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Old 06-12-2019, 06:24 PM   #1
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tow ball/nut failure ...

i'm starting a seperate thread since I realized my posts on other threads were probably of general interest... we had an emergency that thankfully resulted in no actual damages and only delayed us a short time.

background: was on the home stretch of a 3300 mile 18 day road trip to Utah, heading south on US 77 for I40 to head home... was shortly after 7PM MST, towards twilight... earlier on this trip, I'd felt some 'klunking' from the trailer on hard bumps, and I know I was running a bit nose light, due to mostly traveling with a full water tank because our next destination was dry, AND having about 100 lbs of bicycles on an Escapee2 rack on the back of our Escape 21, so I chalked it up to this, and had made attempts to shift more weight forward in the trailer, but still had tongue weight around 380 lbs instead of the 450-550 it should have been.

suddenly I feel a crunch and the F250 was being pulled side to side a bit, look in side mirrors and OMG, the trailer was fishtailling all over the place, so I fumble in the dark, find the trailer brake controller, and apply the trailer brakes while coasting to a stop. barely enough shoulder to get the truck and trailer just outside the white 'fog' line. emergency blinkers on. get out, look, OMG, trailer ball had come completely out of the tow bar, and was still sitting in the clamp on the tongue of the trailer, trailer was sitting on the foot on the nose jack. wow. raise trailer to approximately level, release the hitch lamp, and the ball falls out. threads are completely stripped, no sign of nut.



google (on my phone) for autoparts, oh good, there's an O'Reilly's in Holbrook about 15 mins away, closes in 20 mins.... quickly disconnect trailer, wife stays with trailer to pick up the interior (all sliding drawers came out and dumped contents on floor... thankfully only one cracked coraline (ceramic) dish).

ZOOOM to o'reillys, get a tow bar with preinstalled ball, too short, but it will get us home, zoom back. wife has barely finished picking up the worst of the mess. hitch up with new tow bar, inspect everything, wow, no actual damages, double check lighting, all good. and we're on our way, decide to cut that day's journey a few miles short of where we'd originally planned, and spent the night at a Walmart in Winslow (we were heading to the Meteor Crater for a early morning visit as a unplanned bonus on our loop home).


SO. moral to da story... CHECK THAT TOWBALL! a 1" shank tow ball takes 250 ft-lbs of torque and has a 1.5" nut, 250 ft-lbs requires just about every bit of grunt I have on a 18" breaker bar, with the tow bar installed on the truck rotated 90 degrees so I can pull UP on the breaker bar.

2nd lesson... if you feel unusual clanking or klunking on bumps, stop in a safe place, unhitch, and check things out THOROUGHLY. my visual inspection was obviously insufficient. judging by the damage on the towbar and ball shank, things had been doing south for quite a while.

3rd lesson.... if I'd been towing with a barely adequate vehicle such as a FWD crossover, that massively fishtailing 4500 lb Escape 21 could easily have tossed the tug all over the highway, and maybe even flipped. on the 8000 lb F250 diesel longbed, I barely noticed the sway.
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Old 06-12-2019, 06:35 PM   #2
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If your emergency cable was shorter and your trailer brakes activated, would that have been beneficial?
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Old 06-12-2019, 06:39 PM   #3
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probably not, as it would have locked all 4 trailer wheels... When I first grabbed the manual brake control, I in fact DID lock the wheels for a moment making a huge cloud of smoke without noticeable braking, modulating the brake controller gave the trailer far better control as I brought things to a halt.

