How To Hook Up A Trailer

September 1, 2021

Sometimes, the carrying capacity of your car or truck just is not enough, so a trailer is called for. Hooking up a trailer to your vehicle using a hitch is a very simple, straightforward procedure, but it’s very important to do it properly and safely. An improperly installed trailer can cause severe damage to your vehicle, the trailer, other vehicles on the road, or even pedestrians. Follow our simple steps to insure you do it safely and correctly the first time and haul your cargo with peace of mind!

Match the Trailer to the Towing Vehicle’s Capability


The first step in using a trailer-vehicle combination is choosing the trailer you use with caution. Before you try to hook it up to the vehicle that will be towing it, you should check that the fully-loaded, unbraked trailer does not exceed the empty weight of the towing vehicle. That means that your car, when empty, should still be heavier than the trailer when filled entirely. This will ensure that the trailer’s weight does not overpower the capacity of the vehicle.

Choose the Proper Towing Hitch and Ball


Similar to the precaution you must take when choosing the correct weight capacity of the trailer, the hitch system components require care when being selected. Each part of the attaching system - the hitch, the ball, and the coupler - have weight ratings that they can safely tow. Again, you should check to make sure that the hitch’s weight rating is higher than the weight of the fully-loaded trailer and that the ball of the hitch will be compatible with the coupler on the trailer.

Select the Correct Hitch Ball


Ensure that you have the correct ball size on your hitch. The hitch attached to your vehicle is semi-permanent, meaning that it’s difficult to remove. The ball on the hitch, however, is very simple to change out, as different types of trailers and couplers use different size balls. The size will be stamped on the top of the ball. To change it out, remove the pin that holds it in place and pull upward. The new one will slide into place and should be locked in place with the holding pin.

Park in a Large, Clear Space


Now that you’re ready to attach the trailer, you’ll need to make sure you have enough room to maneuver an extra-large combination vehicle once you’re done. You’ll also need plenty of space to align the vehicle and trailer properly for hook up. A large, empty parking lot or an empty street work well if you live in a crowded area. Position the trailer so that you can easily back your vehicle up to it without having to maneuver around obstacles or blind spots.

Raise the Height of the Trailer Coupler or Ball Socket


Before attempting to attach the trailer to your vehicle, first raise the trailer’s coupler or socket to ensure that it will clear the height of your vehicle’s hitch. Some trailers have a crank that’s basically a built-in jack, but others will require the use of your own jack under the trailer’s tongue. If you attempt to back your vehicle to the trailer before raising it, you can damage both it and your vehicle, so do not skip this step.

Back the Vehicle to the Trailer Coupler


Though a seemingly simple step, this one requires some careful maneuvering, so make sure to take your time. It’s recommended that you use a second person standing beside the trailer to help guide your vehicle’s hitch to the trailer’s coupler. First, position your vehicle so that the center of the hitch and the center of the trailer are aligned. Back slowly toward the trailer. It is better to stop a half an inch too far from the trailer than too close.

Turn Off the Engine and Set the Emergency Brake


Again, this step is focused on the safety of everyone involved. After the trailer is positioned over the ball of the hitch, remember to turn off the engine, remove the key, and set the emergency brake. If you’re in an area with any incline, be sure to turn the wheels of the vehicle towards the direction that would be safest to go if the emergency brake failed. This simple process could go wrong quickly if these precautions are not taken.

Lower the Tongue of the Trailer Coupler


Lower the trailer using the built-in crank or your jack until the full weight of the trailer rests on the ball of the hitch. Lower the tongue into place to lock the socket onto the ball and insert the metal pin. To ensure that the socket has properly latched onto the ball, step on the connecting bar on the trailer once or twice with your full weight. If it slips off of the ball, repeat the process until it is secure.

Attach the Safety Chains


Finally, attach the safety chains that are attached to the trailer to the vehicle by crisscrossing them and looping them through the spaces on your vehicle’s hitch. Cross them one more time and secure them by inserting the hooks back into the chains. Ensure that you leave enough slack that the chains allow for movement and turning of the vehicle, but not so much that they drag on the ground. This small step can save your trailer from flying off if the ball-and-socket fail.

Attach the Electrical Connections and Retract/Remove the Jack


The final step is to plug in the electrical connections to the receptacles on your hitch. This will enable the trailer’s running lights, indicator signals, and brake lights to coordinate with your vehicle’s. This is of utmost importance for avoiding a traffic accident or ticket. Finally, if your trailer has a built-in jack, ensure that it is raised fully to avoid hitting the ground. Now you’re ready for safe towing.