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Hitch damage

Our tow over from East Berne NY to our current courtesy parking spot in Cherry Valley NY was only about 50 miles. That turned out to be a very good thing, since in the last four or five miles a part of our hitch broke.

Eleanor was following the Airstream in the Honda Fit. I heard a noise and felt a lurch, and then she called on the walkie-talkie, “Did you hit that piece of metal in the road?” My response was clueless: “Wow, I didn’t even see a piece of metal in the road” and I went on my merry way.

Upon arriving a few minutes later at the home of our hosts, I went to unhitch and found a shocking sight: the right-side weight-distribution bar was completely gone. A U-bracket which held it on had apparently snapped from metal fatigue. The sound I had heard, and the metal Eleanor had seen, was our weight distribution bar spinning away on the road surface.

Cherry Valley broken bracket.jpg
The remains of the broken U-bracket (bottom part missing)

We immediately went back to the scene and found the bar still lying in the road, a bit scraped on one side but otherwise in good shape. The bolts that held the bracket were still in place, as was the bottom side of the U-bracket that had failed.

Cherry Valley broken bar.jpg
The weight distribution bar with the rest of the U-bracket still bolted on

I called David Tidmore at Roger Williams Airstream for advice since he sold us the hitch initially, and then spoke to tech support at Hensley. The broken bracket will be replaced under warranty, but I volunteered to pay for overnight shipment ($33) for a pair of them so we could have it fixed by Wednesday. The tech support guy said that this sort of failure seems to be related to inadequate greasing of the hitch head. Apparently, lack of grease will put extra stress on the bracket, and since the bracket is the weak link, it breaks first.

I have lately been scrupulous about greasing our hitch every 500 miles as recommended, but I have to admit I was not as good about it in the first several thousand miles, and so this may have contributed to the problem. In any case, given the number of miles we put on the trailer, I think replacing both of these brackets annually may become part of our service routine. That should pre-empt any future failures as a result of metal fatigue.

We were lucky that the weight distribution bar didn’t do any damage as it exited the hitch. Apparently it slid under the trailer neatly. I slid underneath and inspected carefully, but could not find any visible damage to belly pan, gas lines, tires, or any other component. It could have been a much more expensive problem if that 20 pound steel bar had whacked anything as it went spinning away at 50 MPH. I’ve told Eleanor that if anything else shows up in the road she should let me know. I’ll stop next time to check!

The episode shows that the trailer is towable even with one bar missing, which is nice to know. I noticed no change in handling as a result of the loss of one weight distribution bar, although I certainly would not recommend doing this deliberately. With uneven weight distribution the tow vehicle could become dangerously unstable, and so we won’t be going any further until the new part is installed.

Cherry Valley good bar.jpg
The way it’s supposed to look!

Fortunately, we’re not in a hurry and our courtesy parking spot is really sweet. Wendy, a blog reader, set us up at her parent’s house next door in this quiet and cute little central NY town. There’s a heated swimming pool, barbecue grill, and cabana available for our use. Wendy’s dad is sharing his wi-fi with me, and the weather is just beautiful. They may have trouble getting rid of us.

I’ll blog about the historic downtown of Cherry Valley tomorrow, after we’ve had a chance to explore further.

2 Responses to “Hitch damage”

  1. Michelle P. Says:

    Yikes, thanks for posting this. I just nagged Leon about our Hensley, I want to insure he is greasing it when and where it should be greased. He also was (is?) not greasing it as often as the owners manual recommends. This might change his wicked ways.

  2. Lois Grebowski Says:

    Glad to hear that everyone is okay. Thankful it wasn’t much worse.

    I’ll keep on hubby about greasing the hitch.

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