hey, just realized, if this had been my Tacoma, with its 6 speed stick+clutch, said maneuvers woudl have required me to do even more. I mostly used engine braking combined with trailer braking to bring things to a stop. if I'd had to put the clutch in to prevent the truck from stalling, I wouldn't have had any engine braking plus that would have been a mental overload (steer + clutch + manual trailer brake, oh no!).
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Old 06-12-2019, 06:43 PM   #4
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John, glad the story ended well. I had a similar experience in Yellowstone. Heard the klunking when going over rough spots. Found that the nut holding ball was very loose. At Madison, fellow camper had the correct sized wrench & tightened it. Had it hydraulically tightened in Gardiner. Bought the wrench!
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Old 06-12-2019, 07:00 PM   #5
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I bought one at Harbor Freight, chinese but it works....if you turn the hitch ball sideways you can put your weight behind the effort, helps.....
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Old 06-12-2019, 11:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John in Santa Cruz View Post
... a 1" shank tow ball takes 250 ft-lbs of torque and has a 1.5" nut, 250 ft-lbs requires just about every bit of grunt I have on a 18" breaker bar, with the tow bar installed on the truck rotated 90 degrees so I can pull UP on the breaker bar.
In some cases, bigger really is better. One way to get a longer 1/2" drive breaker bar (or flex handle) is to use 3/4" drive bar (they routinely come in longer sizes) and an adapter - that's why I have a 3/4" drive bar, even though I don't have any 3/4" drive sockets.
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Old 06-13-2019, 12:00 AM   #7
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I bought one at Harbor Freight, chinese but it works....if you turn the hitch ball sideways you can put your weight behind the effort, helps.....
my biggest problem was keeping the new ball from rotating in the ball carrier/tow bar when cranking down on it. only tool I had big enough for that was a pipe wrench on the flats at the base of the ball, ugly but it more or less worked.
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Old 06-13-2019, 12:30 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John in Santa Cruz View Post
my biggest problem was keeping the new ball from rotating in the ball carrier/tow bar when cranking down on it. only tool I had big enough for that was a pipe wrench on the flats at the base of the ball, ugly but it more or less worked.
That works, and at least that ball has flats; without the flats, a pipe wrench or pliers with teeth is required. Since this is an unusually large size for home mechanics, stores sell inexpensive "trailer ball wrenches" with the most common nut sizes - one end would likely fit the ball flats, if it just has two flats. If it has a full hex, but very thin and very large, that's the "Interlock" system designed to fit the recess in matching ball mounts, so no tool is needed at all to hold the ball.
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Old 06-13-2019, 01:11 AM   #9
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I got the Curt tow bar and ball, its what I had before, and it seems a better fit in the reciever than the Reese brand one OReeellies sold me. I got a 12" stinger, turns out my old one was 11", close enough. this allows me to open the superduty tailgate while hitched, and just clears the jack. with a standard ball carrier, the tailgate lands on top of the jack tower (I put a felt furniture pad on it, but it still sucks to not be able to fully open my tailgate)
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Old 06-13-2019, 07:29 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John in Santa Cruz View Post
my biggest problem was keeping the new ball from rotating in the ball carrier/tow bar when cranking down on it. only tool I had big enough for that was a pipe wrench on the flats at the base of the ball, ugly but it more or less worked.
Yes, make that 2 trips to Harbor Freight, second one for the pipe wrench set
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Old 06-13-2019, 09:36 AM   #11
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So what is the best method of checking the tightness of that trailer ball? If you are hitched it is mostly hidden. Using a wrench to see if the nut moves?
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Old 06-13-2019, 10:15 AM   #12
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Use a torque wrench

Glad this situation ended OK.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fudge_brownie View Post
So what is the best method of checking the tightness of that trailer ball?
Quote:
Originally Posted by John in Santa Cruz View Post
my biggest problem was keeping the new ball from rotating in the ball carrier/tow bar when cranking down on it.
We use a 24" adjustable wrench for hex-head built into the ball and a 1/2" drive, 1-1/2" deep socket for ball nut. We put the socket on our 1/2" drive torque wrench with 250 ft. lb. capability. Takes two of us "fully engaged" to achieve the 250 ft. lb. click on the torque wrench.

We check the hitch ball nut torque as a pre-check before we start a trip - as we are checking the lug nuts for proper torque. If it is loose, you likely have damaged the ball shaft and maybe the hitch bar, and you should replace them.

73/gus
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Old 06-13-2019, 03:02 PM   #13
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Tightness would ideally be checked with a torque wrench, but most people probably don't have one with high enough capacity, or one long enough for them to apply the required torque (although my weight multiplied by my torque wrench length would do it). Just trying to tighten with suitable effort seems like a reasonable approximation.

I'll admit to never checking ball nut tightness, and have assumed that I would notice a loose ball. I've never personally seen a properly installed ball loosen, but that may just be luck or insufficient towing time.
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Old 06-26-2019, 11:52 AM   #14
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Did you not have a lockwasher on the shank of the ball? There is not one in the photo you posted. That is a vital part of the installation of the ball.
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Old 06-26-2019, 11:56 AM   #15
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He may have, it and the nut are gone, on the highway.
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Old 06-26-2019, 12:12 PM   #16
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So glad it ended well. Your reactions saved the day!
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Old 06-26-2019, 02:51 PM   #17
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He may have, it and the nut are gone, on the highway.
yeah, this ...
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Old 06-26-2019, 02:54 PM   #18
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I'm really tempted to weld a pair of ridges onto the top of the hitch bar, and take a dremel grinder and grind flats on these ridges so the ball sits between them and can't turn. that would make torqueing it *so* much easier.
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Old 06-26-2019, 03:04 PM   #19
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John, Thank goodness you are OK. What a story! I do not believe could have handled the situation, certainly not as well as you did. Really kept your cool when needed. I am using a Blue Ox WDH, but will be checking the ball tightness to be sure. Thanks for posting.
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Old 06-26-2019, 03:17 PM   #20
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Reese might have already done that for you with their REESE Towpower series.
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