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Old 06-26-2021, 03:07 PM   #1
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Question When a trailer separates from its TV while underway ...

Thread prompted by this post in another thread that I didn't want to hijack:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ThomasG View Post
My understanding is the breakaway cable should be short enough that the switch should activate before the chains get tight. This way the trailer breaks activate before the trailer potentially totally leaves your tow vehicle. I had to shorten my breakaway cable to make this work.

Anyone have additional thoughts on this?
While it's not something I dwell on or agonize about I have wondered about the 'trailer separates from TV' scenario; we've all likely either witnessed it happen, seen the aftereffects on the roadside, or seen a YouTube about it.

My occasional wondering never considers trailer or TV damage/loss, always focuses on safety of occupants in the TV and other folks on the road. For me an assumption is that if trailer separation occurs bad things are happening, some degree of property loss is a likely given (though maybe minimal if lucky), so life-and-limb is the number one priority.

I also recognize that the exact nature of a trailer separation event is for all intents unpredictable - IMO there's just no darned telling what exact cascade of events will follow trailer separation, the number of variables affecting that and the resultant outcomes are virtually infinite.

It strikes me that (apart from the intended 'structural towing connection' which has failed in some manner for the circumstance to arise) there's three connections to consider:
  1. safety chains
  2. umbilical cord
  3. trailer emergency brake lanyard
My thoughts (YMMV):
1. It strikes me that as long as the safety chains hold I'll likely be better off having some possibility of moderated control of the trailer brakes; that is to say, I want my umbilical cord to be long enough to stay connected with the safety chains at their maximum extension. That's not to suggest that the umbilical will assuredly stay connected, it's only suggesting that I'd rather have the trailer brakes continue to work in proportion and sync with the TV brakes (to the extent provided by the brake controller including it's manual over-ride function) as long as there's safety chains keeping the trailer tied to the TV.

2. It strikes me that trailer emergency brakes, which are an un-modulated 'full-on' braking action, are only desirable in that worst-case scenario when the trailer and TV become completely separate projectiles on the road. At that point there's no hope of control of the trailer and the object of the exercise is to minimize its travel into other vehicles. I suspect that often means the brakes will try to lock and unless the trailer maintains a perfectly straight-line of forward travel it will become a tumbling mess of wreckage. I can't envision that I want to be tied to the trailer when that 'full-on' braking action occurs. So, I want the trailer emergency brake lanyard to be longer than both the safety chains and the umbilical cord and hopefully not entangled in either.

For all of this there's countless scenarios that can be constructed where my preferences could 'bite' (have downsides); I won't argue that, I'm capable of constructing those scenarios myself, and absolutely accept that others may have good reasons for a different approach to managing umbilical and lanyard length. So, I'll now just sit back and read what folks post .... heck, I may read something that changes my approach!
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Old 06-26-2021, 06:04 PM   #2
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I do not want trailer brakes to activate while attached to my tow. Could be a disaster to slam on trailer brakes on a curvy mountain road when completely unexpected.


I have had the trailer pop off the ball at about 30 mph over a rough road; the crossed chains caught the tongue and I gradually showed down without incident.


Other than a change of underwear.................................


PS: I have since changed over to a Bulldog coupler.
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Old 06-26-2021, 09:43 PM   #3
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Alan, my thoughts are the same as yours, with the same reasoning and the same resulting preferences.
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Old 06-27-2021, 06:47 AM   #4
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I'm also in the long brake lanyard camp (attached to the receiver, of course), but willing to change.

I've been thinking about bringing this up at rallies, but keep forgetting.
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Old 06-27-2021, 07:36 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill and Earline View Post
I'm also in the long brake lanyard camp (attached to the receiver, of course), but willing to change.

