Fred Whitford, the fiery head of the Purdue University Pesticide program, told farmers in Morgan County recently that they better think twice before they pull out of the barn lot with a trailer that is not properly secure to the truck. While it may seem like a simple thing, he says that so many people are sloppy with hooking up trailers that there are many more accidents involving trailers than you might think.
In fact, through informal surveys, completely without scientific backing, Whitford estimates that about one in five farmers have had at least one incident where the trailer they were pulling down the road came loose form the vehicle. The percentage held up at the Mooresville meeting as well.
Just a few years ago a neighbor found a trailer 150 feet into his field, in the middle of a corn plot. It seems as if the young neighbor boy down the road was buzzing by, and the trailer took off, not securely latched. It also obviously wasn't secured with towing chains. Fortunately, the trailer went off into the field and while it did some damage in the test plot, at least it didn't hit a house or another vehicle. That's not always the case, Whitford warns. Some people aren't as lucky.
So what's important in hooking up trailers? Here are 10 examples which he has seen at one time or another of how NOT to hook up and pull a trailer.
#1- No bumper hitch! It's too risky to pull a large ag trailer off a bumper hitch, he says. Install a hitch designed for the purpose.
#2- Ball bolt bent- If the bolt holding the 2-inch trailer ball on is bent at an angle, obviously you've already got a problem. Make replacements and figure out the problem before you pull the trailer again.
#3- Ball not strong enough- Look on top of the ball. It should give you a rating for weight that it can handle. Don't be surprised if it is as low as 3,000 pounds, which doesn't begin to cover the weight many farmers need to pull.
#4- Too much weight on trailer- Just because you can stick six pallets of seed on the trailer bed doesn't mean that you should, he stresses. You may be exceeding the weight rating for the trailer.
#5- Weak link- What counts is what the vehicle is rated to pull, the rating of the vehicle being pulled, and the rating on the ball hitch. Whichever one is lowest is the weak link in the system which determines the maximum you should pull with the trailer.
#6- Where's the chains? –Some people are gutsy enough to run without tow chains. Whitford says it's a big risk, partly because they may be pulling an oversized trailer on an undersized ball.
#7- Why straight chains? No! Whitford insists that the preferred way is to cross the chains, hooking each on the opposite side. That way if the hitch should come loose, the chain should cradle it and prevent it from digging into the pavement or taking off.
#8- Improper chain hook-up- If you're not hooking to a secure place or if the hole is too big and lets the chain hooks slip out, you're not going to do much good with safety chains.
#9- Weak hooks- If the hook on your chain is made of too light of a metal, or it looks like a 'C' with too big of a loop due to wear, you're an accident waiting to happen. Don't cut corners on hooks and chains.
#10-Use the brakes- If the trailer has brakes, make sure they're working and hooked up properly.