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How to Hook Up A Trailer for Beginners

How to Hook Up A Trailer for Beginners

If you're getting into dirt biking or any sort of off-roading, chances are you'll be needing a trailer! There's many steps to owning a trailer—hooking it up, loading it, driving it, and (everyone's favorite) backing it up—so we decided to break this topic up into multiple mini articles. We don't want to overwhelm you!

Let's start with hooking up a trailer. 

May I present to you the most basic yet effective diagram you've ever seen. Personal opinion: everyone calls everything something different, but everyone knows what you're talking about. Don't get too hung up on the lingo. If someone makes fun of you for what you call something tell them to sit on a cactus. 

Before You Begin:

  1. Tow package: If your car doesn't come with a tow kit (aka hitch receiver), you can shop for one online! You can find one by searching your year/make/model at etrailer.com. I personally didn't use this website, but I think it's great because it will show you which tow kits (aka receivers) will fit your specific car and it also tells you the hitch size, accepted tongue weight and towing capacity.

  2. Check your vehicle's towing capacity: Next, check your car's manual (or probs just Google) for your vehicle's towing capacity. Make sure it can safely tow your trailer, and if you're buying an aftermarket tow kit, make sure that can also support the weight of your trailer. Also, make sure to leave room for your things! For example: My car can tow 5,000 lbs so I purchased a tow kit that can also support 5,000 lbs. Our trailer is about 1,000 lbs so that leaves me with room to tow about 4,000 lbs of shit. 

  3. Do you have everything: Hitch receiver, a compatible hitch ball, safety chains, trailer wiring, and any other specific components required for your trailer type. Remember to buy a hitch mount that fits both the size requirements of your receiver and ball. If your hitch receiver is 2", then you need a 2" hitch. If the tongue of your trailer fits a 2" ball, then you also need a 2" ball on that 2" hitch. You can swap out the size of the ball based on different trailers, but the size of the hitch should stay consistent since that's what fits the receiver which is permanently attached to your car. 

  4. Inspect the trailer: Ensure the trailer is in good condition, including the tires, brakes, lights, and hitch components.

Hooking Up the Trailer:

  1. Insert trailer hitch: Carefully slide your trailer hitch into the receiver. Line up the holes on the hitch with those on the receiver and insert a pin (but preferably one that locks so no one can slide the entire hitch out and steal your trailer).

  2. Position the trailer: Back up your car to the trailer. Using a backup camera on level ground is preferred, but the world isn't BK and we can't always have it our way. If you're unsure, ask for someone to spot you. (Make sure your tongue jack is raised so your hitch/ball will slide under as you back up. 

  3. Attach the coupler (aka hitch ball to trailer tongue): Once you've backed up and positioned the ball under the coupler, lower your trailer using a tongue jack until the ball is sitting inside the coupler. You need to make sure it's as centered as possible, otherwise the lock won't close around the ball all the way. If the ball is too far back, just ease your car forward a teeeennnyyy tinyyyy bit so the ball moves to the center of the coupler. 

  4. Lock the coupler: Most couplers have a locking mechanism to secure them to the hitch ball. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to lock it in place. Often, this involves twisting or latching the coupler.

  5. Connect safety chains: The chains help prevent the trailer from separating in the event the coupler fails. Take each chain, put it through the loop attached to the receiver, and then hook the chain to itself.* You don't want the chain so loose that it's dragging on the ground; but you also don't want them too tight. If you make them too tight, they could break while make a turn. *Most people cross their chains because it creates a "cradle" to catch the trailer if it somehow becomes disconnected. We do not cross our chains. Our chains are connected to the trailer in almost the same place. If we attempted to cross our chains, it wouldn't make a "cradle" under the coupler so there's no difference to us. 

  6. Attach electrical connections: Connect the trailer's wiring harness to your vehicle's electrical socket. This will power the trailer's lights and brakes. You may need an adapter if what you have on your car won't accept kisses from the trailer's electrical. 

  7. Check trailer brakes (if equipped): If your trailer has separate brakes, ensure they are properly connected to your vehicle. This is usually only found on larger trailers, not a 1,000 lb flat-bed. 

Perform Safety Checks:

  1. Check hitch and coupler: Ensure the hitch ball and coupler are securely attached. Give them a strong tug to make sure they are locked in place. This is what we call "The Dad." Make sure to say, "That should hold" while doing it. 

  2. Verify safety chains: Make sure the safety chains are properly connected and securely attached. They should have some slack but not drag on the ground.

  3. Test trailer lights: Have someone stand behind the trailer and check that all lights (brake lights, turn signals, and running lights) are functioning properly.

  4. Test brakes (if applicable): If your trailer has brakes, test them to ensure they engage and release correctly.

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