I've been thinking about bringing this up at rallies, but keep forgetting.
Hi: Bill and Earline... I switched to a Zip style coiled Breakaway Cable. It's red comes in at least 2 lengths and so far has not gotten pinched and accidentally pulled.
Met a fellow 5th. wh. camper in Florida and spent a few days guarding my tailgate closely while he pounded his straighter!!! Alf
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Old 06-27-2021, 10:04 AM   #6
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I have a thousand feet of galvanized steel aircraft cable and a few hundred double ferrules. I also have tools for cutting the cable cleanly and applying the ferrules. It is not coated cable (with plastic) but you could plasti dip spray it. I do not own a lot of S hooks. You’ll have to get the size S-hook you like at a hardware store. But, if anyone speaks up I will bring these things to the Mississippi River Rendezvous and the Niagara Wine Escape (if we get to go) rallies. We will build you any length steel break away cable with loops on both ends for the S-hooks you want. I have a couple different diameters of cable: 1/8 inch and 7/64(I think it is). 1/8 inch cable has a break strength right around 2,000 lbs. You have to look at one masterpiece photo of my last cable project as admission and payment. Otherwise free.
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Old 06-27-2021, 10:13 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by escape artist View Post
Hi: Bill and Earline... I switched to a Zip style coiled Breakaway Cable. It's red comes in at least 2 lengths and so far has not gotten pinched and accidentally pulled.
Met a fellow 5th. wh. camper in Florida and spent a few days guarding my tailgate closely while he pounded his straighter!!! Alf
escape artist N.S. of Lake Erie
But Alf having a fifth wheel connection is totally different than what's addressed in this thread. If the hitch is properly locked then it is nigh impossible for the trailer to separate from the tow. That's why fifth wheel hitches do not require safety chains. That's why I went with a full locking jaw type (B&W Patriot) for our set up after having seen railway flat cars with highway trailers still attached even when derailed and lying on their sides. I forgot to attach the lanyard for breakaway once and when I noticed it I wasn't worried. The way ours attaches it cannot possibly get tangled and be pulled out.
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Old 06-27-2021, 10:15 AM   #8
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Thank you so much for this thoughtful analysis. This makes complete sense. The question of sequence had occurred to me but I had not progressed as far.

I have not measured it but it seems to me that the chains are longer than the breakaway cable on our camper.
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Old 06-27-2021, 10:30 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Centex View Post
Thread prompted by this post in another thread that I didn't want to hijack:

My occasional wondering never considers trailer or TV damage/loss, always focuses on safety of occupants in the TV and other folks on the road. For me an assumption is that if trailer separation occurs bad things are happening, some degree of property loss is a likely given (though maybe minimal if lucky), so life-and-limb is the number one priority.

I also recognize that the exact nature of a trailer separation event is for all intents unpredictable - IMO there's just no darned telling what exact cascade of events will follow trailer separation, the number of variables affecting that and the resultant outcomes are virtually infinite.

It strikes me that (apart from the intended 'structural towing connection' which has failed in some manner for the circumstance to arise) there's three connections to consider:
  1. safety chains
  2. umbilical cord
  3. trailer emergency brake lanyard
My thoughts (YMMV):
1. It strikes me that as long as the safety chains hold I'll likely be better off having some possibility of moderated control of the trailer brakes; that is to say, I want my umbilical cord to be long enough to stay connected with the safety chains at their maximum extension. That's not to suggest that the umbilical will assuredly stay connected, it's only suggesting that I'd rather have the trailer brakes continue to work in proportion and sync with the TV brakes (to the extent provided by the brake controller including it's manual over-ride function) as long as there's safety chains keeping the trailer tied to the TV.

2. It strikes me that trailer emergency brakes, which are an un-modulated 'full-on' braking action, are only desirable in that worst-case scenario when the trailer and TV become completely separate projectiles on the road. At that point there's no hope of control of the trailer and the object of the exercise is to minimize its travel into other vehicles. I suspect that often means the brakes will try to lock and unless the trailer maintains a perfectly straight-line of forward travel it will become a tumbling mess of wreckage. I can't envision that I want to be tied to the trailer when that 'full-on' braking action occurs. So, I want the trailer emergency brake lanyard to be longer than both the safety chains and the umbilical cord and hopefully not entangled in either.

For all of this there's countless scenarios that can be constructed where my preferences could 'bite' (have downsides); I won't argue that, I'm capable of constructing those scenarios myself, and absolutely accept that others may have good reasons for a different approach to managing umbilical and lanyard length. So, I'll now just sit back and read what folks post .... heck, I may read something that changes my approach!
Quote:
Originally Posted by tractors1 View Post
I do not want trailer brakes to activate while attached to my tow. Could be a disaster to slam on trailer brakes on a curvy mountain road when completely unexpected.

I have had the trailer pop off the ball at about 30 mph over a rough road; the crossed chains caught the tongue and I gradually showed down without incident.

