A New Hitch Solves Age-Old Trailer Towing Issues Many 4x4 Owners Face
Four-wheelers love to show off, and they love big pickups that can tow their toys and trailers. One only need to roll into any big gathering of off-road enthusiasts to see such packages firsthand. Towing, for both work and play, is a big part of many 4x4 pickup and SUV owners' lives.
But with nearly every fullsize pickup sold today requiring the use of a weight-distributing (weight-equalizing) hitch to tow trailers weighing more than 5,000 pounds, there are a lot of wheelers who are towing larger trailer loads driving on very thin ice-legally speaking.
The problem arises from the confusion with tow ratings and what they actually mean. For example, all single-rear-wheel Ford Super Duty F-250/350 pickups have a trailer towing limit of 5,000 pounds unless the pickup and trailer are equipped with a weight-distributing (W-D) hitch. That requirement/towing limitation is noted in the owner's manual, the Ford towing guide, and on its website.
Dodge, GM, Nissan, and Toyota place similar trailer-towing limits on their fullsize pickups and SUVs. The normal trailer weight limit before the use of a W-D hitch is required is 5,000 pounds; a few pickups can tow as much as 7,500 pounds using a standard shank and hitch ball. But those are the exceptions-not the rule.
On smaller vehicles such as midsize SUVs and crossovers, a sway-control device and/or a weight-distributing hitch is required equipment on trailers weighing as little as 1,500 pounds.
Tow a trailer that exceeds those limitations without your truck and trailer being "properly-equipped" and you now risk being hit with a whole new level of legal problems should your tow vehicle/trailer be involved in an accident where property and injuries occur.
Towing And Negligence
When asked about towing liability issues, Dean Holleman, Vice President and Managing Attorney of Boyce Holleman & Associates in Gulfport, Mississippi, says "Any person who tows a trailer would be responsible to know that the towing vehicle has certain limitations which should not be exceeded.
"If the accident is caused by the vehicle being used to tow something it was not designed to tow, this in itself could be an act of negligence by the tow [vehicle] driver, and under the theory of negligence he could be liable (and most probably would be held liable)."
When it comes to negligence, or the failure of the driver's "duty to tow only that which the vehicle is designed to tow," the legal problems escalate way beyond the price of replacing or repairing damaged vehicles and property.
Richard Burke, Jr., a highly respected Chicago attorney who runs Clifford Law Offices, says the vehicle owner may also be found guilty of "wanton disregard," which is a level of negligence jury's tend to punish by placing a very high "punitive damage" dollar amount as part of the judgment. Such a punitive judgment could cost the offender millions.
Burke, Holleman, and other vehicle accident attorneys agree if there's an accident and the towing vehicle isn't properly set up, the injured person "would probably win any ensuing lawsuit."
A further legal issue related to towing a trailer without the vehicle being properly equipped is that your insurance company could see your act as a blatant disregard for driving in a safe manner. Proving to a jury the vehicle isn't properly equipped for towing a certain amount of weight is easy to do in court according to John Kneeland, a retired New York State judge. "If the owner's manual clearly states certain pieces of equipment must be used when towing trailers above a certain weight, and that equipment isn't being used, it makes the driver appear negligent."
Towing The Line
To avoid such legal towing issues, all one needs is to answer "yes" to these three simple questions:
Is your tow vehicle really rated for the weight of the trailer in tow?
Have you closely read the towing section of your vehicle's owner's manual?
Are both your tow vehicle and trailer properly equipped according to the vehicle manufacturer's instructions?
If the trailer in tow is heavier than the vehicle manufacturer's stated limit, and/or the tow vehicle isn't "properly equipped" to pull that weight of trailer as dictated by the vehicle manufacturer, from a legal standpoint you are pretty much hung out to dry if any sort of accident happens when that trailer is in tow.