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August 2010 Willie's Workbench

4x4 Pickup Trailer
Willie Worthy | Writer
Posted August 1, 2010

Trailer, Towing and Such, Part One

How many of you four wheelers out there pull trailers? I once owned five, ranging from a military Jeep trailer to a 35-foot fifth wheel. Now I am down to three. They all have something in common-they've all been pulled off-road. A few years ago (well, actually, a long time ago), my family-wife, three kids, and the dog-and I were pulling the fifth-wheel trailer and three ATVs around northern Nevada mining ruins in the snow. We stopped to ask directions from a hunter driving a CJ with chains. He couldn't believe we'd come over that road.

The point here is that a trailer doesn't have to be left behind just because the road gets a bit rough. However, not just any trailer is up to being towed off-road. You have to do your homework first. Prep for the trailer is the same as for your 4x4-heavy-duty axle, spindles, shocks, and coupler. Bigger tires (I generally try to match the size and bolt pattern to my tow vehicle) are a genuine asset. Lots of spring travel and sufficient ground clearance are musts.

The perfect off-road trailer has to be the military-style "jeep" trailer. These are short-coupled trailers that have a large heavy-duty axle. They can generally be equipped with decent-sized tires to match those on the tow vehicle, they have a sturdy box, and-best of all-they have a pivoting pintle coupler. You can cuss them all day for the "slam-bam" noises they create, but no other coupler equals them in true off-road situations. I know people who have turned their "Jeep" trailers completely over, with no damage to the tow vehicle and little trailer damage-and it still remained coupled. I've also known people who've turned over utility trailers with a ball coupler, resulting in bent frames and broken couples, balls, and hitches.

Agreed, not everyone wants a pintle-hitch coupler. One of my own camping trailers used a ball coupler, but I did things a bit differently. I used a 25/16-inch ball and a coupler rated at 7,000 pounds with a 11/4-inch-diameter shank. That's a bit of overkill, but I did it not for the capacity but for the better articulation I could put on the trailer tongue because of the ball's larger size. I also went one step further by modifying the trailer ball. I used a 1-inch extended height ball with the extension area turned down to the same diameter as the main shank.

Granted, the ball's maximum capacity is lost, but there's still plenty left for the weight of the trailer. This extra clearance allows the hitch to pivot a considerable amount more without binding. Some rough measurements comparing a 2-inch ball and coupler and my modified 25/16-inch ball and coupler indicated about 15 degrees of additional angularity. That may not sound like much, but that additional 15 degrees can make the difference between a bent or broken coupler and an enjoyable off-road trip.

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