Other than a change of underwear.................................
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian B-P View Post
Alan, my thoughts are the same as yours, with the same reasoning and the same resulting preferences.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill and Earline View Post
I'm also in the long brake lanyard camp (attached to the receiver, of course), but willing to change.
As I mentioned in the other thread, I agree with the above. I don't want the emergency breakaway switch activating unless the trailer has completely separated from the tow vehicle including the safety chains.
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Old 06-27-2021, 10:36 AM   #10
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On chain length I located the crossover point (X spot) for the chains that I felt most comfortable with and attached the snap style chain hooks to the chain link where they would maintain my desired length. Then I laid the excessive lengths of chain back to the main chain and used a couple zip ties to secure them so they don’t hang down. It’s a sanitary setup.

My safety brake cable has an S hook on the trailer end and a good carabiner with snap closer and s-hook on the tow vehicle end. Quick and positive.
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Old 06-27-2021, 01:15 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emers382 View Post
But Alf having a fifth wheel connection is totally different than what's addressed in this thread. ...
FWIW I wrote the original post in mind of any trailer/TV rig having safety chains + an umbilical cord + a trailer breakaway emergency brake/lanyard.

That includes an Andersen hitch on a 5.0 using safety chains (not being a true "5th wheel hitch" safety chains are required in many jurisdictions with the 5.0/Andersen application, I'll have them with my Andersen, YMMV).

IF I were to tow a with a true 5th wheel hitch and no safety chains, personally I'd still want the trailer brake lanyard longer than the umbilical cord (though I'll admit that it's much less likely to come into play in that situation). YMMV.

I've no idea what Alf's hitch configuration is but I appreciate his mention of the generous length self-coiled lanyard ... that looks ideal for my purposes and preferences when I get my 5.0. Thanks, Alf!
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Old 06-27-2021, 02:00 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Centex View Post

IF I were to tow a with a true 5th wheel hitch and no safety chains, personally I'd still want the trailer brake lanyard longer than the umbilical cord (though I'll admit that it's much less likely to come into play in that situation). YMMV.

I've no idea what Alf's hitch configuration is but I appreciate his mention of the generous length self-coiled lanyard ... that looks ideal for my purposes and preferences when I get my 5.0. Thanks, Alf!
My umbilical cord is longer than the brake lanyard, yet what came unplugged when I lost the trailer March 2020 nearly home from GA, on the ice in ND, and the trailer swung around to contact rear cab window post and smash the window? The umbilical cord came out of the seven pin plug on the bumper.

I wonder if we'd have been as lucky with the accident had the brake lanyard pulled out and the trailer brakes went on fully.
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Old 06-27-2021, 02:17 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by emers382 View Post
My umbilical cord is longer than the brake lanyard, yet what came unplugged when I lost the trailer March 2020 nearly home from GA, on the ice in ND, and the trailer swung around to contact rear cab window post and smash the window? The umbilical cord came out of the seven pin plug on the bumper.

I wonder if we'd have been as lucky with the accident had the brake lanyard pulled out and the trailer brakes went on fully.
Just so I accurately understand the context, by "lost the trailer" do you mean your 5.0 became disconnected from your TV, or that the hitch-connection remained intact but the trailer swung-around wildly (the tail tried to pass the nose) due to the ice/loss of trailer traction?

Curious, too, what hitch you're using?

In either case I'm not too surprised that your umbilical didn't stay connected with all that extreme gyration (one might wonder if an in-bed umbilical socket would have fared any differently).

Thanks for sharing your (unfortunate) experience (better thee than me), I'd like to learn the lessons in it, if any.
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Old 06-27-2021, 04:21 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Centex View Post
FWIW I wrote the original post in mind of any trailer/TV rig having safety chains + an umbilical cord + a trailer breakaway emergency brake/lanyard.

That includes an Andersen hitch on a 5.0 using safety chains (not being a true "5th wheel hitch" safety chains are required in many jurisdictions with the 5.0/Andersen application, I'll have them with my Andersen, YMMV).

IF I were to tow a with a true 5th wheel hitch and no safety chains, personally I'd still want the trailer brake lanyard longer than the umbilical cord (though I'll admit that it's much less likely to come into play in that situation). YMMV.

