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How to Comply with Tow Chain Laws

Before and After, Don Stec author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com


One of the most common mistakes trailer owners make is: Failure to properly attach a safety chain between a trailer and the towing vehicle. There seems to be a consensus by the general public that simply attaching a chain is sufficient. Here are some vehicle code regulations to assist you in making a safe hookup

Section 29004 (b) of the California Vehicle Code requires that the safety chain or cable and connecting devises be of sufficient strength to control the towed vehicle in the event of a failure of the hitch or other coupling devices.

A trailer, even if purchased new with the safety chain welded to the drawbar may not match with the vehicle hitch. The chain is often longer to be adjustable for multiple vehicle hitch combinations. It may not be in the proper position for your vehicle, resulting in a dangerous towing condition and a vehicle code violation.

I have often seen safety chains connecting to the towing vehicle using bolts as small as 1/8th inch. Bailing wire used because the owner did not have an attaching bolt and even dog leash chain used because it’s all the owner had. None of it was adequate to control the towed load.

Section 29004 (c) The safety chain shall prevent the drawbar from dropping to the ground in the event of a draw bar failure.

Safety chains being too long to comply with 29004 (c) is something I see everyday as I travel the roadways and look at hitch and safety chain connections.

We have repaired hitch/drawbar failures when the safety chain was adequate. The damage to the towed vehicle, the boat trailer and the boat was restricted to just banging into each other until the driver was able to stop. The safety chain kept the trailer drawbar off the ground. Considering three vehicles being damaged the owner was still lucky.

A collision I inspected from a failure of a hitch and a safety chain being too long resulted in the draw bar hitting the pavement. The safety chain was not adequate and broke, causing the trailer to go free. The trailer rammed into another vehicle. Then the boat came off the trailer and slid along the roadway. Both the boat and trailer were totaled. The other vehicle was badly damaged, fortunately the drivers were not injured.

I would like to mention another problem with safety chains that are too long. Fire danger. Chains dragging on the pavement cause sparks and sparks cause fires. If your chain can not keep the drawbar off the ground, the drawbar may also create sparks when it hits the roadway.

The sections of the vehicle code in this article are condensed referring only to the two most common mistakes I see. Do yourself a favor and look up the complete sections.

In conclusion: Don’t make your safety chain so tight that it restricts the full turning radius. If proper turn radius is achieved and the drawbar can hit the ground when disconnected, the chain may have to be relocated.

Don Stec is the owner of Coachmaster of Redding. Coachmaster is a full service collision repair shop. Experts in frame repair on all types of vehicles. They can be reached at 530-243-1310 or at the shop at 6851 Eastside Road in Redding.


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