To ensure a safe towable connection, rental store employees should check several components. Besides confirming that the hitch ball and coupler are the same size, both the ball’s and the drawbar’s gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) should be checked. When ratings are obscured, the employee should look at the size of the ball shank, its length and grade if it’s on an inside-thread ball, and whether the drawbar is hollow or solid. In addition, the ball shank should not be too small for the hole in the drawbar.
It all has to be checked each time a towable is attached to a towing vehicle, “even when the technician is pressed for time, it’s pouring rain or the customer is in a hurry to leave,” says Rick Ream of Northwest Insurance Services, Gig Harbor, Wash., and an ARA Insurance Services preferred agent since 1999. “Do things get overlooked sometimes? Absolutely,” he says, adding that this is one reason why the number of accidents involving towables remains high.
Ream, however, has devised a solution to the problem. He envisions a nationwide, standardized system for all rental trailers and towable equipment, which he first presented at the American Rental Association (ARA)/ARA Insurance Services Member Risk Management Committee meeting in 2008.
- Step 1. Paint the couplers on all trailers and towables according to the size of hitch ball they fit. This enables employees to know at a glance, even from across the yard, what size ball is needed to tow any unit. In his demonstration, Ream used blue for 2-5/16-in. couplers, red for 2 in. and green for 1-7/8 in.
- Step 2. Purchase a drawbar and hitch ball for each towable. The drawbar/ball combinations also are painted according to size using the same colors as on the couplers. When a towable is rented, a matching drawbar/ball is supplied in place of the renter’s. Ream recommends using Class IV (solid) drawbars and the highest-rated balls available in each size. Aiming high on GTWR ensures that any drawbar/ball can handle any towable in its size and also helps avert disaster if a renter overloads a trailer.
- Step 3. Convert from safety chains to coiled steel safety cables. Even using Ream’s system, disconnects can result from factors such as loading a trailer incorrectly, so safety chains are still necessary. Too often, though, chains are shortened by twisting them, which also reduces their strength. Cables, on the other hand, simply coil up when spanning a short distance.
After detailing his plan, Ream discovered that one of his customers already has been using a similar procedure. D&K Rentals in Sequim, Wash., paints its couplers and supplies renters with drawbars and balls. “I think we have insured this store for seven or eight years and have never heard of any disconnect problems and this is somewhat unusual for rental stores,” Ream says.
D&K’s success fueled Ream’s conviction that such a system will minimize towable disconnects for the entire rental industry, so he presented his plan to several of the ARA state associations that he serves. The ARA of Montana, Oregon Rental Association and ARA of Washington have all endorsed the system and members are in the process of implementing it.
Doug Hanson, owner of A-1 Rentals in Billings, Mont., and president of the ARA of Montana, says his company is in the process of painting couplers and drawbar/ball combinations. He says they will probably have to pick up some more drawbars and balls, but that is a fairly minor investment.
Lew Rents in Olympia, Wash., has about 50 towables in inventory. “We are almost complete in implementation and I see no resistance from customers or employees,” says Dean Eklund, president of Lew Rents and president of the ARA of Washington. “The painting is just a time thing and the main cost is purchasing the extra ball mounts and trailer balls.” To compensate for that cost, Lew Rents is building it into the rental fee.
Ream’s solution also has been incorporated by Essex Equipment, Essex Junction, Vt. President Gary Morse was a member of the 2008 Member Risk Management Committee when the system was introduced, and after the meeting he called Ream for more details. His staff is painting couplers as towables come due for inspection.
“This program is a very simple solution to a very complex problem. It makes it so simple that it’s hard to fail,” Ream says.
Mike Blaisdell, vice president and general manager of Bunce Rental, Puyallup, Wash., and ARA’s Region Eight Director, agrees. “You know if you have a blue trailer ball that it goes with the blue coupler, it takes the guesswork out of it. I think this system helps ensure the right trailer ball, hitch and coupler combination,” he says.
Eklund concurs. “I don’t see anything not to like about it.”