I've no idea what Alf's hitch configuration is but I appreciate his mention of the generous length self-coiled lanyard ... that looks ideal for my purposes and preferences when I get my 5.0. Thanks, Alf!
Hi: Centex... I have the 6' self coiling Zip style brake away cable. It replaced the standard cable that I used to have a second loop in but still managed to pinch in the hitch rollers. Alf
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Old 06-27-2021, 05:12 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Centex View Post
IF I were to tow a with a true 5th wheel hitch and no safety chains, personally I'd still want the trailer brake lanyard longer than the umbilical cord (though I'll admit that it's much less likely to come into play in that situation). YMMV.
Again, I agree.
If the umbilical cable is attached, I would have automatic and manual control of the trailer brakes, and wouldn't want the breakaway system slamming them full-on.
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Old 06-27-2021, 09:41 PM   #16
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There is one angle that deserves additional attention and it is the legalities around third party liability insurance. I live in British Columbia and we have mandatory government insurance here (ICBC). A trailer policy includes 200K minimum third party liability insurance. However this insurance becomes void if the trailer separates from the TV. In a worst case scenario, where the trailer becomes detached during a serious MVA, and the trailer continues to move on its own and strikes someone or something....you are on your own. An extra $60 CDN (about $40 USD) buys you 3 mil CDN in third party liability. Very few are aware of this. I understand that states and provinces vary in their legislation; it is important to be aware so that a worst case scenario does not cause financial ruin in addition to whatever else you may be dealing with as a result of the MVA
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Old 06-28-2021, 11:02 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Centex View Post
Just so I accurately understand the context, by "lost the trailer" do you mean your 5.0 became disconnected from your TV, or that the hitch-connection remained intact but the trailer swung-around wildly (the tail tried to pass the nose) due to the ice/loss of trailer traction?

Curious, too, what hitch you're using?

In either case I'm not too surprised that your umbilical didn't stay connected with all that extreme gyration (one might wonder if an in-bed umbilical socket would have fared any differently).

Thanks for sharing your (unfortunate) experience (better thee than me), I'd like to learn the lessons in it, if any.
Yes the trailer swung around wildly although I was so intent on trying to regain control that I not only did not see it come beside my driver's window but when we got stopped and I got out I wondered what all the glass was on my folded tonneau cover. We have a B&W Patriot, a heavy hitch but the one I chose when we got our first 5.0 Escape single axle in 2014 (Alf's).

I29 north of Grand Forks was extremely icy and mostly I was driving partly on the shoulder no more than 60kph. We had left the highway for a parallel three mile road and on reentering was likely only doing 50kph when hit a curve and I lost control, ending up facing backwards so just drove off the highway on the entrance ramp.

The push was to get home as family/friends were encouraging us because of Covid so a quick three days from GA. Who would have thought at the time we'd still be unable to return to the US 15 months later.
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Old 06-28-2021, 12:09 PM   #18
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Yes the trailer swung around wildly ,,,,
Thanks for the details, Adrian, glad to hear life-and-limb survived intact and the property damage wasn't worse.

I might be wrong but I'm not so sure that even if your umbilical had stayed connected it would have made any difference in the outcome, but yeah, methinks that activation of the trailer emergency brakes might have exacerbated the situation, so all-and-all it's good that didn't happen IMO (we'll never know ...)
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Old 06-28-2021, 01:02 PM   #19
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Thanks for the details, Adrian, glad to hear life-and-limb survived intact and the property damage wasn't worse.

I might be wrong but I'm not so sure that even if your umbilical had stayed connected it would have made any difference in the outcome, but yeah, methinks that activation of the trailer emergency brakes might have exacerbated the situation, so all-and-all it's good that didn't happen IMO (we'll never know ...)
I had assumed that the belly band contacted the window frame of the cab however it wasn't until cleaning the trailer months later when spring finally arrived that I discovered some marks on the side of the trailer below the belly band. We were also fortunate that nobody came around the curve at the bridge over the ramp and had to try to stop with us blocking the highway.
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Old 06-28-2021, 04:26 PM   #20
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I might be wrong but I'm not so sure that even if your umbilical had stayed connected it would have made any difference in the outcome, but yeah, methinks that activation of the trailer emergency brakes might have exacerbated the situation, so all-and-all it's good that didn't happen IMO (we'll never know ...)
I agree. A trailer which is swaying due to instability can usually be stabilized by moderate application of the trailer's brakes, but if the trailer is sliding because it lost traction then braking would make it worse.
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