In Norway, June of 2022.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Gravenhurst, Ontario. Canada.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Greenwich, Nova Scotia, Canada on October 3rd.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

RV Safety

There are probably 1,000 RV's that pass by the city of Kingston every hour on highway 401 that runs between Toronto and Montreal. I wonder how many of them are unsafe?

What makes me ask the question is a situation that came up at the RV place where I was working yesterday.

A woman phones at about 11:00am. She says they are on highway 401, about 15 minutes away from Kingston. they are pulling a travel trailer, and she says it is "all over the road". She says it feels uncomfortable to pass people. Well, if you are passing people on highway 401, you are doing at least 115 kmh (71 mph). Almost everybody is driving around that speed, and if you are doing the speed limit of 100 kmh (62 mph) then you will be the one being passed.

They show up, and they are pulling a 19 foot hybrid trailer with a late model full size Dodge pickup truck. But they only have the trailer coupled to the ball, as if they were pulling a little utility trailer. No sway control, and no weight distribution hitch setup.

Now this type of setup is okay if you're pulling a tent trailer on country roads at 80 km/h (50 mph). But anything we sell over the tent trailer size, we also make sure the customer has the hitch setup to make sure their drive is as safe and comfortable as possible.

These people say they bought the trailer privately, and that they did no research as to what type of tow setup they needed. Their truck already had a ball mount and ball, so they used that, plugged in the trailer lighting cord, and drove away. I never checked, but I wouldn't be surprised if they don't have a brake control setup either.

Anyhow, our service department is closed on the weekends, although we did have one technician out doing road calls yesterday. He wasn't expected back at the shop until after 3:00pm. But I said that anybody who can read and follow instructions can install what they need themselves with basic tools.

I explained that these people at least need a sway control, but that almost everybody buys a weight distribution setup at the same time. Total cost of parts is $279 for the weight distribution, and $92 for one sway control. (You only need 2 sway controls if your trailer is longer than 24 feet). So total cost of around $400 with taxes.

These people were on the first day of their two week holiday, with reservations at a KOA near Montreal, about another 4 hours drive east of here. I told them that the average installation and setup should take about an hour and a half. They decided to that they would do the installation themselves in our parking lot. There is another store that is right across the street where they could buy any hand tools they might need.

They came in at 1:00pm and asked if they could borrow a drill. I found them one, and a drill bit. One of the sway control plates needs to be drilled into the A frame because the bolt on bracket wouldn't fit. Around 1:30 pm, they say they're about ready, and could I come out and have a look. Now, I'm just the parts guy, and I've never done one of these installations myself, but I wasn't busy at the time, so I agreed. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew it wasn't right. It was sitting WAY too high at the front. I noticed right away that the shank (the part that goes into the receiver on the truck) was installed upside down.  He was all set to drive away like that, saying they could fix it when they got to Montreal! I suggested that the trailer would handle worse like that than it did before. So they spent another 45 minutes fixing that.

They came in and thanked me, and said goodbye.

10 minutes later, I get another phone call from the woman, all upset saying that everything was "bent", and that they were coming back.

I went out and had a look, and I don't know how they ever got out of our parking lot in the first place. Turns out they had tightened both adjustments on the sway control so much that the bar couldn't slide. So as soon as they made a turn, they bent the entire sway control, and both mounting points on it. Further inspection found that they also didn't install the rear sway control mount on the A frame in the right place. The instructions said 24", and it was at 20".

So they're all upset, but they're not blaming the situation on anybody but themselves. I think they were rushing too much to get back on the road so they wouldn't lose their $40 deposit to the KOA in Montreal. Ultimately, they simply didn't follow the instructions.

I suggested they buy a new sway control for the other side, and that for another $92 plus tax they could get back on the road. Their hitch head was also bent, but only on the one side. We were now getting close to 3:00 and they were so frustrated that they wanted to wait for our service guy to finish the install so that things were setup right. they did, and in total it cost them $212 more than it should have had they done it right in the first place. Now it was almost 4:30 pm, and they were still determined to make it to the KOA in Montreal. Not a very relaxing start to the holiday if you ask me!

So, back to my original point. These people were driving on a major 4 lane highway, without the right towing setup, possibly with an overloaded trailer, and almost guaranteed at too high a rate of speed. Then, they were prepared to go back on that highway after spending $400 with a new setup that wasn't setup right.

The number of people we talk to who have no clue and have done no research into what type of trailer their tow vehicle can pull is amazing. And the vast majority would never think of stopping at a weigh station to see if they are over the manufacturers specifications (I'm thinking that most probably are) or to check and see if that weight is evenly distributed. And how many check to see if their tire pressure is at the vehicle manufacturers specifications? I've had people say to me that they put in the amount of air on the sidewall of the tire! That's the maximum for the tire, not the rated pressure for that particular vehicle.

I am honestly surprised that there aren't more accidents than there are.

For reference, here is a good article on weight distribution and sway controls for trailer towing...


  1. You know what I think is funny too, is that people tend to buy a trailer not even checking to see what their vehicle can handle.
    It's really sad to see a little S-10 pulling a 28 foot trailer, probably with no transmission cooler, up a steep hill. You gotta feel for the truck at that point!
    Research is golden, asking questions is golden, and could save you alot of money and possibly your life.
    People need to get educated!
    Good post!

  2. Kevin has mentioned that as well, surprising how many people don't do the research.

    Near the beginning of the season at the campground an older couple came in with a Ford Explorer pulling a small travel trailer all the way from BC and they were heading out east, but the transmission blew on their Explorer. They were here at least a week waiting to get a new transmission and then had to head back because they couldn't afford to go further. Apparently the Explorer could pull the trailer no problem, but it was not designed to pull the trailer such a long distance and especially not over so many mountain top passes.

    I guess some will learn the hard way, sure puts a damper on the holiday though!


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