This might sound like quite an odd title coming from the leading manufacturer of tow bars and towing equipment in general, but facts are facts and I’m here to give you a few pointers about tow bars, their use, maintenance, setup and even their life span. Since experience is something you don’t usually get until just “after” you need it, I hope you will gain some valuable experience from these topics “before” you need it.
The Middle Child
Have you ever heard the adage that the middle child in a family feels left out? Overworked? Under appreciated? Even just plain ignored? You know, big brother gets everything he wants and little sister gets by with everything. I’m sure some of you can relate. The RV, tow bar and towed vehicle are like siblings, and the tow bar; well it’s the middle child in most families. Not just because it’s between the two vehicles (great memory aid) but also because it too often is left out, ignored and overlooked when it comes to regular maintenance and life span.
A tow bar, any tow bar manufactured by any company is a piece of technology, a piece of machinery, not unlike your motorhome or car, van, truck or SUV that you’re towing. Would you drive a 6-figure valued motorhome 10,000 20,000 how about 50,000 miles without checking or changing the oil? Neither would I. Most motorhome owners are so strict with their maintenance routine on their units that they hardly exceed the window of oil changes by more than a few miles if at all. Maintaining a tow bar is just as important and just as potentially costly if ignored.
Know when its “terminal”
The average RVer buys or trades their towed vehicle every 2 to 3 years. The average RVer buys or trades coaches every 5 to 6 years. The problem is the average RVer still has the same tow bar they started with or at least have owned their current bar longer than one or both of their vehicles. The middle child…neglected again…sigh! The one that does all the work, the one subjected to every bump, stop, start, jerk and unusual occurrence. The one burdened with the responsibility of pulling 3,000-10,000 Lb. “little sister” along everywhere it goes is left to fend for itself and sooner or later will rebel.
Nothing lasts forever. Consumers and dealers/technicians alike should be keenly aware of the condition of older tow bars. I feel it’s worth a few hundred dollars every few years to insure that my $40,000 “little sister” is safe and secure.
Having been to several rallies over the years I’ve seen some strange hook-ups out there, and even some dangerous ones that I’ve spoken to the owners about correcting. As an owner you should take it upon yourself to check or have your Coach Care Center check for unsafe hook-ups. Tow bar angle is probably the easiest one to spot. It seems that since all of us manufacturers have moved the industry into “coupler less” towing i.e. motorhome mounted and stored tow bars…the angle of the tow bar is important. Our recommendation is no more than 4 inches higher at the motorhome side and absolutely never lower at the motorhome side. If an extension is added for say a bike rack it is even more imperative the tow bar not be at a severe angle. It’s all geometry and physics. The farther back you move the pivot point of the tow bar from the rear axle of the coach, the more vertical movement you get and the more leverage is applied to the receiver hitch, tow bar and the baseplate.
OK, now lets cover some technical items. As with any mechanical device manufactured today, parts wear out. Here are a few critical areas to pay particular attention to while performing a pre-trip inspection.
Pins are probably the easiest item to check. Visually inspect that the pins attaching the tow bar to the baseplate are in good condition. Pull them out, feel the surface to insure they are not wearing. Check the operation of the retainer pins that hold the main pins in place. Make sure those still have a good strong resistance when you snap them in place to secure them. Don’t forget to check the 5/8 pin that holds the tow bar to the motorhome receiver hitch too. Replacement parts are cheap and I recommend replacing any of these pins if worn. A good rule of thumb is; when in doubt, replace it. I recommend using only genuine factory replacement parts if some are in need of replacement. Buying bolts or pins from a hardware store does not insure you are getting the proper hardness, metallurgical properties and overall strength required.
Another easy item to check are the bolts. Check to insure all bolts are in place and tight. Move the tow bar through its complete range of motion and verify that it operates smoothly without being too loose or too tight.
Tow Bar Maintenance
Check to insure the legs of collapsible tow bars latch properly and adjust them according to the instructions provided with the unit from the manufacturer. The two biggest contributors to premature wear on tow bar parts are loose bolts, which allow excessive movement between mating parts, and miss-adjusted leg latches, which allow too much for/aft movement while towing.
Some tow bars are equipped with a rubber boot which protects the inside legs from dirt and water. If a tow bar is “sticky” or the legs do not slide in and out easily follow these simple steps. Remove the small cable ties holding the rubber boots on the legs and slide the boots back. Wipe clean each inside leg and apply a light coat of multipurpose grease to insure smooth operation. Secure each boot back in place with an 8-inch nylon cable tie.
Tow bars with exposed legs require a closer watch. Since they are not protected, dirt and road grime can get into the latches and actually cause them not to latch properly.
Now, after saying all that I need to remind everyone that towing a vehicle 4-wheels down is the ultimate way to bring auxiliary transportation with you. It’s easy, fun and safe when good judgment is exercised. I hope some of the things I’ve discussed here make us all think a little about tow bars and the role they play in allowing RVers the ability to “Pursue their Passions”.
Your Cummins Coach Care Center is available to perform an inspection on your tow bars. Call or stop by to set-up an appointment.