How to Set Up and Load a Trailer

A cargo trailer is a great accessory for adding extra hauling capacity to your SUV or pickup truck. It’s also a good thing to have if you have a classic car that you want to haul around to car shows, not to mention it’s unbeatable for getting the college kids packed up and settled in their dorm.  For both the experienced driver who has pulled various trailers many times and for the novice you need to make sure your trailer is in good, roadworthy condition and that it is properly set up for each trip because pulling trailers can be dangerous to the occupants of your vehicle and other drivers on the road.

Most of the things that you need to pay close attention to start at the point where the trailer connects to the vehicle. There are two types of common hitches, the pintle, which is not something we are going to discuss, and the common ball hitch which most people are familiar with. The ball hitch consists of a socket that is connected to the trailer and a solid steel, chrome plated, ball mounted on the vehicle’s hitch. These components must be compatible and properly sized so that they match. A mismatch will create either excess slop, which translates to extra wear and tear, or the ball being too big for the socket. Either situation will create handling and safety issues. The ball is – well a solid steel ball – and will probably never break however, the socket, particularly if it is stamped steel, can wear with heavy use. If it shows signs of stress or cracks it should be replaced. And, of course, the ball must be solidly fastened to the ball mount. The safety chains, or cables, must also be inspected for any damage or signs of weakness and be replaced as necessary. If the trailer is equipped with brakes, the breakaway cable and switch must also be inspected for wear and function. If the trailer is equipped with lights the running lights, directionals, and brake lights must be tested for proper function. The cable, plug, and socket for the brakes and lights must also be in good condition and fully functional. As far as the trailer is concerned, you want to make sure that the tires are in good condition and properly inflated and that any ramps or gates are properly secured with good hardware.

OK, now we know some of the things to look for and it’s time to get things hooked up so we can get on the road. The first thing is to slide the ball mount into the receiver hitch on the vehicle, this is simple, just insert the square end of the mount into the square hole in the receiver. The only thing you need to remember to do is align the holes in the receiver with the hole in the shank of the mount and insert a 5/8” hitch pin and secure it with either a hairpin clip or a lock pin so that the mount stays securely locked in place.  There are many hitch pin brands such as Curt, Rhino, and Master. The one that’s highly rated and a good value is Tech Team’s #851  and their #852 which includes a linchpin attached with a chain. To see how these go together, you can do a hey Alexa or hey Siri google search or watch Tech Team’s video  .  Now you need to crank up the jack on the trailer to make sure the ball is lower than the hitch and back up the vehicle so that it is directly over the ball and lift the locking lever on the trailer (you might need to push the lever forward so that it can be activated), and lower the jack so that the ball engages the socket. At this point, lower the locking lever and secure it with a lock pin. There are several brands of lock pins such as Curt, Comonc, Leadrise, and Tech Team. Tech team’s #847 is a good choice.  Now plug in the power cord and attach the chains or cables to the receiver hitch making sure that you cross them so that they make an X. At this time also attach the cable from the breakaway switch to the receiver.

When you load the trailer make sure that the load is centered over the wheels so that there is no excessive tongue weight and that the tongue is level. This is a key braking and safety detail that is often overlooked. Now you are all set and ready to go.