Since it’s vital to safe travel, hitching your RV to your tow vehicle isn’t something you can rush through. The first time you hitch, it’s really best to get help from a professional. If you’re getting your hitch professionally installed, ask for a lesson.
Consider videotaping the pro’s process, and keep the instructions they give you. When it’s time to hitch your own rig, you can reference exactly what steps are needed to get the job done.
Your hitch might require special instructions not included in this guide, so be sure to read your manufacturer’s instructions. Some lighter trailers may only require a simple ball mount, while heavier trailers will require a large hitch head for weight distribution attachments.
Preparing to Tow
Keep in mind that the hitching process takes time, and you always need to double-check your work.
Also, your hitch isn’t just heavy; it’s greasy. Getting the hitch on is a deceptively tricky maneuver. To protect yourself and your RV from potential harm, follow the three L’s: Look, Lock, and Load.
The 3 L’s of Hitching Your RV
Look: Are you really ready to go?
- Step out of the RV and evaluate. Is there anything in there you’ll need while you’re on the road? Don’t leave it in the RV. Move anything you’ll need to access to your tow vehicle.
- Check the area around the RV. Did you leave any gear on the ground? Do you have enough space to maneuver your tow vehicle onto the RV hitch?
- There’s only one thing you’ll want on the ground: your chocks. Be sure your chocks are firmly against the wheels to prevent any small movements from your RV during the hitching process. If at any point in the hitching process, you feel the trailer move—even slightly—stop and check that the chocks are in place.
- Even if you’re a seasoned pro, don’t get sloppy. You may think you know your hitching procedure, but stay alert. New tires, a different tow vehicle, and weather can affect clearance and your hitching process.
Lock: Ready your rig.
- Close any windows, awnings, and vents. Roof vents are easy to accidentally leave open because they’re hard to see from the ground.
- There shouldn’t be anything left in the “on” position or loose inside or outside of the trailer. Turn everything off. This means shutting down all of the appliances and disconnecting utilities. The only exception would be the refrigerator, if operating on LP gas.
- Lock the door behind you to keep it from flying open while on the road.
Load: Prepare and get the hitch in position.
- Give yourself plenty of time. This can be a long and sometimes frustrating process, so do yourself a favor and set aside some uninterrupted time for hitching.
- The hitch is heavy, so think smart while lifting and loading.
- Grab another person who can help guide you into place when backing up your vehicle.
- Unlock the hitch itself and open the receiver latch.
- Using a jack, lift the front of the trailer so you have space to guide the ball onto the receiver. Apply some lubricant to the jack piston while it’s open. Don’t overdo it, and wipe off the excess, or it could slip on the jack blocks.
4 Steps for Hitching
Step 1: Install the ball mount or hitch head into the hitch receiver.
Handle your ball mount or hitch head with both hands. Carefully lift it into position and slip it into the trailer hitch receiver. Never try to force the ball mount into the receiver; the action should be easy and smooth. Next, secure the inserted ball mount with your pin and clip. This step may be a quick one, but it’s crucial, so don’t forget the linchpin (aka cotter pin or hitch pin). Lock it into place if it has a lock.
Step 2: Line up your trailer and tow vehicle.
Whenever possible, do this step in an open parking area with level ground. If you don’t have a backup camera, ask someone to help you back up in line with the trailer.
If your RV is large, use a phone or walkie-talkies to communicate.
Carefully back the tow vehicle up until the hitch ball is directly below the trailer coupler. Once you’re aligned, put your vehicle in park, engage your emergency brake, and turn off your engine.
Step 3: Hitch the open receiver.
It’s time to connect your trailer coupler to the hitch ball. First, make sure the coupler latch is open fully to accept the ball. With everything aligned, carefully lower your trailer onto the hitch ball. Lower it only as much as necessary to close the latch. Once you know for certain it’s in the right place, lower it down so the full weight is on the hitch ball. Then, lock the receiver latch with the hitch ball in place. The lock here is just as important as the linchpin.
If you use sway bars or weight distribution bars, connect them. If you have a specialized hitch, refer to your manufacturer’s guide. Otherwise, note that these types of hitches require additional steps.
For sway bars or weight distribution bars, attach the weight distribution spring bars to the hitch head, saddle it to the lowered snap-up bracket, attach the chain link onto the hook, and clip them closed. For heavier trailers, you can use the tongue jack to raise the trailer and tow vehicle in order to take tension off the chain link for an easier connection. Make sure to fully retract the tongue jack once chain links are properly connected to the snap-up brackets. If you have an additional sway bar, you can install it also.
Step 4: Load up on safety gear.
Once hitched, plug in your trailer wiring harness and add safety gear like safety chains, breakaway cable, and an emergency brake release.
Never tow a trailer without safety chains. You should cross them like an X, but don’t twist them. These chains hook to the loops located on either side of the hitch on your tow vehicle. They’re an added measure to keep your trailer from separating from your vehicle, and they’re essential. They should be long enough to allow for sharp turns, but if you feel the need to twist them, they’re too long. Twisted chains can become brittle and snap.
Here are the final items to check off:
- Remove the wheel chocks.
- Look again for loose items, unlocked windows, or doors.
- Check that your brake lights, headlights, and turn signals are functional.
- Check your brakes themselves. There should be an indicator light on the brake controller.
- Hop in the driver’s seat and make sure you have visibility in your mirrors.