Article by Don Stec
Trailer Safety Chain
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
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 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.