Keep Other Drivers Safe: The Right Way to Hitch an ATV Trailer

Hitching your tow rig to an ATV trailer, or any trailer for that matter, seems like a simple task. To be honest, it absolutely is. However, one tiny mistake can exponentially magnify the possibility of creating a potentially fatal situation. Here are a few small steps to keep your trailer towing escapades uneventful.

Backing up to the trailer:
It's not a race. This process is infinitely easier if your truck has a backup camera. If not, getting out of the truck to check how close it is to the trailer will definitely help prevent any damage to your bumper. It might take a few tries, but the extra time invested will be worth it. If a spotter is available, have him or her guide you in.

Lowering the trailer onto the ball:
With the hitch ball located directly under the trailer coupler, lower the trailer onto the ball by turning the trailer jack handle. With the coupler firmly seated on the ball, engage the safety latch on the trailer coupler. It may take a little muscle to get the trailer coupler seated just right on the ball. Don't forget to put the pin back in the coupler to prevent it from being jarred open.

Raise the jack:
With the trailer firmly locked onto the hitch ball, raise the jack as high as it can go. If applicable, rotate the jack and put it into place.

Clip the coupler safety latch:
I mentioned engaging the safety latch that's located on the coupler earlier. This is the most important step and ultimately determines whether the trailer could possibly detach. Although I lock the coupler as it settles on the hitch ball, this procedure deserves its own step. Make sure the pin is also inserted and locked into the coupler.

Hook up and cross the safety chains:
If, for whatever reason, the trailer detaches from the tow rig, the only things keeping the trailer under control are the safety chains. It's not good enough to just hook the chains to the tow rig -- they need to be criss-crossed. Hook the right chain to the left latch-point on the truck and the left chain to the right latch-point. In theory, if the trailer were to uncouple, the crossed chains will cradle the coupler as it drops, rather than allow it to dig into the road and possibly send the trailer cartwheeling.

Break-away tether:

When all else fails, a tether and break-away switch will also be found if the trailer is equipped with electric brakes. The tether cord should be hooked somewhere on the tow rig, independent of the safety chains. The break-away safety feature is dependent on a battery, which should be periodically checked. If both the coupler and safety chains fail, the break-away tether is the last resort. Should the trailer separate from the truck, the tether will pull out of the break-away kit on the trailer, locking the trailer brakes and hopefully bringing it to a stop before a collision.

Plug in electrical connections:
The trailer will most likely have either a 4 prong flat plug if the trailer has no brakes, or a 7 round RV plug if equipped with brakes. An adapter that allows a tow rig with a 7 round outlet to hook to a 4 flat is available. However, a 4 flat tow rig cannot be adapted to mate to a trailer with a 7 RV plug because the electric connection for the brakes isn't there.

Double, triple, and quadruple check:
In my head, I repeatedly go over the steps of making sure the jack is up, the coupler is locked, the coupler pin is latched, the safety chains are crossed, the tether cord is attached, and the electrical connections are plugged in.

Walk around:
The final step is a walk around. I'll re-check everything once again and then test all of the electrical connections. Turning on the headlights make it easy to determine if the taillights and all of the marker lights are functioning. Clicking the hazard flashers determines whether the turning signals are functional.

This whole process only takes a minute or two to perform. With a little bit of patience and a methodical approach, a lifetime of safe trailering will undoubtedly be in your future.