Some people have little problem backing up to their horse trailers, dropping the tongue on the ball and taking off for a show, event or trail ride. Then there are the rest of us. We back up, get out and look, pull forward, move over three inches, back up again, get out and look. . . .
We looked at ways to make hitching up alone easier and found there are some tricks to learning how to back up straight. And there are some silent assistants available that can help make hitching up a trailer a one-person job.
The main problem we encounter when backing up to a trailer is that everything is done in reverse: you’re driving backward, you’re seeing everything inverted in the side- or rear-view mirror. Factor in that you can’t see the hitch or trailer tongue from the driver’s seat and it’s a challenge trying to match up a two-inch ball with a two-inch coupler.
We used experienced and inexperienced trailer drivers to find out what you need to know and what can help you get hitched up without being there all day to do it — and without bashing up the license plate on your truck in the process. Here’s what we found:
The straighter you can back your truck to your trailer the faster the final hitching up will be. (Don’t try to hitch up from an angle.)
It can help to put some kind of mark in the center of your truck’s tailgate (or inside the rear window of your SUV) right above the hitch. Put another mark high up on the front of the trailer (so you can see it in the rearview mirror) right above the trailer’s tongue. But because you can’t see the hitch, the final coupling is no an easy trick. This is where hitching aids can help.
We looked at three styles of hitching aids designed to guide you to that final hookup.
These are 2- to 3-foot tall rods with magnets on the base, usually sold in pairs. You set one on the ball, or near it, and one on the trailer tongue. Line up the two in your rearview mirror and when they meet, you’re ready to hitch up.
We tried two styles: adjustable rods (Align-Quik) and rigid, one-piece Hitchin’ Rods (Qworks.) Both worked, but we found the simpler design of the Hitchin’ Rods, with nothing to adjust, easier to use. Most of our testers hit the mark every time with them. The Align-Quik rods were good, but required adjusting both the angle of the magnet and the height of the rods.
We looked at mirrors designed to let you see the trailer hitch in the truck’s rearview mirror. The ones made for bumper-pull trailers were mounted on telescoping poles that stuck magnetically on the trailer tongue. One, the HitchSpotter, was a true mirror. It was big and bulky, with a large magnet on the base, but the view in the mirror was sharp and clear. The other, Hitch Helper, was smaller and lighter with a narrow base. The convex mirror gave a wider range of vision, but it was harder to see the ball in it. Learning which way to turn the wheel while looking at an image in a mirror took a little getting used to, but it was a short learning curve and both worked. Some of testers didn’t like having to deal with mirrors on a stick and worried about breaking them.
We also tried a mirror designed to be used with a gooseneck trailer, the Gooseneck Ball Spotter Mirror (Patington, Inc.). Set on the side of a pickup truck it gave a pretty clear view of the ball in the bed. Once the coupler was in view, it was pretty easy to back straight under it, but it was a little hard to tell if you were a little off to the right or left.
These systems usually consist of a small video camera and a monitor inside the truck. Some are wired, but the one we tried, Swift Hitch, was wireless and both the camera and hand-held monitor re-charged in the cigarette lighter. It had a clear color picture and switched to night vision after dark.
We even put the tiny, magnet-base camera inside the horse trailer to see if we could keep an eye on the horses in transit. Not it’s intended purpose, but it did a pretty good job of letting us know what they were up to back there. Since both the camera and the receiver have to be turned on or off individually, you don’t want to forget and leave the camera on.
We think a hitching aid is only good if it’s handy to grab and easy to use. If you have one truck and one trailer, you can adjust rods and mirrors for that rig and leave them. But if you use more than one trailer, or have short and tall drivers, adjusting poles and angles and tightening wingnuts can be a bother.
If cost is not a concern, you can’t go wrong with the Swift Hitch camera and receiver. At around $300 it’s a luxury, but it works great and it’s a whole lot of fun.
But if you just want to get your truck and trailer hitched up quick and go, we found the Hitchin’ Rods from Qworks a straightforward design that works — for about $25. It our Best Buy and top recommendation.
Article by Contributing Editor Nancy Butler.