a corner (left or right, doesn’t matter). He then extends a tape measure, going from the middle of the trailer’s kingpin to the string.

Next, the instructor goes to the truck. He again extends the tape measure, this time from the mount to the cab. He locates the area on the right side of the cab of where the trailer will make contact; it seems to be a 45-degree angle, which is not ideal. Going off of this discovery, he recommends the truck receive a sliding fifth-wheel hitch.

The Companion Slider hitch (PN RVK3405) is one of B&W’s sliding fifth-wheel hitches. It offers 12 inches of movement for tight situations, and utilizes the Turnoverball under-bed mounting system.

A sliding fifth wheel hitch is a hitch designed to provide additional turning clearance between a truck cab and trailer,” Umbarger explained. “The sliding movement of the hitch allows for more maneuvering room than a standard, stationary hitch. This hitch is primarily intended for use in shortbed trucks, which need this extra clearance for safe backing and turning.”

These were just four of the several videos put out by B&W. They’re free to watch and have a lot of towing knowledge to share with folks. Go watch more of these educational videos on the B&W website, and be sure to check out B&W for your towing needs.

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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