Simple checks can prevent potentially deadly accidents

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Hitting a particularly bumpy section of I-5, my buddy Reilly was horrified when he looked into his rear-view mirror. Going down the freeway at 55 mph, there was his big Fish Rite jet sled doing a wheelie behind him. The tongue of his boat trailer was pointed to the sky and he could clearly make out the trailer coupler above the top of his tailgate. His trailer had come off the ball! It all happened so fast?the trailer came back down hard and Reilly figured things were about to get really ugly. Instinctively, he knew not to panic ? he didn?t slam on his breaks or make a sudden change of course. Instead, he gradually slowed down and pulled to the shoulder. When he hopped out, Reilly was blown away to see that the trailer had come back down miraculously on the edge of his hitch receiver, which kept it from hitting the ground. The hooks at the ends of his safety chains had snapped off when the boat reared up and his trailer brakes didn?t engage because the trip cable was way too long. Had the trailer not landed back down where it had and instead hit the pavement at speed, all sorts of bad things would likely have happened. Reilly couldn?t help but be shaken at the thought of his boat potentially sliding across several lanes and causing a deadly crash on the freeway. He was one lucky dude! After he caught his breath and got his heart rate below 5,000, Reilly inspected his truck. Amazingly, there was just a small scratch on the back of the tailgate that had occurred when the trailer popped off the ball and everything else was fine. The bizarre thing was the hitch was still closed and his padlock still firmly in place. What the?? Reilly used his jack to get the trailer hitched to the truck again and then limped slowly to a trailer shop in Sacramento. The trailer experts said that this kind of thing happens more than you?d think. Ball Wear They asked Reilly how long he?d had the boat ? 11 years was the reply. In that time had he ever changed his ball or coupler? The answer was, of course no. The trailer dudes explained that, over the years, the weight of the coupler grinding on the ball causes wear on both parts. The metal on the inside of the coupler wears down and the diameter of the ball shrinks. Eventually, the ball can get so worn that the trailer can pop off even when it?s locked down. They recommended that people who do a lot of trailering should swap out both pieces every couple of years. Safety Chains? Reilly?s ordeal also showed what a joke most trailer safety chains are ? or rather, the hooks at the ends. Many factories install cheap hooks that, like Reilly?s, straighten or snap entirely when a trailer pops off ? rendering the safety chains utterly useless. While he was having his trailer fixed, the trailer shop also installed some new hooks. The total damage was only $107, which included installation ? very, very cheap insurance! And if you do it yourself, it?s even more economical. Brake Cable He also learned that you need to check the length of your brake cable if your trailer is so equipped. Reilly?s was too long and never engaged the brakes. Something that most of us probably have not paid a lot of attention to! Reilly was extremely fortunate that nothing bad came out of his trailer mishap. He asked me to share his experience with you all so that maybe we can prevent a future trailer accident from taking place. Moral of the story: Keep a close eye on your hitch ball and coupler and replace it now and then. J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at